About Me

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Yilan, Taiwan
I'm a Social Studies teacher and single mom from Colorado and have lived here for 9 years. Taiwan is an excellent base for us explore Asia, while living in relative (gun free) safety, while benefiting from a cheap and efficient national health care system. The people are amazing too. I have friendships that are 14 years old and I'm always making new ones.

Friday, August 19, 2016

12 Ways The U.S. Can Learn from Taiwan

As I am here back in Colorado, enjoying the beauty of the Rocky Mountains with my family, I have a lot to be grateful for. I am satisfying myself with delicious foods I can't eat in Taiwan, like green chili, blue corn tortillas, nitrate free turkey bacon, gluten-free everything, not to mention all the legalized edibles.

Still, for a tiny country the size of Rhode Island, Taiwan has many assets going for it that the US could learn from:

1. Guns Are Not Necessary

Gun ownership by ordinary citizens is illegal in Taiwan, although 4000 aboriginals have the right to carry for hunting purposes (as of 2009). In 8 years I have never heard of a hunting accident or any of the daily US headlines of massacres or guns falling into children's hands. You'd have to be living in a hole not have read the vast comparison between the US and the rest of the world in terms of gun homicides and suicides.

Washington Post 2012

2. Health Care is a Right

A single payer, nationalized health care system (全民健康保險) is a no-brainer. Its not rocket science, there's no ideological debate hijacking half the population by throwing around the word "socialism" and it works. Everyone receives a smart card with their patient history, which is fed into a reader for instant doctor analysis and billing. Taiwan has the lowest administration costs for health care in the world, at just 2%, spends 6% of their GDP on healthcare which is about 900 USD per person. How does the US compare? The US spends more than 17% of its GDP per person, ranking 2nd in health care costs after Switzerland- with millions still uninsured, not to mention the highest infant and mother mortality rates of the developed world. (Read AP's Why It Matters)

On the downside, Taiwanese people maybe overuse it too much and naysayers say the current  NHI system is unsustainable, especially with an aging population. I'm confident the Taiwanese can figure out how to fine tune problems, since they have the experience- its been in operation since 1995. They already improved the payment system in 2002. My daughter and I have been benefiting from it the past 8 years, its wonderful.

As for the citizens of Taiwan, 99% of its citizens were covered by 2004. Did I mention the NHI includes TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and treatments like acupuncture, cupping, herbs which costs the same. Its a flat 150 TWD, which includes the meds. If I need x-rays at the dentist I might pay a few hundred NT more which is still less than 10 bucks USD.

3. Nothing is Wasted

Taiwan has the world's most efficient recycling system, with a rate of 55% (America is 35% ) as 2015. My parents have to pay for their garbage trucks to handle recycled material (which means they and many others opt out). My kid an I feel that not recycling is uncivilized, inexcusable. In Taipei alone 4,000 musical trucks, 5x a week come down the neighborhood blocks. Nothing is wasted, even kitchen scraps have their own green truck that's given to pigs and farmers. The schools also collect this green waste.

4. Squating a Garden

There really isn't a whole lot of academic information on this, but just from my observations, it seems if there is an available plot of land, anyone can come in and cultivate a family garden. Small spaces between a rice paddy and an intersection will maximize the small space with a few rows of greens. I've seen old men set up a 2nd house on the beach, complete, with water tanks and fences, with zero interference. There is an actual government administration, the NFP (財政部國有財產署), but I don't see them ever doing anything over small spaces. If a family can grow their own, pesticide-free veggies, why not? All the power to them. Part of the mindset behind this is homegrown tastes better anyways and Taiwanese are all about food.

5. Bullet Trains Rock

Taiwan's highspeed rail (THSR) has been in operation since 2002 and makes travel along the densely populated west coast (reaching 90% of the population) extremely convenient. I used it a lot when living in Tainan and having to go to Taipei to catch a plane. It uses Japanese technology that has safety measures in place for earthquakes, typhoons and landslides. The bullet trains in Taiwan were so successful they out competed planes by 2008.

Considering the US taxpayers bailing out unsuccessful airlines, high-speed trains would seem like an option, yet the US cannot seem to get 'on board'. Even the definition of "high-speed" in the US is up for debate. Meanwhile, while Americans are still debating, Japan is busy innovating their high-speed rail by having it adapt to its environment with a special reflective coating.

6. Be a Giver

Taiwanese custom is based around gift giving. People have always passed me gifts, some situations more formal or informal. Its good etiquette to receive (and give) gifts with both hands. I think its a considerate social practice. It gets tricky when the receiver is required to turn down the gift several times (because humility is valued) and its required to be reciprocal. From a western perspective, if a gift has strings attached, is it really a gift? But often the Taiwanese spirit is generous, while being pragmatic. I think if the whole world re-gifted extra goodies they didn't have need of, the world might be a happier place.

Keep in mind there are certain gifts you must not give in Taiwan, like watches or anything with the number 4.


7. Birth Control in a Snap

Teaching kids about sex is still extremely difficult for parents and educators in traditionally modest Taiwan. Fortunately birth control and the morning after pill is so cheap and available that they can be found in any pharmacy, without moral judgments on women's decency. Oral contraceptives are a low monthly cost of 100 TWD ($3 USD) , the morning after pill is a few hundred NT more. Birth control is so successful in Taiwan that women are having less children every year. Having said that, the dark side is that medical abortions are also considered birth control. Perhaps the vacuum left by parents and educators about the availability of contraceptives and condoms is to blame. Forget the pill, getting a 5 year copper coiled Intrauterine device in Taiwan will cost about 1000 TWD (32 USD), compared with 500-1000 USD, maybe because American women still don't understand all the benefits of the IUD.

8. Bilingual Kindergartens

Its a competitive world, Taiwanese parents want their kids to have an edge, and that means learning English (ideally from a white westerner). The law is vague, in that its technically illegal for kindergartners to learn English, yet everyone does it. Some of my students' parents were judges and lawyers, so its a law parents and businesses choose to ignore. As a teacher its risky, we have dodged out windows and back doors, into secret rooms when the government inspectors dropped by ("raid!"). Even so, the societal value placed on education and the multilingual brain are invaluable. If it were an equal value in the States, most kindergartens in America would be half day English, half day Spanish or Mandarin, because a bilingual brain is more focused and pliable. (Read Psychology Today's article).

9. Female Heads of State Rule

As America is on the verge of electing their first female president, Taiwan did it first. Read about it here.

10. Fast Food Is More than Just McDs or KFC

Sure Taiwan has McD's, KFC and even Subway. We might eat at one of those once every two years, but why would we when Taiwan has this amazing street food culture?

Eating out in Taiwan is cheap and convenient in comparison to America.  It a working single mom's go to when I don't have the time to whisk up dinner in between coming home from work and taking Z to music class. You can pay anywhere from 2 bucks to 20 bucks for a bowl of beef noodle soup. Then there's the whole night market culture where people nibble on a variety of foods, like tapas. Street food in Taiwan is now becoming widely celebrated in foodie culture, as it should be.

11. GMOs are just wrong

Unlike the U.S (and the rest of the world), Taiwan requires by law all its food to be labeled if it has GMOs. The Taiwanese public and government are so distrustful of genetically modified food that they banned them from all public schools. But most Americans, like Taiwanese also want to know whats in their food and supported GMO labeling. The state of Vermont made GMO labeling mandatory, then the federal government got involved and when everyone was watching the Dallas shooter at the BLM protest, Congress passed the Dark Act (Deny Americans the Right to Know). Obama just signed it into law.

12. Paid Family Leave Act 

Taiwan like most of the developed world, values new parents and babies at the critical time after birth. In Taiwan, all fathers receive nine days ( five workdays including two weekends) of paid leave after labor. Mother receive eight weeks paid leave to be used either before or after birth. That time has been amended to include more time for OBGYN visits. Both parents can apply for unpaid sabbaticals up to 3 years after their child is born, including adoptive parents. Financial penalties to employers were raised to combat gender discrimination against childbearing women in the workplace. (For more info read Gender Equality Act Amended...).

How does the US Compare?

 American workers are guaranteed their jobs for 12 weeks of unpaid work since 1993. Doesn't sound so bad until you read the US is in the same bracket as Swaziland, Papau New Guinea and Lesotho for NOT paying their workers after the birth of a child. Considering the US pays so much for health care while not getting so much in return, women and newborns are the ones to suffer.

America is so obsessed with itself, like a teenager or narcissist, is it no wonder the upcoming election has personalities like Donald Trump on the GOP ticket. My country would be wise to look at whats working in other democracies, like Taiwan. More pragmatism, less ideological wars.

1 comment:

Kathy (杜 言 艷) said...

Postscript: The US is one of only eight countries in the world where the rate of pregnancy-related deaths has gone up in the last few decades, instead of down. The other countries where this has happened are Afghanistan, Belize, El Salvador, Guinea-Bissau, Greece and the Seychelles...In comparison, it was only 9 and 6 deaths per 100,000 live births in the UK and Australia in 2015...Important changes in TX since 2011 include cuts to funding for women’s health and family planning. A new law restricting abortions in Texas – which has now been struck down by the US Supreme Court – also prompted a number of abortion clinics across the state to close. This may have made it harder for women whose health was at risk from pregnancy to get a termination. But the likeliest culprit is limited access to care, be it through the closure of clinics, the limited availability of health care in rural areas, or a lack of health insurance. “When you see a decrease in services related to reproductive health, you’re certainly going to see adverse outcomes,” says Davis Moss. “The reality is that, until we decide that women’s health is a priority in our lives, we’re going to see outcomes like this.” https://www.newscientist.com/article/2101979-us-pregnancy-related-deaths-are-rising-and-have-doubled-in-texas