Taiwan

The odd reasons for Taiwan’s COVID-19 outbreak

I am fortunate to be a Taiwan Fellow this fall. I plan to study Taiwan’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak at National Taiwan University starting this September, where I am being hosted by the global health program. I just received my visa to travel to Taiwan last week. Unfortunately, there is currently a growing outbreak in Taipei. I first heard of it last week, when I was talking with my conversational partner in Taiwan. At that time, she said that the outbreak was still relatively small, as it involved perhaps thirty individuals. But this morning I had an email and a text -the latter of which was sent to everyone who recently received a visa- to say that Taiwan is halting all travel to the island, except for residents. I am hopeful that Taiwan will soon have the situation back under control. But what happened?

Taiwan received human intelligence about the outbreak in China in December 2019. Taiwan acted quickly, in part because it’s political leaders remembered the SARS outbreak in 2003. Since that time, it has used digital apps for contact tracing, mandatory quarantine hotels for travelers, and an effective public health system to contain COVID. Then some odd things happened. Angelica Oung has written a fascinating story (How Taiwan Finally Fell) recounting how a Taiwanese hotel decided to offer a tourism package so that Taiwanese could stay in a hotel near the airport and watch the flights land and depart from their rooms. The local tourism board even advertised this. Although the people were housed on different floors from airplane crews, somehow infected pilots and crews spread the virus to the domestic tourists. After nine pilots tested positive the domestic tourists apparently found out that they had been staying at a quarantine hotel by watching the TV news. But by this point some infected people attended a Lion’s Club meeting, went to karaoke, and then attended “Grandpa shops/tea parlors” in which older women sexually catered to a senior clientele. Genomic testing revealed that everyone with COVID-19 had been infected by the same English variant. …

Food and Identity in Taiwan: a podcast episode

I’ve just posted a new podcast episode on Dispatch 7, global trends on all seven continents. In this episode I talked with my former Honor’s student, Cassidy Pfau, about her field research on food and identity in Taiwan. In particular, Cassidy talked about night markets, Indigenous cuisine, and the history of Taiwan’s food culture. Cassidy’s Honor’s thesis on this topic has been downloaded from the PSU library nearly 3,000 times now, so I think that this is a topic that attracts a lot of interest. You can listen to this episode here.

Shawn Smallman

Fear, Fact and Fiction: COVID-19’s Origins and Spread

 

Photo by Isabella Mori, who provides this context: In traditional Taiwanese night markets, since people / food stands are in close contacts, most people / vendors wear masks now, in order to protect themselves and others.

I gave a talk yesterday for WorldOregon on COVID-19, and what we know about it’s origins and spread, as compared to conspiracy theories. What you might not know when you watch this is that I wrote a talk before asking how long it should be. So I wound up having a fifty minute talk for a twenty minute delivery. Throughout the whole talk I was trying to summarize. My bad. But I had a good time and enjoyed hearing the questions. Thanks WorldOregon! …

A book review of Robert Kaplan’s Asia’s Cauldron

Robert D. Kaplan is a well-known journalist who has authored popular works on international issues, such as Balkan

South China Sea from Wikipedia Commons.
South China Sea by NASA from Wikipedia Commons.

Ghosts and the Coming Anarchy. Kaplan has a knack for writing books on topics about to rise to international prominence; in his most recent work, he has sought to understand the international competition in the South China Sea, which is in the global news this week because of a naval confrontation between Vietnam and China.

Kaplan’s works typically try to show the legacies of history for contemporary issues, and this book is no exception. He begins by describing the historical influence of India upon Vietnam, which he depicts as a kind of cultural shatter zone between two great Asian powers. One of the strengths of his work is that he has traveled widely in Asia while writing it, so he can draw on conversations that he has had from Vietnam to Singapore. He also has read widely in history, so the work is interspersed with allusions to Walter Benjamin, Livy, Machiavelli and Thucydides, which are are generally well-chosen and insightful. It is this ability to put contemporary issues into a broad historical and geographical context that is Kaplan’s strength. …

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