Saturday, 8 November 2008

Chen Yunlin, Day 4

This was the most violent day I’ve ever witnessed. It was more than 24 hours ago and I’m still shaken up. After Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou met with head of China’s quasi-governmental organization that deals with Taiwan Chen Yunlin at 11h00, a massive parade led into rioting and violence that didn’t end until after 1h00. More than a hundred demonstrators, police and reporters were injured.

A model-turned-reporter/anchor at ERA TV was clocked in the head by a rock and taken to hospital. The wound was on her forehead, and it took doctors eight stitches to sew it up. Her coworkers gave her a new nickname, “Harry Potter.” My coworker was violently clubbed in the nose and eye by police, who mistook him for a rioter. Ironically, earlier in the day, he was actually stopping people from losing control and beating a man already lying on the ground. When we finally got off work this morning at 3h00, the night assigner said he has a fractured nose and still can’t open his eye. Stationed with other reporters on the road divider between the police and rioters, I was hit too, by a flying metal pipe a rioter meant for the police.

My ears have stopped ringing from having to bear seven hours of air horn blasting and my body has stopped shaking from last night’s nightmare on Zhongshan North Road, and now I’m starting to feel even more disgust for politicians and the police in general.

How can these politicians lead demonstrators to face off with police, then go home without dispersing the demonstrators and then the next day, say that rioters were not supporters of their party and that the riots may have been caused by KMT gangsters? Why are they leading Taiwanese civilians to harm policemen, who are also Taiwanese as well? DPP legislator Wang Shu-hui, who said her son is a policeman and could be somewhere in the crowd that day, his safety also endangered by the demonstrators she was leading, just picked up and left after depleting the battery of three campaign trucks with her leading the crowd on, shouting through the loudspeakers in the direction of the Grand Hotel, where Chen Yunlin was staying. Her son may have been one of the riot police facing demonstrators she was leading, and obviously he’s been safe the last few days of protests and conflicts.

We have footage of a police officer from Day 2, his head smashed in, bleeding badly. He told us, “Please don’t air this. I don’t want to make my mother worried.”

Day 2, I heard DPP former Taoyuan County councilwoman Wu Baoyu at around 21h30 say to demonstrators in front of Ambassador Hotel, “Please stay here and fight for another 24 hours. But sorry, I have to go first. I have to go home now and pick up my children.”

How do these politicians sleep at night?

Even during the parade from where Ma and Chen met to the Grand Hotel, there was violence. In the car ride to our post at the bridge, we saw demonstrators shoving a camera crew with their microphone cover taken off. Our mic covers display our TV station logo, and we take those off, depending on what crowd we’d be reporting in. Obviously they were working for a pan-blue TV station, because it was a pan-green demonstration. Seeing the situation, we jumped out of the car to film it and to hopefully stop the violence. Honglin, my cameraman this week started recording as I went to the boot to get out our mic (which still had its cover on). When I went to find him, I couldn’t. Instead, I saw the reporters that were being harassed on the other side of the street with the camera pointed in the direction of where they were before. And then I realized, they were filming my cameraman, who had the most angry expression on his face. “They hit me and my camera, and now it’s dead,” he said. As soon as I ran over, FTV mic in hand, the protestors saw my mic and started apologizing, “so sorry, didn’t know you were FTV. So sorry.” Should it matter that we’re FTV or Sanli (another green-leaning TV station) or not? Protestors on Day 3 pushed and shoved the CCTV (TV station from China) anchor who had come to Taiwan to cover the Chiang-Chen Talks and harassed her so much that she had to be escorted away by the police. (That’s scary to me too people ask me quite often if I’m a CCTV anchor. I don’t know why. A lot of people also ask me if I’m part Japanese too, and I also don’t know why this is too.) She is just a reporter, not a politician. She is a person and a woman. What happened to civility? What became of the warmth and foreigner-friendliness Taiwanese people are known for?

Last night, before the riots began, demonstrators threw water bottles and used up air horn cans over the barbed barricades at the police. Where we were posted, we were dodging those things all night. Some experienced print cameramen came prepared with motorcycle helmets, bicycle helmets or hard hats (that was Wally). As the night grew older, protestors started leaving. But there were still a few hundred left before the riots began. At that time I saw mostly people that looked like gang members and people that looked mentally disturbed. Then in addition to shouting obscenities, blasting air horn and flashing middle fingers, they started throwing more than just water bottles and spent air horn gas cans. They started tossing eggs, bottles of water, bottles of tea, dinner boxes still filled with food, decomposed kitchen waste, animal excrement on a skewer, stones, sticks, pipes, paint and even Molotov cocktails. My cameraman was hit by a can of paint, which splashed onto my face, jeans and jacket too. Then later, I was hit a metal pipe they hurled over from somewhere.

After the police decided to disband the rioters by force, they started clubbing anyone who would not leave. When they started clubbing, the rest of the police unit behind them would start cheering. I was shocked to see it. They’re cheering on their colleagues to beat harder? Give the bastard what he deserved? What? If this type of barbaric behavior is what runs through the police, I understand why my coworker was beaten so brutally – he didn’t care who he was beating, as long as he was beating. After two or three blows, he finally heard everyone screaming, “He’s a reporter! He’s a reporter!” he stopped and moved on to beat the person that was next closest.

Dancing around the sensitive issue of country of province, Taiwan and China are finally starting to talk, and during this round of the Chiang-Chen Talks, agreements on direct shipping, aviation, postal services and food safety were made. These agreements can only make the Taiwan economy stronger and food from China safer. Only, some people fear that any talking with China will end up with Taiwan getting absorbed by China. Egged on by politicians, people deathly fearing the loss of a hard-fought democracy lost all sensibility. No one in Taiwan wants to lose democratic freedom, including the KMT. No one wants Taiwan to become a part of China and to go under Communist rule. Well, there may not be a Taiwan anymore if the Taiwanese keep hating and fighting each other.

How embarrassing it is to be a Taiwanese right now. Sigh.

Well, in addition to an awesome and rare experience in riot reporting, I think I also got a lot more insight on politicians and police in Taiwan.

I’m so glad that this is finally over, that I’m not (too) hurt and that I can now go back to reporting on health and medicine.

Thanks Mom and Dad for the flowers, and Michael and Daniel for asking if I’m OK. :)

Bruise caused by flying pipe, day 1:

Bruise, day 2:

(pictures via Apple Daily, Apple Daily, UDN, UDN, ChinaTimes)


John said...

sad to see how things turned out. thanks for share with us what was going on. most sincere regard to you and your colleagues who were there on duty for what you guys had to endure.

Ken said...

I'm so glad you're OK. Take care. I'm proud to have you as a coworker.

David said...

Michella, this article is very insightful and I hope many people read it to better understand what went on that day. Thanks for your reporting and I hope you are OK.

Stephen said...

"How embarrassing it is to be a Taiwanese right now. Sigh."
I think you should really feel "... proud to be Taiwanese right now"

You report for an influential and free media on an incredibly charged political issue and run a blog where you voice your frank and honest opinions. And you can do it all without fear.

As long as people are free to express themselves the future for Taiwan can only be positive.

We should not accept violence as we should not accept oppression. Though tensions were high this last week I think Taiwan is much stronger for the visit, trade talks and the protests.

Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and opinions. And for taking a knock for our democracy.

Naruwan said...

Youch! That's one heck of a bruise.
Hope you heal quickly. Fantastic post. Thanks for showing what its like reporting literally from the frontlines.

Dad said...

Good bruise! If you were a guy I'd something like, "Shame there won't be a battle scar."

I'm also not sure you should feel ashamed about being Taiwanese. There are plenty of violent protests around the world, often about less important topics.

Many Taiwanese people are justifiably concerned that some hard-won freedoms could be tossed away in a political gamble by the current government. And, that same government has not taken much time nor spent much effort on reassuring all of Taiwan's people that their rights will be protected.

IMHO, Ma and his government need some PR lessons or the same nervousness is very likely to reappear again and again. But, if they do learn a lesson, Taiwan will be stronger for it.

You've made a big contribution to keeping Taiwan a democracy. Well done.

Anonymous said...

Michella said, "Dancing around the sensitive issue of country of province, Taiwan and China are finally starting to talk, and during this round of the Chiang-Chen Talks, agreements on direct shipping, aviation, postal services and food safety were made. These agreements can only make the Taiwan economy stronger and food from China safer."

I really don't think so. You might recall that the Chinese government knew of the problems with melamine in milk powder and kept it hidden for 6 months because of the Olympics. We cannot trust working with the CCP on this issue.

The mechanism that has been proposed, far from safeguarding our food, will likely just give Chinese authorities greater access to bribe, intimidate, or coerce concessions from our health authorities. Why should we be working with a country that willingly let its own people consume tainted products to avoid an internationally embrassing incident during the Olympics?

And, you should not forget that the cargo shipping agreement dictates that Taiwan is part of China, by making it a "domestic only" market. Not even flags of convenience can be used ....
As usual, the KMT protects business at almost any cost.

madisonian said...

"How embarrassing it is to be a Taiwanese right now."

I know you have options. Take it. Be it China, Japan or US.

TCL said...

Thanks for the report. I'm Californian but my mother is Taiwanese. The island is always my distant home.

I hope the passion will pass and politicians and the people return to a civil conversation about Taiwan's future. I agree with you that the politics of blue/green and TW/PRC need to be removed (but not sure if it's ever possible in this charged environment). Outside of the cross strait talks, I firmly believe that the focus needs to be on enhancing civil rights in Taiwan.

Some of the other comments are spot on. You should be proud. While some abuses happened last week (I was in Seattle for the 1999 WTO ministerial. America didn't fare that well that day either), a strong society will rebound. The freedom of press is an important hallmark of a democracy and you've demonstrated that with your reporting.

Trace said...

Sad to see this happen in what I feel is the greatest country on Earth. I love Taiwan, lived here 21 years. I dont like the DPP and their agenda at all.

A big difference is apparent between the opposition KMT demonstrations and the opposition DPP.

Julian said...

This is the most objective description I have seen of these events. I wasn't there (although I could hear some noise from where I live), but from my experience of unrest at other times and places I find your account highly credible.

翁郁容 Michella Jade Weng ミシェラ・オング said...

Thank you, Julian. :)