Fight or Free amidst Conflicts & Injustice

With natural disasters like UK and S. American floods, tornadoes in US or man- made disasters like Australia’s train derail with sulphuric acid spills,Shenzhen landslides and Shandong mine disasters, we have chills in our spines.

The Shenzhen landslides came closest to home because similar disasters had happened in Taiwan but not in such grand scale. It is inconceivable that buildings in the biggest industrial park that is the city’s engine would ever disappear in minutes.

Local government officials did apologize, yet nobody ever apologized for the hundreds victims who spent months in hospitals fighting for their lives and fifteen died at the water park accident in Taiwan. But what good is an apology or officials and owners killing themselves out of guilt or fear of penalties? In business deals for those reaping a profit, human lives seldom come to mind . They knew about the risks but they thought the chance would be one in a million and shoved it to the backburner. Surely some little people like villagers knew about all these undertakings and tried to lobby, maybe a few activists had tried to fight but I am sure the majority kept silent because they could not make a difference and feared repercussion on their livelihoods or lives.

Three years ago I had just moved in the building for a month, two friends and I along with at least twenty people could not go back to our apartments after we went to the rooftop to view the fireworks at Taipei 101 at 12am on New Year’s Day. The firedoors on all fourteen floors were closed because the computer controlling the fire door system was down. The only custodian on duty had to go to each floor to open the fire door manually, he was experienced and handled it as efficiently as possible because he had encountered it in other buildings built by the same company. Just like us, there were people locked out of the corridor leading to their apartments on other floors as well.

Later I found out this happened  a couple of times every year and they claimed power outage was the cause and nothing can be done but the building power supply was normal on that particular New Year. Other custodians were not informed about the fire door problem and how to handle it if it happened. I  voiced my concerns at the annual meeting for owners, for elderly residents or people with diabetes, blood pressure or heart problems half an hour to an hour delay in access to their meds at home could take their lives in case of unforseeable circumstances. I suggested the building buy uninterrupted power supply to prevent the computer dysfunction if power outage were indeed  the problem and should get the original builder, an affiliate of the property management company, to help resolve the problem as corporate social responsiblity that they so prided in. Nobody and not even members of the management committee had heard about the problem.  I asked why the new custodians were not informed and was told they don’t need to be informed about  everything. I asked if owners can participate in the monthly management meetings like in other buildings I had lived in, the answer was a flat no because that would prolong the meetings.And then the property manager mobilized his fans in the building to bark at me together as if I was the common enemy of the building so I would shut up.

“Don’t ever push people too hard, they will respond with the ill-natured heart, and don’t even know how it comes about. When they don’t know what they are doing, how can they know the consequences?” Chuang Tzu.

Most owners are landlords who live overseas or have busy lives, renters move in and out all the time and custodians come and go like the revolving door. The property manager dictates all operations and he keeps tight control on keeping people informed to secure his exclusive position so he is indispensible and cover up problems but take great initiatives on recruiting vendors for unnecessary jobs that would get him kickbacks. Custodians are afraid to bother the manager on any troublesome problems, conscientious ones have trouble holding on the job.

This year both elevators in the building were down for more then fifteen hours on a typhoon night when the power supply in the building was perfectly normal and then the following week there were  two separate incidences of people trapped in the elevators when there was no typhoon. I wrote twice about my concerns and requested they should provide a clear explanation for such incidents affecting public safety and make better arrangement for maintentance and emergency repairs before and during typhoons since there are residents who would have trouble walking up or down the stairs and what if there were unforeseeable medical emergencies. They responded my first email in meeting minutes blaming the power company and typhoon, stated  stairs would be the only safe options in typhoon days and replied a couple days after I  sent out the second email asking about people trapped in elevators when there was no typhoon with another meeting’s minutes dated two weeks before only to say the issue had been responded to in previous meeting minutes.

“Do not be consumed by joy or anger when nothing is lost in real terms” Chuang Tzu.

People in developed country are more concerned about health and safety, maybe I had spent too much time in US. It is common sense to take precautions on fire hazards and tripping for public space with children and elderly. It took me several months and many e mails just to get the manager to remove an inflammable sheet of light wood material that they placed next to a heavy duty dryer because they could not find a mover to put it in storage and a couple of years to get them not to put bathroom mats at entrance doors on rainy days because I once fell on all fours when the mat slipped. The building management fees make up 50% of my monthly expenses of only US$300. I should be angry but I am not because it serves no purpose.  Yes nothing was lost in real terms, nobody was hurt so far and it just happens once in a while. If only people would take “what if” as “it might happen”, maybe the Shenzhen landslide would not happen.

“Speak up when others can take it in. Stop when they cannot.” Chuang Tzu.

My New Year Resolution is to let go and free myself from conflicts with the manager and his fans. I cannot make a difference by trying, it’s a no win battle.(Under the Taiwanese government bureaucracy or the norm of Chinese society, it is a waste of time and energy to report it to the department in charged because it would be considered trivialities and if I expose the situations through local media or internet, the building would probably devalue and then I would really be the common enemy.)

“Knowing there’s nothing you can do, be at peace as if it’s destiny.” Chuang Tzu.

By Western standard I may be considered weak and I really have a hard time convincing myself to practice it but all four aforementioned Chuang Tzu’s quotes are true, particularly in Chinese society. Man-made disasters will repeat themselves, it is hard to change human nature. Not everyone can be Mandala or Malala.

I did succeed on one situation. Aware of mentality and norm in Taiwan, for three years I kept quiet when people dumped unwanted plants, wooden sheets,boards and planks, furniture, pots and containers on the rooftop of their five-storey apartment building across our building. After the rain, pools of water would breed mosquitoes and molds would grow on the rotting boards. When epidemics of Dengue Fever broke out in Southern Taiwan with many deaths and people were concerned about its spreading to the North, I seized the opportune moment to call up the Health Department to report about the rooftop hygiene conditions because the new mayor is a doctor. It was cleared in a couple of days. Wait and act until the cause and conditions are right, that is “no striving” in Lao Tzu or Chuang Tzu’s teachings.




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