BAR 58, XIMEN, TAIPEI CITY — I’ve had my ID scanned before. I’ve had to pay a cover. I’ve had to tell the bouncer what my zodiac sign was, or pass a sobriety test … even had to prove that I wasn’t under the influence of any prior drink (or anything stronger).
A first? Passing a health check.
After an eventful day of (a) securing my Alien Resident Card (no photos of that one, as it’s a pretty sensitive document, (b) arranging for some user experience research with the Fulbright Taiwan office, and (c) going over the details of my latest art installation in Taipei and Kaoshiung (we’ll blog about that one, a bit later on), I took in a few of the of the breweries and taprooms tucked away in the Ximending Pedestrian District.
I’ll likely writing about the remarkable Taiwanese craft brewing scene in a later post, but this is another short post that recognizes some of the growing concerns folks are having over the coronavirus.
I’ve had quite a few questions about 2019-nCoV, the coronavirus or “Wuhan Virus” coming out of China. Mostly, other official sources can provide much more credible information than I can, and I’ve been impressed with the amount of information available. In Taiwan, there’s also been an official crackdown on misinformation, with a few cases already being prosecuted — for some, “fake news” about the virus is seen as much more dangerous than even the virus itself. Fines for misinformation can reach nearly NT$3M (or about $100,000 USD).
A few folks have asked, and indeed I’m doing just fine. Healthy and chipper, and just a bit cold — evenings have been in the mid-40s, and most Taiwanese buildings don’t have central heat (there’s no need for heaters on a sub-tropical island, for the most part).
Taiwan has a robust universal healthcare system (as an alien resident, I have access and coverage), which does seem to make diagnosis and data tracking of any such illnesses rather easy. At the very least, there are very few barriers to provider care. The country also takes a harsh stance against folks “hiding” their illness — one patient was fined the equivalent of $10,000 USD for not reporting to health officials after visiting Wuhan. So far, more than 80 people that he came in contact with are being screened. As with other countries, travel to China has been restricted and discouraged, and airport and point-of-screening entries have been intensified.
For front-line defenses? Outside of just “staying home” (which isn’t likely to happen), the humble face mask has become a staple of our collective daily routine. Normally worn when folks feel ill (to prevent them from spreading a disease to others), face masks and respirators are being worn by nearly every one that I see on the streets, and in the trains, and … really, everywhere. The scientific data is a bit inconsistent on their effectiveness, but they are a cheap and quick layer of protection. Their only downside? They steam up my glasses. The central government has also taken steps to ensure a steady supply of masks for the public, largely aimed at prohibiting price-gouging and hoarding. Finding masks hasn’t been very hard, even as of this morning.
The face masks are somewhat comforting, but for a non-native speaker, they pose an interesting barrier: they block out most non-verbal communication. Often times, my “go to” way of communicating with folks is a smile and a nod, and the channel’s been temporarily taken away from me. So I smile a bit bigger, and I hope that my cheekbones pop out enough so that the other person can see that I’m friendly.
It seems to work. I get a few polite nods back, raised cheekbones and all. A few words of English, and I’m on my way.
An eventful day — I secured my alien resident status and I made some arrangements for some user experience research as well as an art gallery showing (my third showing, very excited about this) — it seemed timed for a beer. A nice, cool, uneventful beer. For those, Ximending offers several. =)
Some mindless trolling, a few more claw machine games (my total winnings to date? 11 stuffed animals), and I found the small red door for The 58 Bar – 台灣精釀啤酒專賣.
Before I can enjoy a nice draft, there is one more barrier.
It’s not a linguistic one. As the bartenders spot me, they spot my fumbled Chinese and welcome me over in English.
It’s not a nonverbal barrier. We’ve all learned how to smile and nod through our masks.
But I notice that in this small pub, where no more than 20 steps separate the front door from the back wall, the bartenders are 20 steps back from where I stand. As they greet me, one reaches for a spray bottle and the other snaps a plastic battery lid shut. I’m about to get an impromptu health screening.
I’m sprayed, scanned, and once the staff is satisfied that I’m not a threat, I’m given a tap list. A nice, cool, very eventful beer.