On Sunday afternoon in Shida Park (師大公園), a shouting match broke out between shopkeepers and the chairman of a neighborhood group. Around 80 or 90 small business owners were assembling for a protest march, holding banners accusing the Taipei City government of malfeasance, mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) of stupidity, and city councilor Lee Hsin (李新) of destroying property values to smooth the way for redevelopment.
The marchers — mostly proprietors of coffee shops, night market stalls and small restaurants — told reporters that the city is selectively enforcing regulations in Shida and forcing their shops to close down. In the last year, close to 200 small businesses have been shut down by city officials, and recent months have seen waves of fines against remaining shops and restaurants.
The marchers would eventually join the DPP’s 100,000-person-strong Fury Rally in front of the Presidential Office, and their banners were prominently displayed along the parade route. But before the march could begin, Jerry Liu (劉振偉), a neighborhood organizer lobbying to shut down the businesses, appeared in Shida Park and began heckling them loudly. He was answered by Andy Singh, owner of the restaurant Out of India, who yelled at him, “Get out of here!”.
“We exchanged some insults and threats, and that was about it,” said Singh.
The United Daily News meanwhile reported that a scuffle nearly broke out between the two men, and the situation was only defused by the arrival of police.
The protest was the first organized action by Shida’s business owners, and the cause dovetailed nicely with the DPP’s new calls for economic reform and protecting the little man.
Singh says he was nearly given a chance to speak from the rally’s main podium, but in the end there was not enough time. Still, the business owners finally exhibited a bit of unity, and in the process have potentially found some real political support. The fight for Shida continues to stay interesting.
Sitting on the sidelines for this one — stupidly, in my opinion — was Underworld, a live music venue that has been shut down by city regulators twice in the last two years. The bar continues to be plagued by city regulators, who visit so often they are almost becoming regulars, and seem to find new problems at every turn.
The situation has gotten so bad that Underworld was last week forced into a historic announcement: It has banned smoking inside the bar, beginning Jan. 15. The reasons, according to the bar’s blog, were “protests by concerned citizens, immature laws and the government.”
This is almost unthinkable, but will be good for the staff, who would probably have found it healthier to have spent the last 16 years working in a coal mine. But no, I don’t really see this happening. A bar by chainsmokers, of chainsmokers and for chainsmokers. Even if they put a stack of nicotine patches next to the coasters, I don’t think the ban can last. If it does, F***ing Place (操場) would remain unchallenged as Taipei’s only excessively smokey rocker bar.
At the DPP’s Fury Rally — the biggest political mobilization since last year’s presidential election — it is interesting to note that the soundtrack was provided in large part by local indie rock and underground hip hop. Both the rock band LTK Commune (濁水溪公社) and rapper Dog G (大支) were given choice time slots on the main stage, and both are known for their open support of Taiwanese independence and related causes. (Last October, Dog G put out a music video featuring his Holiness the Dalai Lama, who is barred from Taiwan by the current government.)