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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Dance for me, Monkey Boy

I went for a hike on the No. 1 Trail in the Tak'eng (Dà​kēng) 大坑 area on Tuesday, and had the pleasure of seeing at least three Formosan Rock Macaques (Tái​wān mí​hóu) 台灣獼猴 cavorting among the treetops. They were too far away for me to get any decent photos or videos, but I did give it a try:

I also came across a couple of magnificent snakes. One was a very long brown beauty that was slithering off into the underbrush as I was making my way up the mountain. Unfortunately, it moved too quickly for me to get a picture. The other one wasn't as impressive physically, but was more cooperative when it came to photographing and filming:

Something that wasn't as pleasurable was having to read this article in the Taipei Times on Saturday. As Michael Turton points out in The View from Taiwan:

"The yammerhead who got in a pissing contest over a 25 NT towel (for pete's sake) may end up causing trouble for other foreigners. Foreigners need to remember: you might not think you're part of a community, but the Taiwanese will treat you that way."

That's Asia for you. You're constantly being reminded of how different you are...until a problem arises, and then you're part of the team (of course, nobody remembered to inform you of the rules of the game beforehand).

However, there are several things about this story that bother me other than the fact that some idiot blew a gasket over something trivial as a towel, and forgot the old adage about being an ambassador abroad. Namely, that:

1.) Why is this even a media story in the first place? Would any news outlets have covered this if a foreigner hadn't been involved? I once saw a (Taiwanese) woman going ballistic over NT20 at a bus station, yelling at the top of her lungs and threatening to sue the bus company, before finally getting her way, yet I never saw anything about it in the papers or on TV. Of course, she wasn't allegedly moonlighting as a stripper. At least, not that I know of. Good god, I hope she wasn't, judging from the way she looked;

2.) Why are local politicians getting involved? Elected officials in Taiwan are notorious for fighting and grandstanding, and it's clear in this case that Councilor Hung was relishing the opportunity to get some quality time in the media spotlight. There's a tendency in Taiwan for people to drag local politicians into the smallest of disputes, as I know from personal experience (more on that later);

3.) Hung's involvement in the matter highlights the darker side of the Democratic Progressive Party (Mín​jìn​dǎng) 民進黨. The DPP may be the morally right party on the issue of Taiwan's identity, but it's also the political organization of choice for the betel-nut chewing, blue truck-driving yahoos of not-so-cosmopolitan Taiwan (every country has its Bubbas). Xenophobia goes down well with this voting bloc;

4.) In all the hubbub over Towelgate, where is "Mr. Eric's" side of the story? Certainly, Councilor Hung didn't bother ascertaining what "Mr. Eric" had to say, but that's understandable as foreigners can't vote (but "Mr. Wu" can). What's harder to digest is why the reporter, Mo Yan-chih, didn't attempt to track down "Mr. Eric" in order to find out what he had to say about the altercation. The Taipei Times may be superior to the China Post, but it has shown a serious lack of professionalism in this case. Assuming the local is right and going to print with the story isn't good journalism;

5.) Finally, there's that line about "not allow(ing)...any acts of disrespect toward Taiwanese". What exactly constitutes "disrespect"? Does that mean that we as foreigners are not supposed to get into any arguments or disputes with locals, lest we cause the latter to "lose face"? I guess we're just supposed to put up and shut up in these situations, otherwise the outraged native will contact his/her local politician, and the whole affair will risk turning into a media circus. It's "dance for me, monkey boy" as parents point out the foreigner to their children as if we were attractions in a zoo. "Disrespect" is a one-way street here.

A few months ago, I was riding on my scooter through a green light at an intersection, when a woman came flying through her red light and hit me. Neither of us was hurt, and both our bikes were undamaged, but I did lose my temper and let loose a few obscenities at the stupid bitch traffic law violator. I thought that was that, but the next thing I knew, I was being summoned to the local police station, and watched helplessly as various relatives (mine and hers) argued over what had happened, while a (you guessed it) local politician tried to settle everyone down.

Things got worse. We ended up in court, as she tried to sue me for damages to her and her scooter, but not before the woman and her gangster-looking fiance tried to shake down my brother-in-law for cash (no dice). Before an arbitrator, the woman tried to claim that I was the one who went through a red light, and not her. Unbeknownst to our heroine, I had a copy of the police report stating that she was the one who had failed to stop at a red traffic signal, and the surveillance camera video footage clearly showing the woman riding past stopped scooters and through the red light, into the intersection and then into me (my light was clearly green in the video). She got nothing.

But here's the kicker. One of her complaints was that I needed to apologize to her for having "failed to respect Taiwanese women". I refused to agree to any settlement until that part of the complaint was removed. I pointed out to the arbitrator that this was a minor traffic accident between two individuals and not an international incident involving overbearing barbarians and helpless Taiwanese virgins. The arbitrator agreed with me and lectured the woman on this matter before she reluctantly agreed to withdraw that part of her complaint.

It was a long, needless hassle over a mere fender bender, but the look on that woman's face as she walked out of the courtroom with nothing to show for her stupidity was almost worth all the trouble.

And for those of you whose reading comprehension skills need polishing, I'm not denying that "Mr. Eric" was a total jerk.

As for Councilor Hung, lets get together sometime so I can really demonstrate to you how a foreigner can show disrespect towards a Taiwanese. I certainly wouldn't mind a free one-way plane ticket back to my home country! :-)

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