Fri, Feb 04, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Letter: Taiwan is not so unique

By K. Avrom Medvedovsky

I write in response to George Thompson's opinion piece "`Little sister' case typical of Taiwan," (Feb. 1, page 8).

Thompson (who I presume hails from North America) blames the tragic death of "little sister" Chiu on a variety of shortcomings in Taiwanese society and culture, and goes on to support his view with a myriad of examples and analogies.

Before entering the labyrinth of logic woven by Thompson, it might be wise to state that the passing of "little sister" Chiu was caused by a severe beating at the hands of her father. I need not canvass statistics from North America to lament the fact that many unfortunate children suffer similar fates in Thompson's home country and, doubtlessly, also in Thompson's home town, wherever that may be.

The fact that this battered child was denied the immediate medical care that may have saved her life is tragic, but certainly not unique to Taiwan. There is a plethora of examples of people in Canada and the US being denied life-saving medical care for a variety of reasons: long waiting lists for socialized services in Canada; lack of insurance or financial resources in the US. None of this excuses or mitigates what occurred in the specific case of this one little girl, but neither does it support Thompson's contention that the cause is some unique deficiency in Taiwanese culture.

Thompson proceeds to provide examples of what's wrong with Taiwan. He begins with English cable television stations. How this relates to battered children one struggles to imagine, but he argues that this is indicative of something larger. That HBO et al tend to repeat their programming, in his view, demonstrates a lack of "service, responsibility or accountability," and states that the consumer has "no choice, no exit option and no avenue of complaint."

In a country of 23 million people, where English is the third language (behind Mandarin and Taiwanese), one might be thankful that there is English programming at all. As for choices and exit options, Thompson might consider turning the television off and spending his leisure time in any of the beautiful municipal parks, basketball and tennis courts, or swimming pools that are so widely available in Taiwan. He might rent movies, or become sufficiently competent in Chinese that he can increase his viewing options by 70 or 80 channels. In any case, Thompson demonstrates a severe lack of understanding of commercial television production in addition to weak logic in this example.

Next on Thompson's laundry list of Taiwanese shortcomings is the traffic. How utterly common to hear a foreigner complaining about the driving habits of Taiwanese motorists. Yes, Thompson, the Taiwanese don't drive like the folks back home. Given the sheer density of traffic on this postage stamp-sized island, is it any wonder? Nevertheless, I've yet to see or hear about incidents of road rage in Taiwan in which guns are fired. As for people running red lights, clearly Thompson has never operated a car in Montreal, or Washington, or any other major North American city, where to venture off the sidewalk is to risk life and limb.

Thompson then turns to the educational system. He sees what might be loosely termed "the Confucian method" (in which the teacher lectures), and compares it to the western "Socratic method" (which utilizes a dialogue between students and teacher) and finds the former lacking. One might wonder why it is that Taiwanese students consistently and dramatically outperform western students in standardized testing, given that they suffer in a system in which everyone does the "bare minimum to justify their positions." One might also wonder at the number of western students who leave high school unable to read or write. He defies anyone to "prove him wrong on this point." I believe the evidence does just that, but since he speaks his opinion without regard to facts, I shouldn't trouble to make the effort.

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