Sat, Feb 05, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Wake up, Taiwanese

By Wen Chi-pang

The essay by George Thompson ("Little Sister case typical of Taiwan," Feb.1, page 8) deeply moved me. As a foreigner who has lived in Taiwan for three years, Thompson's intentions were good and he had the courage to point out a highly prevalent mentality in Taiwan: namely, "What can I get away with?"

He saw apathy among students, teachers, drivers, motorcyclists and businesspeople like cable operators. They shared the characteristics in trying to get away with as much as possible, without respect for others, for the law, the quality of services or for the betterment of society as a whole.

It breaks my heart, but I have to echo his sentiments and tell him I have the same observations, too. Taiwanese would really resent being called "Ugly Taiwanese," but unfortunately the description often fits. We have the responsibility to expose those characteristics that make up the "Ugly Taiwanese" and to get the Taiwanese to wake up to the fact that many of them are self-centered, selfish and apathetic, and that they should become responsible citizens in a civilized society.

As the Taiwanese are unanimous in seeking international recognition and have kept knocking at the door of the World Health Organization for many years, they yearn to be global citizens. Much of this came from the fact that Taiwan is not recognized as a nation by the majority of countries. You would think that such a feeling of "identity crisis" might make the Taiwanese more humble and courteous.

But on the contrary, I notice that the Taiwanese are all very anxious for bragging rights to being No. 1 in the world in many areas, such as Olympic events or foreign exchange reserves. In psychiatric terms, this may be overcompensating for an inferiority complex. But to become a global citizen and expect to be respected as one, one should behave like one, or even behave as an exemplary model for others to look up to.

As a global citizen, one should be courteous, caring, smiling with a sense of humor and willing to give a helping hand, whether asked or not. Many Taiwanese behave in just the opposite manner. They are only caring to those they know.

If I say "Good morning" to a lady I don't know in the street and smile at her, she will turn the other way, fearing that she will be misread if she responds positively. Culturally, she has been trained that strangers who are nice to her could be sex maniacs. When I smile at a pedestrian passing by, I usually receive a confused and apathetic look back. A couple of times, I had the misfortune of being in a fender-bender, a minor car accident. I was treated like a criminal by hostile drivers and physically threatened, when an exchange of insurance details and apologies could have easily achieved the same result.

Taiwan is no longer an underdeveloped country, and is no longer just filled with people too busy making a living to care about people and the environment. We can afford to care about our quality of life, our environment and about people, and not everything has to be linked with cash.

However, the self-centered mentality makes us only care about ourselves, as individuals or perhaps as a family unit, but rarely beyond. We are taught not to trust strangers. Most Taiwanese are willing to invest in decorating the inside of their houses to make them breathtakingly beautiful, as if they lived in palaces. But when one steps outside the door, the difference in ambiance and in quality is like night and day, with dusty hallways and shabby walls littered with unsightly postings and graffiti.

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