It's not often that I am irritated by developments in the Antipodes, though of late Australia's cross-dressing foreign minister, Alexander Downer, has been pushing it with smug lectures on the evils of Taiwanese diplomacy in the South Pacific. He really had me going for a while there, prattling away about the ruin our money is bringing to the Solomon Islands. Then it became amusing. Downer now has what he wanted: a new election and a new prime minister. But -- wait for it -- Cabinet appointments (including minister of police) have now been given to two men in custody on suspicion of inciting the riots that leveled Honiara's Chinatown.
Be careful what you wish for, eh, Lex baby? Hope you've been reading your Kipling:
And when your goal is nearest (The end for others sought)
Watch sloth and heathen folly
Bring all your hope to nought.
If you really want a voice of reason in the region, head southeast to New Zealand. Nothing like opinions out of a Western nation on the margins to give you real food for thought. And, unlike their big-noting cousins across the Tasman Sea, they have the decency to treat Taiwan courteously despite the lack of diplomatic ties.
But not everyone who hails from NZ can be trusted with a Taiwan junket. Take travel writer Amanda Spratt in the New Zealand Herald last Sunday: "Two-wheeling commuters, handkerchiefs round their mouths and noses like blue-collar gangsters" is how she describes your average Taiwanese salaryman and salarywoman on their way to work. Hardly polite.
But she started her tour with a massage in Yangmingshan (
"When she wasn't talking, she provided a disgusting degustational symphony, munching on potato crisps and burping in rhythmic sequence. And just as her hands started working on my feet, it came: the short, sharp, percussive finale. My masseuse had farted. It was so loud my companion heard it from next door. At least I was downwind."
The fact is, Amanda, you placed too much trust in your guides. Everyone knows the genuine Taiwanese massage is not performed by masticating, belching and farting ladies but by blind people. Try one next time you come; you'll be amazed at the difference. And while you're here, let me offer you Johnny Neihu's patented Blue-Collar Gangster Massage Therapy. Believe me: Once you go blue, you never go back.
Then her piece turns to history and goes off the rails like a Southern Link express, opining that Chiang Kai-shek (
"Kai-Shek [sic], who was forced to take his government to Taiwan after he failed to oust the communists in the Chinese Civil War, is something of a god in Taiwan. He was president until he died in 1975, and never saw his beloved country recognised as a state."
A quick history lesson, Amanda: Chiang and his party saw his state gradually downgraded from a fully recognized "China" to "Free China" to "Feel Free to Take Us Back, China." But it's not all gloom and doom, because the Solomon Islands still recognizes us. For now. And as for Chiang as a deity, I think your Cantonese skills haven't served you well. Your average Taiwanese, when asked about the Old Thief, raises his or her eyes high to the heavens and sighs: "Oh, God."