Despite a cosmopolitan surname and a respectable global footprint, I'm still a hick at heart. I often find myself not knowing which of those stupid metallic implements to use when eating out with my gal Cathy Pacific.
Being a trolley dolly who has traveled the world far more widely than I, she can be a trifle snobbish about such things and often gets embarrassed at my awkward fiddlings with a knife and fork when we dine out at one of Taipei's Western eateries.
This is something she has in common with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and its upper echelons, which have always delighted in torching the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) for being a bunch of uncultured bumpkins -- lacking the required refinement not only to govern the masses but also to make a good impression with foreign guests.
Well, now the DPP has a chance to exact some revenge. Tuesday's Liberty Times reported on how KMT Taipei County Commissioner Chou Hsi-wei (周錫瑋) recently made a cultural faux pas of the highest order.
Chou made the balls-up on Monday while presiding over the opening ceremony of the Jones Cup, an annual international basketball tournament being held in Sinjhuang (
With all the tact and sensitivity of an Abu Ghraib jailer, Chou stepped forward to greet the competing squads with a selection of Taipei County's finest produce, in this case the "four treasures of Shenkeng (深坑四寶)": tea, crispy green bamboo shoots, a smorgasbord of tofu and last but not least, some "black pork."
Imagine Chou's surprise when the teams from Qatar, Iran, Jordan and Lebanon indicated they were not too keen on sampling the fourth treasure.
After some polite refusals the commissioner was forced into a tactful withdrawal of the dead porker before everyone politely tucked into some crispy tofu washed down with a cup of green tea.
What can we expect next from this class act, one wonders? A trade delegation of Taipei County beef farmers heading to India, perhaps? Or maybe a couple of sacrificial piglets to celebrate Yom Kippur in Banciao (
While we're on the subject of KMT members wearing their provincialism with pride, those old allegations about great white hope Ma Ying-jeou's (馬英九) university life resurfaced again this week.
No, sadly, it's not a question of did he or didn't he inhale. It's more a question of did he or didn't he don dark clothing and sneak around Harvard's campus with a camera and notebook while prying on the activities of Taiwanese students who supported independence.
Our very own Taipei Times on Wednesday reported that Government Information Office Minister Shieh Jhy-wey (謝志偉) accused Ma of being a "professional student," which is code for "campus spook."
Now, being labeled a "professional student" in other parts of the world is an insult because it infers you are a bit of a bum and take 20 years to graduate from what should be a four-year course.
But in Taiwan it takes on a different connotation, evoking images of espionage, international intrigue and betrayal.
Even so, it's hard to imagine a big girl's blouse like Ma abseiling down the side of Harvard Law School's Hemenway Gym in a white tuxedo with a babe in one arm and the latest high-tech midget camera in the other.
"The name's -jeou, Ma Ying-jeou" just doesn't sound right.
In fact, Ma comes across as more of an Austin Powers than a James Bond. Haobuhao, baby!
But whether the rumors are true or not, he must have been busy doing something other than studying during his time in the States. How else could such a privileged poseur fail to pass the bar exam after coming home?
But while Ma remains eternally grateful for all that the KMT's ill-gotten booty has provided him with over the years, that Don Corleone of Democracy, Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), certainly knows how to piss off his former paymasters.
Not content with leaving the KMT in the lurch after 29 years -- how else would one describe installing lifetime loser Lien Chan (連戰) as party chairman -- he then went on to steal several of its lawmakers and form a party with utterly contrasting objectives.
Now he has signed up to the DPP's bid to hold a referendum on recovering the KMT's stolen assets.
Talk about biting the hand that feeds.
Not many people around the world have done as well as Lee out of a career in politics. And like many other KMT politicos, the source of his personal fortune, including his palatial residence in Taoyuan's Dasi (大溪), remain a mystery.
You would have thought that Lee would have kept quiet on this issue and taken the many skeletons in his closet to the grave, but then at 84, I suppose he figures he might not have to wait that long anyway.
I couldn't sign off this week without commenting on one of a raft of bad articles on the Web this week about Taiwan. "Taiwan's faltering democracy" by Julian Baum that ran in the Christian Science Monitor on July 2 was just one of them.
Baum reported on Taiwan between 1990 and 2000 for the Far Eastern Economic Review. He couldn't have enjoyed it here much because he paints a thoroughly depressing picture of life on the "beautiful isle." But you might expect that he at least gained some insight on how things work.
The old Baumer starts off thus: "Democracy has fallen on hard times in Taiwan, and it's been a long while since its citizens felt good about their government."
Really? I wasn't aware that our democracy had any problems. Last time I checked, the person who gains the most votes still wins (well, apart from the DPP's Chen Chu (陳菊) in Kaohsiung), which in fact puts Taiwan's democracy in better shape than the self-styled "home of democracy," the US of A, where "universal suffrage" is a euphemism for "Supreme Court appointments." Faltering, my foot.
But Baum is half right about the second part: It's been seven years since that half of the population who are pan-blue supporters felt good about anything, which coincided with the pan-blue camp losing its grip on power and control of the state coffers.
Baum believes that the "high turnover of Cabinet ministers" has the populace pining for the return of the stability of White Terror, and that they have "high nostalgia for the efficiency of authoritarian rule."
Yeah, right. Wake up, Julian. The only ones who dream of those days were in power then, and are outraged that they aren't now. All the others spent their time bitching about how the KMT were slothful gangsters compared with the Japanese.
And Baum's most damaging claim?
"Opinion surveys by East Asia Barometer show that the Taiwanese have the lowest level of belief in the superiority of democracy in East Asia."
It is a common phenomenon for people not to appreciate what they've got, but I bet if you asked Taiwanese if they would swap our "faltering democracy" with what people have in other parts of Asia -- China, Hong Kong, Thailand, North Korea, the Philippines, Laos, Cambodia ... I could go on -- we all know what the answer would be.
Thanks, Julian, but no thanks.
Heard or read something particularly objectionable about Taiwan? Johnny wants to know: email@example.com is the place to reach me, with "Dear Johnny" in the subject line.
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