Sat, Nov 17, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Johnny Neihu's NewsWatch: Truly the next best thing to China

By Johnny Neihu 強尼內湖

Who needs recognition from the big powers when you've got the Schmids?

I'm referring to Emil and Liliana Schmid, who -- according to the rag you're holding in your hot little hands -- have fallen hard for Taiwan.

For reasons that are never quite explained, this wacky Swiss couple has wheeled through 157 countries in 23 years, giving them the world record for longest road trip ever.

Anyways, after nixing a trip to Chicomland because it was too expensive, they were gobsmacked to discover the bountiful beauty and wonderful people of Taiwan.

Said Emil: "As we cannot afford China, we decided that the next best thing was Taiwan."

OK, so not quite the ringing endorsement we were hoping for. Still, here's the important thing: In their list of 157 countries they've trolled through, they categorized Taiwan as a "sovereign state."

Take that, Beijing. And chalk up another diplomatic victory for Taiwan in the long twilight battle for the world's hearts and minds.

Turns out that exposing foreigners to ordinary, betel-nut chomping Taiwanese is lots more effective than boring the living bejeezus out of them at interminable Ministry of Foreign Affairs banquets.

Here's Emil again: "All over the nation, from Kaohsiung to Kenting to Taipei, Taiwanese were willing to communicate in English."

Notice he said "willing," not necessarily "able" -- still, we'll take that compliment, too.

If the government was really practical, it would embrace the China fever raging worldwide and find a way to profit from it.

Why not promote ourselves as the kinder, gentler, less polluted, more tourist-friendly alternative to China? You can just hear the James Earl Jones-voiced adman voiceover as images of Taroko Gorge (太魯閣) and Alishan (阿里山) flicker by: "Welcome to Taiwan: The Next Best Thing to China."

Then, after we've lured the tourists here, we hit 'em with the betel nut beauties, stinky tofu and Taiwan pride propaganda. The old bait and switch, taike style.

Even better, don't even bother making a new ad campaign. Taiwan has a rich tradition of shameless copycatting (that is, violations of IPR -- hey, isn't that the name of a new boy band?). Witness the Starbucks ripoffs that are even more ubiquitous these days than "UN for Taiwan" receipts.

Why not sell Taiwan in the same style? Other Asian countries like Malaysia and India already have slick, fancy-pants promotional campaigns that run on the hour on CNN -- in between Larry King interviews with celebrities just out of rehab and updates on the weather in Gabon.

No need to reinvent the wheel. How about "Taiwan: Truly Asia"? (... the mountains and the sea ... See? Works fine for Taiwan, too.) Or "Incredible Taiwan-dia" -- except we'd have to lose the sitar and lay down an Aboriginal soundtrack instead.

If Agence France-Presse is to be believed, we'll need to add turtles to the ad campaign too. Apparently, the latest hot trend is eco-tours, like one in Penghu where tourists can gather in the wee hours and ambush an endangered sea turtle that's trying to poop eggs in the sand.

Sorry, but isn't that sort of a private turtle moment? Would you want a bunch of giggling xiaojie tour groups hanging on your every discharge and giving the "V" sign for flashing digital cameras while you're squeezing for dear life in one of nature's most mysterious and vulnerable moments? No wonder they're almost extinct.

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