There I was again, back off the wagon and sucking down Taiwan's finest ales at 3am at a crap nightclub that not even a Combat Zone mama-san could love. The mutt Punkspleen had been heavily sedated with a toxic dose of China-made dog chow. And I'd gotten Cathy Pacific off my back about my weekly benders with the promise of a full spa treatment in Wulai (
Meanwhile, I'd just made the acquaintance of yet another naive big nose -- we'll call him "Jimmy Waiguoren," fresh off the boat to learn advanced Chinese in a place he mistakenly thought was China. As usual, the talk had turned to Taiwanese politics.
Jimmy Waiguoren had been stumped by what he'd seen on local TV news. How is it, he asked, that a bug-eyed, bespectacled and emotional education ministry official with more than a passing resemblance to a frog could become -- nearly overnight -- a pro-independence celebrity and arbiter of Taiwanese masculinity?
Upon which I turned to him, exhaled a bilious cloud of Long Life smoke, and said: "Welcome to Taiwan."
Yes, these are strange days again on Ilha Formosa, with identity politics hotting up faster than a Lust, Caution sex scene and public officials who just don't know how to shut up when the cameras are rolling.
The official in question was Ministry of Education Secretary-General Chuang Kuo-jung (
And what a public face it was. One day it was overwrought, neck-vein-bulging appeals for "transitional justice" in which Chuang looked about ready to burst into tears.
The next day it was a verbal blitzkrieg against the pan-blues. Chuang called Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) a xiao naonao (小 , "wimp") and a niang (娘, "sissy"), and said he couldn't understand why so many women thought Ma was so shuai (帥, "handsome").
According to the China Times, Chuang even mentioned a German female friend, who asked him how such a wussy guy like Ma could be so popular with Taiwanese women. Then -- perhaps after drinking too many schwarzbiers the night before -- he said Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (
Hau-on-Peanut action? Even Ang Lee (
But Chuang didn't stop there. Per the same China Times dispatch, he later called journalists to apologize for calling Hau a butt shark, saying he had nothing against ass jockeys or pigu pirates per se (okay, so those weren't his exact words).
As for girly-men like Ma, he clarified that he had nothing against them either, and that if he'd offended anyone he was sorry. In fact, he said he himself had many feminine traits, which he'd picked up from listening to female students talk about their feelings at school.
Long before this point, one of Chuang's aides should have passed him a paper slip saying "Stop talking. Now."
But this being Taiwan, he just kept digging. And the more he dug, the more adulation he received.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators showed up at the education ministry to present him with flowers for having the LP (that's an English abbreviation of the Hoklo word for "cajones", I told Jimmy Waiguoren) to go through with removing the inscription.
Minister of Education Tu Cheng-sheng (杜正勝) beamed with pride at his excitable protege, praising him as an "independent thinker" and model for other civil servants -- a lowly dork turned Ubermensch for Sinocidal greenies.
Still, TTV spliced together shots of all of Chuang's unhinged moments, then cut to a doctor urging everyone to get at least half an hour of exercise per day to stay mentally fit.
All of this, of course, distracted us from the main issue: a long-overdue scrapping of a dictator's personality cult in architectural guise from downtown Taipei.
But as overwrought as Chuang may have become, he at last voiced publicly what many men, at least, have long been wondering about Ma: Is he too big a sissy to lead Taiwan?
Here's a guy who let People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) keep his balls on a leash for months, is too meek to find a bad word to say about KMT honorary fossil Lien Chan (連戰), and has the worst leadership skills this side of the West Wing. Even some of my pan-blue friends (the ones I have allowed to live) have reservations about the guy.
Then again, DPP presidential candidate Frank Hsieh (
So how are we supposed to trust them to stand up to a belligerent China that's bristling with new Russian-made weapons, has an Olympic hard-on and is itching to sow its nationalist oats?
Prez Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), by contrast, is that annoying, argumentative guy at the end of the bar who just won't stop his yapping, knows all the lyrics to Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody by heart and insists he's right no matter how many times he gets smacked down and kicked in the head 'til he's bleeding from the ears.
He's the irritating friend who has a few tequila shots and then provokes an idiotic argument with the biggest guy at the bar, at which point you try to pretend you don't know him.
But whatever else you say about him, at least Chen has LP. Shit, compared with Ma or Hsieh, even Vice Prez Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) has bigger balls.
Still, Chuang may not fully understand the Taiwanese female Weltanschauung. Sure, Ma may not be the brooding masculine type who suddenly rips your qipao to ribbons and ties you up with a belt before servicing you until you scream "hao shufuuuu!" No, that's Tony Leung (梁朝偉).
Taiwan's female voters are looking for a longer commitment -- four years with an option for eight -- not a one-night stand. And Ma's just the kind of guai guy you wanna take south to meet Mom on weekends.
That's one half of the electorate automatically sympathetic to Ma. And unless Hsieh beefs up big time -- we're talking serious gym time and a metrosexual makeover -- Ma's almost certainly got another key constituency, er, behind him: gay men. Which, if Alfred Kinsey is to be believed, constitutes as much as 5 percent of the population (but who the 5 percent lesbian population will support is a riddle for far cannier political analysts than I).
Fifty-five percent of the electorate potentially locked in? Chuang (and the DPP) may eat his words: Like a generous dollop of political KY Jelly, the "sissy factor" could lube Ma's way straight into the Presidential Office.
Heard or read something particularly objectionable about Taiwan? Johnny wants to know: firstname.lastname@example.org is the place to reach me, with "Dear Johnny" in the subject line.
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