Sat, May 10, 2008 - Page 8 News List

Johnny Neihu's Mailbag

A scuttling nation

Dear Johnny,

After being an avid reader and fan of yours and after meditating on many things Taiwan, I have come to the conclusion that the national animal needs to be changed. The Formosan Black Bear is a relic of the past that hardly represents Taiwan’s national character.

After thinking about the nature of nationalism — while nonchalantly beating my students at school for failing their 10-word spelling test — I decided that Taiwan should change the way it views itself and its national identity.

I have come to the realization that the national animal should be that mighty innovator, that crafty survivor: the valiant cockroach.

This fundamental change in the mindsets of Taiwanese could bring about a better way of thinking.

No more should the cockroach be seen in a negative light. Taiwan should not be seen as the nuisance that won’t go away in international politics, but the clever beast that sneaks across the Strait and feasts from the iron rice bowl.

Taiwanese should complain no more about going to Vancouver and San Francisco and seeing too many Middle Kingdom descendants, but bask in the glory that Taiwanese (like the Irish) are a breeding people.

The cockroach should be this nation’s new calling card, not the phallic symbolism of Taipei 101 or rip-offs of Western and Japanese culture.

So hopefully the next time I ask my students what animal best represents the island of Taiwan, they can proudly reply: “The cockroach!”

The Piper in the Hills

Yongkang, Tainan County

PS: If one more of those blasted little black dogs chases me while I’m riding my mountain bike in the hills and mountains of southern Taiwan, it’s going to feel a night market throwing star.

Johnny replies: I take your point that as a species threatened with extinction, the Formosan Black Bear is not the best symbol for a nation, even if it is not our national animal.

But I believe that you can do a whole lot better than pick a creature that is widely despised, despite its ability to procreate and live through a nuclear winter.

And I hate to break it to you, Piper, but were a valiant little cockroach able to survive the perilous waters of the Taiwan Strait and set foot (or is that feelers?) on the Fujianese coast, he would soon discover that it’s been a long time since the iron rice bowl mode of communist political economy was in force.

If the breeding metaphor impresses you, I regret to remind you that we Taiwanese are not living up to our side of the bargain. Look at the birth rate and wince.

All of this talk of animals being used to represent nations brings to mind the panda debate at the Taipei Zoo.

Think about it, Piper, if you were an ordinary Taiwanese punter and you were taking your kids to the zoo, where would you go first?

The panda enclosure? Absolutely, assuming that the pandas are let in.

The Formosan Black Bear pit? Maybe, assuming that you didn’t get lost trying to find the indigenous species section of the zoo and the kids didn’t get distracted by the monkey exhibit. Even then, some of the bears they have on offer have amputated limbs (presumably from bear traps up in the mountains), and that doesn’t make for spectacular bouts of bear-on-bear behavior.

The cockroach enclosure? I think you jest, dear fellow.

Maybe we should settle for the panda as a national animal, but — as with the Formosan Black Bear — tweak the DNA so that there’s a “V” symbol on its chest. Cool.

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