It is wrong for anybody to attack somebody else with a weapon, no matter what that person said to anger the attacker. For that reason alone, Slawomir Starok, a Western father married to a Taiwanese woman, deserves sympathy.
In a letter to the Taipei Times, Starok, a father of two, described an incident in Taipei in which he told off the driver of a scooter who was giving children a ride without taking the precaution of making them wear helmets. Lots of angry words ensued, many of them xenophobic or outright racist, according to Starok. Then, after Starok thought the incident was finished, the scooter rider and two of his friends allegedly attacked him with a brick in front of his children.
That’s unacceptable, and unfortunate for Starok.
However, the last thing one should do is to then make xenophobic statements about Taiwanese. Taiwan is a complex society like any other, with both good and bad people. There are criminals here like everywhere else, and people with bad character and no morals.
However, there are also generous people, who will drop what they are doing to help a foreigner on the streets. Simply classifying all of Taiwan as dangerous because of three bad eggs is not right, especially when this society is generally one of the safest — especially being as densely populated as it is — in the world.
A response in this newspaper’s letters section to Starok’s letter from Kuojung Ni in Hsinchu City pointed out that Starok would be just as likely to get a negative response in a country like the US, France or Russia if he were to get in the wrong person’s face over an issue that he felt compelled to point out.
Ni is right. It takes good judgement to decide when it is the right time to intervene and when to keep one’s mouth shut. It would be interesting to know what kind of person this was that Starok confronted. Was he a gangster, was he drunk, did he look like a reasonable person? And how did Starok confront him? With his finger in his face? Smiling or yelling? Did Starok use any swear words? There are too many variables in this equation to get a clear picture of who provoked whom.
Here in Taiwan, as safe as this society is, there is a tendency for some people to overreact when strangers — not just foreigners — tell other people off in the streets. These overreactions can range anywhere from loud screaming matches to assaults of multiple people on one person, as in Starok’s case. Fights on the street here are an exceedingly rare sight, but when they happen, they are usually vicious. For that reason alone, it’s a good idea to mind one’s own business when scootering or walking the streets of Taiwan unless the provocation is too severe to ignore.
However, if somebody is doing something that just bothers one so much that one has to intervene, it’s a good idea to figure out first whether that person is high on drugs, is a gangster or is carrying weapons before mouthing off.
It’s too bad that Starok had to experience this, but Taiwanese for the most part are still some of the friendliest, most helpful people in the world.