Doctors beware! A new epidemic is sweeping Taiwan. Young people around the country infected with this new illness are waking up early, dropping everything and swarming around their TV sets and computers.
The epidemic I’m talking about is, of course, “Linfluenza” — the mania surrounding New York Knicks third-string point guard Taiwanese American Jeremy Lin (林書豪) and his comet-like ascendancy to sporting superstardom.
Lin’s story is indeed the stuff of fairytales: In the space of a week he’s gone from bench-warming zero to national hero, capturing the hearts of Taiwanese and New Yorkers alike.
In fact, Linsanity has reached such heights that were one to ask a teen whether he thinks Wang Chien-ming (王建民) will have a good season for the Washington Nationals this year, the reply would be: “Wang who?”
Even as you read this, dozens of factories around central Taiwan are busy replacing the “Wang 40” design on their screenprinting equipment, instead churning out thousands upon thousands of “Lin 17” jackets for Chihuahuas in Knicks orange and blue, ready for sale at the nation’s night markets.
Bet your bottom dollar it won’t be too long before the media crowns Lin the latest “light of Taiwan,” knocking the remarkably talented, yet equally unremarkably photogenic golfstress Yani Tseng (曾雅妮) off her perch as the nation’s No. 1 sports idol.
“Linmania” is spreading across Taiwan faster than a busload of Chinese tourists. Local travel agents are already offering Jeremy Lin package tours — holidays to North America that take in a New York Knicks game. The nation’s investment bankers have also joined the “Linfantry,” with HSBC forwarding a market update on Wednesday entitled: “Amazing TAIEX just like amazing NBA boy Jeremy Lin!”
Meanwhile, money magazine Forbes this week estimated that the Lin brand could already be worth up to US$14 million. Not bad for someone who was until recently been pulling splinters out of his rear end from all the bench-warming.
Lin’s A-ma was even swept off her feet by New York Times reporter Keith Bradsher, who took her to the Brass Monkey in Taipei to catch a Knicks game.
As to be expected, it didn’t take the politicos long to join the “Linsurgency.” Point-guard-in-chief Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) got in on the act, citing the young basketballer as a shining example of teamwork that his Cabinet should do their best to follow.
Let’s just hope that all the hype is justified and Jeremy doesn’t become the Portuguese egg tart of the NBA, fading into obscurity as fast as he appeared.
However, the cynic in me believes that there are two other people in Taiwan who are happier than anyone else about Lin’s headline-hogging heroics, but for entirely different reasons.
First, (alleged) taxi-driver-stomping starlet Makiyo must have been over the moon as Lin’s antics succeeded in taking news of her drunken night out off the front pages. Although I think everyone was secretly thankful for that.
When it comes to reporting the Taiwanese media is like a gnarly old alligator. Once it gets its teeth into a story, it will first swamp those concerned, drag them down to the bottom of the murky water, before trapping the body and chewing every last bit of flesh off the carcass.
Meanwhile, shamed slave-driving former director-general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Kansas City, Jacqueline Liu (劉姍姍), was able to sneak back into Taiwan on Wednesday virtually unnoticed in the aftermath of Lin’s last-minute three-point winner against the Toronto Raptors.