Sun, Apr 05, 2015 - Page 8 News List

Skyscrapers in Taipei reveal city’s darker side

By Lee Min-yung 李敏勇

At night, the neon lights of Taipei 101 shine over the capital. Sometimes, entire floors of the building are enshrouded in clouds, with only the needle at the top of the building exposed. Is this the glory of Taipei?

At night at a crosswalk on Dunhua S Road, there is a beggar bent over on the ground holding an empty jar for pedestrians to throw money in as they walk by. His situation deserves some sympathy. However, sometimes through the thick, cold air I hear some people utter swear words as they pass.

From the era when money flowed into the nation, Taiwan has evolved into a dog-eat-dog society, with strangers crying as others pass them by. To beggars lying on the street, a building that towers in the clouds like Taipei 101 presents a sharp contrast to the glory of the big city, both a bright and dark side.

The 20th century is over. At an art gallery in Cologne, Germany, there is a sub-theme within a 20th-century-themed exhibition that shows both the beauty and dark side of capitalism: Metropolitan areas around the world with glass-covered buildings, luxury and downtown shopping streets standing in contrast to shanty towns and scenes of ragged alleyways.

So what of the beggar on the ground? What of the people who curse them and do not extend a helping hand? This is class-based hate. In a society with extremely unequal wealth distribution, resent takes shape. Is this an issue that can be resolved with a lofty wall of strict preservation? How can one protect oneself, yet deal with the problem?

Taipei’s Dunhua S Road, a boulevard, has commercial skyscrapers lining both of its sides. When former Taipei mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) was in office, NT$100 million (US$3.19 million) was spent on bike paths along the road despite opposition. Due to their ineffectiveness and alleged traffic problems they caused, the bike paths were abolished. In just a few months, public funds vanished, in the blink of an eye.

That a big city like this has beggars lying on the street at night — what kind of city is this to boast about? After spending such a large amount of taxpayers’ money, in the blink of an eye they splurge even more on a building project.

After spending a fortune, the lights of skyscrapers only reflect the government’s attitude of carelessly wasting money without blinking an eye. The money earned through residents’ blood, sweat and tears is often squandered and wasted by corruption.

Compared with other Taiwanese cities, Taipei, where money is piled high, has a heartless sense of arrogance along with the irony of beggars lying on dark street corners.

When spending money on construction, carefully consider the dark background of a city’s glory when choosing the project’s slogan. Class-based resentment is often repressed in the darkness underneath it all.

Through collusion between big business and government, the wealth gap has widened to the point of unilateralism that is prevalent today. We must not ignore this social phenomenon and we cannot afford to not reflect on this problem.

Lee Min-yung is a poet.

Translated by Zane Kheir

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