What goes on in the minds of politicians? It's one of the world's great unanswered questions -- along with "Does Chow Yun-fat (
I'd sure like to know the answer to the former if an Associated Press report from last week turns out to be true. The article, quoting an unnamed official at the Ministry of the Interior, said the government has decided to standardize the Romanization of Mandarin place names by the end of this year using the dreaded Tongyong system.
You know the Tongyong system, it's the one that ... OK, so you don't. Not to worry, you're not alone.
For the uninitiated, Tongyong is the system of curious spellings that appears in parentheses on signs in Taipei County and what you encounter whenever you venture south. Tongyong puts the jhih into Sijhih (or Xizhi,
It was introduced in 1998 as an alternative to Hanyu Pinyin because the pro-independence crowd simply loathes using anything associated with the enemy.
While Tongyong may have advantages over other systems (according to Wikipedia), try explaining that to students who have spent years learning Hanyu Pinyin only to turn up here and find a different system in use as they travel around the country.
And while you can understand the government's reasons for not wanting to use the same system as our "commiepatriots," the whole purpose of Romanization in the first place is to make it easier and more practical for our foreign friends -- not native speakers -- to get around. Do they really think that the average Zhou here reads -- or even cares about -- Romanization on road signs?
Whether the government likes it or not, almost all students of Mandarin, including many in Taiwan, learn the language using Hanyu Pinyin.
Don't get me wrong, I'm as "deep green" as the mold on year-old stinky tofu, but even I would warn honorary Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) something-or-other Lien Chan (連戰) if he was walking toward a cliff -- well, maybe. So I have to say that the government is cutting off its nose to spite its face on this matter.
On the one hand it is always talking about opening Taiwan up to the world and promoting our beloved homeland as a great place to learn Mandarin. But implementing this system would have the opposite effect and put Taiwan in a league of its own -- literally. It could even put off students who misinterpret the move from coming here.
Besides, even if we did adopt Hanyu Pinyin there would still be one big difference between "us" and "them." We use real characters whereas they use those simplified monstrosities. Simple characters for simple people!
I suppose the lack of any official announcement means that the story is true and that the government was worried there might be a backlash from the pan-blue camp. You'd think they'd be used to that after seven years.
It may all be pointless anyway, because if our very own simplified politician, Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), triumphs next year then Tongyong will vanish faster than legislators from the Taiwan Solidarity Union.
While we're on the subject of language and Ma, it pains me to say it but apart from (allegedly) paying for the expensive education of his daughters, Ma did achieve something during his eight-year reign as Taipei mayor.
Mr Flip-Flop did manage to improve the standard of English around the place, fixing most of the city's once-notorious road signs (however, Patch Road for Bade Lu will always live in my memory), improving the city's Web sites and MRT signs and making the city generally more livable for those awkward foreigners -- you know, the kind that live on 7-Eleven food because they can't be bothered to learn basic Mandarin phrases.
However, it hasn't taken long for things to start deteriorating -- 11 months to be precise. Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) has already begun to make his mark, if the English moniker of the metropolis' most recent culinary fiesta is anything to go by.
I am talking about Taipei's "Newrow Mian" Festival, which, for those ignorant of Mayor Hau's personal Romanization system, means beef noodles. "Newrow"? It sounds more like the sort of French-accented Mandarin you would expect from a badly congested Inspector Clouseau if they ever made The Pink Panther in Beijing. But then what can you expect from a mayor with a master's degree in food science?
Any laowai getting into a cab and asking for a lift to the nearest "newrow" store will no doubt be greeted with a look more vacant than that of Hau at a council meeting.
My guess is that the city government brokered some sort of deal on purchasing livestock for the festival with "La New" of shoes fame. The city got the right to use La New's dodgy transliteration of the Mandarin word for cow, and so the carcasses were split, with the shoe company getting the leather and the noodle festival getting the beef, so to speak.
But the title of the noodle extravaganza was not the only questionable translation circulating last week. One of the festival's contests was named the "International Teamwork Intercourse Competition." What that has to do with beef noodles is anyone's guess, but I bet the tickets sold pretty fast.
Intercourse with an international flavor also reminds me of a story about a strange cross-strait infatuation that came to light this week.
Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun reported last Sunday on how legions of People's Liberation Army soldiers have a new sweetheart. But the lady winning the hearts of these commie killers does not reside in liberated territory; she hails from the "unsinkable aircraft carrier" that is Taiwan.
It seems that battalions of Beijing's best have got the hots for one Chang Ya-chieh (
Chang, a pretty 24-year-old with seven years of service, made her debut last month and ever since has had troops here and overseas drooling over their weapons. Hits for the Web site have jumped 700 percent, according to one official.
I managed to track down a picture of Chang, and while she has all the cuteness of the archetypal Taiwanese xiaojie, she's no Lin Chi-ling (
Sex-starved squaddies aside, the question must be asked: What were these Red Army delinquents doing surfing the Taiwanese military's Web site in the first place?
Searching for military intelligence no doubt, because if recent reports about the military's lax standards for protecting important data are to be believed, you could download all you need to know about our military's plans to repel a Chinese invasion from its Web site. Just click the "Top Secret" bar on the home page and viola!
Still, this story of queer cross-strait camaraderie could prove immensely useful to our brave boys in the event of a commie invasion.
All the Psyops Division needs to do is print out 250,000 masks of the lovely Chang in uniform for distribution to our soldiers. Then, if D-Day were ever to arrive and the communist hordes were bearing down on our defenses, the order would be: "Pull out the masks!"
Even the most cold-blooded communist killing machine would have to think twice about pulling the trigger when faced with the object of his desires from twice-weekly fumblings in the barracks latrine.
It'll be a turkey shoot.
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.