A recent edition of Reader’s Digest features an article on places around the world that it calls the “Seven Wonders of the 21st Century.” Whether wonders of the man-made or natural worlds, they are all breathtakingly majestic. However, reading about them provokes a nagging question: While people around the world are working hard to create awe-inspiring works that future generations can be proud of, we in Taiwan might ask what our government plans to pass down to future generations other than ever-increasing debt and poorer living standards?
Among these Seven Wonders of the 21st Century is the Millau Viaduct in southern France, which at 343m is 18m higher than the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and is the world’s highest highway bridge. The viaduct took just three years to build and cost only half of the original budget, equivalent to approximately NT$11 billion (US$376.4 million). A construction project like this that saves money and trouble for the public while giving people something to be proud of is something that one can only dream of in Taiwan, where public construction always involves one corruption case after another.
Let us consider another of the seven wonders, the Akshardham temple complex in Delhi, India. Upon its completion in 2005, the temple became a record-breaker in Indian architecture and a magnet for tourists that rivals the Taj Mahal.
The beautiful temple has 234 hand-carved pillars, a theater and more than 20,000 religious statues. No steel rebar or concrete was used in the construction of the main part of the temple. Instead, it was built using pink sandstone and assembled by expert craftsmen. The building is strong enough to last for thousands of years. So how much did the Akshardham cost to build? The answer — only NT$1.4 billion.
Also included among the seven wonders is the Spring Temple Buddha in Lushan County in China’s Henan Province. At 126m tall, it is the world’s highest Buddhist statue, and cost NT$1.65 billion to build.
The total construction cost of these three man-made wonders that tourists from around the world are lining up to visit comes to roughly NT$14 billion. By coincidence, that is the same amount of money that went up in smoke when Taipei hosted the 2010 Taipei International Flora Expo — a one-off event. While these other countries have created lasting wonders that are admired around the world, can the same thing be said of Taipei’s flower show?
The celebrations Taiwan’s government held for the 100th anniversary of the Republic of China cost almost NT$5 billion of taxpayers’ hard-earned money. Of this, NT$230 million was blown on a frankly mediocre stage performance that ran for only two nights.
Taiwan’s politicians do not even think about how to save public funds. On the contrary, they are always trying to think up new ways of throwing money around. Now, Taichung is planning to host an international flora expo of its own in 2018, and Taipei will hold the Universiade sporting event for students from around the world in 2017. There go a few more tens of billions of New Taiwan dollars.
There is no way we can hope that an incompetent government like ours could ever create a wonder of the world for people here in Taiwan. The most we can hope for is that government officials might be a little more frugal so as not to burden this and future generations with even more crushing debts than we already owe.
Hsu Yu-fang is an associate professor and chairman of Sinophone literature at National Dong Hwa University.
Translated by Drew Cameron