Thu, Jul 28, 2005 - Page 13 News List

'New taike' not the old insult

Originally a pejorative term assigned to 'uncultured' Taiwanese, 'taike' is being co-opted by the people it once insulted and has become a part of popular culture

By David Momphard  /  STAFF REPORTER


A woman walks into a 7-Eleven wearing plastic slippers, jeans under a short skirt, an "Abibas" shirt and her motorcycle helmet. She purchases a bottle of rice wine, several cans of Vitali, and a pack of Long Life cigarettes, gets on the back of a scooter already occupied by three family members and rides away.

Though this scenario is an imagined one, it's no stretch of the imagination. It is a stereotypical look at the habits of a few Taiwanese people's habits and behavior. This was sometimes encapsulated by the term taike (台客), an indignation coined decades ago by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) members to describe their Taiwanese peers, when they fled China in 1949 for Taiwan.

But while the slight hasn't completely lost its sting, it has been soothed by the surging popularity of Taiwanese culture. "Taike" has entered the lexicon of cool.

In their current issue, the editors of Eslite Reader (誠品好讀雜誌) take taike to task with a 40-page cover story that is an academic look at the term, what it has implied historically, and how its meaning is changing. The article, with the English subtitle "Republic of TK is Coming?" covers music, film, fashion, theater, cuisine, language, liquor, the popularity of betel nut, and a number of other subjects.

It claims taike as a term is not anti-Taiwanese, but instead can be embraced as an integral part of local culture and another aspect of bentuhua (本土化), or localization.

"Some people have told us that if we talk about it, we're still making fun of it," said Sophie Chiang (蔣慧仙), Eslite Reader's editor-in-chief. "They think we're discriminating against [rural] Taiwanese. But we think that talking about taike can be taken in very positive ways."

It wasn't always thus. When the KMT supporters first arrived in the country they were often ostracized by locals who felt oppressed by the government that had taken charge of the island. The KMT supporters, many of them soldiers, were seen by Taiwanese as tang shan zi (唐山仔) -- "young animals" from China's southern provinces.

To the new arrivals, locals became taike, literally "Taiwanese guests." This was the sociopolitical pressure cooker that would simmer and occasionally come to boil over the next decades, alleviated by the end of martial law nearly 20 years ago and democratization.

To what degree time has tempered those ill feelings depends on who you ask, but it has certainly altered the semantics of the situation. For today's generation of young people in particular taike is more likely to be used playfully, rather than used as an insult.

It has even been co-opted by some who embrace the stereotypes. Wu Peng-feng (吳朋奉) is an actor with the Golden Bough (金枝演社) theater troupe. Asked if he was bothered by being seen as "very tai", as the term is used in its adjective form, he said you had to consider the speaker.

"It depends on who's talking and how they say it," he said. "If it's a young person, they probably don't mean it as an insult. But if it's an older person, it could be impolite. It depends on their tone."

Like others interviewed for this article, Wu shied away from offering a description of the term, saying instead that one simply knows it when one sees it.

Examples that were offered by others included: The cup wedged between the seats of a cab for the driver to spit betel nut; watermelon dipped in soy sauce and wasabi; the ubiquitous sausage-seller; hometown rock hero Wu Bai's (伍佰) Mandarin love songs sung in a heavy Taiwanese accent; the woman who uses and re-uses her Mitsukoshi shopping bag.

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