As for Taiwan in general, he thinks it’s a marvelous place. He praises its scenery, its national parks, its urban environments, its railways and medical services, and, with qualifications largely stemming from his vegetarianism, its night markets. Admittedly, he does criticize “virtually all Taiwanese drivers” as “selfish, dangerous, rude and reckless,” but this is a one-off observation that feels like the top being blown off a bottle that for the most part he keeps tightly screwed down.
There’s a chapter on Taiwanese politics in which Pendery resolutely takes a middle line. He refuses to choose between the two main parties, and steers a complex course on the issue of Taiwan’s international standing — perhaps it could settle for some sort of non-nation membership of the UN such as was recently given to the Palestinians, though with China’s support (hardly a likely scenario). On the question of Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), he adopts what he calls the “liberal” view that he might be paroled on medical grounds, or even granted a pardon by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).
Something Super: One American Lives, Learns and Teaches in Taiwan is, in other words, a book that, while it may not contain any unusual insights, marshals many of Taiwan’s widely-recognized qualities and adds to them an account of the happiness that a healthy young man can achieve here through hard work and dutiful application. If some books are best described by their opposites, then it would be appropriate to cite the creations of David Barton, particularly Teaching Inghelish in Taiwan [reviewed October 28, 2007]. This brawling, pornographic fantasy marking the arrival here of the “addicts, drunks, mind-numbed e-ravers — the Inghelish teachers of Taiwan” could hardly be further removed from Pendery’s well-mannered, sober (“no … boozing in pubs for me”) account.
But there’s no accounting for the range of human types. This little book isn’t bad, and unless you’re hankering for something gross or licentious — things that appear to be remote indeed from Pendery’s world — you might even learn something from it, as you would from any good teacher.