Thu, Sep 21, 2017 - Page 14 News List

Book review: Virtuous island

Another ode to Taiwan, this expat-compiled anthology has Bradley Winterton pondering the experience gap between the West and the rest

By Bradley Winterton  /  Contributing reporter

Laura Lygaityte is from Lithuania and came to Taiwan in 2011. (She says, incidentally, that Lithuania is three times bigger than Taiwan whereas it’s closer to twice as large). She works in an art gallery, and was recognized as such even on holiday on Orchid Island. Her boss is international, sophisticated and professional, she writes. She objects to the allegedly Taiwanese habit of pointing at people (supposedly considered rude back home), but this is one of her very few objections.

Then there’s Francois Elphick from South Africa, who works in design. He has left three cellphones in taxis and gotten them all back, he says. “Famous,” “inconvenient” and “embarrassed” are the three most commonly-used adjectives in Taiwan, he adds. Like most of the other writers, he has some amusing things to say about learning Chinese. Tones in Chinese are what gendered nouns are in French, he quips, a cunning device to prevent foreigners from ever becoming genuine native speakers.

Finally comes James Hammond from the UK, who was educated at Cambridge University. He’s been living here since 1986 — 31 wonderful years, he says. He’s a comic as well as a former worker in the semiconductor and laser industries. Back in the UK, his first wife got re-married to a bookkeeper.

“No accounting for tastes,” he says.

He ends his piece, and the book, with this heart-felt endorsement: “The people of this wonderful Isla Formosa are the most genuinely kind, genuinely generous and genuinely honest in my humble opinion, of all the peoples of Asia.”

You can’t get much more approving than that.

So, what’s the reason for all this Occidental enthusiasm? It seems unlikely that Filipinos, say, would see things this way. They come to Taiwan mostly as domestic helpers, after all, and would probably put astonishment at the amount of money Taiwanese earn at the forefront of their impressions. Presumably Westerners share this affluence, and so perceive other virtues, genuine as I’m sure they are, as icing on the cake. This, anyway, is what this handy little book, ecstatic though it is, silently suggests.

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