More than 1,000 people crammed into Ma Village (馬家庄) in Miaoli County’s Tongsiao Township (通宵) yesterday, hoping to receive a lucky red envelope from President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), but the manner in which the eager crowd was ushered past the president caused some displeasure among those who had waited several hours to meet him.
In Mandarin, “Ma Village” literally means the “village of the Ma family.” However, while most of Ma Village’s residents are surnamed Ma, none of the Hong Kong-born president’s ancestors or relatives have ever lived there.
Guarded by 600 police officers, Ma spent less than two seconds with each person. To move the queue along, Ma’s staff would either personally shoo each person sway or use a loudspeaker to expedite the process.
Many people who had been standing in line were left disappointed when the president left early to visit a local temple, leaving his staffers to finish handing out the rest of the envelopes.
One man said he had been waiting for more than 48 hours to be the first person to receive a red envelope from Ma.
“I didn’t even go home for the New Year’s Eve dinner. I sincerely believe being the first [to get a red envelope from the president] will bring me good luck throughout the coming year,” he said.
A mother with two young children said she felt she was lining up for food stamps rather than to meet the president, whom she said she had voted for.
“He didn’t even bother to look into my eyes. Maybe he actually didn’t want to be there,” she said.
Seventy-three-year-old Miaoli farmer Wu Tung-ming (吳東民) said he was not at all interested in getting anywhere near the president, saying Ma was a showman rather than a statesman.
“This is nothing short of a theatrical performance. [Ma] is from China and Ma Village has been in Taiwan for more than a century. He has no business being here except to put on a show,” he said, adding that Ma should rather spend time thinking about how to revive the economy than being pampered by his supporters.
Although this was Ma’s first trip to the village as president, he has been paying regular visits there for the last 16 years.
TV news reports said the president had prepared 15,000 red envelopes for the visit, but only around 3,000 people showed up.
Democratic Progressive Party Taipei County Councilor Chen Chien-ming (陳建銘) said Ma was “impersonal” and “ungrateful.”
“The purpose of giving somebody a red envelope is to show the person he or she is important to you. But the way Ma did it seemed to be more a means of boosting his popularity than really thanking supporters for their valuable votes that had made his presidency possible,” the councilor said.
Chen Chien-ming said that, compared with former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), who used to say a few words to each red envelope recipient and once even sat down to enjoy a bowl of soup with local residents, “Ma obviously does not care about people from the grassroots level.”
Ma has no other scheduled public events today or tomorrow.