Tue, May 02, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Long-stay program trying to rise from debacle

RETIREMENT After a Japanese couple left Puli in disgust complaining about dog droppings, tourism officials are scrambling to rescue the potentially lucrative program

By Shelley Shan  /  STAFF REPORTER

Puli (埔里), a town in Nantou County, is known as one of the areas that suffered the worst devastation in the 921 earthquake of 1999.

Lately it has been in the news again, this time for being the first town in the nation to experiment with the long-stay program, in which foreigners come to stay for three to six months to travel and experience a different lifestyle before returning to their country.

The program, still in its pioneer-ing stage, nearly turned into an embarrassment when the first tenants in a community designated by Puli to host the long-stay program, a retired Japanese couple surnamed Nakamura, decided to leave early.

The couple complained that Puli was a place "filled with dog feces and scooters." They also said that the apartment in which they stayed had not been furnished as advertised in the brochures introducing the long-stay program.

The Nakamuras' criticism of hygiene issues have had repercussions nationwide. While Puli has declared the 10th of each month Public Cleaning Day in an attempt to redeem its reputation, the Environmental Protection Administration initiated a "War on Dog Droppings" at the end of March by asking local governments to raise the fines for dog owners who fail to properly dispose of their pets' excrement.

Those who do not follow the rules will now face fines of NT$1,200 (US$37) to NT$6,000.

The repercussions have spread beyond the hygiene issue, sparking questions about the government's ability to develop the potentially profitable program.

Hu Chung-i (胡忠一), senior planning and programming specialist at the Council of Agriculture, is one of the masterminds behind the development of the long-stay program.

According to Hu, the program was originally created to tap into the Japanese retiree market.

His research indicated that a number of Japan's baby boomers will be retiring by next year. The total value of Japanese pension funds is expected to exceed ?5 trillion (US$44 billion).

A survey by Japan's Long-Stay Promotion Association shows that most Japanese baby boomers want to live abroad in a countryside setting after they retire. Another survey has shown that most Japanese couples, once retired, will have problems living on their meager savings, which makes them consider moving to other Asian countries with a lower cost of living.

Hu's research also shows that a change in preferences about long-stay plans abroad has occurred among Japanese retirees.

A survey conducted in 2002 found that Hawaii was the most popular place for most retirees (15 percent), followed by Canada (12 percent) and Australia (12 percent).

In 2004, however, Malaysia made it into the top three. Other Asian countries, including Thailand and the Philippines, had also become more popular among some retirees.

Hu said that Taiwan definitely had several advantages in drawing Japanese retirees considering a move overseas.

For one, Taiwan is closer to Japan than most other Asian countries. As a former Japanese colony, Taiwan also has a large Japanese-speaking population.

In addition, Taiwan has a wide variety of tropical fruit, which have always been an attraction to most Japanese. Although living expenses here are slightly higher than those in Malaysia and Thailand, the crime rate is lower.

The development of the long-stay program was crucial in dealing with challenges brought about by joining the WTO, which will gradually impact on the livelihood of farm villages in Taiwan, Hu said.

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