Sun, Mar 30, 2008 - Page 3 News List

NEWSMAKER: Chow Mei-ching: the career-minded first lady

By Mo Yan-chih  /  STAFF REPORTER

Chow Mei-ching, wife of president-elect Ma Ying-jeou, signs a table tennis paddle on her way to work on Monday. PHOTO: LIAO CHEN-HUEI, TAIPEI TIMES

Chow Mei-ching (周美青), the 55-year-old wife of president-elect Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), is not your typical Taiwanese political spouse.

Frequently photographed in a black shirt and blue jeans with no makeup, Chow has shunned the limelight and insisted on going about her normal life ever since Ma entered politics.

Chow has worked as a lawyer for Mega International Commercial Bank for more than 20 years and seldom accompanied Ma to public functions.

Even after her husband won the presidency on March 22, Chow kept a low-profile and went to work by bus the following Monday.

"Please don't call me the president's wife. I am department director Chow," she told reporters who followed her onto the bus earlier last week, turning on her MP3 player and ignoring their inquiries.

On Tuesday, Chow said in a written statement that she would continue working as the head of the legal department of the government-controlled bank, defending her right to work amid debate over whether she should leave her job following her husband's inauguration on May 20.

"My work involves providing legal advice to the bank and does not include banking management, the company's operations or decision-making," Chow said in the statement. "It's impossible for me to be involved in the transfer of benefits."

Chow said she would consider leaving the bank if her work adversely affects the bank's reputation or its operations, or if her workload poses a negative impact on her duties as first lady.

Some political observers are not convinced, however, saying that by working for a state-run company, she was bound to run into situations where a conflict of interest may arise.

If Chow stays on the job after Ma is sworn in as president, she would be the first president's wife in Taiwan to have a separate career.

* Name: Chow Mei-ching

* Born: Nov. 30, 1952

* Birthplace: Hong Kong

* Education: LL.M., New York University; LL.B., National Chengchi University

* Occuption: Head of Legal Department, Mega International Commercial Bank

Ma's spokesman, Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦), who accompanied Chow as she toured the country to stump for Ma during the last nine days before the election, described Chow as "a very independent and determined woman, and she takes her privacy seriously."

Married to one of the nation's most popular politicians, Chow has tried hard to avoid publicity and protect her privacy. Often confronted by a barrage of reporters and camera crews waiting in front of her apartment, she quietly goes her way, saying nothing but "thank you" to most questions.

Even when faced with allegations of insider trading and stealing newspapers while studying at Harvard, Chow defended herself only through written statements.

Unlike her public image of the poker-faced, "cool Mrs. Ma," Chow is a lovely approachable person in private, Wang said.

"Mrs. Ma is nothing like what you see on TV. She is friendly and thoughtful, and the campaign staff all like her a lot," he said.

Chen Yi-ling (陳怡伶), Chow's news coordinator during the campaign tour, described Chow as "super amiable" and like a "big sister" or the girl who lives next door.

Chen recalled that during the campaign tour, Chow memorized all of the staff names on the first day and offered to help them with the luggage or prepare food for lunch and dinner.

"She was easygoing and attentive. I think she is more approachable than Mr. Ma," she said.

Although Chow did not stump for Ma until the final days of election campaign, she showed her support for her husband with her signature gesture: greeting voters by grasping both of their hands and doing a 90-degree bow.

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