Friday, April 11, 2008

When is it time to be pragmatic?


TAIPEI, Taiwan--Last week, I caught an episode of “Sisy’s World News”, hosted by the one and only Sisy Chen (陳文茜). I have already lamented on the lack of international news coverage in Taiwan. After all, we are (literally) just a dot on the world map. The show was simple and classy. It was just her and the camera. I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it.

My opinions of her have not been all that favorable. In the past, I’ve seen her hosting with her dog on the table in front of her. She’s been linked (romantically or not) with the likes of Shih Ming-teh (施明德), Hsu Hsin-liang (許信良) and Li Ao (李敖). Like those men, she has also moved all over the political color wheel. But without a doubt, she is an intelligent woman. Maybe shrewd too.

She mentions the story of Zaha Hadid, an award-winning female architect from Iraq. She submitted a design for an international contest to build the Taichung Metropolitan Opera House and came in 2nd place. The winner was Toyo Ito from Japan. At the end of the story, Sisy mentions that the only government-commissioned, internationally-designed buildings in Taiwan are the Taichung Opera House and the Kaohsiung stadium for the World Games in 2009. I decided to look up who designed the latter, and guess what?

Toyo Ito was also hired to design the stadium. While Ito may have won the Taichung contest fair and square on his own merits, did we really need to give him such a monopoly? We could’ve had another masterpiece by a woman with revolutionary ideas who has proven herself at a big boy’s game. Not to mention that she was born in Baghdad. That is the kind of story that grabs the world’s attention (she certainly caught mine). Having her design a building in Taiwan would have allowed us to share in some of it. Sisy claims that it would be near impossible to hire her since she’s a bigshot architect. She’s probably right.

Speaking of attention, if China were to invade Taiwan, would the international community speak out on our behalf? It would be nowhere close to the extent of the Olympic torch relay protests we’re seeing now. Tibet has someone like the Dalai Lama, whose fluent English skills, hearty laugh and celebrity friends have allowed him to reach out to the world.

Right now, Taiwan has Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who has recently proposed that the country use Chinese Taipei in its bid to enter the WHO. What kind of stupid name is that? But he says that it’s the only name that has worked so far, and he may have a bit of a point. While Taiwan is a member of the WTO under the name “Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, and Matsu”, unofficially it gets shortened to Chinese Taipei (even on the WTO website). This is also the name that Taiwan uses at the Olympics. I don’t think people thought it mattered until Chen Shih-hsin (陳詩欣) and Chu Mu-yen (朱木炎) won gold in 2004, only to see that the champions couldn’t salute their country’s flag or hear their national anthem. When it comes to health issues, it will definitely matter in this age of air travel. Being out of the loop is a timebomb. Given an ultimatum, either enter the WHO as Chinese Taipei or be out of the loop forever, I really have to scratch my head on that one.

This was the scene at a professor’s house. After dinner, we went around the room announcing our summer internships.

Me: I’m going to Taiwan to intern at the Ministry of Health.
Classmate #1: I’m going to work for the US CDC at their office in Thailand.
Classmate #2: Wow, that’s great! You and Daphne can have lunch together.
Me: OK, Taiwan and Thailand are 2 different countries!

(laughter)

Oooh, this is too good of an opportunity, I thought.

Me again: Taiwan and China are also 2 different countries!

(more laughter)

I’m proud to be Taiwanese, but it’s also hard being Taiwanese. I am in favor of anything that increases Taiwan’s fame, competitiveness and leverage on the international playing field. Respect may be a limiting factor, but if we want to make any progress does it also have to be the deciding factor?

[My thanks to Sam for permission to use his photograph]

3 comments:

Dracil said...

At the Pacific Rim Gymnastics Championship a couple weeks ago (where we were not allowed to bring our signs supporting Taiwan), my friend and I joked about how we should just officially change our name to Chinese Taipei and our flag to our Olympic flag to annoy China since that's how the world recognizes us already anyway. It also means they can't let use use Chinese Taipei and the flag at the Olympics which means we could actually use Taiwan and our current flag there instead.

Daphne said...

To its credit, the DPP endorsed an "agree" vote on both referendums. One was its own proposal to enter the UN as Taiwan, and the other was a KMT-supported proposal to enter the UN as the Republic of China (or some other practical name). I posted earlier on how KMT leaders dealt with the referendums.

Chieh-I said...

i can't believe what classmate #2 said. how gracefully you insert your comments. haha.