Taiwan Journal, Part VII

A familiar sight in Taipei


Everyone says that Taipei is a very hard-working city, populated by very hard-working people. In my observation, this is true.

Now, when you say this, some people get bent out of shape — some Westerners, I mean. Because you’re saying, or implying, that there are cultural differences among peoples. They think you are casting judgment on peoples that are less hard-working.

Well, the dolce vita can be very . . . dolce. The dolce far niente can be very pleasant indeed.

But some European countries aren’t pulling off la dolce vita very well these days. They made some political choices long ago — concerning pensions, concerning work rules — and now they are facing the abyss.

Taipei is a city bursting with industriousness and entrepreneurship. Prosperity here is not an accident. Is prosperity necessarily the highest human ideal? Of course not. It’s just that, if you’re not willing to do what’s required to be prosperous, you kind of forfeit your right to kvetch about not being prosperous.

You know?

I heard something, years ago. Can’t quite confirm it. If you worked for a HUD office in Ohio, you weren’t allowed to check your e-mail — your work e-mail — after 4 o’clock. Quittin’ time. Because that would be, like — work.

Ordered liberty is a high ideal. I think you can see it here in Taipei. There is a comfortable order and tidiness. But plenty of freedom — flexibility — within that order. In some societies, cops are a welcome and reassuring sight. In others: slightly, or not so slightly, menacing.

Here, very welcome. Natural, unobtrusive.

Do you need links to previous parts in this series? I, II, III, IV, V, and VI.

Taiwan is well-known for its shaved ice, and people suggest you try the mango: People are absolutely right. A delicious dessert, and one that gives the illusion (I think the illusion) of health.

Have I mentioned this so far? That women — particularly young pretty ones — wear false eyelashes? I don’t think I’ve seen false eyelashes in America in many years.

A young Taiwanese woman explains to me, with a little bit of contempt, that this trend comes from Japan . . .

One more word about the 7-Elevens, which I think I mentioned in the first part of this journal: You sometimes see them on consecutive corners. How can they all make money? Well, if they’re open, in a free economy like this — they must.

Their rival is a convenience store called Family Mart. Plenty of those too.

Back to a man you met yesterday, Professor Chong-Pin Lin. I ask, “Do Taiwanese fear American closeness to Beijing?” They should, he says. But they are too “inward-looking.” This is somehow a “mental block.” They are reluctant to look beyond the coastline of Taiwan. “Maybe they find despair.” They don’t want to think too much about the international scene.

Are the human-rights abuses of the PRC known here in Taiwan? Oh, yes, says Lin. The media cover them pretty well. There are papers and stations whose owners have big interests in China, and those outlets treat Beijing with kid gloves, of course. But there are still papers and stations that are properly independent (thank goodness).

Lin explains the CCP’s concept of human rights: The biggest human right is to survive. To survive, you must have economic growth. To have economic growth, you must have social order. To have social order — you must be a one-party dictatorship with a gulag.