2/01/2009

No Hubbub about Pandas

We didn't think the pandas were on display yet. That's why we went to the zoo today, to enjoy it before all the hubbub. We also went because it's 10 minutes from our home and my daughter loves ostriches, hippos, monkeys, gray wolf and zebras, which she has started calling "zemas". We timed the pandas wrong; the circus is already up and running. Note: if you do want to visit the zoo and do not want to be counted as one among the fawning masses, make sure you say "I don't want one" the minute you swipe your MRT card to get in. I didn't know what was going on, so when the ticket checker thrust out her arm and abruptly said "Please wait", I did exactly that. A moment later I was holding a stub with the time 4:10 - 4:19 for a panda viewing. I wasn't asked if I wanted to see them, but I'm sure I'm being counted as one (three counting my wife and daughter) out in support of this scam.

The reason I find this so offputting is the pandas are named Tuan Tuan (團團) and Yuan Yuan (圓圓). When you put the words together, you get 團圓 or reunification in English. To suggest that Taiwan and the PRC are being reunified is disingenuous, especially since the PRC didn't even exist until 54 years after China threw Taiwan to Japan. That's just part of it. In 1683, China tried to sell Taiwan back to the Dutch. Around the same time, the Emperor Kangshi said that Taiwan was nothing more than a blob of mud floating in the sea, a blob that would never be worthy of inclusion within the Center Kingdom. Historically speaking, the Taiwanese have never shown an interest in being a part of China either. The numbers speak for themselves: during 212 years of Ching rule, they revolted 159 times. When I showed my wife the stub, she gave her usual spit of disgust: "We don't want to see any damned pandas!" My wife blames President Ma for all of this and even calls him a traitor or a mole, like Matt Damon in The Deceased. Personally, I'm not one to take sides when it comes to politics. The last eight years have proven to me that no matter who's in power, I'm still going to be labeled as an outsider (I'm white) and have my rights limited for this reason.

I'm really not picking sides when it comes to President Ma and the previous administration. I can't stress this enough. After all, it was Chen who scapegoated "foreign" laborers as the reason for Taiwan's escalating unemployment rate, who went off on a xenophobic tirade about having an American grandson, who did nothing to overturn some pretty racial immigration laws, etc. But I am noticing a pattern with Ma, that perhaps my wife is right when she says he playing Matt Damon to a Jack Nicholson Beijing. In The Deceased, Matt Damon is groomed by Boston gangsters to infiltrate the police department. When he gets older, he goes through the police academy, enters the police department, moves up the chain of command. All the while he's feeding the gangster organization he truly works for anything they want. For me, this whole panda thing shows something about Ma's intentions.

Ma's maneuvers also remind of something I saw seven years ago, when I was at the 2002 Asian Championships for Women's Soccer at the old stadium on the corner of Dunhua and Nanking in Taipei. China was playing the Philippines and it wasn't a great game. She had already scored ten goals and was now controling the ball to run out the clock. I was there with a couple of American friends. We had a chest of beer, so we weren't about to leave even though the game was out of reach for the Filipinas. I remember there were some Taiwanese patriots in the stands waving Taiwan flags. A few had banners, reminding the Chinese about Tibet and Tianamen, and anything else they could think of. Suddenly, the cops showed up and started confiscating flags and banners. My friends and I were stunned. We couldn't imagine someone having their country's flag confiscated by their own police. So we started to shout down to some people directly below us who had a flag, giving them words of encouragement.

The police were making their way toward us and flag bearers were anxious. "Come sit with us," they pleaded. "The police will be afraid of you." That was a bit hard for us to believe. It probably would've been within the powers of the police to take our beer and write us up for public drunkeness. Plus our message to them was "Stand up for yourselves!" After the cops had made off with their flags, we walked down to find out what had transpired. It seems the cops weren't that happy about the task, but were acting on the orders of then Taipei Mayor, Mr. Ma.

At the end of the day, I can't understand why two pandas in Taiwan with a combined name that seems to undermine the country's sovereignty is not offensive but free speech, which is protected by Taiwan's constitution, or the Taiwan flag are.

5 comments:

Bicyclesidewalk said...

I really enjoy reading about your life in Taiwan. I recently moved here after living in Japan for 9 years. My wife is Taiwanese and we are living in Danshui. Looking forward to your next post!
Nathan
www.bicycle-sidewalk.com

Anonymous said...

I think the movie you are talking about is called "The Departed" a remake from the Hong Kong movie Infernal Affairs. If you liked The Departed, the original is 100 times better. BTW, when are you going to implement your New Year's resolution, or are you gonna give your bike to me for safe keeping?

Eric

Stephen said...

I was in the USA in 2000 when they elected George W Bush. It was obvious at the time he was a dud and Americans had made a wrong decision.
Though I'm not certain I have the facts correct. These are a few of the reasons I think Ma was the wrong decision for Taiwan.
1. Ma was not born in Taiwan, does not speak Taiwanese and has no connection with the 75% of native Taiwanese.
2. Ma openly resisted moves to full democratic elections in 96 saying "Taiwan is not ready for universally election of a president"
3. Ma has openly said Singapore's single party authoritarianism is a model Taiwan should consider.
4. Much of Ma's appeal in the election was his super-smooth image and polish. These are qualities James Soong and Lian Chang both failed at. Ma is now the smooth faced puppet of the KMT die-hards.
5. Ma openly admires Chiang Ching-kuo. His first presidential address was as a living phallic in front of a seated Chiang statue.

Harsh maybe, completely correct, maybe not. In the end I, like you, am an outsider who's opinions are irrelevant and who's future is mostly independent of Taiwan's.

But when I saw a majority of Taiwanese vote for Ma last year I had exactly the same feeling as in 2000 when I watched Americans choose a dud.
Let's just hope the KMT doesn't dismantle democracy enough to prevent an Obama type change for Taiwan.

Stephen said...

Replace Chiang Ching-kuo with Chiang Kai-shek above. Ma may admire Chiang Ching-kuo too but I suspect he more likely thinks he was too soft and gave the locals too much power and freedom.

Patrick Cowsill said...

There are some pretty obvious differences between Bush and Ma. At least Bush loved the country he lived in and he wasn't afraid to say its name (though I'm sure he garbled that name from time to time). And although he was a moron, he wasn't a lackey. What I mean is no one can ever blame Bush of behaving in a certain way just to please the governments of other countries (see how President Ma often refers to himself as Mr. Ma to please the Chinese and in turn poop on Taiwanese democracy).