Sunday, December 20, 2009

Another form of prostitution

If you’ve visited the observatory on the 89th floor of the Taipei 101 building recently, you’ll notice that in order to go down again, you have to walk through an entire floor of shops selling jewelry, coral, jade and so on. All this wasn’t there until about a year ago, when large groups of Chinese tourists started arriving in Taiwan.

One item that features prominently in those stores is the terrestrial globes, which come in different sizes and materials. The globes are, admittedly, quite beautiful, which is reflected in their price. Take a close look, however, and you might reconsider buying one as a souvenir — at least if you share my political persuasions when it comes to Taiwan.

Not only is Taiwan the same color as China, but the font is the same as that used for Hainan Island. And it doesn’t read Taiwan, but “Tai-wan dao,” or “Taiwan island,” which no matter how you look at it makes Taiwan equal to Hainan and therefore part of China.

Now, merchants (at least in a democracy) have a right to sell whatever they want as long as it isn’t injurious to another party or incites hatred or violence. In that regard, and given the fact that many Chinese tourists visit Taipei 101, one could rationalize the decision. But looked at from a different angle, it has the smell of prostitution about it, as if Taiwanese vendors had to denigrate their identity so that Chinese tourists will buy their wares. It’s as if Palestinian vendors — of their own volition — chose to sell atlases, or terrestrial globes, that eradicated the Palestinian Territories in favor of a Greater Israel. Would this be acceptable in Palestine? Probably not; it would be shameless. So why should it be otherwise in Taiwan?

The more I look at it, the more I think that if Taiwan is eventually annexed by China, it won’t be through force or political coercion, but simply greed. If Taiwanese can’t even stand their own and be confident enough to sell Chinese tourists terrestrial globes that clearly identity Taiwan as the sovereign identity that it is, then all is lost. I cannot but be reminded of that cab driver in Kaohsiung a couple of months ago who, discussing Chinese tourists, said “we don’t like them, but we like their money.” What a dangerous, near-sighted thing to say, now that I think of it.

The presence of Chinese on Taiwanese soil presents Taiwanese with an exceptional opportunity to show Chinese a side of history that they never had access to while in China. If they choose to meet the challenge, it’s also a great chance to reaffirm their identity and to display their willingness to defend their nation.

The will to fight starts with little things. But if Taiwanese merchants can’t even do this, then why should we expect the military to defend the nation in its hour of need?


Ben Goren said...

I went to Taipei 101 last week and walked through the same section and saw the same globes. I asked them why Taiwan and China were the same colour and one of the clerks pointed out that the colour of Taiwan and one of the European countries were the same to which I replied that they were not right next to each other. Her final response was to say that they don't make them and shrug. I share your sense of frustration at this money centric pandering to imagined markets that are, as has already been shown, politically contrived and as liable to rapidly shrink as grow.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the gd insight. Hur here in singapore, at Daiso--I wanted to buy a globe, and was equally shocked to find out they sell china- made globes which demarcate taiwan as taiwan- dao---I was like so angry- isn't that misleading the young kids when they get the globe

Klaus said...

Right, that stinks. But you find globes like this, albeit made of cheaper material, in stores in Taiwan everywhere. Had one in my hand just the other day in some cheap 49NT$-Shop in Ximending, I think.

By the way, suggestion for new post: Why is the 228 Museum in 228 Park omitted from the MRT maps of the sorrounding areas? Every friggin' bank is on these maps, for crying out loud, but not the municipal 228 Memorial Museum?

And it is the one museum I try to show all my foreign visitors, more so than the National Palace Museum. Whoever was not there yet - go and see it! English audio guides also available.

Sean Reilly said...

I took my father up to 101 a few months ago when he was here for a visit and happened to ask on of the clerks about the globes. I wanted to know why a globe for sale in Taiwan displayed Taiwan and China in the same color. She got very snotty with me and told me that Taiwan was still a part of China. When I started to ask another question she began to get very angry and I felt it was time to leave. I see examples of this 'global' propaganda all the time and feel it is worth pointing out. That was the only time I felt a little threatened by the reaction.

I felt like I needed a shower after the whole episode.

J said...

Nice to see I wasn't the only person to notice!

Anonymous said...

This is indeed very interesting. Certainly Taiwanese merchants act like sluts, but the fact that a lot of maps around the world display Taiwan as part of China always fascinate me. Even the CIA fact book do that apparently. Of course, if you complain to the right people (like the Starbucks incidents a year ago), it will get changed...but I always wonder how this global epidemic of ignorance starts.

I think all these displays of wrong maps only symptoms of a disease much deeper than greed.

Anonymous said...

Finally you understand Taiwanese people's heart!
Money is the only object of love,besides that Taiwan has no own government! Everything is is unchanged since 1949. The exile government of the ROC keeps occupying Taiwan and Taiwanese are happy with the status quo which simply means, I'm representing all of China including outer Mongolia, Tibet,Hong Kong and Macau. Even 8 years of DPP gov didn't change anything.
I gave Taiwan 5 years and the RMB will be the second currency in Taiwan and our representative offices are happy with "status quo" and improvement "of cross-strait ties"...all main medias are against Taiwan and even Taiwanese don't care!!!
Give me money for my honey!

B.BarNavi said...

What?! "Island"?! They didn't even afford us the luxury of being a province!