Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Footwear fight

"Why It Matters" blog, Newsweek, September 18, 2007

Taiwan's ruling and opposition parties are notorious for their endless bickering, including food fights that disrupt parliament sessions. Now there's a new front in the war: footwear.

Both parties hit below the belt in the leadup to dueling political rallies last Saturday, asking supporters to conform to a dress code. Opposition Kuomintang supporters were told to sport traditional Taiwanese blue and white slippers, the better to promote a "down with the people" image. (The party's major weakness is being seen as too China-friendly and out of touch with grassroots Taiwanese, especially in the south.)

Then a wag in the ruling pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party suggested its people wear tendy "Croc" shoes, in an obscure jab at U.S. President George. W. Bush.

Supporters of a planned Taiwan referendum on joining the United Nations under the name "Taiwan" are annoyed with the U.S. for its public opposition to the plan. (A top U.S. diplomat called the planned referendum "ill-conceived and potentially quite harmful"). In Taiwan, Crocs have been called "buxi xie" -- or "Bush shoes" -- ever since the fashion-challenged U.S. president was photographed sporting a pair with socks earlier this year. The point of wearing Crocs on Saturday? Stomp on Bush.

The footwear fracas turned out to be more public-relations gimmickry than anything else. Some opposition supporters -- and the party's presidential candidate -- did sport blue-and-white slippers. And blue-and-white-clad dancers -- dubbed "la mei" or "spicy girls" -- took to the stage to whip up the crowd.

But precious few Crocs were sighted at the pro-independence party's rally to show support for joining the U.N. Why the no-show? For one thing, the DPP ultimately decided against instructing followers to symbolically stomp on Bush. "It's not necessary," said rally-goer Wong Chin-jan, "The U.S. is still our friend, so there's no need to wear Bush shoes."

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