Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Bad eggs and pretty fruit

March 21st, 2008
Far Eastern Economic Review
Taiwan Election Notebook

I went to Taichung to see candidate Ma Ying-jeou “sao jie” (literally, “sweep the streets” - i.e. stump for Saturday’s election). But I got there late and never caught up with him.

Hsieh may be feeling the same come Saturday night - if all the analysts I spoke to today are right, that is. They say Tibet, Wen Jiabao’s remarks Tuesday and the “one China market” scare campaign have all helped Hsieh - but it won’t be enough for him to catch Ma.

Having missed Ma, I made the best of it and got some “man on the street” quotes from Taichung residents. I was especially keen to take the city’s temperature, as central Taiwan is up for grabs in the island’s elections. Northern Taiwan is KMT-held, southern Taiwan is pro-DPP. But Taichung - along with Chiayi, Changhua and Yunlin counties - are more evenly split.

I can hardly say I got a scientific sample, but it was an entertaining visit nonetheless.

First there was the obligatory cab driver chat, on the way into town from the high-speed rail. The cab driver quote is so cliched that it should be banned from journalism. But this guy, Huang Ching-fu, was straight out of DPP central casting.

“The KMT came to Taiwan and killed many people,” said Huang. “They stole lots of money from the Taiwanese people.”

But wasn’t that all a long time ago? Isn’t today’s KMT different?

“No, everything they say is dishonest. They’re bad eggs ("huai dan”),” said Huang firmly.

“Taiwan wants to buy weapons from the US, but the KMT doesn’t want to buy them.”

But wouldn’t there be some good things about a Ma presidency?

“If Ma becomes president, there’s no bright side,” scoffs Huang. “Nothing good can come from doing business with the communists.”

He petered off into a rant on poor-quality Chinese products, then the kicker: “I don’t want Taiwan to be a part of China.”

Next time you want to know why the DPP gets so many votes, talk to Huang. The flip side of the DPP’s patriotic love of Taiwan is deeply rooted anti-KMT hatred; I’ve often thought the second may be more important to the party’s support.

Others were more charitable to Ma. “The DPP just turns everything around during elections,” said fruit seller Chung Rui-sen, 47. “They cheat uneducated people.” He’s not moved, for example, by Hsieh’s scare tactic that Ma would let in a flood of cheap Chinese fruit and vegetables.

“This is impossible,” said Chung. Even if that did happen, he says, the quality of Chinese fruit is poor. “Look around, Taiwan’s fruit is so pretty,” said Chung, pointing at his bananas, apples and grapes. “If mainland fruit comes here, no one would dare eat it.”

What about Hsieh’s claim that Ma will let Chinese workers flood into Taiwan, stealing jobs? “That won’t happen,” said a betel-nut seller down the street, as his three-month old baby slept next to him. “I’m not worried.”

Flower-shop owner Chen Kai-lun, 44, also supports Ma. “He’s cleaner,” said Chen, referring to corruption scandals that have dogged the DPP.

The tally: vendors for Ma (3); taxi-drivers for Hsieh (1).

Original site

No comments: