I’d thought I’d start off my blogging with something really positive. One of the best things about teaching in Taiwan is shown right here: dinner with one’s students. Here are Dennis and Mindy, two of my adult students from my night classes. Dennis came to me a couple of weeks ago to thank me. Seems he took inspiration from what he saw as my example of intellectual versatility, and though he had no background whatsover, enrolled in a biotechnology masters degree program. Hooray, Dennis! Every teacher should have such students, especially those who take him out. Let’s hope, though, he doesn’t emulate my eating habits too…..

The big thing lately in Taiwan has been the horrible case of “Little Sister Chiu.” The poor girl was abused by her father and suffered severe brain injuries. Because of problems built into the system by the requirements of the national health insurance plan, the poor girl traveled from hospital to hospital in Taipei like Joseph and Mary looking for an inn. Rejected by all, she was taken by ambulance to a hospital in Taichung, where she received care, but died anyway. The case sparked the usual exchange of letters, with a still wet-behind-the-ears expat writing an indignant letter about how the case was typical of Taiwan, and an able reply from someone who actually knew their stuff.

The second paragraph of Thompson’s letter stated:

Having lived in Taiwan for close to three years I have noticed that service, accountability and responsibility are weak concepts here. More dominant is the desire to do what is easiest and best for oneself at the expense of others. We do not have to look to extreme cases to see that in Taiwan, “what can I get away with” seems to be the national creed. Three basic examples from daily life can demonstrate this point.”

Here’s a clue for future would-be commentators: if you are writing a letter to the newspaper, and you begin it with “Having lived in Taiwan for close to three years” just stop, tear up the letter, and toss it away. You don’t know enough about local society to say anything intelligent, and all you will do is embarrass yourself, as well as provide further evidence to the locals — as if any more were needed — that Foreigners Really Are Stupid.

The interesting thing about the Little Sister case was the political fallout, which was nil, and the interesting example of Chinese political behavior it provided. The feckless Taipei City Mayor Ma Ying-jeou had a public cry over this case. Ma’s Oscar-seeking performance came as he put off a trip to Australia to deal with the ‘crisis’ of the Little Sister case. In Chinese society, politicians crying is the equivalent of the American politician who poses with his family in the middle of a crisis: a cynical appeal to visceral emotion to generate a bump of sympathy and blunt further declines in public popularity. I suppose I shouldn’t be amazed, but it still amazes me that anyone could believe this stuff. But then Ma is exceptionally pretty, and though totally lacking in spine and political judgment, he is at least intelligent enough to present an appealing public face.

Another interesting aspect of the case, sociologically, was the “scapegoating” aspects of it. In Taiwanese political culture major cases function as ’scapegoats’ for public emotion, enabling cathartic release of them, without threatening the system with fundamental change. Little Sister’s death was similarly used. Public anger was harmlessly vented over her treatment, while the need for such concrete, basic changes such as increased payments for health fees, enhanced auditing and oversight, restraints on hospital construction, medical staff dissatisfaction with the system, and other serious system problems do not receive public attention. In the meantime the public will continue to be teased and titillated by ‘revelations’ of the system incompetence, which will of course be laid to an individual doctor’s judgment, just as every airplane crash is always the pilot’s fault….