By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

The Lectern: Taiwan miscellany

1) In the annual Brown University e-government survey, out this week, Taiwan came in second place in the world, just behind South Korea and ahead of the third-place U.S., for the quality of its online government. The story got big play in the local English-language press. (However, in the Taipei Times, this was actually smaller than an entire article on a research paper by a Taiwanese scientist published in Science magazine — such is Taiwan's hunger for international recognition as a small country that China has isolated internationally.)

2 ) Taipei, Taiwan's capital, now has a 311 citizen phone number. People can call the Taipei Citizen Hotline to report potholes, non-working street lights, noise complaints and so forth. The ad for the phone number appearing in an English-language city map states its motto: "The Citizen Comes First." Customer service in government is a worldwide phenomenon.

3) Another worldwide phenomenon present in Taiwan is environmentalism. August is Ghost Month, a holiday during which (Chinese-culture readers, please correct me if I'm wrong!) ghosts emerge from their cave abodes and threaten humans. To placate them, people traditionally make offerings to ghosts, including burning money (these days, phony paper money) as a sort of offering. To discourage pollution from burning paper on the streets, the Taipei city government now encourages people to hand such offerings into the city, to be burned in pollution-friendly incinerators. The new president of Taiwan — who campaigned partly by bicycling through Taiwan — is a big proponent of bicycling as a way to reduce pollution and encourage good health (trying to counteract the association of bicycling with the island's poverty-stricken past). One of my former Taiwan executive education students is currently in charge of developing new bike paths for the Taipei city government. And the Taiwanese bike industry has developed some of the most technologically advanced bikes in the world. The Taiwan Environmental Protection Agency just announced it will make air quality information by geographic address available online, allowing people to enter specific addresses and receive air quality information.

4) A Taiwanese female taekwondo Olympic competitor, Su Li-wen, suffered during her match from an old knee injury, like the Chinese track star Liu Xiang, but continued playing despite great pain. After the match, during which she had fallen 11 times, she was carried off by her coach and taken to the hospital. President Ma called her personally to say her perseverance was more important than winning a medal. The pro-independence opposition called for her story to be included in Taiwanese elementary and junior high school textbooks as an example of Taiwan's spirit as a small nation that will not give up. One newspaper article noted that some Chinese bloggers had favorably compared her with their own track star Liu, who passed up his hurdle race because of his injury.

5) I've been listening to Chinese-language tapes on an iPod while going to the gym in the United States and Taiwan in the past few weeks. I made some real progress while here, especially in being able to distinguish the four tones that you need to get right for Chinese people to have any idea of what you're saying — thanks to a recently graduated Taiwanese Kennedy School student, Charlene Wang, who helped me with this over the weekend! I'm going to keep working on this.

About to head back to the U.S.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Aug 26, 2008 at 12:10 PM


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