Monthly Archives: May 2010

Jade Mountain

Taiwan’s tallest mountain is getting renewed international interest by making the shortlist of the New Seven Wonders of Nature Contest last summer. Standing at 3,952 meters high (13,966 feet), Jade Mountain is the jewel of Yushan National Park, a parkland sanctuary rich in plant and animal life.

Jade Mountain, also known as Yushan, is a Taiwanese icon. Although taller than Mount Fuji by 176 meters (577 ft.), it is not visible to most of Taiwan’s people. Unlike Mount Fuji which is readily seen by millions of Japanese throughout all seasons. Yushan can only be seen once you are in the mountains. After it was realized that Yushan was higher than Mt. Fuji, its reputation skyrocketed and it became a popular destination for Japanese and Taiwanese in the first half of the 20th Century. In fact, climbing the mountain became a popular graduation ritual.

When the Chinese Nationalists fled to Taiwan in 1949, the mountain’s popularity waned with a more mainland-centric government. “The status grew slowly, alongside a Taiwanese identity that is still struggling to define itself and its icons,” said the Wall Street Journal.

Today, Yushan National Park is again a popular tourist destination, and climbing Jade Mountain has once more become a post-graduation tradition. The park stretches over 105,000 hectares (259 acres), covering subtropical forest to highland scrub. It has incredible biodiversity and in the last ten years, has seen a rebound of some of the park’s endangered wildlife. The park is well protected with a maximum of only 90 hikers allowed to start the two-day climb up to Jade Mountain each day. During certain months, the mountain is closed entirely to prevent overuse.

If you think Jade Mountain should be one of the New Seven Wonders, voting will continue into 2011. The winner will be announced on November 11, 2011. To vote for Yushan, visit:

Photo by Chen Fang-yi (Taiwan Tourism Bureau)

Photo by Chen Fang-yi (Taiwan Tourism Bureau)

Photo by Yang Chun-shan (Taiwan Tourism Bureau)

Courtesy of the Government Information Office

Courtesy of the Government Information Office

Courtesy of the Government Information Office

Courtesy of the Government Information Office

Courtesty of the Government Information Office

Taiwanese vegetable vendor wins TIME’s philanthropic award

Chen Shu-chu, one of TIME magazine’s top 100 “heroes” this year, received her award at New York’s Lincoln Center on May 4. As a vegetable vendor at a traditional market in Taitung in eastern Taiwan, she has donated up to US$320,000 to various charities in Taiwan. Beside TIME’s honor, Chen is also one of the heroes of philanthropy from Asia named by Forbes Magazine. On her way back to Taiwan, Chen will stop in San Francisco from May 6 to May 7.Chen, 61 and unmarried, has been working at the Taitung County Central Market since she was 13. Coming from a poor family, the death of Chen’s mother meant that she was not able to complete her elementary school education. To this day, she continues to get up at 3 am to prepare for her workday and her stall is still one of the last to close. From her modest living, she has given US$32,000 to a children’s fund, US$144,000 to help build a library at the school she once attended, and another US$32,000 to a local orphanage. She firmly believes that “money serves its purpose only when it is used for those who are in need.”

Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou lauded Chen as an “ambassador of the country with a loving heart.” Somewhat embarrassed by all this fuss, she said, “There isn’t much to talk about, because I did not enter any competition.” Many feel differently, and among them is Taiwan-born director Ang Lee who wrote an introduction for Chen in TIME. In his article entitled “Small, extraordinary act of kindness,” he said, “What’s so wonderful about Chen’s achievement is not its extraordinariness but that it is so simple and matter of fact in its generosity.”

If you would like to read more of Ang Lee’s comments in TIME, please click on the link below:

Taiwan’s internet singing sensation takes US by storm

The power of the Internet and social media have once again shown their power by aiding in the rise of Lin Yu-chun, now considered Taiwan’s very own ‘Susan Boyle.’ Lin rose from obscurity after appearing on a local talent show singing, “I will always love you.” His performance became a popular download, earning him recent guest appearances on two popular American talk shows.

On April 20, Lin with a bowl haircut and a red bow tie, appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show. Introduced by DeGeneres as the “marvelous boy from Taiwan,” Lin went on to perform his signature song as well as “Amazing Grace,” and received a standing ovation from a rapturous audience.

“I am very happy that more people in this world have gotten to know about Taiwan because of my singing,” said Lin. During the show, he also offered words of encouragement to children, who like himself, have been bullied at school. “There’s a reason for everybody’s existence in this world. Be confident. The best way to get back at those bullies is to be more successful than they are,” Lin said. At the end of the show, DeGeneres surprised him with a ticket to the annual party concert sponsored by “American Idol.”

It was a full day for Lin, who also appeared on Lopez Tonight where he sang “Saving All My Love for You” by Nichols Cosper, a music coach to superstars such as Madonna and Beyonce Knowles. Lin also sang “Total Eclipse of the Heart” accompanied by William Shatner, known for his role as Captain Kirk in Star Trek. Again Lin, and small screen legend Shatner, won a standing ovation from the audience.

Lin’s voice made such an impression, that Lopez’s band members encouraged him to seek further opportunities in the U.S. “I already feel more confident after taking part in the shows,” said Taiwan’s newest celebrity.

Lin was born in 1986 to a traditional Taiwanese family. His father was a military officer before retirement and maintained a strict household, discouraging Lin from choosing a singing career. But his mother loved English songs and encouraged him to sing. Growing up, he was often cared for by his grandmother and he dedicated “I Will Always Love You” to her.

Coming from a big family, Lin has many cousins and relatives who attended prestigious colleges in Taiwan and the United States. Upon graduation from college, he was not able to find a job, and felt inferior when attending family gatherings. Since appearing on Taiwan’s popular Super Star Boulevard and the American shows, his performances on YouTube have been watched over 6 million times.

Here are some links to his appearances in Taiwan and the shows in the United States.


Taiwan tackles rising demand for guest workers

Over the last few years, the number of “healthcare workers” in Taiwan has gradually increased because of the island’s aging population. According to the United Daily News, for the first time, the number of welfare workers has surpassed those who work in the industrial sector. This is partly as a consequence of the 2008-2009 economic downturns, but is also attributed to the strong demand for private long-term care personnel.

Until 1989, Taiwan did not allow low-skilled foreign workers entry, and strictly controlled other types of workers. In promoting the 14 major infrastructure construction projects, the government took an ad-hoc approach and accepted the first batch of low-skilled foreign construction workers. Three years later, the Employment Services Act was passed to allow private industries to hire foreign workers. This opened the door for more foreign workers to enter Taiwan for employment.

Since then, the vast majority of guest workers in Taiwan have been “industrial workers” employed in manufacturing and construction, with limited numbers working as caregivers. Starting in 2008, the number of social welfare workers began increasing and the number of industrial workers began to fall. In April 2009, the total number of welfare workers increased to 172,657, 942 more than the number of industrial workers from a year ago.

Tsai Meng-liang of the Council of Labor Affairs said this is a reflection of Taiwan’s economy and social structure. In the United Daily News he noted that the economy is recovering with the number of industrial orders on the rise, this will likely trigger a fresh demand for industrial workers.

In commenting on the rising number of healthcare workers in Taiwan, the United Evening News said that Taiwan is unprepared for the needs of an aging society. When the elderly population surges, the cheapest way to cope with it is to increase the number of guest workers.

Recently, the number of foreign workers not reporting to their jobs is rising. According to statistics compiled in 2009, the number of missing workers totaled 28,487, of which, 12,845 are Vietnamese. Beside Vietnamese workers, there are also many from the Philippines and Thailand. In the last 16 years, the number of Southeast Asian workers in Taiwan has risen by 30 times, according to the Bangkok Post. Currently, 61,000 Thai workers and their spouses are living in Taiwan.

The Council of Labor Affairs said that the top reasons for guest workers to disappear from their employment is that their “employment period” is about to expire or has expired, and they hope to dodge the high brokerage fees and/or that they are encouraged by other foreign workers to do so.

It is not an easy life for guest workers in Taiwan. Since they usually cannot speak Chinese, there is a language as well as a cultural barrier. Often they are lonely, homesick, and saddled with the burden of paying back large labor brokerage fees.

In order to prevent foreign workers from becoming so heavily indebted, the Council of Labor Affairs established a Direct Hiring Services Center in 2007. The center helps Taiwanese employers hire foreign workers directly; this cuts out agency fees by eliminating brokerage agencies.

Singles to be “punished” under new health insurance?

Once Taiwan’s second-generation health insurance is implemented in 2012, single people will pay higher premiums according to the Taipei-based Broadcasting Corporation of China. This had led many to cry foul, saying it punishes singles and is discriminatory.

Recently, Taiwan’s Executive Yuan passed major healthcare reforms that will redistribute the burden of premium rates and change the calculation basis from personal income to total household income. About 50-60 percent of Taiwan’s insured will keep the same or lower premiums, while the other half will pay more. Hardest hit will be singles and people earning high incomes with few dependents.

The National Health Insurance Bureau said premiums under the new system are calculated on the basis of total household income, instead of personal income. This was done in the hope that people with more dependents will pay less. Under the current system, a household with an income of NT$50,000 (US$1,600) per month with four family members pays a monthly premium of NT$3,000 (US$95). But, under the new system, they would only pay NT$1,600 (US$50), an average of about NT$400 (US$13) per head. A single person with the same monthly income of NT$50,000, would see his or her premium increase from NT$755 (US$24) to NT$1,600 (US$50), more than double the current rate.

Many citizens have taken to the media to criticize the second-generation health insurance. Li Shi-wei, a single teacher, wrote to the editor of the United Daily News saying that the health insurance increases should not take advantage of single people in Taiwan. It is not reasonable or fair when the same commodity sells for different prices to different individuals just based on their income, said Li.

Regarding the redistribution, Health Minister Yaung Chih-liang said the new system would be fairer for a family with more dependents. In a social insurance system, people with larger incomes should assist those on low incomes and the unemployed, and small families should help big families. Yang said it is not meant as a punishment, nor is it discriminatory.

In an editorial disagreeing with Yang, the United Daily News commented that the government and the general public should give serious thought to Taiwan’s expanding population of singles. The concept of marriage and family is changing and the paper urged the government to adjust their policies to accommodate these ongoing social changes.

As government statistics have clearly shown, there is an increased pattern of late marriage, no marriage, cohabitation without marriage, and increased divorce rates in Taiwan. All of which results in a growing single population. The concept of traditional family is changing. Some demographic scholars have even predicted that singles will become the mainstream in Taiwan.

United Daily News stressed that the government must accurately see the trend of social change and accept that “single is one of the options in life.” In an open society, people should be more tolerant, considerate and be on an equal basis. The paper noted that the distribution of social resources must offer equal opportunities.

Once biggest school shrinks with declining birth rate

Lao Song Elementary School, once the world’s largest elementary school with enrollment of 11,000 students now has a student population of just 778. Located adjacent to Monga Historic District in Taipei City, it has long been the breeding ground for Taiwan’s elites. What is happening at Lao Song is not unique in Taiwan; it has been brought on by the island’s low birth rate.

According to the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics, by the end of 2009, primary and elementary school children under the age of 12 accounted for 12 percent of the total population or 2.8 million. Five years ago, the same age group totaled 3.41 million and accounted for 15 percent of Taiwan’s population. In just half a decade, that segment has shrunk by 600,000. As a result of the island’s low birth rate, kindergartens and nurseries have also decreased by about 20 percent from five years ago.

Part of this might be attributed to the “Calendar Effect” as more mothers choose to give birth during more favorable zodiac signs, but it cannot account for the overall decrease. Since the year of the tiger is a less desirable year, according to Chinese custom, the number of babies born during the first two months of this year was 9 percent less than for the same period in 2009 according to the United Daily News. However, the low birth rate can also be attributed to other factors.

Government officials said that due to the weak economy, the marriage rate in 2009 hit a record low of 5.07 percent. If the situation does not improve by the end of 2011, Taiwan’s birth rate will be lower than the death rate by 2017, causing negative population growth. Demography scholars already estimate that last year’s fertility rate in Taiwan of the world’s lowest, now they expect 2010 to be even lower. According to Yang Wen-shan, a researcher of sociology at Academia Sinica, Taiwan and Portugal are the only two countries in the world where birth rates continue to decline while many other countries reversed the declining trend in 2006.

In speaking to the Taipei-based China Times, Hsu Wen-gui, a teacher who has taught at the Lao Song Elementary School for 35 years, still remembers the glory days. He said it used to take a whole hour just for all the students to group together in the morning. If you looked out then, the children were like swarms of ants forming their lines.

However, if this downward trend continues, Taiwan will vanish naturally without an outside attack, according to Sun Te-hsiung, a member of the Population Policy Committee at the Ministry of the Interior and also a former chairman of Taiwan’s Demography Association. He has put forth a slogan – “Children are our national assets and bearing children is a citizen’s duty” – to combat the problem.

World’s cell phone leader keeps alert

Almost everyone in Taiwan uses cell phones, but few know that one-fifth of the world’s cell phone keypads are made by Taiwan’s Silitech Technology Corporation in Tamsui, Taipei County. According to the Commonwealth monthly, the five largest cell phone makers are all Silitech’s customers.

Becoming the largest supplier

Located in the countryside where global positioning systems (GPS) are ineffective, Silitech has nevertheless grown to be the largest supplier of cell phone keypads in the world. Defeating its top three Japanese competitors (ShinEtsu, Polymatech and Sunarrow), the company grabbed 21 percent of the global market share in 2009. With steady profits, Silitech’s stocks have reached record earnings of NT$6.5 (US$.20 cents) per share for five straight years.

Silitech, originally named Silitek, was founded in 1978 to make rubber keypads for calculators. In 1995, Silitek started researching and developing cell phone keypads, a market dominated by Japanese manufacturers at the time. In 2002, a new and independent company called Silitech was formed to take over the rubber department and Silitek merged with Lite-On Group.

Commonwealth reported that Silitech was not the first Taiwanese company to enter the cell phone keypad market, however, its success and reliance on their “talent bank” makes them unique. The majority of Silitech’s mid- to top-level executives came from Texas Instruments and Lite-On Group. Its success could also be attributed to the company’s aggressive engagement in R&D which has made them the leader in their field. Unlike other companies, once they began making money, they did not focus on constructing an impressive corporate headquarters, but rather, Silitech spent its money on R&D after its stocks rose to NT$200 per share.

Business secret: low turnover of personnel

Cell phone keypads are not a high technology sector by nature, but rather the complicated engineering of materials. The leading firms are the ones with more experienced professionals, and “the biggest advantage Silitech enjoys over its competitors is a lower turnover of personnel. Experienced senior engineers stay with the company. The passing of experience from seniors to newcomers is easy,” said Chuang Hong-wen, a deputy manager with Silitech.

In just six years, Silitech has become one of the full suppliers to cell phone keypads for Nokia, which annually sells more than 400 million cell phones. About one-third of Nokia’s cell phone keypads are manufactured by Silitech.

According to International Data Corporation, a well-known market research and analysis firm, the global cell phone market grew 11.3 percent with total quarterly sales of 325.3 million units in the fourth quarter of 2009. Nokia gained the top spot shipping 126.9 million units and a global device market share of 39 percent, followed by Samsung (68.8 million units and 21.1 percent market share), LG Electronics (33.9 million units and 10.4 percent), Sony Ericsson (14.6 million units and 4.5 percent) and Motorola (12 million units and 3.7 percent). These manufacturers accounted for almost 80 percent of all mobile phones sold at that time.

Samsung and LG of South Korea are the largest cell phone makers in Asia, and the second and the third largest in the world. It is extremely difficult for a Taiwanese business to be part of the supply chain for Korean cell phones. However, Silitech has done so.

Ready for the worst case scenarios

The speed of introducing new cell phone models by Samsung and LG is far faster than their competitors. This creates a lot of pressure for their suppliers because they have to modify the tooling in a very short period of time.

The big European and American cell phone makers would usually give Silitech at least three days from tooling modification to sample inspection, while Samsung and LG only allow one day to finish the process.

Silitech is ready for the challenge. It keeps itself alert, mindful of solutions to deal with the worst case scenarios in developing new products and managing new growth in the company, observed Commonwealth. This ability to adapt will become increasingly important as more people switch to touch-screen smart phones.

President, opposition leader debate on China trade pact

On April 25, Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou and the leader of the major opposition party held their first televised debate on the FTA-like agreement with China. President Ma said he will protect Taiwan’s sovereignty yet bolster the island’s economy by signing the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA). Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen, representing the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) disagreed, charging that the pact would harm Taiwan politically and economically. The Taiwanese people are split on the benefits of the ECFA, so the heated exchange was an effort by both parties to win over skeptical supporters.

President Ma: ECFA needed to “develop a golden decade”

The debate focused on the need for the ECFA and its possible impacts. President Ma stressed that trade is the lifeline of Taiwan and the island cannot survive without foreign trade. During their eight years in power, the DPP adopted a closed-door policy toward China, causing Taiwan – originally the geographic center of East Asia – to be marginalized. “We cannot wait. I want to lead Taiwan to recover the lost eight years and move to a golden decade.” His aim is to recharge Taiwan’s economy so it can once again lead the Four Asian Tigers.

It is also crucial that the ECFA be signed given the many FTA alliances between Taiwan’s neighbors. When the countries in Asia rushed to ink FTA alliances with each other, only Taiwan and North Korea were left isolated and excluded without any FTA.

President Ma said he is working to prevent hundreds of thousands of workers in Taiwan sitting idle and watching orders go to South Korea, Japan, and the ASEAN countries. He wants to do his best to keep factories operating in Taiwan and to protect employment opportunities on the island.

The DPP’s Tsai Ing-wen disagrees with President Ma’s assessment. She sees the ECFA as a wrong decision “made by misjudging the situation.” With a “must sign” as a precondition, Ma is losing his bargaining power and is in-effect surrendering Taiwan’s sovereignty. She emphasized that people are uncertain about the ECFA. And, it is the government’s responsibility to distribute the benefits of trade. If the benefits remain concentrated in the hands of a few industries, the decision would lose its legitimacy, according to Tsai.

President Ma argued that no matter what happens in the signing of the ECFA or any future consultation, he is committed to defending Taiwan’s sovereignty and dignity. This will never change. Rebuffing Tsai’s argument that only big companies would benefit from an ECFA, Ma noted the relationship between large enterprises and small businesses are like “a bunch of rice dumplings attached through its strings.” If the heads of these strings get loose, all the dumplings would fall to the ground. He said, “Many small and medium-sized enterprises are satellite factories of the larger enterprises. They are mutually dependent, not antagonistic.”

He added that to reduce the impacts on Taiwan’s 17 traditional industries, the government has earmarked a NT$95 billion (US$3 billion) budget to help these industries transition or upgrade their competitiveness.

Tsai: “Taiwanese people have other options!”

Chairwoman Tsai said, “Taiwanese people have other choices.” Through the WTO, APEC, or other bilateral and regional trade, Taiwan can strengthen its economic and trade relations with China and other countries without being trapped into signing the ECFA so Taiwan would be obliged to widely open its domestic market within ten years.

President Ma explained that the pace of Asian economic integration is moving quickly. If the government signs an FTA with China to fully open Taiwan’s market in one step, the impacts on Taiwan’s domestic industries would be too huge. In accounting for it, his government wants to delay the impacts with the signing of the ECFA, which would of open up Taiwan’s market gradually. President Ma said the ECFA is not sugar-coated poison. Signing the ECFA would affect about 100,000 people, including those in 17 vulnerable, mass production industries, but this does not necessarily mean unemployment. He said it is an exaggeration for the DPP to estimate an impact on 5.9 million people without saying how these figures were derived.

In addressing how the ECFA would widen the gap between the rich and the poor in Taiwan, President Ma said the imbalance could be rectified through taxation and social welfare programs. It does not make sense to reject the ECFA due to the gap between the rich and the poor.

Public support for ECFA rises after televised debate

After the debate, a poll conducted by the Taipei-based China Times showed that 63 percent of respondents felt the debate helped them reach a better understanding of the ECFA. However, 23 percent said the debate still left them unclear about the nature of the agreement. Regarding the performance of the debaters, 41 percent of those polled thought Ma did a better job than Tsai, while 28 percent thought the opposite.

A United Daily News survey indicated that 46 percent of respondents felt better informed about the ECFA after watching the debate, but 44 percent still professed to feeling “in the dark” when it comes to the contents of the ECFA. Overall, 43 percent of respondents thought Ma did a good job, while 30 percent thought Tsai did.

A third poll, conducted by the Liberty Times found that nearly 60 percent of respondents felt that an ECFA referendum should be held before an agreement is signed. The paper’s survey revealed that 35 percent believed there was no need for such an agreement. Only 28 percent of those surveyed were in favor of inking an ECFA with the mainland, with 36 percent seeing the agreement as having no effect.

Commons Daily News columnist Chang Lang said everyone in Taiwan has his or her own opinion as to who had the upper hand in the Ma-Tsai debate. He observed that as for the real-time television poll after the debate, the majority of the audience watching the pro-independence SET TV opposed the signing of the ECFA while those watching the televisions of CTi and ETtoday supported the signing of the ECFA. No matter how many times President Ma and DPP Chairwoman Tsai debate, the fundamental blocks of pro-unification and pro-independence will never budge, Chang noted.

Taiwan directors share filmmaking experience at SFIFF

The 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) included two directors from Taiwan who shared their experiences with festival attendees. In the documentary film category, Liu Soung (Yellow Sheep River) and feature filmmaker Christina Yao (Empire of Silver) were present to answer the audience’s questions after their films.

Documenting the far western Chinese province of Gansu, Liu said he did not want to make a film that a director from China would make. Rather than presenting a documentary with political, economic or social viewpoints, Liu wanted to focus on the natural interaction of people and land. Charmed by the landscape of Yellow Sheep River and the repetitive rhythm of daily life there, Liu allowed the traditional patterns found in the farm village to tell its own story, free of dialogs and subtitles. Through it, he captured the beauty of simple details in the farmers’ daily lives.

With more than twenty years spent in making TV dramas and documentaries, and twice selected as the Best Director at the Golden Bell TV Awards, his filmmaking experience is extensive. Yellow Sheep River has already won the Best Documentary award at the Taipei Film Festival before premiering internationally at the SFIFF.

Taiwan was also represented by Christina Yao in her ambitious debut, Empire of Silver. Rachel Rosen, the Director of Programming at the San Francisco Film Society was amazed by the scope of the film. Yao successfully wove a tale of a Chinese banking family at the end of the Qing dynasty, filled with romance and history and made a lavish film worthy of a veteran director.

In Empire of Silver, the epic story of a Shanxi bank-owner’s family during the period of the most dramatic upheaval in modern China, Yao wanted to impress upon the audience the “business ethics” of traditional Chinese businessmen, especially compared to the American financial crisis. Yao emphasized how cultural values influence societal stability. She also answered the questions from the audience about the large-scale landscape shots featured in the film. She said her film crew spent six years traveling in four northern Chinese provinces and thirteen cities to shoot the breathtaking scenes.

Born in Taiwan, Yao currently lives in the Bay Area. She has directed over thirty plays and is well-known in the theater community in the United States and Taiwan. She received funding to make the film from Taiwanese IT tycoon Terry Gou.

Taiwanese American Cultural Festival in Union Square, May 8

As part of the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Union Square will be filled with food and performances highlighting Taiwanese culture on May 8. Held in the heart of San Francisco’s shopping area, the Taiwanese American Cultural Festival will be open from 10am to 6pm.

The main theme of this year’s cultural festival is “Vibrant Taiwan.” Taking center stage will be performances from well-known Taiwanese American musicians and dancers from the Department of Dance at the National Taiwan Arts University. The group will also perform again on May 9 at the Yerba Buena Gardens, San Francisco. The festival will pull at the heartstrings of those who miss the sounds, sights and tastes of Taiwan.

Come discover Taiwan through the marriage of traditional and innovative dance performances. With ten pieces in total, each one represents the various cultural aspects of Taiwan. There will also be many folk art demonstrations along with traditional Taiwanese food. Exhibition booths will have Taiwanese products, such as orchids, snacks, technology and art works.

The event is organized by the Taiwanese American Federation of Northern California. There will be free bus shuttles between the South Bay and downtown San Francisco from 9am to 6pm. To check the schedule and different locations to catch the shuttles, please visit the festival website: . Admission to the festival is free.