Monthly Archives: February 2012

Chef Hou in the Bay Area

This month, the 2011 Taipei International Beef Noodle Festival champion, Chef Hou Chun-sheng, visited the San Francisco Bay Area to promote Taiwan’s food culture. During his visit (Feb 4-13) he showcased his signature recipe in a series of cooking demonstrations and food programs.

Chef Hou at Google

Chef Hou at Google

Asian Society banquet

Asia Society dinner


Interview with KTSF TV in San Francisco

Sacramento TV Station

Cooking demonstration at KCRA TV in Sacramento with Press Officer Janet Chang

State Capitol

Chef Hou honored at California's State Capitol with TECO's Director-General Jack Chiang to his right, Assemblyman Richard Pan (left of Hou) and Senator Leland Yee (right of Chiang)

State Capitol

Chef Hou before the State Capitol holding his resolution from California's Assembly and Senate

State Capitol

Chef Hou with Jack Chiang (on right end) and the menbers of California's Assembly and Senate

Chef Hou at William-Sonoma

Cooking demonstration at Williams-Sonoma's flagship store, San Francisco

“Linsanity” spreads to Taiwan

On February 19, NBA star Jeremy Lin pleaded with the Taiwanese media to respect the privacy of his relatives in Taiwan, who he said have been “bombarded” since his recent rise to prominence. Lin’s recent jaw dropping court performances have not only garnered a fanatical following for the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden, but also worldwide.

“Linsanity”, as it is being called, has especially taken hold in Taiwan, his parents’ birthplace. Taiwan’s media has dedicated extensive coverage to the new darling of American basketball, dubbing him the “Glory of Taiwan.” The Associated Press also carried a report entitled “Ecstatic Taiwanese claim Knicks’ Lin as their own” to describe Taiwan’s pride in Lin.

Lin’s roots

Lin Gie-ming, Jeremy Lin’s father, was born in Changhua, a county in central Taiwan. After graduating from the Electronic Engineering Department at National Taiwan University, he and his wife, Shirley, moved to the US in 1977 for graduate school. Upon receiving his PhD in electrical engineering, Lin senior and his wife moved to Palo Alto, California.

Jeremy Lin’s maternal grandmother, Elaine Itzu Chen, was born to a rich family in Zhejiang, a coastal province of China. She moved to Taiwan in 1949, and emigrated to the US in 1969, practicing medicine in New York. She is a devout Christian and her faith has been passed on to Lin’s parents and two brothers.

With Lin’s fame in the US, his 85-year-old paternal grandmother, Lin Chu A-mian, has become the focus of Taiwan’s media. She is flooded with questions like “Is Jeremy Taiwanese or Chinese?”, “Does he have girlfriends?”, ”When did he start playing basketball?”, or “What kinds of Taiwanese snack is he fond of?” Like many second generation Taiwanese Americans, Lin does not speak Mandarin. Although his parental grandmother sees him as Taiwanese, Jeremy has grown up imbued with American culture and is a product of the US educational system. Except for occasional family trips to Taiwan, he does not have a deep understanding of Taiwan. However, this has not stopped basketball fans or everyday Taiwanese from catching Linsanity.

Fostering Taiwan’s identity through sports

This is not the first time that the Taiwanese people have become so ecstatic about a sport. In 1969, Taiwan sent a baseball team to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, to participate in the Little League Baseball World Series, and they went on to win the championship. At that time, the Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan suffered a series of diplomatic setbacks due to the isolation imposed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC). In 1971, the ROC withdrew from the United Nations after the China seat was given to the PRC and the ROC government tried to compensate for this loss by supporting international sports competition as a substitute for political participation in the world. The people of Taiwan sought to find heroes and a new identity.

Taiwan’s little league baseball teams (11-13 years old) competed in championships on the other side of the globe and people stayed up well past midnight to watch the live broadcasts of the games. These young baseball players regained a part of Taiwan’s national pride, winning nine Little League World Series Championships in the 13 years from 1969 to 1982.

Taiwan’s senior leagues (14-16 years old) and big leagues (16-18 years old) under the sponsorship of the Little League World Series, have also been successful. In total, Taiwan won 17 Little League World Series Championships from 1969 to 1996.

Few Taiwanese sport icons

While Taiwan has produced some great talent over the last few decades, the best players are usually courted to play for professional teams in Japan and the US. Especially prominent is Wang Chien-ming, formerly with the New York Yankees and now with the Washington Nationals. As the first Taiwanese player to achieve prominence in the American major league baseball, he automatically became a national hero.

Golf is another popular game on the island, with regular players numbering close to half a million and the total number enjoying the sport totaling over two million. It is definitely a big deal for players to watch golf tournaments in the US, Europe or Japan. This usually involves a couple of hours driving to and from the golf course, along with buying a ticket. Yet even with the large pool of players, few would watch broadcasted golf competitions, despite the success of Taiwan’s Yani Tseng.

In August 2011, Tseng, 23, a golf prodigy, defended her title at the Women’s British Open, becoming the first defending winner at the Women’s British Open as a major. Her five major titles made her the youngest player, male or female, to win five major championships, and she is currently ranked as the world’s number 1 woman golfer.

The Apple Daily reported that the Reignwood International Group in Beijing offered Tseng a sponsorship contract of up to NT$1 billion (US$33.3 million) on one condition – that she changed her citizenship to Chinese. Tseng declined, saying, “I grew up in Taiwan. I play golf in Taiwan. I have always been proud that I am Taiwanese. I am very blessed to be Taiwanese, and I have the people of Taiwan behind me.”

Both Wang and Tseng grew up and were educated in Taiwan.

Stereotypes of book versus brawn

The general stereotype most people get from Chinese-Americans is that they are good at school work, but not in sports. Under the influence of Confucianism, most ethnic Chinese parents emphasize the importance of education, equating higher education with higher social and financial status. Lin’s parents may have thought likewise when they named their son Shu-hao meaning “Pride in the books” in Chinese. Lin graduated from Harvard University, and also excelled on the basketball courts there, realizing the dual dream of excelling both in education and sports.

Most people think that Chinese people are good at less physically demanding sports or competitions (such as baseball, golf, or table tennis), but are not able to compete with other ethnic groups in the physical sports like basketball, football or rugby. The fact that Lin excelled at both helps to break that stereotype.

It is not a secret, the Journalist magazine commented, that Lin wishes to be a Christian preacher after his basketball career comes to an end. In interviews, Lin always attributes his good fortunate to God, when he is not crediting his teammates or coach. Almost all the American fans speak highly of his humbleness and constancy of faith.

Another thinking on Linsanity

In a letter to the United Daily News, Chen Yu-hsuan, a college student, wrote, “We are proud of Jeremy Lin for his outstanding performance in American basketball. Yet we are asking why Taiwan is not able to cultivate a healthy sports environment to nurture more sports stars? Strictly speaking, Jeremy Lin’s success is due to the result of American training. As such, it may be far-fetched to call him the “Glory of Taiwan” just because his parents happened to be Taiwanese.”

Taiwan’s Awakening News Network reported that internet users believe that Lin has been deified by Taiwan’s media. Most net surfers blame the media for the fanaticism of Lin’s coverage, yet failing to mention a single word about other important issues and international news, such as meat additives concerning the health of Taiwanese who eat US beef, the Syrian government’s brutal crackdown on its own people, and the Greek debt crisis. All this shows the unprofessional nature of Taiwanese media.

The paper also points out that the Taiwanese media reports about Jeremy Lin’s success are superficial and irrelevant. The focus of most media coverage is on Lin’s identity issue, love affairs or business opportunities, but do not dig deeper to explore why Taiwan’s education policy cannot produce a sports star.

TV variety show tycoon Wang Wei-zhong said in an interview on Cti television, that “the NBA remains in the doldrums at the box office in the Chinese market. Only now they see Jeremy Lin’s sudden emergence as an opportunity for making a fuss to raise its popularity.” The Central News Agency reported that David Shoemaker, the CEO of China’s NBA, agrees that Lin enhances the NBA ratings in China and also boosts the sales performance of NBA products, which have been gradually declining since the retirement of Chinese player Yao Ming.

It remains to be seen whether Jeremy Lin is able to exert a lasting influence or whether Linsanity be short-lived. Only time will tell if the NBA can take advantage of Linsanity to save its declining Chinese market. After all, Jeremy Lin is an authentic Asian player, which at least will bring some satisfaction to the people of Taiwan, and will hopefully ensure his popularity on the island for some time to come.

Taiwan chef honored at California’s State Capitol

On February 9, the California State Legislature unanimously passed a resolution to honor Taiwan’s recent Beef Noodle Soup winner, Chef Hou Chun-sheng, by recognizing that he was “committed to enhancing the bilateral relationship between Taiwan and the State of California through the promotion of California’s beef and wheat industries.” Hou, the chef of well-known nightclub Room 18 in Taipei, won the championship at the 2011 Taipei International Beef Noodle Festival.

With the help of the Press Division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in San Francisco, Hou came to the Bay area to participate in four cooking demonstrations and events promoting Taiwan’s iconic beef noodle soup. During his visit from February 4 to 13, more than 1,000 people in the Bay Area enjoyed his signature dish.

A daily favorite among Taiwanese people, beef noodle soup used to be known as “Sichuan beef noodles,” though no such dish originated from Sichuan province, China. The dish was invented by mainland immigrants to Taiwan in 1949 and has been a popular mainstay of Taiwanese meals ever since. It can be readily found in Taiwan’s many food alleys and also on the tables of expensive restaurants and hotels. A bowl of beef noodles can cost from US$2 to $200. Given its popularity, many consider beef noodle soup to be the national dish of Taiwan.

Manfred Peng, press director of TECO in San Francisco, pointed out that with the popularity of Italian pasta, Vietnamese pho and Japanese ramen in the San Francisco Bay Area, finding fans for Taiwan’s beef noodles should be easy. With this in mind, the introduction of Taiwan’s beef noodles to Americans who already enjoyed a diet of beef and noodles did not seem that radical.

Peng noted that Chinese restaurants in the US normally offer cheap dishes, and are mostly limited to Cantonese cuisine. He tried to distinguish Taiwanese food from the stereotypical Chinatown fare so that Americans would have a greater understanding of Taiwan’s culinary treasures. His strategy was to emulate the examples of the Thai restaurants around the world, by elevating the quality and setting. Instead of using a Chinese restaurant, Peng set the events at selected fine French and Italian restaurants and chose the high-quality kitchenware supplier, Williams-Sonoma, as another partner.

During his week-long stay in California, Hou cooked as a guest chef at Google’s Café Jia, followed by an evening program with the Asia Society of Northern California at L’Olivier Restaurant. On February 9, California Assemblyman Richard Pan, the son of Taiwanese immigrants, and Leland Yee, a Chinese American senator, co-hosted a wonderful reception at the lovely Spataro Restaurant, just across the street from the California State Capitol building, to introduce Taiwan’s iconic beef noodle soup. Hou completed his Bay Area visit with a cooking demonstration at the demonstration kitchen of Williams-Sonoma’s flagship store in Union Square.

In welcoming Chef Hou, Dr. Pan said, “It is an honor for me, coming from a Taiwanese-American family, to be able to host Chef Hou and recognize the strong bonds between our cultures….Food is among the strongest bonds we see between cultures. It promotes health, trade and friendship and you’ll find all of these ingredients go into a delicious bowl of Chef Hou’s international award-winning beef noodle soup.”

“As we celebrate the Year of the Dragon, it is great for all Californians to see and understand the connection our state has with Asia, including the various ingredients of Chef Hou’s famous beef noodle soup,” Senator Yee said. “Our economies and cultures are inextricably linked through traditions, agriculture, and many commodities.”

“This is my first visit to the States,” Chef Hou said. “I am honored to demonstrate my work on Taiwan’s beef noodle soup in the capital of California. I know this state is culturally diverse and the people here easily accept foreign food cultures. I hope that they will enjoy my work and get to know Taiwan’s cuisine.”

“Chef Hou came to California to promote Taiwan’s food culture,” said Director-General Chiang of TECO in San Francisco. “Taiwanese cuisine is delicious, colorful, innovative, and has plenty of variety. Chef Hou’s visit will foster the American people’s understanding of the island’s gourmet culture. I do appreciate his efforts to publicize Taiwan’s soft power in California.”

Following the presentation, Chef Hou prepared the award-winning beef noodle soup recipe for over 125 guests. The event was co-hosted by the Sacramento Chapter of the California Restaurant Association and local restaurateur Randy Paragary, co-owner of Spataro.

Chef Hou continued on to Washington DC on February 13 and cooked for another 1,000 -plus fans of Taiwan’s beef Noodle soup.

No time frame for US beef issue: President Ma

Speaking about Taiwan’s import ban on US beef on February 25th, President Ma Ying-jeou said that “the government does not have any pre-determined position, timetable, nor any commitment to the United States. It is not true that the government decided to lift the ban after the presidential election as some have thought,” reported the Taipei-based China Times.

The president clarified the government’s position while visiting the southern Taiwan counties of Yunlin, Chiayi and Tainan, where many of the local farmers raise beef cattle.

A day earlier, Premier Sean Chen told the Legislature that the Executive Yuan would not issue any executive order to allow the import of meat containing residual amounts of the leanness-enhancing additive ractopamine “in the near future”.

According to the Central News Agency, ractopamine is permitted in livestock feed in 20-plus countries, including the US. The government has been considering whether to relax its ban on the additive and to allow the sale of meat that contains traces of the drug.

A task force led by the cabinet-level Council of Agriculture has been formed to assess the safety of ractopamine in meat and whether Taiwan’s ban on the drug should be lifted. Opposition lawmakers and local groups have expressed concern that the government is moving toward lifting the ban on the drug. But the government has insisted that it has no pre-determined position on the issue and will make a decision based on the opinions of professionals.

About 93 percent of Taiwan’s beef is imported, with only 7 percent coming from locally reared cattle. There are over 30,000 beef cattle raised per year in Taiwan, compared with about 6.3 million pigs.

The United Daily News reported that Pan Lien-chou of the Republic of China (Taiwan) Swine Association said the price of pork has fallen to NT$5,500 (US$183) per kilogram in recent days due to the wrangling over American beef, meaning a loss of NT$1,000 (US$33) per pig. If US beef imports are allowed in the future, the loss is expected to increase to NT$2,000 (US$66). Island-wide, there are more than 10,000 households that rely directly on pig farming for their income, as well as many more upstream and downstream, including feed, transport, and processing. Altogether, hundreds of thousands of jobs could be at risk.

The Swine Association announced that over 10,000 pig farmers will hold a demonstration in Taipei on March 8 to protest against any government relaxation of import restrictions on meat containing ractopamine. Pan noted that if American beef containing ractopamine is allowed to enter Taiwan, the US would probably expect to be able to export pork containing ractopamine to Taiwan. “At that time the confidence of Taiwanese consumers in pork will collapse,” he said.

Professor Chen I-hsin of Tamkang University said in a letter to the China Times that the US beef issue has recently created a great sensation and is shaping up to be the first major test of Taiwan’s new cabinet. Chen noted that the Codex Alimentarius Commission (the body that oversees world food health standards) will meet soon to decide on a new standard for acceptable limits of lean meat additive residues in the human body. Taiwan’s Department of Health should take the commission’s conclusions into consideration as it goes about setting its own new guidelines.

Chen stressed that the government should require US meat sellers to state clearly where their products originate and provide proof that the lean additives they use have been certified by the US Food and Drug Administration. By following such a procedure, the general public in Taiwan will be able to make informed choices for themselves, if and when the ban is lifted.

If Taiwan cannot address the beef issue in an objective and scientific way, the reopening of negotiations between Taipei and Washington on the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) could be affected. Chen pointed out that many members of the US Congress representing farming states have been unstinting in their support of Taiwan, but even they have been unsympathetic to Taiwan’s concerns over the safety of American beef.

Chen noted that President Ma has pledged to devote the next 10 years to helping improve Taiwan’s trade and industrial structures so that the nation can reach its goal of joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). If the US beef issue can be resolved earlier and the negotiations surrounding the TIFA can start, Washington will be willing to help Taipei join the TPP. The sooner Taiwan joins the TPP, the sooner it can become integrated into the Asia-Pacific economy and the island might even use this as leverage to join the free trade zone of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

President Ma urged to focus on major economic issues during second term

During his second term in office, President Ma Ying-jeou needs to focus on the three major economic issues facing Taiwan: solving the fiscal deficit, expanding international trade and balancing household incomes, according to Professor Lin Chu-chia of the Department of Economics at National Chengchi University.

Given President Ma’s successful re-election and the ruling Kuomintang’s control of over half the seats in the Legislature, the president should capitalize on his power base to leave a historic economic legacy, wrote Lin in the United Daily News.

Reducing Taiwan’s deficit

Lin believes that Taiwan’s fiscal deterioration over the past three years has been caused by the high level of government borrowing since the international financial turmoil began. Although total debts are within the legal limit set by the constitution, there has been a rapid rate of deterioration. Lin believes the solution to restore fiscal balance lies in the need to increase taxes as soon as possible.

In 2000, Taiwan’s tax burden rate was about 17 percent, but it has quickly dropped and it now stands at about 11 percent, which is pretty low compared with other countries. Lin proposes that Christina Liu, the new finance minister, should be bold enough to increase taxes, thus boosting tax revenues to balance the national debt. Additional government revenue could then be used to take care of the island’s disadvantaged groups.

Lin stressed that the government could raise taxes by starting with less controversial tax items, such as business tax and land value tax. Taiwan’s current business tax rate is only 5 percent, which is far below the 8 percent in the US or the 13 percent in Canada. If Taiwan could raise the rate by just 1 percent, it would likely translate into over NT$50 billion (US$1.67 billion) extra income for the national treasury each year. And, a 6 percent business tax is estimated to have limited impact on domestic producers and consumers.

The Economic Daily News reported that, in the face of financial constraints, Minister Liu believes that the best way to increase the government’s income revenues does not necessarily mean a tax rise. However, she is not afraid of becoming a “tax hike Minister.”

Not simply a tax hike

According to Lin, during his second term, President Ma should continue to actively negotiate with China on the FTA-like Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) to remove barriers to Taiwan’s foreign trade, so that Taiwanese businesses are not only able to penetrate the Chinese market, but also are able to more actively participate in international markets and allow Taiwan to benefit from liberalization of global trade.

In an editorial, the Commercial Times said that the greatest difficulty for Taiwanese businesses in China is their ability to upgrade production and management systems. So the majority of Taiwanese businesses in China adjust their business model by stepping into the services sector. However, indications reveal that their transition to the service sector is no match for their success in the export sector and the transition has been anything but smooth.

Whereas their previous success in export trade directly translated to their experiences inside Taiwan, Taiwanese businesses have difficulty in transitioning to the service sector because they have yet to fully understand the sector, or the needs of Chinese people. The current services market in China is much more competitive, attracting tens of thousands of businesses domestically and from abroad. It has indeed proved very difficult for Taiwanese businesses to secure market share.

The Commercial Times pointed out that Taiwan has started to negotiate the two follow-up agreements of the ECFA with China – the trade agreement in services and another in commodities – at the beginning of this year. If Taiwanese businesses can be allowed to have unconditional access to all types of sectors in the service industry, and no restrictions on the scope of their operations in China, this will bring with it substantial financial rewards for Taiwan. If the booming travel industry, financial peripheral businesses, and value-added telecommunications are also accessible, Taiwanese firms will be able to quickly expand and build up their profit base within the Chinese service industry.

An agreement on commodity trade as part of the ECFA will also help to upgrade the products of Taiwanese businesses in China. If key components, machinery and equipment made in Taiwan and urgently needed by Taiwan’s firms operating in China become eligible for customs duty exemption, business costs will fall, saving these firms money on production upgrades.

Redistribution of wealth through job creation

Professor Lin pointed out that the third task for President Ma is to solve the uneven distribution of income in Taiwan. The key to this problem is to create more employment opportunities for low-income households. He believes that the government should accelerate the development of industries that can provide additional employment opportunities for unskilled service industry workers, such as the tourism industry and the long-term care of the elderly and sick.

The tourism industry is capable of producing non-technical jobs in catering, transportation, hotels and housekeeping. The government must accelerate the organization of Taiwan travel fairs in China to promote Taiwan to Chinese tourists, according to Lin. The government must also allow people from more provinces and cities to be able to visit Taiwan. Travel by Chinese tourists to the island is currently restricted to residents with a household registration in Beijing, Shanghai and Xiamen only.

Lin stressed that 50 million Chinese people travel abroad every year. If Taiwan can attract only one tenth of that group, it would mean five million sightseeing tourists visiting Taiwan. Additional income from Chinese visitors would help the tourism industry in Taiwan to develop and improve and would create more employment opportunities.

Also, with an expanding aging population, Taiwan will need a huge labor pool to care for these people in their old age. According to Lin, Taiwan should promote a system of nursing assistants, so that unemployed middle-aged people can be trained as caregivers or receive nursing qualifications after a few months of study.

Regional imbalances

As for the uneven income distribution, the Wealth magazine pointed out that the long-term imbalance between northern and southern Taiwan also plays a role. The south cannot jump onto the bandwagon of the technology and service sectors, and this has resulted in an industrial hollowing in the south and a shortage of employment opportunities.

One example of this regional imbalance was seen at the end of the week-long lunar New Year holidays this month, when about 2.39 million vehicles per day used National South-North Highway, a 49 percent increase on the usual pattern, proving that many people in the south go to the north for work. The population pattern has shown that during the last decade (2000-2010), the number of people living in northern Taiwan has increased by 870,000 while the south has lost about 200,000 people.

Furthermore, during the same period, the average household annual recurring revenue of the six cities/counties in southern Taiwan, except Kaohsiung City, has also retreated. As for local tax revenues, in the last decade, Taipei City collected revenues of NT$110.4 billion (US$3.68 billion) while all the six southern counties and cities only collected about NT$98 billion (US$3 billion). It should then come as no surprise that Yunlin, Pingtung, and Chiayi Counties in the South have seen some of the most serious population outflows during the past decade.

The crisis of industrial decline and the hollowing out of southern Taiwan is due to the long-term inequitable distribution of resources by the government. Taiwan’s leaders need to face the reality of the north-south imbalance in order to solve the problem of uneven income distribution, stressed Wealth magazine.

Taiwan’s coffee consumption quadruples in 12 years

Coffee drinking has become part of daily Taiwanese life, with many people starting the day with a cup. The popularity of coffee can be seen by the increased amount of coffee imported over the past decade, reaching 17,885 metric tons (raw and pre-roasted beans) in 2010 from just 4,794 in 1999. In terms of coffee consumed, the ratio was 480 million cups (21 per person) in 1999 versus 1.79 billion cups (78 per person) in 2010, an almost four-fold increase in 12 years.

Previously coffee was perceived as an accoutrement of foreign high-class culture, both remote and inaccessible in the 1950s, reported Taiwan Panorama. Then a number of coffee shops cropped up in Taipei, and became a gathering place for the cultural elite, intellectuals, politicians, business moguls and men of arts and letters. Such establishments catered to Taiwan’s most rarefied echelon, a realm away from “ordinary” Taiwanese people.

Increased prosperity in the 1970s and the growing number of Taiwanese people studying abroad kindled an interest in foreign cuisine, and coffee has steadily gained in popularity ever since. Coffee entered the mainstream following the stock market boom of 1985 in Taiwan. Canned coffee preloaded with milk and sugar, typified by Mr. Brown and other brands met market demand for less-bitter-tasting coffee in an inexpensive format.

In 1992, the first coffee chains opened in Taiwan. Chains such as the Japanese franchise Kohikan, Doutor Coffee, Dante Coffee and Ikari Coffee, sold machine dripped coffees for about US$1.20. Other chains serving Italian style coffee – Barista Coffee, Is Coffee and Starbucks – also entered the market.

Dubbed “the McDonald’s of coffee,” Starbucks was brought to Taiwan by Uni-President Corp. Using a highly streamlined business approach with an emphasis on stylish presentation, Starbucks swept throughout the island with over 200 individual outlets. The years 2002 and 2003 marked a watershed in coffee’s rapid takeover. Ecoffee was founded to provide takeout coffee at NT$35 (US$1.20) and then came the 85 Degree C Café chains which combined coffee and cakes into one single package. Within five years, they had expanded to over 300 locations, according to Taiwan Panorama.

In 2004, 7-Eleven of Uni-president unveiled its City Café brand with economically priced coffee available at 4,500 individual stores throughout Taiwan. Other convenience stores like Family Mart and Hi-Life also entered the fray with their own brands. By the end of 2008, there were 731 individual coffee franchises in Taiwan as compared to 695 for fast food.

It is estimated that the total number of establishments where one can purchase a cup of fresh coffee, including convenience stores, fast food outlets and both independent and chain coffee stores, now tallies to over 10,000. In monetary terms, that translates to more than half of the NT$40 billion (US$1.3 billion) which is generated by coffee annually.

Despite the profusion of coffee establishments, its quality has not suffered. On a recent trip to Paris, Yeh Yi-lan, a culinary travel writer, made the rounds to all the cafes, including those on the River Seine’s legendary Left Bank, and could not find a satisfying cup until her return to Taiwan, when she tasted her first cup at a convenience store at the airport.

Europeans have been drinking coffee for over 500 years. It has become ingrained into their culture, while Taiwan, a relative newcomer, approaches coffee from a fresher perspective. Besides, in the long history of tea drinking, Taiwanese people have become adept at classifying tea leaves according to quality and freshness, a skill which easily carries over when searching for choice coffee beans from a particular region.

“The reason why Taiwanese coffee tastes so good is because it’s true to the original character of the bean – it’s able to highlight the intrinsic layers of fragrance and texture,” Yeh told Taiwan Panorama.

In the early days, there was only limited coffee information and technical know-how in Taiwan. After 1993, the internet helped bring together coffee enthusiasts throughout the island to share coffee information online. In 1997, a group of coffee fanatics formed “Irvine Café,” an online forum, introducing the work of Seattle-based espresso guru David Schomer, the basics of espresso making, and sharing notes on roasting beans.

After a while, they were able to find the components involved in making good coffee, including quality beans, roasting techniques and brewing skills. The obsession of these coffee connoisseurs and their fastidiousness has broadened Taiwanese consumers’ appreciation for coffee, reported Taiwan Panorama.

Taiwan copes with brain drain, again

It is hard to believe, but the Economics Department of  National Taiwan University (NTU), Taiwan’s top university, is unable to recruit faculty staff. Yet, this is the sad truth. Wang Hung-jen, the department chair, told Taiwan Panorama that “We had six assistant professor positions open in 2010, but only one was filled. In 2011, we mobilized recruitment through the department’s alumni association taking advantage of various salary incentives and subsidies available at the school to issue five contracts but only hired three staff in the end.”

“Global demand for talented new economists is very high. Taiwan is losing the battle due to offering a low level of pay,” said Wang. He cited NTU as an example, noting that the starting salary for an assistant professor is about NT$1 million (US$33,300) a year. While in China, many universities offer better salaries and include a housing subsidy, bringing the total annual compensation to NT$2 million (US$66,700) or more. In Hong Kong and Singapore, salaries are four to five times those in Taiwan.

Samuel  C.L. Chen, associate dean of the College of Commerce at National Chengchi  University (NCCU), said that even though his college is ranked 41st in the world and first in Taiwan by the UK’s Financial Times’  2011 list of top MBA programs, this international acclaim is of little help in recruiting faculty staff. In fact, there are currently more than 20 positions open in 10 departments at his college. They had six positions open this past semester, and succeeded in filling only two by the end of the term.

Chang Ching-fong, deputy minister of the National Science Council (NSC) said that their data has shown that at least 100 professors and researchers have been poached from local universities and Academia Sinica over the last five years, and not just to China, Hong Kong or Singapore. Non-Chinese-speaking countries such as South Korea and Saudi Arabia have also come to Taiwan in search of talent.

From 1970 to 1990, large numbers of Taiwanese students studying in the US chose to stay in America after graduation, contributing to the island’s first brain drain. Later, with the encouragement of the Taiwan government, many of these people decided to return to Taiwan to start businesses, breathing life and success into Hsinchu Science Park, Taiwan’s Silicon Valley.

Morris Chang is a typical case in point. After serving as a group vice president at Texas Instruments and the president and chief operating officer at General Instrument, Chang returned to the island to establish Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation (TSMC) in 1987. The company played a pivotal role in  laying a strong foundation for Taiwan’s semiconductor industry.

In recent years China has become a magnet for Taiwanese talent, especially given the improvements in cross-strait relations and greater job opportunities there. With the advantage of having the same language and culture, it is estimated that one million Taiwanese business personnel, corporate executives and their families are now permanent residents in China.

According to the Institute of International Education, Taiwan had 24,818 students studying in the US in 2010-2011, ranking fifth in terms of foreign student numbers. Taiwan ranked No. 1 in the 1980s, but the number of Taiwanese students in the US has dropped by 34 percent from its 1994 peak of 37,580. However,China has surged ahead with 157,558 students studying in the US in 2010-2011, who will go on to become the backbone of China’s economic development.

It is reported that there were 84,281 international scholars in the US in 2003. Taiwan accounted for just 1,241 of them (1.5 percent), versus China’s 15,206 (18 percent) and South Korea’s 7,286 (8.6 percent). The dilution of Taiwanese talent in the international sphere and the decline in the number of Taiwanese graduates holding teaching positions at American universities is almost certain to reduce the number of scholars able and willing to “speak for Taiwan” at international forums.

Wu Se-hwa, president of NCCU said, “We should encourage more Taiwanese students to study abroad while also ensuring the quality of locally trained PhDs. Such an approach would likely resolve more than half of Taiwan’s talent shortfall.”

Lo Ching-hua, NTU vice president for academic affairs, said that whereas Hong Kong and Singapore are urban states with little room for research, and China is a totalitarian state, Taiwan, as a liberal and diversified society, still enjoys some advantages. It offers a rich and unrestricted research environment and is highly visible and influential for scholars.

“Taiwanese people who take jobs overseas don’t cut ties to their homeland. Most conduct research related to Taiwan and end up on the frontline of academic discussion and international cooperation,” noted Taiwan Panorama.

Three new challenges facing the middle aged

In the past, middle aged Taiwanese people used to concern themselves with three “high” syndromes – high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high blood fats. Now they face “three new highs” – high job turnover, illness and divorce rates. This continuing trend is only worsening, according to Commonwealth monthly.

The rate of job changes among the old and middle aged has increased 1.3 times in five years. According to statistics from the Labor Commission, the rate among the old and middle aged (45 to 64) has increased every year, except in 2006, with 230,000 people in that demographic switching jobs in 2009.

The mortality rate in Taiwan for this age group has also risen steadily. According to the Department of Health, cancer among the old and middle aged (counted as between 40 and 59) inched close to 200,000 in 2010, a 30 percent increase in five years. In particular, patients suffering from five types of cancer (malignant tumors, endocrine cancer, mental and brain disorders, cardio and circulatory system diseases, and gastrointestinal problems) are on the rise.

The rates of marriage separation and divorce on the island have also risen sharply. In 2000, the rate of separation amounted to 370,000 people among the old and middle aged. The number registered at 830,000 in 2010, increasing more than 2.2 times. Whereas the younger population (between 35 and 44) used to account for the largest rate of divorce, they have now been overtaken by the middle aged group.

Taiwanese companies used to encourage employees to stay with one firm all their lives, with an emphasis on employee loyalty. But given the massive layoffs undertaken by businesses in order to reduce labor costs and benefits (healthcare and pensions), middle aged workers are becoming major lay off casualties.

Last year, Mr. A, 52, a former general manager in China with one of the US’s leading Fortune 500 companies, took early retirement when his company decided to move further inland. With 10 years of experience, he started to look hard for another job, but was unsuccessful after two months of searching. He told Commonwealth, “I never thought of changing a job in middle age before. I am more familiar with the situation in China. Although not resistant to the idea of moving back to Taiwan, I really do not know what to do in a place with which I am no longer familiar.”

High level management, the information technology and financial sectors are two areas with a high rate of middle aged unemployment. Many people find their energy waning as news of illnesses among their circle of friends and family become more commonplace. Gradually they become used to bad health news and internalize their worries of ill health as something that can also be visited upon them as well.

And, in terms of relationships, middle aged Taiwanese people also face more challenges in their marriages than before. Many more wives are asking for a divorce not because of new found love or their husbands’ infidelity, but because they want to make a life for themselves and are putting their interests first. After 20 years of taking care of the kids, who are now grown up, and out of the house, they feel they have done their duty and would like to reserve the next stage of their lives for themselves. Husbands are urged not to take it as a sign of betrayal but rather that their significant others are seeking an affirmation of their own lives.

Similar to the management of a business, middle aged Taiwanese people need to manage their own lives, and be vigilant against the three new highs, Commonwealth concluded.

No simple stereotype of Taiwan’s young people

Taiwan’s twenty somethings have long been known for being self-centered, reluctant to engage in hard work and short on employment loyalty. This generation has been nicknamed the “strawberry generation” for their characteristics of being easily “bruised” and for their lack of resilience.

The term was originally coined in 1993 by Christina Ongg, the chairperson of Career Consulting Co. to describe the great care parents took with children born in the 1960s and 1970s. Later the phrase took on a more negative connotation.

The ‘cared-free’ generation

In 2011, Wealth magazine and 104 Job Bank, the largest job website on the island, tried to redefine Taiwan’s youth (in their 20s) as the “cared-free” generation. In a survey conducted by 104 Job Bank, 47.5 percent of the respondents chose happiness over other objectives, including family and health, as the ultimate goal in life.

Serena Chen, a manager with 104 Job Bank said, “We found the ‘cared-free’ generation made decisions mostly based on their feelings, including their job choices. ‘Cared’ means they have been extensively cared for, but ‘free’ means they love having lots of personal freedom.”

Regis Chen, 104 Job Bank’s marketing director, said young people are very self-focused, which can be interpreted as either being selfish, or more positively, as being more willing to express themselves. The study found that the younger generation’s selfishness can be reflected in their willingness to live with their parents before marriage in order to save on expenses, while the older generation cites the reason for them to stay with their parents as being to take care of family members.

More competitive and less optimistic

Ongg told Taiwan Review that for today’s youths, aged 18-30, “mass-produced cherry tomatoes” is a better phrase than “strawberry,” as “they appear to have fewer distinguishing personal characters” due to the changes in the education system over the past decade, where so many universities were created to give a general education rather than specific workplace skills.

According to the Ministry of Education, out of Taiwan’s total population of 23.1 million, nearly 2.9 million people over the age of 15 had earned a bachelor’s degree by 2010. This figure is almost three times the 1.1 million from just 10 years earlier. Regis Chen noted the prevalence of people with tertiary degrees, which makes the job market much more competitive.

Other polls have shown that younger members of the strawberry generation lack confidence in their future. According to an online survey conducted in 2011 by Pollster Technology Marketing Ltd., of nearly 1,100 respondents aged 18 to 30, over 50 percent responded “unlikely” or “very unlikely” when asked about their chances of success in the next 20 years. Part of that despondency is career-related, as Ongg estimated that about 80 percent of those in that age bracket agonize over finding a profession that suits them.

Careers are less imperative

Taiwan’s younger generation is far from monolithic, however, and some members are much less concerned about careers. Wu Chih-in, a research fellow in the Institute of Sociology at Academia Sinica, Taiwan’s top research institute, said that the country’s economic development means that today’s young people are able to draw on greater financial resources, making a career less imperative. ”They don’t have to feed a family. If they lose their jobs, they can still survive by going home to live with their parents.”

Their parents provide them with everything they need as soon as they ask, or even before they ask for it. Over time, such young people start to see no reason to make an effort when they can get everything without trying. Likewise, they see no logic in moving out and paying rent, or in taking on work pressures for a job earning a salary of NT$20,000 (US$667) a month, reported Taiwan Review.

Despite the difficulties faced by today’s youth, Regis Chen believes they have the potential to be just as successful as their forebears. “They are better-rounded than any of the older generations and far more creative.”

No one-size-fits-all stereotypes

The key to motivating youngsters to commit to their works is to create an environment with which they can identify. When they do, they will be willing to take on a heavy workload. Huang Jian-teng, a full time employee and management trainee at a Family Mart convenience store in Taipei, is such an example.

After a 9-hour graveyard shift, he stays to restacks plastic storage bins he sees carelessly thrown on the floor on his way out. Though officially off duty, he said, “I want to see the business thrive from our efforts and I’m also learning how to run a store well.” He added, money is not the first priority for his generation and that he would keep working for an organization as long as he sees a positive outlook for the job.

When talking about members of the strawberry generation, two very different pictures emerge. The first is that they are self-centered, weak and reluctant to engage in hard work. The second is that they are creative, passionate and willing to work hard for the things they believe in. So which description, if either, is accurate? As always, it depends on whom one asks, reported Taiwan Review.

Psychologist Huang Hsin-yi believes that attempting to define individuals according to perceived characteristics of their age group is an overly simplistic approach. He said “I personally won’t use a specific name to label a generation because I think all generations produce both hard-working and lazy people.”

Beef Noodle Soup cooking demo by Chef Hou at Williams-Sonoma Union Square (SF), Feb 11 (Sat) 12-2pm, FREE

Come catch Chef Hou Chun-sheng in his last Bay Area appearance. He will demonstate how to make his award winning Beef Noodle soup and offer samples to the audienc at Williams-Sonoma Union Square. The event is free, but please sign-up at . If you cannot attend, his recipe is printed at: