Monthly Archives: September 2013

Taiwan’s “Touch of the Light” screenings throughout Northern California

Coming soon to Bay Area venues is Taiwan’s official submission to the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2013 Academy Awards, Touch of the Light (Ni Guang Fei Xiang). This film is based on the life of Taiwanese child prodigy Huang Yu-siang, a pianist who is blind. More amazingly, Huang plays himself in this beautifully produced movie.  Touch of the Light is so popular that it is being screened in three locations this fall.  This Saturday (9/28) at the Wine Country Film Festival in Kenwood and then at Antioch’s El Campanil Theatre and Orinda Theatre in October.

Born to a rural family in Taiwan unprepared for the birth of a blind son, Huang was a curious and precocious child. With the love of his mother and support of his family, he grew up with few barriers. Difficulties come when he leaves home to attend university. There he competes with sighted students and learn to find his footing in his new environment. He soon crosses path with Jie (Chang Rong-rong), a beautiful but frustrated cold drinks vendor who dreams of being a dancer, but feels helpless when faced with the realities of life. She draws inspiration from Huang’s fearless determination, optimism and inner peace, to hold on to her dream.

The movie is part of the 27th Wine Country Film Festival taking place at the Deerfield Ranch Winery (10200 Sonoma Hwy, Kenwood). It is scheduled to screen in the cave on Saturday, September 28 at 8pm. Be sure to arrive early to enjoy the special cuisine, live performance by San Francisco Guzheng Music Society, sword dance by Kung Fu Master Justin Eggert and an interactive Tai Chi experience starting at 7. Tickets may be purchased by visiting

The movie will also be showing at part of the International Showcase on Friday, October 18 and Sunday, October 20 at the El Campanil Theatre (602 W. 2nd Street, Antioch) at 7:30pm and 2pm respectively. You can find more information on the theatre’s website. Touch of the Light will also begin a one week run starting October 18 at the Orinda Theatre (4 Orinda Theater Square, Orinda) with four screenings scheduled during the weekends and three during the weekdays. For specific times, please visit

For a trailer of the film, please visit:

Go Grandriders, Taiwan’s top documentary film at Santa Rosa’s Finley Center on Oct 17

Some dreams never become stale and that was the case for a group of octogenarians who undertook to motorcycle around Taiwan. The documentary Go Grandriders follows the group’s 13-day journey in the fall of 2007, sharing their individual stories, their camaraderie and the hurdles they faced along the way. The film will screen at the Finley Community Center Auditorium (2060 W. College Avenue, Santa Rosa) on Thursday, October 17 at 2pm. The free screening is sponsored by the City of Santa Rosa, Redwood Empire Chinese Association and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in San Francisco.

Completing the trip around the island did not come easy.  All of them were in decent health, for octogenarians, but all were suffering the consequences of old age and its inevitable aches and pains.  Among them, two had survived cancer, four were hearing aid dependent, five had high-blood pressure and eight were suffering from cardiovascular disease. The participants came from all walks of life, with varying reasons to undertake the journey.

The ride was initiated by Taiwan’s Hondao Senior Citizens Welfare Foundation, with the goal of promoting a positive image of the island’s aging population. The zest for life shown by the grandriders is important, especially given the aged society of most developed countries. In Taiwan, the elderly population (65 and over) will outnumber the young by 2016.

The film was produced by CNEX’s Ben Tsiang and directed by Huan Tien-hao. In October 2012, Go Grandriders was released in Taiwan and soon broke box office records for documentary films in Taiwan. It was selected for the 2013 CAAMFest in San Francisco and has been shown in selected venues throughout the Bay Area.

As a follow-up to their initial trip, in August, ten members of the original group decided to visit California. During their visit, they also motorcycled from Santa Clara to Los Angeles, riding in tandem with American volunteers from the BMW Club of Northern California. The group completed their three-day trip safely on August 23.

Taiwan finally wins ‘guest’ status at ICAO assembly

For the first time since starting to apply to participate in discussions at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in 2009, Taiwan has finally been granted “guest” status at the triennial ICAO Assembly to be held in Montreal, Canada from September 24 to October 4. The island will join the talks as a special guest of the Council President Roberto Kobeh Gonzalez.

Participating under the name “Chinese Taipei,” Taiwan’s delegation will be led by Shen Chi, director-general of the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA). Vice Foreign Minister Vanessa Shih said that Taiwan lost its eligibility to attend meetings of United Nations bodies when it was expelled from the UN in 1971. After securing observer status of the World Health Organization in 2009, Taiwan has actively sought to participate in the ICAO – a UN-affiliated organization.

There are currently 191 member states in the ICAO. Taipei Flight Information Region (Taipei FIR), covering an area of 180,000 square kilometers and annually operating more than 1.3 million flights and serving more than 40 million passengers, is a major aviation hub in Asia. It is linked by air to 117 cities across the world through 181 passenger routes and 86 freight routes, with 400 scheduled flights to and from the US, and more than 1,200 with mainland China every week. Nevertheless, Taiwan has been excluded from the international civil aviation system.

Being excluded from the ICAO system, Taiwan is often unaware of any changes occurring in relation to international flight rules, thus is unable to cope with the situation, or unable to access complete information. This situation also makes some aspects of Taiwan’s operations incompatible with ICAO Flight Standards. All of these factors have an adverse effect on Taiwan’s civil aviation development.

The United Daily News reported, according to Yi Xin-chuang, CAA deputy director of the Airport Operation and Management Unit, in 2000 the CAA drew a flight route from Manila to Shanghai via Hengchun, on the southern tip of Taiwan. The flight crossed Taiwan’s Central Mountain Range, which is the airspace designated for military exercises. ICAO made this decision without considering Taiwan’s air defense operations. And, as a non-member, Taiwan had to use Hong Kong to pass on the message requesting the ICAO to change the route for safety reasons.

Shen said Taiwan has been working hard to attain “observer” status to participate in the ICAO, but according to ICAO Articles, an observer must be a “non-party member” or an “international organization.” The ICAO members finally agreed to allow Taiwan to attend as a special guest of the Council president.

As the convention of the ICAO Assembly drew near, Taiwan’s CAA officials had held little hope of participating this year. Then, the ICAO Council president faxed a letter to invite Taiwan on September 11, less than two weeks from the start of ICAO Assembly, the paper reported

According to a press release from Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the reasons for Taiwan invitation is due to Taiwan’s long-term commitment to international aviation standards and safety, improvement in relations with mainland China over the past few years, and the support given by members of the international community. Among the island’s supporters – US President Barack Obama signed a bill supporting Taiwan’s participation in the ICAO on July 12.

The special guest status, however, still falls short of Taiwan’s expectations. Vice Foreign Minister Shih said even though both the invited guest and the observer can not speak at the Assembly, Taiwan is still striving for “substantive, professional and meaningful” participation.

American motorcyclists help Taiwan’s senior riders fulfill dream

On the morning of August 20, more than 100 Taiwanese-Americans, local residents and a dozen journalists packed the Santa Clara County Government Center Plaza in San Jose to attend a ceremony for the grandriders. The colors red, white and blue were prominently on display, coincidentally being the colors of the United States’ and the Republic of China’s (Taiwan) national flags. Hanging around the stage were banners proclaiming the occasion, “Grandriders’ West Coast kick off rider”. The audience was drawn from all age groups, young and old all drawn there to applaud theses motorcycling octogenarians.

Never too old to pursue a dream

The grandriders became known in Taiwan for their motorcycle ride around the island. The ride was subsequently made into a documentary, Go Grandriders, which featured 17 grandparents motorcycling around the island. Organized by the Hondao Senior Citizens Welfare Foundation, the ride started from Taichung (central Taiwan) and circled the whole island in 2007. The riders overcame physical and mental difficulties to complete the 730–mile trip. Their desire was to impart a clear message that you are “never too old to pursue a dream, or to cease to learn, or to experience something new.” Their trip and subsequent film became a major hit in Taiwan and Hong Kong, with devoted fans around the world.

Since the original trip, four of the riders have passed away, but the recent trip to the United States by ten of the remaining Grandriders appears to be echo another message that “we’re not done yet.” The grandriders decided to visit California, because most of them had never been to the US. They were offered the opportunity to take part in a road trip from San Jose to Los Angeles on Highway 1. So last month, the grandriders, their families and assorted medical support staff, arrived in the Bay Area for the ride. By now, the average age of the grandriders is 87 years old, with the oldest at 95. The group was all male, except for one lone female rider, Zhang Ying-mei. She and her husband had more prominent roles during this trip since they both speak English.

As the majority of the group does not speak English and the likelihood of passing an English driving test seemed close to nil, the grandriders had a dilemma. This is where the members of the BMW Club of Northern California stepped in to save the day by offering the grandriders a lift down south. Before long, there were more than enough American volunteer riders to pair up with each Taiwanese rider. Although, not as elderly as the grandriders, with an average age of 55, they were no less excited about the trip.

Instrumental in making the ride possible was Edward Perry, the captain of the motorcade. A former assistant sheriff of Santa Clara County, he was deeply moved after watching the documentary on YouTube. When Perry, whose wife is Taiwanese, found out that the Hondao Foundation had the idea of arranging a California trip for the grandriders, he quickly volunteered to plan the trip. With the full support of Z. Ortiz, president of the BMW Club of Northern California, Perry mobilized a team of American volunteers to form a motorcade and scouted out the route.

A liberating experience

Ortiz recalled that he was always confident the American volunteers would accomplish the journey, “but not as a task or some mundane chore.” He said, “When you have 10 Alpha-males in a group of motorcyclists there are bound to be some challenges, but when you make things about someone else, it is extremely liberating and it aligns everyone to the higher purpose instead of yourself.”

Escorted by the county sheriffs, the senior motorcade pulled away from the curb in front of the plaza promptly at 11:30 am, and straight up to Highway 1. Riding through Monterey, Santa Barbara and other places in between, they arrived in Los Angeles on August 23.

Before the West Coast trip, the grandriders stayed in the San Francisco Bay Area from August 16 to 19. They visited The Sequoias and On Lok, two very well-regarded organizations serving senior citizens, and took part in the Happy Kids Day in Cupertino, the San Jose International Film Festival and other activities. They also toured well-known tourist attractions in San Francisco.

The senior riders had fun and were surprised with so many things during their US trip. One said, “The US is huge. Americans are tall, the mountains are high and the ocean is big too.” Besides sightseeing, the grandriders also met with other seniors to share their experiences. According to Doris Lin, chief executive of the Hondao Foundation, many American seniors admired the riders’ tenacious energy. Despite the language barrier, the two sides communicated well enough through hugs and smiles.

Language not a barrier to mutual understanding

During the ride, San Jose resident Dan Carter rode with 85-year-old Sun Xiang-chun. Sun was originally from Shandong province, northern China and followed Chiang Kai-shek’s troops in withdrawing to Taiwan in 1949. Retired from the army in 1982, Sun served as a kindergarten bus driver and a condominium clerk. His hobby is traveling and photography. He never thought he would be able to take part in such a wonderful journey.

Carter only knew a few words in Mandarin, while Sun spoke no English at all. Carter said, “We tried to speak some Mandarin, and the grandriders were very polite and nodded at our humble attempts.” “So many things were universally understood; a beautiful view, the thrill of riding down the coast, photographs of our families.” Ortiz recalled although there was a language barrier when the grandriders had something to say, it was conveyed with alacrity. “Their eyes were very expressive and full of wisdom.”

As for his American counterparts, Perry noted, “I witnessed more selfless acts and acts of kindness than I can remember. And never once did I recall anyone trying to ‘take credit’ for anything good that may have happened. “I believe we all had the sense that we were part of something much bigger than ourselves and felt proud … to be a part of the journey.”

Asked how he thought of helping the grandriders, Kevin Kelly, a Vietnam War veteran, described the trip with them as “a gift from the Heaven”. He had played the documentary film to a dozen of his friends at his Sacramento residence before the trip, and all of them had tears in their eyes after watching it.

Perry stressed that the intrinsic reward the American volunteers received from the journey has made them richer and better people, something that cannot be measured.

Changing stereotypes of older people

Lin said that Taiwan has the world’s fastest growing aging population, and little time to prepare to deal with an aging society. She works to change the generally held perception that the elderly are sick and burdensome. She believes that the best way to deal with senior citizens is preventive care, that is, to encourage the elderly to live with a younger mind.

Lin hopes that the Taiwanese grandriders would help to change the stereotype of the elderly with their trips.

Huang Ma-chun, 81, is a retired civil servant from Nantou County in central Taiwan. He said that the purpose of his participation in this trip was to prove that someone elderly can still have a dream, and to act to realize that dream is to have a young heart.

Wang Zhong-tian, 83, a calligraphy teacher from Taichung, said the American riders took great care of the Taiwanese seniors during the trip. He was deeply touched by the profound friendship between the peoples of Taiwan and the US. Both countries are concerned with senior care. Even though the Taiwanese grandriders rode behind their American counterparts, the whole 430-mile journey still posed a major challenge for them. He said, “The Americans helped us to realize a dream. They are part of our courage.”

Grandriders’ California Trip

On August 20, ten Taiwanese senior riders from the original documentary, Go Grandriders, gathered in front of the Santa Clara County Government Center to begin their ride from San Jose to Los Angeles. Gathered to celebrate the occasion were a wide group of volunteers, fans and curious onlookers who stopped to see what all the cheering was about.

The ceremonies started soon after 10 am with a welcome offered by Janice Sung, chair of the Ad Hoc Taiwanese-American organization working together to give the grandriders a grand send off. Among the attendees were local politicians with proclamations and certificates of recognition to present to the group. In the photos below, are Cupertino Mayor Orrin Mahoney, Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith and TECO Director-General Bruce Fuh greeting one of the riders from the BMW Club of Northern California.

Since the grandriders did not have California licenses to drive, generous volunteers from the BMW Club of Northern California kindly offered to give them a lift down to Southern California. Each grandrider was paired with an American motorcyclist for the three-day trip down Highway 1. The trip was completed on September 23, with the grandriders now back in Taiwan enjoying a much more sedate schedule.

To learn more about the kickoff, you can also read CBS’s article and news story by linking to their site at,


Taiwan revitalizes spirit of entrepreneurship

In the 2012 World Competitiveness Scoreboard released by the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) in Lausanne, Switzerland, Taiwan ranked first in the category for entrepreneurship. In another index by the Global Entrepreneurship and Development Institute (GEDI), Taiwan came in 11th worldwide and No. 1 inAsia.

Global Views magazine reported that the White Paper on Small and Medium Enterprises in 2012 published by the Ministry of Economics showed that there are 1.279 million small and medium-sized companies in Taiwan, accounting for 97.6 percent of total enterprises and employing 80 percent of the island’s workforce. Translated, this means one out of every 18 Taiwanese people are “business owners.”

Despite these figures, Taiwan’s entrepreneurship has begun to show a decline as stagnant economic growth becomes more entrenched. According to the official numbers, Taiwan’s entrepreneurship has passed its peak. The number of newly established small and medium-sized businesses has never been able to surpass 100,000 a year, and has even dropped to below 8 percent.

Global Views reported that 85 percent of revenues from these companies come from domestic consumption. That means they fight for domestic market share, not in overseas markets.

According to Taiwan’s 2011 Small and Medium Enterprises report, over 770,000 stores fell mainly into two categories, either “wholesaler and retailer” or “restaurant and lodging.” This accounted for 60 percent of all Taiwanese businesses, while only 135,000 companies, about 1 percent, belong to the “manufacturing industry.”

Overdependence on the domestic market by these new businesses and a lack of competition for exports makes them vulnerable to closure, unable to weather economic hardships for a couple of years. As a matter of fact, these simple imitators of current operational models with low barriers to entry are not indicative of true entrepreneurship.

Global Views noted that most young men born to a rich family do not consider entrepreneurship a worthy goal in life. Instead, they prefer stable job opportunities. They like to work for public agencies or well-established corporations, jobs are stable and more predictable.

Recently, a college professor was surprised to find one of his students running a bakery after completing his master’s degree in high-tech management, an occupation entirely different from his studies. The teacher said with a sigh that the student believed that there was no possibility of his success in the high-tech sector due to the lack of financial support and resources.

Another professor, who often led collegiate groups overseas for international competitions, found that most of his students started their stores with an interest in being of service or in promoting simple cool techniques. But when compared with loftier ideals of dealing with climate change or solving deeper social issues presented by other international teams, Taiwanese young people pale in comparison. “Simply put, our young men do not think big, and have no intention of changing the world,” the professor told Global Views.

Although stability might hold more appeal for most Taiwanese workers, there are still exceptions such as Yang Li-wei. Less than 40, he already runs two high-tech firms – eLand Cloud Services and Tornado Technologies. An entrepreneur in college, and part of the first batch of “student CEOs” in Taiwan, he said happily, “I have been running businesses since my first year of graduate school, and have never been hired by others.” He teaches in the business school at National Taiwan University.

Yang is often asked to serve as a competition judge or counsel student teams. He realized that Taiwanese youth like to start their shops for services or entertainment products, more as a hobby or for personal pleasure, without planning to expand the business. Yang said, “It is OK to start running a small store, but it is not your destination.” He reminds people about the difference in scale between a store, a business and an industry.

What Taiwan needs to do is to offer the younger generations more opportunities to try and venture further so as to help them to stand up, to move around, and to lead the nation. Only 5 to 10 percent of people were born to be true entrepreneurs, and just a few can change the future of Taiwan, concluded Global Views.

Torch Plan aids foreign spouses and children assimilate

Every Wednesday this past spring, Xu Xiao-wei, a third grader at Pingtung County’s Gongguan Elementary School in Pingtung County (eastern Taiwan), arrived on campus at dawn so she could participate in a Vietnamese culture class. Classes like those in Vietnamese at Gongguan Elementary School are a part of the National New Immigrant Torch Plan. During the 2012 school year, classes were launched at more than 300 elementary schools across the island to cultivate a sense of multiculturalism.

After greeting her teach, To Ngoc Anh, in Vietnamese, Xu joins 16 other students. They might sing a Vietnamese children’s song, practice their pronunciation or learn other aspects of Vietnamese culture. For instance, do you know that the Vietnamese zodiac is almost identical to the Chinese zodiac, except that the Vietnamese have a cat instead of a rabbit?

At a graduation ceremony held at the end of the semester, her teacher gave Xu an award and complimented her on her excellent Vietnamese pronunciation. In the audience was Xu’s proud Vietnamese mother, who has spoken Vietnamese to her daughter from a young age. Her mother said that the opportunity to study Vietnamese at school has allowed her daughter a greater command of Vietnamese writing and phonetics. She told Taiwan Panorama, she hopes this will spur her daughter to study by herself and use the Vietnamese dictionary.

Taiwan’s growing multicultural society

According to the Ministry of the Interior (MOI), Taiwan currently has 130,000 immigrant spouses from Southeast Asia and 320,000 from mainland China. In almost all cases, they are women married to Taiwanese men, noted Taiwan Panorama. These immigrants began to arrive in large numbers in 1998, peaking in 2004. At present, there are 161,821 children of immigrants in elementary schools and 41,525 in junior high schools.

Over the past nine years, the total number of elementary and junior high students fell from 2.84 million to 2.22 million, while the proportion of children of immigrants attending those schools rose from 1.6 percent to 9.2 percent. It is estimated that by the year 2030, 13.5 percent of all 25-year-olds in Taiwan will be the children of immigrants.

Su Hui-wen, chief of the Immigration Counseling Section at the National Immigration Agency, told Taiwan Panorama that in light of the increasing global trend toward transnational marriages, cultivating a sense of multiculturalism among the next generation is essential for creating an open, peaceful and competitive society.

With that in mind, the MOI and Ministry of Education launched the National New Immigrant Torch Plan in May 2012. The plan calls for local governments to select focus schools – elementary schools with at least 100 children or where 10 percent of the students enrolled are children of immigrants. Under the plan, teachers make visits to immigrant households, language classes are provided in the immigrants’ languages, summer camps are offered for both parents and children, and training given to volunteers.

Regaining confidence

In Pingtung County, where the children of immigrants number nearly 100,000, long before the Torch Plan was implemented, a group of women with the Juridical Association for the Development of Women’s Rights (JADWER) began to visit the county’s elementary schools located in the mountainous or remote areas, campaigning for multiculturalism in schools.

At Pingtung’s Gongguan Elementary School, all students are targeted for the Southeast Asian multicultural classes, explained To, a JADWER partner who teaches Vietnamese at the school. The classes are not confined to book learning, but incorporate interactive and fun lessons by using Southeast Asian traditional clothing and accessories, toys, photos and maps. Sometimes the teachers demonstrate how to cook Southeast Asian dishes in class. In addition to whetting the students’ appetites, these experiences are truly memorable experiences.

Ho Thanh Nhan, a Vietnamese woman who married a Taiwanese man, said she visits schools to promote multiculturalism because she wants to help children of immigrants adjust and be confident. As an example, she told a story of a boy whose parents had divorced. Three years ago the mother returned with him to Vietnam. This past year, the father brought him back to Taiwan to live with his family. However, by then, the boy had forgotten his Mandarin and was regularly excluded. He became an easy target for bullies who referred to him as a “Vietnamese idiot.” His teacher was at a loss about what to do.

Upon learning of the situation, Ho visited the child’s class and told his classmates that the student had forgotten his Mandarin while living with his mother in Vietnam, but living abroad can broaden our knowledge and teach us independence. She then invited the boy to the front of the class and had a conversation with him in Vietnamese. Witnessing the boy’s fluency in a foreign language and his confident manner, the door to his classmates’ acceptance was opened. After a couple of months, the boy’s Mandarin was much improved. He could joke with his classmates and mingle with others.

Learning their mothers’ native tongue

Taiwan Panorama pointed out one reason why many children of immigrant mothers perform poorly at school is that their home environments might not be as supportive of their education. Their mothers do not understand Chinese and are busy working all day long, and the fathers likewise do not offer much support. Often, it is the illiterate grandmothers who spend all day with the children. Under such circumstances, it is no surprise it becomes hard to supervise and support their schoolwork.

Ho said that immigrant mothers also understand that education is their children’s only path to advancing in society, but their husbands are not willing to take on any more responsibility by monitoring their children’s education. Consequently, it’s essential that children participate in supplementary instruction after regular school. Furthermore, government and school support ought to be extended to help immigrant spouses in their daily lives via language study, skills development courses, career guidance, and even marriage and family counseling. It also helps the development of children of immigrants to learn their mothers’ native tongue.

Su noted that if the mother’s language is valued, the mother’s status within the family will rise. She believes this will be the most direct effect of these classes. In the long-term, language is a part of the mother’s culture. If children of immigrants can pick up the torch of their Southeast Asian culture and language, it will also have a positive impact on their personal development and self esteem. In the future they will become the much-needed bilingual talent for expanding trade with ASEAN countries and increasing tourism.

Tsai Shun-jou, JADWER director, said that Taiwan society has long held prejudices against Southeast Asian cultures and languages. Quite a few immigrant mothers and their children, when they find that strangers and in-laws do not value their heritage, simply give it up. Yet if children are to inherit their mother’s language, it will depend on the mothers and children communicating through the inherited language in their daily lives. Mothers must be courageous and secure in their status, and school must foster an atmosphere that encourages multilingualism, reported Taiwan Panorama.

High foreign spouse divorce rate causes concern

On average, a Taiwanese couple divorced every ten minutes in 2012. Interior Minister Lee Hong-yuan said recently that the rising divorce rate is a common problem in all developed countries. However, in breaking down the statistics, the United Daily News reported that the reason for Taiwan’s high divorce differs from other countries, due to the fact that large numbers of foreign spouses have issues in adapting to their new environment.

According to the Ministry of the Interior, there were 55,980 couples who divorced in 2012, an average of over 150 couples per day or a couple every ten minutes. Among the divorced couples, one in four is from a multinational marriage.

Minister Lee pointed out that the high divorce rate is a serious issue; however, there are no simple solutions to cure the problem. He said that the Ministry of the Interior will enhance social welfare, as well as provide marriage counseling courses for new immigrants to integrate into Taiwanese society as soon as possible.

According to the United Daily News, the Garden of Hope Foundation CEO Chi Hui-jung said that for foreign spouses from Southeast Asia and mainland China, it is not unusual for Taiwanese men to pay money to marry these women without developing any foundation of love. Both sides have big differences in cultural background and in their expectations, resulting in a failed marriage.

Chi said that the Taiwanese men, who marry women from Southeast Asia, are mostly from the middle to lower classes, who expect their wives to be obedient, take care of the housework and bear children. While these foreign spouses arrive in Taiwan expect a better life, only to find that their husbands are not as economically well-heeled as they expected. This expectation gap, coupled with differences in eating habits, religion, and language, are added stresses to the marriage.

According to Professor Yang Shu-chu of Chiayi University, despite cultural differences, marriages between Taiwanese husbands and foreign spouses are still manageable if they are built on a foundation of love. However, if they met via a marriage agency without building a deep understanding of each other, or if they become mired in an atmosphere of increasing distrust, their marriage will be even more difficult to maintain.

Yang said that many Taiwanese men isolate their foreign spouses at home for fear that they might meet new friends or run away after adjusting to their new community. Instead of being home bound, it is better to let them go out to attend adult schools or vocational institutes, allowing them to make new friends, and learn something new, which all contributes to a positive effect on family communication and child rearing. In addition, encouraging their children to learn the language of their mother’s native country will instill a sense of belonging in their wives, thereby promoting marital harmony, reported the United Daily News.


Not just coffee, Okogreen also sells social justice

Located on Tongshan Street, the shortest street in Taipei, Okogreen is the first Taiwanese company certified by the Fairtrade Labelling Organization International (FLO). Hsu Wen-yen and Yu Wan-ju, the husband and wife co-founders of Okogreen, told Global Views monthly that their shop is not just selling coffee, but also ideals. “I am not running a business for the sake of business, but also to solve social problems,” said the 40-year-old Hsu.

Non-fair trade coffee keeps small time farmers in poverty

Drinking a cup of coffee is such a simple daily ritual, but few people know that with a sip, they drink the combined efforts of millions of small coffee farmers.

Coffee is the second largest commodity worldwide, after petroleum, with prices set by the futures market and in the hands of multinational companies. The whole process, from growing coffee to selling it to the end consumer, is filled with unfairness and injustice. Globally, “unfair coffee” keeps 2.5 million small coffee farmers living under the poverty line, often unable to feed themselves, provide clean water or send their children to school.

With the experience of almost 20 years in social movements, Hsu learned about how fair trade can change the market system while studying at the Graduate School of Environmental Science and Society at the University of Essex, United Kingdom. In order to realize his dream, Hsu launched a business intending to better people’s lives in 2007.

Earning FLO certification

Different from traditional businesses, Okogreen combines business with social justice. Every pack of coffee beans or every cup of coffee they sell is 100 percent in compliance with FLO certification and deemed fair trade.

The process of attaining FLO certification includes purchasing their beans directly from producers or cooperatives also certified by the FLO. By purchasing directly from farmers, they are free from traders and middlemen. This set-up, coupled with the FLO regulations of minimum purchase prices, safeguards small farmers from being exploited.

Hsu told Global Views that “small coffee farmers can benefit more from fair trade transactions.” As an example, the current minimum purchase price of coffee is US$1.60 per pound. However the non-fair trade coffee market prices range from US$0.80 to US$1.00 per pound. It was even lower in 2000, when the price fell to US$0.50 per pound.

Hsu has visited coffee farmers in Peru, and what impressed him most was that the farmland was originally cultivated for coca, the source plant for cocaine. The Peruvian farmers used to grow coca because coffee prices were too low. But with the FLO keeping prices higher, coca farms have disappeared. After 20 years working with the FLO, the drug gangs have finally gone.

Yu, who used to work in marketing and public relations, recalled it took almost a year for them to be certified by the FLO, since no company ever applied in Chinese. So the FLO had to tailor a set of rules for Okogreen.

Fair Trade champions

The initial funding of NT$3.5 million (US$112,000) to start Okogreen was raised with the help of several friends. Before FLO certification was attained, Hsu was unemployed. They survived on Yu’s monthly wage. “At that time, it was difficult for us to afford a meal of NT$80 (US$2.70),” Yu said. Then came the good news that Okogreen had been certified by the FLO.

Though, the business is not without other hardships. Now, they educate their customers daily on what fair trade means and travel abroad to meet coffee growers in remote countries. Although it might seem romantic from the outside, it was anything but.

Yu remembers their trip to Sri Lanka. After they landed in the largest city, Colombo, they were surprised to see few people in the streets outside the airport. Later they found out they just missed a huge explosion there. Then at gunpoint in Peru, they were asked by the police to pay bribes in order to clear Peruvian customs.

Nevertheless, they were not daunted by these challenges. It is imperative to do the right thing, emphasized Yu. She was invited to introduce the promotion of fair trade in Taiwan at a FLO conference in Asia. It is one thing she never tires of doing.

After delivering the speech, a gray haired European man approached Yu, saying “you are so young.” The gentleman was happy that a younger generation has joined the ranks working with fair trade. His positive feedback bolstered her confidence about Okogreen’s purpose, knowing that she did not champion fair trade in vain.

Just the start of Taiwan’s fair trade journey

In order to run a socially responsible business, creative marketing is more important than running a regular business. Okogreen once developed a strategy of no price fixing, that is, customers decided what they wanted to pay at the counter. There was once a guy who paid NT$1,500 (US$50) for a cup of coffee.

According to Global Views, there are 38 Taiwanese companies adopting fair trade coffee, including Google’s Taiwan office. In the UK, where fair trade prevails, at least 5,000 colleges and universities only sell fair trade coffee. This fair trade campus phenomenon is being adopted in Taiwan too. With the promotion of Okogreen, National Taiwan University was the first to adopt a fair trade campus, with four other schools to follow suit.

Okogreen has an annual revenue of NT$6 million (US$200,000), just breaking even. Hsu and Yu do not take a salary. “We survive on what we earn from delivering speeches and writing articles,” said Hsu happily, adding that it violates the spirit of a social business if earnings are put into the pockets of shareholders.

Okogreen has successfully created a business model where social justice can go hand in hand with commercial profits. There are many such companies promoting public welfare in the world, but in Taiwan, it is only just getting started, reported Global Views.

Chinese hospitals rush to copy Taiwan model

With 600 beds, the No. 1 People’s Hospital in Jiande, Zhejiang province, China, is the area’s largest medical facility. Standing at the nursing station in the hospital’s cardiology ward, a young nurse is pushing a mobile nursing cart developed by Taiwan’s Chang Gung Memorial Hospital. The scanner used to verify patient ID wristbands is also a Taiwanese product.

“Today, mainland hospitals are all studying the Taiwan model,” says Hong Ying, the director of the hospital’s outpatient service center. Hong, who has worked at the hospital for more than 20 years and previously spent a week visiting Taiwanese hospitals, cannot help but praise Taiwan’s medical services, reported Commonwealth monthly.

Chinese hospitals are undertaking major reforms designed to move them into the high-tech age. Taiwan’s healthcare professionals are increasingly being lured to China, but at the same time the island’s healthcare sector is able to exploit new commercial opportunities by riding the momentum of China’s medical reforms.

China is already the world’s third largest healthcare market, but serious problems such as the lack of access to care and its high cost represent potential time bombs that could easily trigger social turmoil, underscoring the urgency for medical reforms.

Over the next five years, more than 30,000 Chinese hospitals will focus their efforts on “hospital management” and “information”. That has created demand from exporting medical services to guiding China’s hospitals in getting international certifications and even managing hospitals or planning new facilities.

Chen Hsiu-chu, vice superintendent of the Changhua Christian Hospital in central Taiwan, spent three quarters of her time on the mainland, leading Taiwanese and Chinese colleagues around China to offer mainland hospitals some guidance. These deals added at least NT$30-NT$40 million (US$1-1.34 million) a year to Changhua hospital’s income, a vital source of revenue to supplement the reimbursements it receives from Taiwan’s National Health Insurance System.

The China Medical University in Taichung (central Taiwan) has transferred its hospital management information system to a Taiwanese hospital management company operating in China. That company will adapt the system into a version suitable for Chinese medical institutions.

“The rights fees are NT$5 million (US$167,000), plus at least an additional 10 percent cut of all future contracts, which will be of some help to the school’s finances,” says ChinaMedicalUniversity vice president Walter Chen. The new system will be used first in Qingyuan People’s Hospital in Guangdong Province in China.

The Taipei Medical University Hospital is another focal point for Chinese hospitals looking to learn from Taiwan. The 3,000-bed Taipei Medical University Hospital system has brought together hardware and software vendors from Taiwan’s information and communications technology sector to introduce much needed information, nursing, and mobile physician order entry systems and cloud computing capabilities at Ningbo First Hospital in Zhejiang Province in China. The whole system is worth more than 1 million renminbi.

Commonwealth stressed that in the pursuit of renminbi, Taiwan’s hospitals must also remember China’s predatory strategic framework consisting of importing, digesting, absorbing, innovating and overtaking. China sets its sights on a new technology, learns about it from the outside world, replicates it and then undercuts its former partners and other players using cutthroat pricing.

This consistently successful model has already afflicted many Taiwanese businesses in China trying to go it alone, offering a cautionary reminder to Taiwan’s medical sector that it cannot feverishly chase renminbi without contemplating the potential long-term consequences of such actions, the magazine warned.