Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Won Fu's Photo Story

Won Fu at the 2008 Hash Marathon rock Festival. Visiting the Reins of St. Paul's in Macau. From left to right: Dupy, Mami, Twiggy and Xiao Min.

Nominated as the Best Band at the 19th Taiwan Golden Melody Awards in 2008. Won Fu in their friend-made 60's retro chic. From left to right: Mami, Dupy, Twiggy and Xiao Min.

Won Fu's deute in Toyko, Japan, in May 2006. Performing their first Japanese song, DoReMi. From left to right: Twiggy, Xiao Min and Mami.

Won Fu in Taoyuan, Taiwan, filming advertisement for Sanyang motorcycle "Wow wow." From left to right: Dupy, Xiao Min, Twiggy at rear and Mami.

In 2006, Won Fu was invited to perform in Japan. This is the band at the John Lennon Museum in Tokyo. From left to right: Xiao Min, Twiggy, Mami and Dupy.

Won Fu taking a break before the 2009 Public Arts Awards in front of the Red House, a historical landmark in Taipei. From left to right: Mami, Dupy, Twiggy and Xiao Min.

Won Fu, Taiwan’s next cultural export

Taiwan has built a solid reputation as a hi-tech innovator, exporting many of its products overseas. Now the island would like to do the same with its cultural and creative industries, especially, its own special blend of independent (aka indie) music.

Taiwan’s pop music leads in Asia

Taiwan’s pop music culture is widely recognized as a dominant force in Chinese communities, including Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and China. The island’s pop industry churns out singers, bands, talk shows, variety shows, pop-idol dramas and talent shows that reach virtually the whole Chinese-speaking world.

Recognizing the potential of music to create a strong international presence for Taiwan, President Ma Ying-jeou included the cultural and creative industries as part of his Challenge 2008, a six-year National Development Plan. In promoting the island’s music, the Government Information Office (GIO) has chosen to sponsor Won Fu, a popular Taiwanese indie band, to tour the western United States this month.

Not your average rock band

The four-person band will arrive for a three-week stay on October 15th and have a packed schedule filled with performances, cultural visits and exchanges, recording sessions and interviews. In addition to introducing Taiwan's music to a foreign audience, the initiative hopes to inspire the band’s creativity and growth.

Won Fu are innovative and wildly popular in Taiwan. The band members consist of Xiao Ming (male vocal, guitar), Mami (female vocal), Dupy (drums), Twiggy (bass) and Ringo (the bandleader and a real dog). Contrary to the stereotype associated with rock bands, this wacky rock quartet does not appear in leather jackets or tight jeans, nor do they present an intimidating image of angry young rebels. Won Fu believe that their music and their live shows should be full of joy.

Formed in October 1998 by guitarist and vocalist Xiao Ming and bass player Twiggy, “Won Fu” is named after a pet beagle at Twiggy’s school. Performing for the first time at the Spring Scream Festival (Kenting, Taiwan) in April 1999, they have since appeared at a host of music festivals around Taiwan, including Spring Scream, Formoz Festival and Hohaiyan Rock Festival in 2002, where they subsequently won the Grand Jury award. They also perform regularly at live music venues including The Wall, Under World, Riverside and Witch House. Other than Mami who replaced the band’s previous vocalist Judy in 2006, the band’s line up remains unchanged.

A seamless blend of melancholy with humor

Won Fu list their musical influences as ranging from rock 'n' roll, to punk rock, to techno, and disco/electro. Their music does not follow a strict formula nor fit neatly into a specific genre as it encompasses so many different musical styles. Unconventional they may be, but their music is pleasingly delightful and irresistible. With vocalists more likely to hum light-hearted whimsical tunes than sing clichéd love songs, their bizarre and exuberant spirit is extremely catching. Their music is addictive, their lyrics infectious, their mood cheerful. Some say they blend the simple happiness of childhood with the affected melancholy of the teenage years. Yet their seemingly simple and humorous songs are the products of sophisticated creation.

The group released their hugely popular single “Sheep’s Marching” in late 2001 and later “Sin Gan Sen”. Their self-titled debut album “Won Fu,” released by Wonder Music in 2003, immediately climbed the best-selling new artist chart within the first week. They were rated No. 7 on the list of “Music You Can’t Miss 2003” by the Liberty Times, one of Taiwan’s major newspapers.

In 2004 they released their second album “Won Fu Again”, which won the “2004 Top Ten Album of the Year” from the Association of Music Workers in Taiwan. Their third and fourth album, “Won Fu Magazine” and “Modern Monsoon Groovin’,” released in 2005 and 2007, also went on to win the “Top Ten Album of the Year”. In 2005 the band was nominated “Best Band of the Year” by Singapore Hit Awards and by the Golden Melody Awards (Taiwan’s Grammy Awards) and twice again by the latter in 2006 and 2008.

Since making a splash at Japan’s TaiK Rock Festival in 2006, the band has gone on to release several Japanese-language versions of their songs, including “Do Re Mi”, the single “Modern Monsoon Groovin’” from their fourth album, released in 2007, and “The Wonderful World of Won Fu”, which is their biggest hit in Japan so far. In February 2008, "The Wonderful World of Won Fu" tour kicked-off in Japan to rave reviews. In addition to touring in Japan, the band has also performed at the Huayi Festival in Singapore, as well as in Hong Kong, Macau, and China (Beijing, Shanghai, and Hangchow). Won Fu’s next album is due out in November 2009.

Embarking on first US tour, one of learning

Soon after arriving in the Bay Area, Won Fu will be playing at the UC Berkeley Taiwanese American Student Association benefit on Friday, October 16th. Following the devastating typhoon which claimed at least 619 lives and damaged 44 villages this past August, Won Fu and a local Berkeley student band, Zeroth, will perform to raise money for typhoon relief. A reception will begin at 7pm in the courtyard of the Genetics and Plant Biology (GPB) building and the concert will take place in Room 100 of GPB, located in the northwest corner of UC Berkeley campus. With a student’s budget in mind, tickets are merely $2-5. For more information, please visit
http://tasa.berkeley.edu/. The following week, the band will play at San Francisco’s Café du Nord on Wednesday evening, October 21st.

Outside the Bay Area, the band will travel south to Los Angeles to play at the Spaceland on October 24th. Won Fu will continue onwards to Portland, Oregon, to perform at the Rock and Roll Camp for Girls and to participate in the programming there. While in Portland, they will also play at Rotture on October 28th before traveling north to Seattle, Washington. While in Seattle, they will pair up with U.S.E. (aka United States of Electronica) to perform at The Vera Project (evening of 10/31) and the Comet (afternoon of 10/31). To find out more about Won Fu, please visit:

The heart and soul of indie music

Indie music provides an answer to the new generation of Taiwanese youth’s searching for an alternative to mainstream pop music. Creativity and genuine expression, not commercial interest, is the soul of independent music. Contrary to the institutionalized process of producing mainstream pop music, indie artists typically write, compose, record, distribute, and promote their own music. Some even have their own recording label or use independent labels, rather than major commercial labels. Artists maintain creative direction over their expression of ideas, perceptions, and feelings and strive to avoid commercial manipulation.

Indie music generally is made not for profit but for creative expression of ideas, sometimes speaking out for sub-cultures and socially marginalized groups. Indie music is a fiercely individualistic presentation of the musician’s own life experiences and perceptions. It is about an unrestrained, adventurous, and experimental spirit. It is diverse in its take on a wide variety of themes.

For most indie artists the scene is challenging. The domestic market is relatively small, there are a limited number of suitable venues, and most musicians maintain day jobs. Bands made up of students often disband as members are forced to leave for obligatory military service in Taiwan or to pursue other careers. In spite of the many obstacles, a number of indie bands such as the pop rock band, Sodagreen and indie singer-songwriter Cheer Chen have successfully landed recording contracts with major recording labels over the last few years.

The number of Indie bands has dramatically grown from 20 before 2000 to nearly 500 in 2005. The scene is certainly becoming more organized in Taiwan, with more festivals catering to indie bands. However it remained very localized until ChthnoiC, a black metal band incorporating a distinctively Eastern-sounding version of black metal, played at Ozzfest, the leading heavy metal festival in the United States. The band incorporated the baleful melodies of the erhu, a two-string Chinese version of the violin, and the rich folk history of Taiwan into their music. They have become famous for being the first Asian band to play at Ozzfest.

At a pre-tour press conference in Taipei on October 8th, Su Jun-pin, the head of the GIO, said, “Taiwan’s popular music is in the leading position in Chinese communities. In order to give the island’s music industry an edge, the GIO decided to sponsor the creative and talented music bands to tour abroad. Through performances, professional exchanges and participation in music festivals, the government expects the bands to broaden their prospective and enhance their performance skills, indirectly input new ingredients to Taiwan’s music creative world.” Su stressed that Won Fu’s tour to the US is GIO’s flagship project to promote popular music, in the hope that Taiwan’s music makers will enjoy the same success as Taiwanese filmmakers overseas.

Taiwan's pluralistic and free environment has helped nurture a thriving independent music scene with dedicated artists and devoted followers.
In his April 2009 Monocle article “Hit Factory-Taipei,” Robert Bound refers to Taipei Pop as Taiwan’s new heavy industry and argues that the island’s pop culture leaves the mainland standing. Taiwan’s indie music is way ahead in terms of diversity, vibrancy, and quality compared to other Mandarin communities. Perhaps it is time to give indie bands the recognition they deserve.

Paper-thin loudspeaker wins top innovation award

On September 14th, the Wall Street Journal announced Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) as the consumer electronics winner of its 2009 Technology Innovation Awards for its revolutionary paper-thin flexible loudspeaker. In development since 2006, ITRI, a national research organization supported by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, came out on top against such heavyweights as HP, Livescribe, Motorola and 500 international competitors in the consumer-electronics category. This was the first win for Taiwan’s ITRI at this competition.

In awarding ITRI, the WSJ said, “Researchers at ITRI devised a way to create arrays of tiny speakers that can be combined to produce a high-fidelity speaker system of almost any size. Because the FleXpeaker is lightweight and consumes little power, it could be attractive for use in cellphones or in car sound systems. Other possible applications include giant banners that could be used to deliver public-service announcements in train stations or advertising messages in shopping malls.”

Since its inception nine years ago, the WSJ Technology Innovation Awards has been much coveted. Each year, products are judged by 16 international judges from reputed research institutes, joint venture companies, experts and scholars in various fields. The award is not given for innovation only, but also for ease of commercialization to the marketplace. The award is often a forecast of what is coming down the pipeline. India’s Tata Motors previously won the WSJ’s award before debuting the end product two years later.

ITRI president Dr. Johnsee Lee says, “ITRI commenced R&D on the paper-thin flexible loudspeaker in 2006 through a team led by general director Dr. Yi-Jen Chan in the Electronic & Optoelectronic Research Laboratories. So far, ITRI has applied for 45 global patents for its 17 projects. Applications for this technology are extensive and possess enormous industry potential.” The paper-thin flexible loudspeaker utilizes paper and metal layers as the material and printing for production. It will pioneer a new era in speakers and the electronic sound industry. Aside from revolutionizing the traditional speaker industry, it can be extended to the Memo cards, thin-sheet MP3 applications, and can be integrated into energy-saving buildings, electric vehicles, entertainment and medical applications. FleXpeaker also has the potential to kick-start a whole range of new technology products.

With a goal of becoming a pioneer in hi-tech development and not merely a follower, ITRI has certainly met its goal with innovative R&D and application capability. This year alone, ITRI has already won the R&D 100 awards for its high safety STOBA lithium battery. The innovative material STOBA can effectively enhance the safety of the lithium battery and greatly reduce the explosion rate of these batteries. It is the only technology in the world that has fundamentally resolved safety issues surrounding lithium batteries.

Besides winning the WSJ Technology Innovation Awards, the loudspeaker also won the red dot Award. The red dot Design Competition is one of the largest and most renowned design competitions in the world. With more than 11,000 submissions from over 61 countries, ITRI’s submission was chosen as a trendsetter and for the product’s design quality.

Palo Alto's Chuan Lyu Foundation endow chair in Taiwan Studies

Last month, the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) announced the establishment of the "Chuan Lyu Endowed Chair in Taiwan Studies," with Professor Liao Ping-hui as its inaugural holder of the chair. The endowment was the gift of philanthropist Lee Hwalin, who funded US$500,000 through his foundation, Chuan Lyu. With a full time professor at the helm the endowment will substantially boost the Taiwan Studies program.

During a celebration at UCSD on October 5th, Lee said, “I feel especially honored to have this opportunity since I myself am a beneficiary of the University of California system - having completed my graduate work at the San Francisco campus.”

Lee founded the Chuan Lyu Foundation in 1986 to foster an appreciation for and to preserve Taiwanese culture worldwide. Its mission is very similar to that of the UCSD Taiwan Studies endowment fund, which is “to promote understanding and appreciation of Taiwan’s culture, history, arts, science, technology, medicine… to both the UCSD and San Diego communities…”

Throughout the foundation’s 23-year history, it has sponsored writers, filmmakers and a wide spectrum of Taiwanese cultural events. For the last three years, Chuan Lyu was the main sponsor of the Taiwan Film Festival at Stanford University, the University of San Francisco, the University of California at Berkeley and Davis, the University of Washington (Seattle), Brigham Young University, University of Oregon (Eugene) and Salt Lake City, Utah.

Overseas, the foundation established the Chuan Lyu Lectures in Taiwan Studies at Cambridge University, United Kingdom, in 1991. In April 2007, Lee also contributed to the renovation of the History Building at National Taiwan University, his alma mater. The exhibition hall in the building was renamed Chuan Lyu Hall in recognition of the foundation’s generosity.

The Taiwan Studies program in UCSD started in 2006 with a lecture series funded by the local Taiwanese community and alumnus of San Diego. Liao’s appointment will definitely strengthen the Taiwan Studies program. Liao is a UCSD alumnus and also a Taiwan cultural expert. As a distinguished professor who has primarily worked in the field of comparative literature, post-colonial theory and cultural studies, he will be teaching mainly in the department of literature.

New print of A City of Sadness showing at the Yerba Buena Center

A new print of A City of Sadness will be screened at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on November 5th and 8th. Directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien, the movie is a historical film set in Taiwan soon after Japan's withdrawal from the island. It follows the tumultuous lives of the Lin family in the aftermath of the violence surrounding the 228 Incident in 1947 and the cultural conflicts between the newly-arrived mainland Chinese and the native Taiwanese.

The film was the first to deal directly with the sensitive topic of “White Terror” which was imposed on the Taiwanese people by the Kuomintang (KMT) government in the post-war period. This new 157-minute film is considered one of director Hou’s masterpieces. It won the Golden Lion award at the 1989 Venice Film Festival.

Shown in 35mm print, the film is subtitled in English. For more information, please visit

Show times are:
Thursday, November 5th at 7:00 pm
Sunday, November 8th at 4:30 pm

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is located at 701 Mission Street, San Francisco.
Tickets are $8 each.

Children’s Film Festival hopes to raise standards

Taiwan’s Public Television Service (PTS) is currently accepting submissions for the 4th Taiwan International Children’s Film Festival (TICFF) that will take place in Taipei from April 1 -5, 2010. First held in 2004, the festival was initiated by the island’s public television station as a way of promoting quality children’s programs. Held every two years, submissions for the next festival must be received by October 31, 2009. Cash prizes, totally US$28,000, will be awarded to winners in seven categories

In Taiwan, elementary school students attend school for about 1,200 hours a year and spend almost as many hours watching television. With television programs playing a big role in shaping young minds, TICFF wants to encourage quality filmmaking targeting children aged 12 and younger.

Those interested in submitting films should visit the festival’s website (
http://activity.pts.org.tw/pts/TICFF/competition.aspx?language=en) for the rules and regulations. Application forms can be found online and submitted to the festival office at:

Taiwan International Children’s Film Festival
Public Television Service Foundation
100, Lane 75, Section 3, Kang-Ning Road
Taipei, TAIWAN 114

Besides showing selected films at the festival, PTS and the festival organizers are offering cash prizes totaling US$28,000. The competitive categories each offering US$4,000 in prize money include Best Dramatic Feature, Best Documentary, Best Animation, Best Television Program, Best Taiwanese Film, Best Taiwanese TV Program, and a Special Jury Prize. Winners in two further categories (Best Joint Production by Taiwanese Kids & Adults, and an Audience Award) will be eligible to receive a trophy. Nominees for the various categories will be announced on December 25th 2009.

If you have any questions, please contact the organizers at:
Tel: +886-2-2630-1021
Fax: +886-2-2630-1895
E-mail: ticff@mail.ptc.org.tw
Website: www.ticff.org.tw/e-news.html

Taiwan and China swing between conflict and conciliation

Over the last few months, relations between Taiwan and China have hit some bumps. Since President Ma Ying-jeou assumed office in May 2008, increased tourism and cross-strait talks has been the order of the day between the two sides. However, recent events have indicated a slight cooling in this love affair.

China retaliates against Dalai Lama’s Taiwan visit

After Typhoon Morakot devastated southern Taiwan, seven magistrate and city mayors from the Democratic Progressive Party in the Kaohsiung area invited the Dalai Lama to visit. Under strong protest from Beijing, President Ma immediately approved the visit on humanitarian grounds. The Tibetan spiritual leader arrived in Taiwan on August 30th and stayed for six days comforting the victims of the disaster.

In response, the Chinese authority retaliated by canceling the bookings of over 3,000 hotel rooms in Kaohsiung made by Chinese tourist groups. According to the Taipei-based China Times, this caused a loss of NT$6 million (US$185,000), inflicting further damage to the Kaohsiung tourism industry after Typhoon Morakot. Additional reports from the Apple Daily said that added cancellations by Chinese businesses, trade missions, exchanges and study groups scheduled for September upped the loss to billions of Taiwan dollars.

Relations strained by Kadeer’s documentary

China’s displeasure with Taiwan was compounded with the recent screening of 10 Conditions of Love, the controversial documentary about exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer. Considered a terrorist by Beijing, her documentary was originally scheduled to show at the Kaohsiung Film Festival this month. Instead, the film was shown earlier on September 22nd and 23rd in order to minimize the controversy. This film has caused rifts not just in Taiwan but elsewhere as well. When the Melbourne International Film Festival chose to premiere 10 Conditions in August, six Chinese-language films withdrew from the festival in protest.

Regardless of the documentary’s screening dates, Kadeer was not granted a visa to travel to Taiwan. The government denied her a visa on the grounds of national security since the World Uighur Congress led by Kadeer has maintained contact with two terrorist organizations.

While improving relations with China, Ma has been accused of being too cozy with Beijing. Allowing the Dalai Lama’s visit to Taiwan was the first action by the Ma Administration which has displeased Beijing. However, it is also a starting point for the two sides to adjust to its new relationship. Li Yong-der, deputy mayor of Kaohsiung City, said it is a rare opportunity for the two sides to learn how to react to something that does not please either side.

Dependent on China’s “uncertain goodwill”

Whereas most Taiwanese see the Kadeer situation as a step towards re-asserting itself, most agree that stable relations with China is necessary for Taiwan’s economic health, especially given that China is Taiwan’s largest trading partner as of four years ago. Currently, Hong Kong accounts for 41 percent of Taiwan’s total exports. In the last decade, Taiwan enjoyed a favorable trade balance with China and the trade surplus has increased 126 percent to US$40 billion to US$50 billion a year. This relationship saved Taiwan economically when the global financial crisis hit. Without it, Taiwan would have suffered a trade deficit of US$27 billion if it had not had a trade surplus of US$42.5 billion with China.

Furthermore, the number of Chinese tourists visiting Taiwan in the first half of 2009 alone was three times the number of Chinese tourists visiting the island in all of 2008. At this pace, China will soon overtake Japan as the leading source of tourists visiting Taiwan. Also, Taiwan’s investment is very much tied with China. According to Tung Cheng-yuan, an associate professor at National Chengchi University, commenting in Commonwealth magazine, three-quarters of Taiwan’s foreign investments go to China, including Taiwanese business investment in British Caribbean colonies which is transferred to China indirectly. This leaves Taiwan and its estimated investments of US$340 billion (accumulated from 2002-2008) dependent on the “uncertain goodwill” of China, said Tung.

Shift from confrontation to détente too hurried

According to Lai Shin-yuan, minister of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, President Ma has done more to improve cross-strait relations in the past year, than was done in the whole of the last 60 years. Professor Chen Fang-ming of the National Chengchi University believes relations between the two sides have swung too fast - from confrontation to détente. There was no transitional period to adjust. Most Taiwanese have found it hard to adapt to this new situation. A survey by Commonwealth magazine showed that 48 percent of the respondents believe that opening up to China is beneficial to the island while 43 percent believe this would be harmful for Taiwan.

In a recent interview with Japan’s largest newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun, President Ma said, “We know there are some people worrying about the pace of improving ties across the Taiwan Strait being too fast. Actually, being fast or slow is a relative term, not an absolute one. In the past eight years of Democratic Progressive Party government, cross-strait relations were in a stagnant situation, losing Taiwan many opportunities it was entitled to enjoy. This was not favorable for the Taiwanese people,” and “I think the current pace of improving relations across the Taiwan Strait is just right in maintaining our dignity on the one hand while promoting bilateral relations across the strait on the other.”

If Taiwan’s people are uncomfortable with the pace of improving relations across the Taiwan Strait, countries elsewhere have no such reservations. At the 2009 U.S.-Taiwan Defense Industry Conference in Virginia, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Wallace Gregson said a strong Taiwan will be less susceptible to coercion or intimidation from China, and better able to engage China with confidence. He emphasized that Ma’s initiatives to reduce tensions across the Taiwan Strait and improve US-Taiwan dialogues are beneficial to the security and stabilization of Northeastern Asia.

Taiwan striving for more UN participation

This year - unlike the last 16 years - Taiwan’s allies did not submit a proposal to the General Assembly on September 15th to let Taiwan join the United Nations (UN). Although the island has not given up the idea of being a part of the UN, the friendlier atmosphere across the Taiwan Strait has enabled Taiwan to take a different approach.

Since 1993, Taipei has tried hard to regain its seat at the UN, a seat taken by Beijing in 1971. Although the previous administration pushed hard to enter the UN under the name “Taiwan,” China’s strong opposition blocked off any possibility of success. However, when President Ma Ying-jeou assumed office back in May 2008, he declared a “diplomatic truce” with China. With a friendlier atmosphere across the Taiwan Strait, Taiwan’s health minister was allowed to take part in the World Health Assembly (WHA) held in Geneva this past May.

Despite participating in the WHA, there are still many UN-affiliated organizations that are closed to Taiwan. This is something Taiwan hopes to change. Last month, Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Timothy Chin-tien Yang announced that Taiwan would seek to join the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The administration focused on these two organizations feeling they could best bring benefits for Taiwan’s people.

Last year, over 35 million passengers flew in and out of Taiwan, making it one of the busiest airspaces in Asia. The Taipei Flight Information Region (FIR) regulates 1.35 million flights and 12 international flight routes. Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport is the 15th largest airport in the world. Given this large volume, being a member or observer of the ICAO would potentially improve Taiwan’s air safety.

In 2007, Taiwan was ranked as the 22nd largest carbon dioxide emitter in the world. Even as a non-member of the “Kyoto Protocol,” Taiwan seeks to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions, promising to reduce emissions to the 2008 level by 2016-2020, and lower still to the 2000 level by 2025. Despite these pledges, Taiwan is at a significant disadvantage to similarly developed states such as South Korea and Singapore as the island is excluded from direct negotiations with “Kyoto Protocol” signatories. As a World Trade Organization member, Taiwan will be forced by other member states to pay higher environmental protection taxes on its exports.

By joining the UNFCCC, Taiwan would be able to participate in talks, allowing it to seek reasonable carbon dioxide emission conditions. Taiwan’s participation would also allow the island to fight global climate changes under the framework of the UNFCCC.

President Ma: MOU and ECFA to be priority cross-strait tasks

At a ceremony celebrating the 98th National Day of the Republic of China, President Ma Ying-jeou said that relations between Taiwan and the Chinese mainland have improved greatly over the past year, and that a turning point for cross-strait peace has appeared.

He went on to say that over the past year, on the pragmatic basis of the “1992 Consensus,” Taipei and Beijing have signed nine agreements enabling larger numbers of visits to Taiwan by mainland tourists, direct air, sea, and postal links, food safety inspections, and mutual cross-strait judicial assistance. Cross-strait cooperation continues to expand daily, leading to the gradual accumulation of mutual trust and good will. Nevertheless, Ma added, “We believe that much remains for us to tackle on behalf of the well-being of our peoples, including negotiation of memorandums of understanding (MOU) on financial supervisory cooperation and an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA).”

The president also emphasized that cross-strait differences and concerns are rooted in historical factors that cannot be overcome all at once. To achieve further peaceful development of relations, both sides must remain patient, face up to practical realities, and move forward in a gradual, orderly manner, so as to build mutual trust and find common ground amid differences. In addition, the government’s foremost guiding principle in dealing with cross-strait issues is to safeguard national sovereignty and advance the people’s welfare.

According to the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Taipei and Beijing will hold the first formal talks regarding an ECFA at the end of October. A fourth informal negotiation meeting is scheduled for next week at which the two sides will first exchange views on the general items to be included on an “early harvest” list. At present, less than 700 priority items are slated for inclusion on the list, spanning mid- and up-stream petrochemical products, mechanical equipment and components, and mid- and up-stream textile products. In the service industry sector, the financial services industry will seek access to the Chinese mainland’s banking, securities, and insurance markets on more favorable terms than WTO preferential treatment. The commercial services sector will also strive for access to the mainland’s wholesale, retail, distribution and logistics market, while the transportation services sector will endeavor to gain access to the mainland’s cargo delivery and freight forwarding markets.

Taiwan’s economy recovering on first anniversary of financial crisis

As a consequence of the U.S. financial crisis, the global economy has become mired in recession and rising unemployment. To boost Taiwan’s economic growth and lessen the impact of international factors on its economy, the government last year implemented a series of measures aimed at fueling economic revitalization, including a program to boost investment in local infrastructure and expand domestic demand, and an economic stimulus plan.

This year, measures were adopted to distribute consumer vouchers, cut taxes, expand investment in public infrastructure projects and boost employment. At the end of March, consumption expenditures resulting from consumption revitalization measures amounted to NT$7.93 billion (about US$247 million). As of October 5, NT$54.56 billion (around US$1.7 billion) had been spent implementing the program to boost investment in local infrastructure and expand domestic demand.

According to a September 28th report by the cabinet-level Council for Economic Planning and Development (CEPD) for August, both leading and coincident indices posted steady gains over the preceding seven months. The leading index for August stood at 100, up 1.9 percent from July, while the coincident index rose 0.6 percent to reach 92.5. All the seven components – real customs-cleared exports, business electricity power consumption, real manufacturing sales, the industrial production index, as well as wholesale, retail and food and beverage industry revenues – showed an increase. The CEPD concludes that these developments indicate steady economic recovery and greater consumer confidence in Taiwan.

CEPD Minister Tsai Hsung-hsiung asserted that economic growth in Taiwan during the fourth quarter of this year will return to 5.49 percent. Next year, as the global economy recovers and the government accelerates implementation of its special public infrastructure construction budget, economic growth is expected to reach 3.92 percent, making Taiwan’s economic outlook cautiously optimistic.

The International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) recent World Economic Outlook report forecasted Taiwan’s gross domestic product to grow by 3.7 percent in 2010, ranking it second among the four Asian Tiger economies.

On September 29th, Bureau of Foreign Trade (BOFT) Director-General Huang Chih-peng also announced that Taiwan’s external trade totaled US$230 billion between January and August this year, accumulating a surplus of US$19.5 billion. This could result in a trade surplus of US$30 billion for the entire year and setting a new record.

Taiwan’s competitiveness ranking rebounds

After years of falling global competitiveness, Taiwan is finally showing signs of a rebound, according to two international reports. Taiwan jumped up five places in the recent World Economic Forum (WEF) rankings, the highest the island has achieved in the last four years. In another report released by the Washington-headquartered World Bank Group on September 9th, Taiwan ranks 46th worldwide in terms of the overall business environment for 2009, up 15 places from 61st place in 2008.

Now ranked 12th in the 2009/2010 global competitiveness report released by the Geneva-based WEF on September 8th, the Commercial Times reported that the jump was due to a number of factors, including “encouraging direct foreign investment in Taiwan’s investment law” (jumping to 39th from 64th place) and “easier bank financing” for businesses (advancing 15 positions). Hu Chung-ying, deputy minister of the cabinet-level Council for Economic Planning and Development (CEPD) said the improvement in ranking is related to the government’s removal of China’s investment restrictions, making it easier for business financing and other deregulation measures adopted after the global financial crisis.

However, the Taipei-based China Times pointed out that Taiwan fell to 79th position from its previous 61st in the subcategory of government debt and to 57th position in central government deficit. Taiwan also dropped in the categories of job market and cost of employee layoffs.

The Taipei-based China Post said Taiwan has found itself mired in debt as a cash-strapped government borrowed to finance important infrastructure projects. Added to this, the government recently announced a NT$120 billion (US$3.7 billion) special reconstruction budget to focus on disaster relief in the wake of Typhoon Morakot. All of the money will be borrowed.

In another report by the World Bank Group, Taiwan is ranked 46th this year, an improvement on its ranking of the last three years. The rise can be attributed to the significant progress in the regulatory ease of starting a business, which was up 90 notches to 29th from its previous 119th place.

The “Doing Business 2010” report ranks 183 economies around the world based on an “ease of doing business index” of 10 topics, made up of a variety of indicators, including the time to start a business, the ease of applying for a construction permit, employee hiring, property registration, business financing, protection of investors, paying taxes, trading across borders, contract execution, and closing a business.

Deputy Minister Hu told the United Daily News that international businessmen and investors give great weight to the International Finance Corporation-World Bank report on business environment, and always use it as an important reference in selecting overseas branches.

The report showed that Taiwan achieved great improvement in streamlining its lengthy and complex procedures involved in starting a business, which had been one of the most criticized aspects of Taiwan’s business environment.

In the area of launching a new business in Taiwan, the number of steps companies had to go through was reduced from eight to six, with the average shortened from 43 days to 23 days, making Taiwan one of the countries that need no “minimum capital” to set up a business.

In terms of the ease of paying taxes, Taiwan jumped 10 places to 92nd, by improving on tax collection, including paying taxes via the Internet. Also, the number of payments companies have to make in a given year was lessened from 23 to 18, and the number of hours spent on preparing, filing and paying taxes was reduced from 340 to 281. Other improvements include the ease in hiring employees and cross-border trades.

Among the four Asian Tigers, however, Taiwan still holds the lowest ranking, far behind Singapore (No. 1), Hong Kong (No. 3) and South Korea (No. 17), said the paper. In other Asian economies, Japan ranks 15th and China 89th.

Penghu Islanders reject casinos

Residents of the Penghu Islands have voted to reject opening casinos there. In Taiwan’s first ever local referendum held on September 26th, over 56 percent of voters voiced their opposition to the casino development proposal. With a population of 93,445, over 17,359 cast their votes in opposition to the idea, while 13,397 (over 43 percent) supported it. This was a victory for the anti-gambling alliance that saw casinos as a step towards having a polluted environment rather than an ecologically friendly one.

The central government first posed the question of opening casinos three years ago. Since then, several international companies have jostled to buy stretches of oceanfront property with the hope of building casino resorts on the islands. Those companies with the most at stake are Amazing Holdings Resort (AMZ), Great Penghu International Resort and the Golden Sand Beach International Resort Village.

The government supported the Gambling Ordinance and saw it as a way to develop Penghu’s economy, but they also gave the final decision to the residents in a local referendum. With the recent veto, another referendum cannot be submitted for another three years. In the meantime, there are other offshore islands that have expressed an interest in developing casinos, if the circumstances are right, including matching support from the central government.

Although Penghu might not become a gambling mecca in the near future, it still has abundant natural beauty. The Penghu islands, also know as the Pescadores, consist of 90 small islands off the west coast of Taiwan. The area’s natural beauty makes it an ideal place to develop it into a maritime tourist attraction.

Singles’ spending-power soars

With the explosion in the size of the single population, their consumer spending power has also soared, expecting to reach NT$888 billion (US$27.3 billion) per year. Several magazines and newspapers have focused on the economic windfall for businesses that cater to singles, which is a growing trend not only in Taiwan, but also elsewhere in Asia.

Dating in the age of the Internet

Japanese sociologist Masahiro Yamada coined the phrase Konkatsu with co-author Tohko Shirakawa in a book entitled Konkatsu Jidai (The Era of Marriage Hunting) to describe the situation in Japan. In China, singles are also a dominant consumer power. The top five dating websites are marry5.com, jayuan.com, Love Apartment, zhenai.com and baihe.com. On average, they help a single person find a date every 12 seconds, generating annual gross earnings of NT$5 billion in 2008, according to Commonwealth magazine.

The ratio of singles in Taiwan aged 20 and above was 37 percent in 2000. In 2008, it had jumped to 42 percent or approximately 7.4 million people. Based on a conservative estimate of the average monthly expenses of singles (NT$10,000 = US$308), the total business opportunities would be over NT$888 billion (US$27.5 billion) a year. Still, industries have been slow to tap into this potential goldmine.

Business Today magazine also reported on this topic. Wang Xiao-wen, is a 34-year-old single woman working for a financial services company. There are many singles around 35 years old in her company. Wang does not adopt a celibate life, yet she knows if she does not get married in a couple of years, she may well be a single all her life. She surfs the net daily in the hope of finding a suitable date. With an ample income and no pressure to support a family, she has the time and money to shop, workout in the gym, and think of studying painting.

Singles, the ideal super-consumers

Lan Ya-ning, director of the advertising and marketing research center at Ogilvy & Mather’s Taipei office, points out the marriage age in Taiwan has increased as more single people put off getting married. There are more and more people between the age of 29 and 40 who are still not married. For singles, the focus is on themselves. They share common characters of “3 nos and 3 yeses” - no expense limit, no knowledge of financial management, and no family to support. And yes, they have money, time and are self-centered. The combination of all six elements makes them super consumers.

Still, most of Taiwan’s businesses focus their attention only on young singles, not on older singles or the divorced. The market focus is on physical items like mini-refrigerators or small-sized appliances, but not on services. In fact, Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. of Taiwan, Teco, Sampo and others have launched a range of electric appliances tailored for the needs of singles, developing small capacity refrigerators, washing machines, and rice cookers.

However, the fastest growth sector is the Internet, especially online dating services, which could be worth NT$5 billion (US$153.8 million) a year according to the United Daily News. The most popular fee-based online dating site is Yahoo! Taiwan with over 1.6 million registered members. The most popular free dating site is Love Apartment with 1.77 million members in Taiwan, the majority of them being female. (Love Apartment is also successful in China with over 20 million members). In addition to other local dating sites like PC-Home, international online social networking services also rush in to share the big pie including Facebook (US), Cyworld (South Korea) and 91yuan.com (China). Lan said 70 percent of the internet surfers are singles, over 50 percent being female. They enjoy online dating, online shopping, and playing games.

Other ways singles spend money

Singles also expend more time on physical fitness activities than married couples. At fitness centers, they not only exercise, but also expand their social networking. Those centers offer restaurants, spas, hydrotherapy, swimming pools, lectures and exercise training classes.

Another booming business for singles is the market for pets and pet products and services. Chang Kuo-ping, chairman of the Taipei Veterinary Association, said in the last three to five years, the ratio of singles keeping pets as companions jumped 30 percent. In his veterinary clinic, over 50 percent of his clients are singles. The pet market’s estimated value is NT$10 billion (US$30.7 million) a year and is projected only to increase. Many people are generous, spending over NT$10,000 (US$307) at pet boutiques on such items as dog collars, dog beds, and albums for pet photos.

Catering to the single diner

The food industry is also taking notice by introducing smaller-portion packaged foods. According to Lin Chin-hsing, associate manager of Wei-Chuan Foods Corp., the business of eating out in Taiwan accounts for NT$200 billion plus (US$6.15 billion) annually, of which a large percentage is derived from single patrons. Wei-Chuan has introduced smaller-packaged soy sauce and monosodium glutamate (MSG) for singles to purchase, and is planning to develop instant food products for their convenience.

Most restaurants seem not to understand the requirements of singles yet. It is hard to find tables designed for single customers, who must awkwardly share a table with strangers. However, Pizza Hut Taiwan has seen the potential business opportunities of singles and introduced single pizzas with 32 different combinations. They even deliver single pizzas to customers for an extra fee of NT$35 (US$1.10).

Wang Wen-kuan, manager of marketing and public relations of Mazda Autos, said singles have strong buying power in automobiles, cellphones and cosmetics, with more time and disposable income available.

According to the Eastern Online Market Research Consultant, 44.8 percent of those surveyed said that the favorite thing single people would like to do is to travel overseas and domestically. Given their spending habits, it is understandable that singles are somewhat relaxed about personal financial planning. Although, as they age they are forced to undertake financial planning, often seeking simple short-term savings or investments.

Baseball: Taiwan’s national passion

On August 30th, US Vice President Joseph Biden, Jr., shook hands with each member of Taiwan’s Kuei Shan little league baseball team before their championship game at this year’s Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA. Taiwan went on to take second place, losing to California 3-6.

Earlier that month, another Taiwanese little league baseball team lost 6-7 to Brooklyn, NY, in the semi-final of the 2009 Bronco World Series in Monterey, CA. Also, on August 10th, Taiwan’s senior league team lost 1-14 to Houston, TX, in the 2009 Palomino World Series in San Jose, CA. Coming second and just to make it to the semi-finals for these little league teams are massive achievements worthy of celebration. Still, it is a far cry from 1974, when Taiwan’s little league, senior league and big league all took home championship honors.

Baseball is Taiwan’s national sporting passion. The game was introduced during the Japanese colonial rule from 1895 to the end of World War II. The first official baseball game ever recorded in Taiwan’s history was played in 1906 between two local high schools. In 1931, a school team representing Taiwan won second place in Japan’s national baseball tournament and earned the respect of its Japanese counterparts. By the mid-1940s, baseball easily qualified as Taiwan’s national sport.

After the Kuomintang (KMT) government took over the governing of Taiwan, the first major baseball craze came in the 1970s when Taiwan suffered a series of diplomatic and political setbacks. In 1971, Taiwan was expelled from the United Nations and the government tried to compensate by supporting international sports competition as a substitute of international political participation. 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. They won an incredible 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), also 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.

When those young players grew up, they formed the core of Taiwan’s adult baseball teams. Taiwan’s adult teams have not achieved the success of its young players, but they are still considered world-class, winning two Olympic medals – a bronze in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and silver in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. They have also grabbed four top-three honors in the biennial Baseball World Cup.

In 1989, professional baseball finally arrived in Taiwan with the formation of the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL). The first game was played in 1990. CPBL was the fourth professional baseball league in the world at the time, after Major League Baseball (MLB) in the United States, Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) in Japan, and Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) in South Korea.

In 1997, a competitor, Taiwan Major League (TML) was founded to challenge the monopoly of CPBL. But due to financial pressures TML agreed to merge with CPBL in 2003. At present, CPBL has four teams with an average game attendance of about 3000 spectators.

Whereas steroids have tarnished the image of the game in the United States, gambling and game-fixing scandals have tarnished the game’s image in Taiwan. This has seriously eroded the game’s fan base in Taiwan.

While Taiwan has produced some great talents over the last few decades, the best players are usually courted to play for professional teams in Japan and the US. In the 1980s, Taiwanese pitchers such as Kuo Tai-yuan, Soh Katsuo (aka Chuang Shen-hsiung) posted impressive numbers with the Seibu Lions and Chiba Lotte Marines, both of Japan's NPB. More recently, young stars such as outfielder Chen Chin-feng and pitchers Wang Chien-ming, Tsao Chin-hui, and Kuo Hong-chih became the first group of Taiwanese players to play for North American Major League Baseball (MLB) teams.

Especially popular is Wang, who, playing for the New York Yankees, reached 50 MLB wins more quickly than any other player for two decades. He has become Taiwan’s first true star in American baseball and a national hero. Now there are over 20 Taiwanese baseball players competing in the US minor leagues, all with the dream of becoming the next Wang.

The Taipei-based China Times said that even though Taiwan did not win the game this time, the baseball team has inherited the traditional spirit of Taiwanese little league –great sportsmanship and a fierce fighting spirit which won them their first championship in Williamsport 40 years ago.

The United Evening News commented that Taiwan should be proud of the kids who came from the aborigine tribes, training with old equipment and facilities. However, it is not right when all the best players depart for the American major leagues or that Taiwanese baseball fans know more about Wang and the New York Yankees than any domestic team. The paper urged the government to map a long-term plan to develop the island’s baseball to establish it as truly the national sport.

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About Me

The Press Division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in San Francisco represents the Government Information Office (GIO), Executive Yuan, Republic of China (Taiwan). GIO maintains nine Press Divisions in the United States, including the San Francisco office. The Press Divisions are in charge of promoting Taiwan's public relations and cultural exchanges. This blog is updated by the Press Division, TECO in San Francisco.