Eye On Taiwan Op Ed
Date: May 8, 2016
By: David Wang

Only via associating with filipina overseas contract workers (aka the so-called underclass) in Taiwan can one be allowed a peek at the true colors of some of the well-to-do in Taiwan, whose genuine inclination and habits are typically hidden from prying eyes when they’re behind the wheel of their haughty German cars with darkly tinted windows that prevent commoners (aka folks born without silver spoons and hired nannies) from intruding on their privacy.

Incidentally many western universities also pamper and pander to these so-called “elites” of Taiwan; after all admitting Taiwanese students is akin to injecting nitrous oxide in an engine, whose power is boosted manifolds with just a miniscule addition. It’s an open secret that international students pay double or triple the tuition of local counterparts to have the chief financial officer of any university laugh all the way to a bank. Especially when 99.9 percent of these Taiwanese students are not taken seriously or treated as equals as the locals, while they also help to create jobs for tutors and ghost writers on campuses, without whom these Taiwanese students would be lost.

It’s the time-proven moneymaker for many western universities crushed under mountainous debts: the “Dollar-for-Diploma” program that is a win-win, creating an endless stream of income for universities who hand out perfunctory sheepskins to mostly endow Taiwanese students with bragging rights and that air of “je ne sais quoi,” which in many cases may be just a emperor-without-clothes syndrome.

Of course there are a few Taiwanese who have garnered doctorates of various stripes overseas to return to their homeland to ingeniously work on brilliantly byzantine gizmos at preeminent institutions to make this world a better place, or even attempt to eradicate global poverty and synthesize vaccines to battle rare diseases as African trypanosomiasis for a dime a dose.

But what of all the rest who have plowed tens of thousands of greenbacks doled out by mom and dad to acquire western post-grad degrees without having even gotten a return call from head hunters after submitting resumes that would even out-dazzle Ben Campbell’s in the movie 21?

Such sizable investment in children’s post-secondary education would make sense if the outlay actually turns quartz into diamond. But apparently not in at least one case.

This 30ish Taiwanese couple, whose hometown being in southern Taiwan befitting all the negative stereotypes of a one-horse town, both have master’s from Holier-than-Thou University (name changed to protect the innocent) in the U.K., for which their spoon-feeding parents paid tuition that can easily build a few new homes in the Philippines or any other developing nation in SE Asia.

The wife (Mrs. A) speaks not quite Queen’s English but pidgin peppered with faulty grammar that would even wrinkle the brows of a 6-year-old in the West, and is about as industrious as The Empress Dowager on Sleep-Aide, relying on two filipina maids to babysit her precious son and newborn daughter.

The hubby (Mr. A) has a master’s in architecture and speaks English with a quasi-British accent, presumptuously believing he has full command of the Anglo-Saxon tongue and even the science of architecture.

So why are the two Taiwanese with British master degrees living off parents in Taipei and running a small-time jade retailing
business? Could it be that Mr. A has never earned a dime independently and wouldn’t know where to start if left to his own device? Or could it be that jade is a precious mineral to the Chinese without globally-standardized market value, hence enabling opportunists to hype products with half-truths to defraud gullible buyers?

Mr. A never reads anything of redeeming value except maybe user instructions to the latest smartphone, for which his folks gladly pay because their son seems averse to more intellectually-challenging stimulation. He stays up late regularly to play video games, his only pastime besides occasional basketball with friends, to keep his British-trained brain cells activated.

He also has an expensive racing bicycle as a status symbol and a BMW roadster (courtesy of dear folks of course), both of which do not reflect his motto in life, the core of which shows in his snacking regimen of chips, donuts, pizza and Coca-Cola.

Mrs. A lives up to her Beverly Hillbilly Princess stereotype regardless of a high-brow British master’s degree. Either extremely frugal, lazy or die-hard believer in the merit of sweat as a skincare ingredient, she only bathes once or twice weekly even in searing Taipei summer where temps regularly exceed 30C, while she sometimes won’t flush toilet after defecation and tosses used sanitary napkins casually on the floor.    

One cant help to wonder if her years in Britain, including those in the masters program, have rubbed off on her positively, except to have lightened her parents wallet? She, also never seen reading anything worthwhile, however has learnt to offset her shortcomings by regularly shopping for designer clothes by dropping wads of US$600 on a blouse as if she owns a mint.

Unfortunately their parents have not been able to, despite paying an arm and a leg for western
degrees, to magically turn a ugly duckling into a beauty queen, nor Stephen Hawking into a Usain Bolt.

Certainly Mr. As parents can never hold their heads high among friends to brag how their son with a master’s from the U.K. is being sought by leading architectural firms, as can only happen in their most self-delusional dreams.

Dollar-for-Diploma may be an unfamiliar term to many westerners but is a taken-for-granted racket in Asia, including Taiwan, where many enterprises traditionally hold college graduates in higher regard to perpetuate the livelihoods of educational consultants who hold dear Ted and Jane by the hand through the rigorous process of applying for post-grad studies in the West.

It’s totally irrelevant that Ted and Jane possess elementary school level verbal English and junior high written English as they apply to enter MBA and EMBA programs in New York City, London, Sydney, Los Angeles and Toronto. After all these western schools welcome with open arms and a red carpet such well-heeled Taiwanese students. Money talks as the saying goes.

And much of the Taiwanese corporate culture remains dusty as the Model T found in an abandoned barn. It’s still all about having a sheepskin from a top school, preferably Ivy League, to add glitz to one’s resume than having the creativity, tech expertise, foresight, tenacity and gumption to drop out of college as Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, Michael Dell and Mark Zuckerberg to develop hardware and software to change the world.

During 2007-2008, I translated dozens of study plans, sugary recommendations for Taiwanese college students from Chinese to English while moonlighting for one of the many overseas educational consultants in Taipei. Obviously these students could not or didn’t care to write their own English study plans, with many applying for admission to MBA programs stateside. I also taught these applicants a few hours weekly ostensibly to upgrade their verbal English, which again helped to validate the existence of the “Dollar-for-Diploma racket. None of the students in that class showed adult-level or even high-school verbal English competency.

Calling the business of promoting under-grad and post-grad programs, attracting and admitting Taiwanese college students by American, British and Australian colleges a racket may seem derogatory and scathing but truth often stings. Some Taiwanese will actually admit to certain shady, unethical practices in these colleges, which may herd mostly English-incompetent Taiwanese students into marginalized, mostly useless programs, hype the professional practicality of programs, turn a blind eye to irregular attendance and completion of work by hired help, and guarantee graduation regardless of performance and attendance.

Over a decade ago a Californian university set up, as was trendy then, an EMBA program in Taipei. I taught one of the female Taiwanese students enrolled in the program, in her 30s who spoke rudimentary English but could only write gibberish. She actually asked me to complete one of her class assignments that received a commendable grade, also having revealed that some of her classmates, typically working people, had never attended class but were routinely given diplomas.

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