One that fell through the gaping wealth gap
Eye On Taiwan
Date: June 11, 2016
By: David Wang
While the clock counts down to the 4-day long weekend before the Dragon Boat Festival on the night of June 8, 2016, I happened upon the Taiwan Cement tower along section 2 of Zhong-Shan N. Rd. in Taipei. Lo and behold I spotted a Taiwanese trash picker easily 70 years old bent over a planter at one corner of the impressive office building.
But he clearly was not about to indulge his taste buds with an iconic leaf-wrapped zhong-ze. The traditional, pillow-shaped snack of sweet-rice filled with mushroom, egg yolk, dried shrimps, chestnut among others is being handmade en masse across Taiwan for the annual festival.
He wasn’t even about to, as many drifters in the city, scoff down plain rice and grungy vegetables. This man was, as I snapped the picture, emptying packets of spices into a paper bowl of instant noodles.
Few consumers today see such convenience-store bought fast food as “prolonged suicide” or “guaranteed ticket to the intestinal specialist” if eaten regularly.
One can be sure that this old Taiwanese is a faithful patron of the tobacco-smoking equivalent of cheap, do-it-yourself, instant meal-in-a-bowl.
One can also be certain that this unfortunate senior does not care one way or another of recent news reports that could change Taiwan. That the American delegates suggest Taiwan to raise its defense spending. Or that the newly-elected first female president of Taiwan has been proclaiming the need to inject younger blood in the system. And that mainland Chinese tourists to the island have dropped 15 percent in May.
But what happened to the timeless tradition of filial piety that is still honored and taught in Taiwan?
Where are his children if any? Why is he not helped by social services? And why is he not a recipient of the generous giving by the Taiwanese who reportedly led global donors in helping Japan in the wake of the March 2011 quake and tsunami?
Only literally across the intersection is one of the most established churches in Taipei that has recently spent a princely sum on sprucing up the building exterior. In addition to grey granite walls, the church now has an inset flat-screen monitor facing outward on the ground floor. A soft-spoken narrator spreads messages of goodwill often quoted from the Bible. But this old man probably can’t hear such inspirational words over the grumbling of his hungry stomach.
Rumors are that many of the patrons of this church are well-heeled property investors. Maybe some of them can actually afford the ritzy condos being put up at frantic pace in this neighborhood or already stand haughtily with uniformed doormen on guard. A square meter in some of the said condos go for about US$6,200 to exceed that in many western cities with hourly wages double or more than in Taipei.
While only a block away is arguably the first, oldest 5-star hotel in Taiwan, The Ambassador. Just about every other Friday night one can view outside the lobby gleaming Porsches, Ferraris, BMWs, Mercedes, Maseratis, Aston Martins, Audis and even the occasional Maybach.
This trash picker likely can’t even afford a set of lug nuts off an alloy wheel on any of the above mighty European cars.
While the Grand Canyon in the Yellow Stone National Park is undeniably breath-taking. But catching a view of an occasionally visible Taiwanese who can show visitors the invisible yet immensely-wide wealth gap in Taipei is truly memorable.
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