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Mea Culpa, Taiwan

Mea Culpa, Taiwan
Ronald Roy — 2013 June 4

I was around two years old in 1937 when I got a Chinese nursemaid. My amah’s name was Ming, a funny-looking beanpole who looked like Olive Oyle. She wore a black attire of loose pants and a closed-necked blouse with long cuff-less sleeves. Her reedy neck was cruelly emphasized with her hair rolled up into a ball above her nape.
Ming was always smiling. She was polite, hardworking and efficient. But she had to resign after a few months for reasons of her frail health and inarticulateness.What I learned from the amah, whom I would miss for a long time, was that I could trust and befriend Chinese wherever I found them in the neighborhood of Celestino Aragon, Paco, Manila, the street where we lived.
Yes, they had migrated from mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan to look for jobs, and we accommodated them on friendly terms of employment in our homes, stores and other workplaces. Others who were not as lucky plied the streets as ambulant vendors of sorts like taho (soy bean curd) and boiled corn. We treated them well, and often praised them for their industry, competence and good manners.
After the 2nd World War, their presence as employees began to dwindle. By 1948, they were practically gone, having become entrepreneurs such as in shoemaking, haberdashery and culinary enterprise. Eventually, there would not be a single street in Manila without a Chinese restaurant, or a Filipino food store owned by a Chinese. 1948 was the year my father brought me to Ideal Cafe, a coffee shop located at the southern end of Avenida Rizal, Sta. Cruz, Manila.
The store was owned by a young and portly Chinese male who manned the cash register himself. “Conglessman Loy” had become a “legulal customel” every Wednesday at 3pm, and it was he who served me on my first visit a glassful of hot choco and a sugar doughnut — on the house! He said, “This is my tleat to my new fliend, Lonnie Loy.” I instantly liked him.
Who would have thought then that he who sometimes worked the cash register in a tattered kamiseta (undershirt) would proceed to become today’s super business mogul in the person of Henry Sy? Today, Mr. Sy is worth well over 13 billion US dollars by Forbes Magazine’s account. Today, our economy is run by Fil-Sino businessmen. What has happened?
Simple. It’s the Chinese culture of hard work, modest lifestyle, frugality, and a strong sense of nationhood that prods them to help one another in whatever part of the world they may be clustered. Result? China is now recognized as the second strongest economy in the world.
And what about us? In the 60’s we were the strongest in Asia, next only to Japan. Today, we have shrunk to midget size, the latest 7.8% GDP growth rate notwithstanding.
In the 50’s when the exchange rate was 4 Hong Kong dollars to 1 PH peso, Hong Kong was a shoppers’ paradise for Filipinos. Today, it is 1 HK dollar to 5.6 PH pesos, and we go there not to shop but to find work. We have become the doormat in our own parts; that is what has happened.
Being the doormat explains our OFW diaspora phenomenon that is triggered by acute conditions of joblessness at home, then results in our professionals like teachers and engineers winding up abroad as domestic helpers, truck drivers and the like. Being the doormat also equates with our being the pathetic patsy of Malaysia, China, and heaven knows any other country waiting round the corner for a chance to bully us.
The usual counter to a bully is a bark, a snarl, a flashing of fangs, or a slingshot with David’s aim to the noggin. Of course that wont be enough to stop the bête noire dead on his tracks, but it should be enough to assert one’s self-respect. Maybe we should, even if we get dumped in the gutter completely outclassed, because keeping our dignity intact is the ultimate purpose of the national soul.
Or, before doing that, perhaps we should try something first. Let’s go through some introspection to identify our weaknesses as a people, such as envy, materialism, electoral fraud, Ponzi-type scams, warlordism, greed, crab mentality, graft, tribalism and disrespect for human life.
In contrast, even if Taiwan is defined by the United Nations only as a vassal state, it is recognized as a remarkable personality on the world stage as a people proud to call themselves Taiwanese. They are all over the world, in most cases as entrepreneurs.
They have long been in our country selling us things we need and giving us employment. Over 80,000 Filipinos in turn are in Taiwan not as businessmen but, again, as employees. We can never be thankful enough to Taiwan for giving work to our jobless citizens.
Ruffled Taiwanese feelings remain over the death of their compatriot, 65-year old Hung Shih-chen, a fisherman who was killed over a month ago by elements of the Philippine Coast Guard in a shooting incident caught on video showing 6 Filipino coast guards allegedly “laughing while firing” their weapons at the Taiwanese vessel carrying Mr. Hung.
Let’s hope it’s not true the Filipino coast guards were “laughing while firing” at the Taiwanese fishing boat which they claim had tried to ram their much larger vessel. Whether or not done in self defense, their act of “laughing while firing” should let the disciplinary axe fall on their heads, including that of their commandant who was on board and issued the order to fire.
Deriving pleasure from inflicting pain, suffering and humiliation on others is the worst form of depravity that has no place even in the deepest jungles of the world.
In light of our disreputable foible-riddled image as a country, we should understand why Taiwan is up in arms over the killing incident. We deserve their bullying posturing towards us, and we should in fact even be grateful to them for the wakeup call for us to start maturing as a nation. Until then, mea culpa, Taiwan.

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