Many times I have heard Thais talking about foreigners they met who were confused between Thailand and Taiwan.
They have to say Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket to clarify that they come from Thailand.
Personally I’ve never come across that myself. And right now I don’t think our foreign friends are that confused any more. Once I say I come from Thailand, they ask how the red-shirt and yellow-shirt street protests are going.
Thailand and Taiwan both recently faced flood problems, and foreigners might have seen physical fighting and chaos in the Thai and Taiwanese parliaments, and both also have two major parties competing in the political arena – one conservative and the other populist. But we can still see some differences easily. And it’s not just that we have a female prime minister.
I went to Taiwan last month to witness the inauguration of second-term president Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang Party. Tens of thousands of people staged a protest against him just before the inauguration, citing controversial policies, especially the hike in energy prices despite the slow economy.
During the inauguration ceremony, President Ma said that energy prices must be reasonable, energy conservation encouraged, carbon emissions reduced and investment in green energy increased. Therefore, the price of energy will be market-based and the “user pays” principle will be exercised.
Ma asserted that the policy was designed to promote competitiveness, and that Taiwan is turning into a “low-carbon, green-energy island”.
In Taipei, I asked people I met what they thought about Ma and what they felt unhappy about. Some agreed that they were unhappy with energy prices. However, they understood that Ma’s policy would be good for the country in the long run.
Around the time of the inauguration, Ma’s popularity had plunged, according to surveys, prompting him to promise to do better. It could be that Ma really is in trouble. Hisa share of the vote that brought him to power four years ago was almost 60 per cent; this time it was a little over 50 per cent. But at least the leader showed he cares about what people think.
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra also cares about what people think. Many times she has expressed sorrow about unfair teasing from the media and public. A classic case is “Ao yu” (“We can handle it”), her comment last year about the flood crisis, which she is still taunted with.
But let’s be fair: action speaks louder than words, and we need evidence, right?
One of the Pheu Thai Party platforms was to reduce fuel prices by cutting the oil fund levy. This contributed to her election victory. Luckily she soon realised what the policy would lead to in the long run, so she came out and said she wasn’t going to scrap the oil fund, and the levy’s suspension would be temporary. The levy collection has returned already.
On April 9 the Cabinet also approved a budget of Bt13 billion to build the Mae Wong Dam, which means we will have to sacrifice more trees in a “national park”.
I remember over a decade ago how I was impressed seeing big trees in a city music video by Taiwanese singer Wang Lee Hom. My own impression of visiting Taiwan is how green the country is. There are a lot of big trees everywhere.
Obvious to any visitor is the fact that Taiwan is very clean. Indeed, when my friend first heard that I was going to visit Taiwan, she said, “I’ve been there. I was impressed. It was stunningly clean.” Taiwanese municipalities pick up trash twice a day, but with the behaviour of some Thais, no matter how many times the responsible agencies pick up the trash each day, it seems that Thailand will never be a clean place. One big difference between Thailand and Taiwan is the people and their mindsets.
In Ma’s speech, he seemed to realise that the Taiwanese policy to “go green” will not just benefit the country itself, but the world in the long run.
Taiwan’s former name was Formosa, which means “Beautiful Island”. I’m not sure whether that fact instills in the 23 million Taiwanese people the continuing desire to keep it beautiful. Thailand is also a naturally beautiful land. Should we really need to keep reminding 65 million Thais to help keep their land beautiful?
Obviously I am not as connected sentimentally to Taiwan as much as my motherland Thailand. But no one actually owns any land anywhere. The Earth is our home where we live together temporarily.