Money inspires the muse; recent events; Wikipedia

Forget Daoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and any other religion you may think is practiced in Taiwan.  The primary religion here is money.  Now, of course, in the West (yes, a non-politically-correct holdover term from colonial times, but still useful to describe the difference in culture; East or West, first-world or third-world, (no second world anymore, bye-bye USSR. Darn it, now I’ve got parentheses within parantheses! Someone call the grammar police.) Ok, now we’re back out of those parentheses, we can get back to the main point, even though you’ve already forgotten how this sentence started.) money is quite important, and it is what makes the world go round.  But here, it’s practically institutionalized.  I mean, in the States we have several gift-giving occasions, too: birthdays, holidays, weddings, etc, but we generally give gifts consisting of objects that we think the person would like: for a wedding, houseware, for a birthday or holiday some other useful gift, or even just a card.  Money is given (at least in my family), but is generally not as common among friends.  But here, presents are definitely secondary to money, usually in a red envelope (in Chinese:紅包, pronounced hongbao).

Chinese New Year? Red envelope.

Wedding? Red envelope.

Year-end bonus? Red envelope.

Funeral? White envelope (white is the color of death here.  There’s still money inside, though.  This brings me to a totally tangential point on the weirdness of Taiwanese society: traditionally, white is the color of death, but Taiwanese brides have gone wholesale for the Western white bridal gown.  Too many American movies, methinks.)

Anyway, money is definitely the primary object of worship here.  Which actually inspires some ingenious ways of enforcing the law.  First example: in a third-world country where stores giving receipts for purchases is not generally done, how do you force them to report all sales to the tax bureau?  The Taiwanese solution: every receipt has a lottery number printed on it, so every time you make a purchase, you are getting a free lottery ticket.  There’s a drawing every two months, and you can win up to 200 million Taiwan dollars. (About six million US dollars.)  Thus, customers demand receipts, so stores have to record their sales, so the tax authorities can now audit their books accurately. (I’ve only won about US$45 over the last four years, but I’m still hoping.)

Second example: last Sunday, the “Smoke-Free Taiwan” law went into effect.  In the whole country, smoking is banned in establishments designed to serve three or more people.  Stores which sell cigarettes are not allowed to advertise this fact, even with signs.  All they’re allowed to do is display the cigarettes themselves.  Smoking is also banned at bus stops and certain other outside places where people tend to gather.  Smoking is still ok at the zoo, with the key exception of the new panda exhibit (the pandas were a recent goodwill gift from China, so it would be politically not good if they were to keel over from second-hand smoke).  Now, where does the money come into this? Well, just like in America, they enforce this with fines.  But you can’t have enough health inspectors to crack down all at once.  The answer: if you take a picture of someone smoking where they shouldn’t, then you get NT$500 (about US$15).  And when everyone’s got a camera in their phone, and every time you light up someone’s whipping out their phone and pointing it at you, you darn well don’t smoke, especially in a country where saving face is so crucial.

And now for something completely different: why am I blogging all of a sudden, when I’ve been silent for so long?  Well, for one thing, I got very involved with my girlfriend (see the earlier post about jealousy), and so didn’t have much time for much else. For another thing, I stopped taking my meds for a few months.  I’ve now broken up with the girlfriend and started taking my meds, so hopefully I’ll get back to normal.

Now, I say normal: that doesn’t mean I’m going to be blogging every day, every week, or on any other regular schedule.  I only write when the muse strikes, so a “normal” schedule for me translates to “whenever I feel like it”, i.e. completely randomly.  I hope all of you are well.

In other news, over the past year I’ve been spending a lot of time on Wikipedia, which, even though we’re at 2.5 million articles, could always use more.  Even if you’re not a prolific writer (I haven’t written any articles longer than 3 sentences yet) you can still contribute a lot.  I’ve probably edited thousands of articles, but I can’t point to any of them and say “That’s my work” because my contributions have been in little bits and pieces: a comma here, one sentence reworded there, some bullshit removed here.  Sometimes my contributions haven’t even been to articles.  Recently I became an administrator, which means (for me) that I spend most of my time as a sort of judge, reading a discussion between editors and figuring out what the consensus among editors is, and then carrying out that  consensus decision.  You won’t see any of that in an article, but it helps oil the gears and make things run smoothly.  Many administrators take more of a role in discipline, reverting vandalism and blocking the vandals, although I don’t do that nearly as much.

Anyway, that’s all for now.  Watch this space.  It will be updated without warning at some undetermined point in the future…eventually.

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4 Responses to “Money inspires the muse; recent events; Wikipedia”

  1. AznSouris Says:

    Wait…you stopped taking your meds, eventually broke up with your girlfriend and then started taking your meds after you broke up? Does that mean you were crazy for having her as your girlfriend because you were off the meds? The meds kept you sane?

    MJ and I could have told you about the red envelope stuffs. I used to get when I was little and guests randomly came over. No special occasion. It was just “here, this is for you” =)

  2. TaiwanBen Says:

    No, I stopped taking my meds well after we started dating. I may have been crazy for breaking up with her, though. We’re back together, anyhow, after a short break. And yes, I realize my Asian-American friends would already know about those, but most people who read this aren’t. I didn’t realize it was a random thing, though. Weird.

  3. Patrick Cowsill Says:

    Ben,

    It’s nice to see you’ve come out of your haze so full of piss and vinegar.

    In the US, people also worship the god of money – see how Americans laid down so much cash for their Wall Street overlords, no questions asked. Those Wall Street pr*&ks took bailout dollars that you couldn’t even begin to stuff in red envelopes and used them to hand out cash bonuses to other pr*&ks who should’ve just been fired. Now, they’re coming back for more bailout. At the end of the day, will they be held accountable by either a Bush gov. or an Obama gov.? Your religion of money metaphor extends far beyond Taiwan’s tiny borders.

    I’m sorry to hear about your woman. Stay on the meds and remember there are lots of fish.

    Patrick

  4. epsilon289 Says:

    …I’ve been to Taiwan three times so far, and my parents have kept the lotto receipt secret away from me? I’ll definitely check my receipts the next time I go back.

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