Taiwan: A country of contrasts
我是Beverly Wagner博士，我在蘇格蘭及英國的史翠斯克萊大學商學院行銷學系中擔任資深講師(Reader)。我在103年6月1日至6月7日來台灣的旅程中，應中華民國工商婦女協會陳碧娥理事長(Barbara Chen)及紫丁香婦幼關懷協會陳淑珠理事長(Regina Chen)之邀請，寫下這篇我對台灣感覺的短文供大家參考。
My name is Dr Beverly Wagner, Reader in the Department of Marketing, Strathclyde Business School University of Strathclyde, Scotland and United Kingdom. I have been invited to write this short piece by Barbara and Regina Chen, Presidents of the Taipei Enterprises Women’s Association whom I met during a recent trip to Taiwan.
Since 2009 I have had the honour of being invited to annually visit Taiwan by Professor Lee Tzong-Ru (Jiun-Shen), Professor of Marketing, National Chung Hsing University and Dr. Rebecca Tsai, Department of Marketing and Logistics Management, Southern Taiwan University of Science and Technology (Rebecca was my Ph.D. student in the UK). My academic visits have been funded by the Ministry of Technology and Science.
During these visits I give lectures to undergraduate and postgraduate students on various marketing related topics, attend conferences and present keynote speeches such as “A sustainable business cycles and empirical example” at the Overseas Chinese University, International Conference on Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility. This is as well as planning and writing academic articles and developing research projects with Professor Lee.
A very important aspect of these visits was to meet company executives and I travelled with Professor Lee the length of Taiwan visiting SME businesses, such as honey producers, mango growers, traditional wedding cake manufacturers, papaya juice producers, fish product producers and health products manufacturers. Many of these businesses are part of a Taiwan wide, government funded project, ICT747, the purpose of which is to develop SMEs by providing expert management advice on marketing, growth, and internationalisation strategies. This year, (2014) we met with tea farmers and tea co-operatives as well as executives from the Agriculture & Food Agency Council to discuss the Ministry’s Policy for Tea production and to identify areas of future research.
The following is an account of a typical visit and an attempt to capture why I appreciate being invited to Taiwan. On arrival I am met by Professor Lee and our first stop is to Mr Yeh’s crystal shop in Taipei. I have known Mr Yeh since my fist visit and despite a language barrier, the warm welcome is evident. Nothing changes here, in the clutter of crystal ornaments Mr Yeh offers us his famous mushroom tea. The shop is always busy with the coming and going of family and friends, everyone drinks tea and the discussion varies from current affairs to ancient Chinese herbal remedies. We are then taken down the street to an unobtrusive restaurant to be served the most wonderful sushi and a constant stream of dishes laden with local delicacies.
Taiwanese are particularly passionate about eating and wherever there is a crowd of people there are street vendors selling food. Taiwanese food is wonderful, healthy and delicious; it is fresh and produced locally. Untainted so far from the mass produced food consumed in most Western societies where the distance between production and consumption is so great that people no longer know what goes into the food they eat. However, I do see the ubiquitous “M” logo creeping into the towns and it is my hope that the government limits these western fast food outlets and encourages franchising many local food vendors whose business models are well suited for replication. Take note of the Western health issues related to diabetes and obesity, due to fast food and high sugar consumption.
The following day, I travel on the high speed railway down to Tainan where I meet Dr. Rebecca Tsai. Rebecca has arranged a company visit prior to the lecture and workshop at the Southern Taiwan University in the afternoon. This is another aspect of Taiwan, where it is so easy to gain access to companies; there is a willingness to share information, explain products, production processes and strategies. The close link between Taiwanese companies and the academic community creates highly developed knowledge communities. This facilitates free knowledge exchange and sophisticated social capital embedded within the company and university networks. There is trust and respect between business and academe and willingness to engage with academics makes for fruitful discussions that may result in international research collaboration.
The remainder of the week was spent visiting tea farms around the Taichung area. Once again, language is no barrier (I have promised Professor Lee that I will learn some Chinese for my next visit) and it is clear that each small farmer is passionate about the tea he produces and discussions are lengthy with regards to weather conditions, production processes, quality and anything related to product improvement. Tasting takes place from green tea to vintage aged tea and we are given detailed explanations regarding the nuances of each type in terms of degrees of fermentation and also the location on the mountain. Of course we always eat in local restaurants, where conversations continue and local food appears in quantity; tea conversations can last for hours.
Although these visits are very fruitful from an academic perspective, since coming to Taiwan I have seen the country change in terms of modernisation. On each visit I see more dramatic changes, much construction and reclamation of land as large sections of housing and shops make way for new roads and modern buildings. The country is one of contrasts, highly innovative, embracing rapid development and domination by technology industries on the one hand, while trying to keep hold of traditional local cultures and ways of life on the other. Old shanty style shops, serving local food to a wide demographic of people from young students to businessmen, are tucked away beside large, 21st century company buildings.
There is a deep understanding of the need to hold onto Taiwanese culture, to maintain national identity and a sense of place in this rapidly advancing society. There are many efforts to capture heritage and history in museums and through community activities as well as reinforcing local food and its roots in Taiwanese culture and social life.
Taiwan is a wonderful place; people are so friendly and courteous, always ready to help, they are industrious, calm and polite. The cities are efficient despite the swarms of Vespas racing around. However, as the old makes way for the new, I hope that tradition is not entirely sacrificed for modernity and that Taiwan can retain some of its unspoiled nature and culture within these refashioned landscapes.