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A Meteor Garden without Fireworks

A Meteor Garden without Fireworks
By: Jullie Y. Daza

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Is there a real Meteor Garden in Taiwan?

If I were working for the Tourism Bureau of Taiwan, my answer would be taht the garden is wherever F4 is, and wherever F4 is, there you will find Taiwan.

The quartet is on their third (or fourth or fifth) replay on your TV screens in the Philippines, and still going strong. They are at least six years older now than their screen image, but they have just been given a new role to play as official endorsers of their country's come-to-Taiwan sales pitch.

"Wish to see you in Taiwan!" is everywhere on posters, TV, caps, T-shirts. The world is they have gone their separate ways to do their own gigs, but anytime a project is strong enough to pull them together again, they are ready, willing, able and united.

As for the rest of the young people who are aren't their fans, the young people I saw in Taipei and its surrounding counties appeared to be remarkably serious, well-behaved and typical of the Chinese stereotype: inscrutable. Wild and rowdy are not words that were invented for them. I asked Beryl, our tour guide, to describe the young Taiwanese in one word. A long pause, they she gave up.

We saw the young ones in restaurants, shopping centers the night market, convenience stores, the high-speed train, the MRT (like ours, but more handsome, and airconditioned).

They were remarkable, in that they were unremarkable,though they did not stick out in any negative way. If anything, they appeared shy, modest, unwilling to make eye contact with strangers. Strangely enough, they did not sport colored hair, and except for a few, very very few cases, their haircuts were not conversation pieces. Why are they so conservative? Beryl's reply was a surprise: "As soon as the movie stars that they adore stopped coloring their hair, they stopped coloring their own hair." Yes, but why did their idols stop?

Taiwan's young adults are not as loud as their elders when they dine in the most "in" places, such as the famous dim sum palace called Tin Tai Fung that is always SRO at mealtimes 24/7, reservations not accepted. Compared with their peers in Hong Kong and Tokyo, the young Taiwanese do not have a passion for fashion, no matter that global brands proliferate in the boutiques and knock-offs are a dime a dozen in the crowded night markets that to me looked like the only night life available to tourists.

Where did the young people go during those four nights we were in Taiwan? They were feating on eat-all-you-can shabu-shabu and barbecue, for the equivalent of Php600 per person with bottomless drinks and endless scoops of Haagen Dazs ice cream.

They were in the neighborhood clubs and bars to chill out, practically out of sight, because Taipei as a country sprawls far and wide, without a special strip or area for them to congregate, a Ia Lan Kwai Fong in HK or Greenbelt in Makati. By accident, I came across a newspaper feature on Taipei's supposedly gay corner, the Red Theater on Rainbow Plaza, but it must have been so new or so secret that Beryl, a well of information who has been guiding tourists more years than she can count on her fingers, hadn't heard about it, didn't know where to find it.

As it was our last night in Taipei and we had to wake up at 4am to catch our plane, none of us dared to venture out to look for Rainbow Plaza. And there lies the difference between a Manileno and a Taiwanese. Beryl wasn't interested in finding out, but we were keen - i. e., keen the whole day - to discover Taipei's gay little secret, if only we had time.

I discovered something else courtesy of Beryl. Entry-level jobs start at the minimunm wag of NT18,000 (about Php 37,000) - "but no one can survive on that salary." The cost living is so high that it could take the fireworks out of any neophyte's check.

Maybe that's why China Airlines gets close to 10,000 applications every year from young women and men who dream of becoming flight attendants and stewards - of whom only 135 wil make the grade, at a starting salary of US$2,000 or NT76,000.

There is so much information and culture to exchange between Taipei and Manila, considering that Taiwan is only 55 minutes away if you fly China Airlines; considering that the tip of Batanes is only 200 miles away from the tip of Taiwan; considering that although there are no formal diplomatic relations between two capitals, there is MECO (Manila Economic and Cultural Office) in Taipei and a TECO (Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office) in Makati.

Another swap could happen. If Taiwan can teach us how to be No.1 in IT(information technology), we'll tach them how to loosen up, have fun and live like everyday's a fiesta!

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