I had the privilege of seeing Taiwan or the Republic of China (ROC) on two occasions. The first one at least 34 years ago was the maiden international travel financed by our parents which introduced us to the beauty of the outside world. I was with my wife and two brothers. We enjoyed also our first taste of Mongolian barbecue during this trip.
My second visit was through the courtesy of the Government Information Office (GIO) for the Taipei International Book Exhibition from February 10-17, 2003. I was booked at the Far Eastern Plaza Hotel which is a 40-storey complex with a swimming pool at the top and is managed by the Shangri-La group which is known for its luxurious and abundant amenities.
After crossing through the air tube, I was immediately met by Protocol Officer Emilia Chang. I was introduced during the opening night on stage with dignitaries of other countries including the 1986 Nobel Laureate for Literature Wole Soynka, Bologna Fair Director Elena Pasole, et al.
The following morning during the Reproduction Rights Meeting. I was introduced once more as one of the VIP guests. On the initial two nights, we were treated with 12 lauriat courses with endless supply of wines, drinks, etc. which appear to be humanly impossible to fully consume.
The forum on “Publishing Case Studies in the Age of Transition: A Global View” (designed primarily to benefit new publishers) brought wealth of information, considering that the speakers come from big companies in the USA, United Kingdom, Japan and Germany. The book exhibit is housed in three buildings inside the World Trade Complex. To show that there is freedom of expression, there was even a space for X-rated comics. Beside the complex is a new structure being built which is envisioned to become the highest building in the world.
I observed in the course of my attendance in the other bookfairs, that everytime there is such an event, they are always graced by the highest officers of the country such as President Chen Shui-Bian during this bookfair. There appears to be an unwritten rule that bookfairs are barometer of the intellectual growth and well-being of the nations, thus their governments consider the same as very important events.
It has come to my attention also that other countries are paying million of dollars just to be featured in international bookfairs just to showcase their culture like what the Czech Republic did in the Taipei Bookfair. I have some misgivings whether the Philippines is similarly giving preferential attention to bookfairs.
Through the years, the Philippines has been relying on gratuitous space in the yearly Frankfurt International Bookfair (mecca of all bookfairs) providing us no leverage to complain even though we would be placed at the far end (near the toilet) thus staining the country’s dignity . During my incumbency, however, as Chairman of the National Book Development Board, we were lucky to obtain a small but well-placed booth due to the government budgetary support.
Awed by the tremendous progress of the country, together with the excellent hospitality and humility of the people therein, allow me to digress and express certain observations:
I observed that though the people of the ROC, South Korea and Japan, etc. may not be keen on the use of English language, they are nevertheless economically progressive. They are enjoying per capita income 16 times greater, if not more, than the Philippines.
These countries are strong in electronics, technology, etc. wherein Mathematics and Science are indispensably needed. In the Philippines, however, statistics would indicate that our dropout rate is alarming. A particular test in Science and Math in forty countries showed that the Philippines ranked 38th .
Could the use of foreign language (such as English) as a medium of instruction which is different from the languages or dialects spoken at home be a stumbling block in the learning processes? A reader, Consuelo J. Paz, Ph.D. Department of Linguistics, University of the Philippines (on the February 19, 2003 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer) states that:
“Language for communication should not be lumped together with language of instruction. The latter is the means to acquire knowledge and for the learner, his first language, or one close enough to it, works best. A foreign language as the medium of instruction becomes an obstacle to learning. This is why we have, in reality, a dismal literacy rate. How can a pupil starting out become literate in a strange language – one he does not know, does not use and which is very differently structured from his own? Language for communicating globally should be learned as a second language. In fact, one does not have to be grammatically correct (probably the deteriorated English the President referred to) to be understood in international communication in English.
The problem of education which the government should address, besides giving it the necessary budget, is how to enhance learning. This can be done best at the primary level where literacy should be the paramount goal. This is more easily and surely attained in the child’s first language (any one of our over 100 languages) or one close enough to it (Filipino). A literate person means one with the ability to understand perfectly everything he can think. Once a child is literate, learning becomes a coordinated activity between the child/learner and teachers.”
This also could help explain the national progress and material prosperity of Germany, USA, United Kingdom and other countries which are adopting their home languages as their media of instruction.
The argument that English is indispensable in the computerized world and that there is a great demand for Filipino workers outside of the country in view of their command of the English language prompting President Gloria Macapacal Arroyo to declare English as a medium of instruction (while awaiting a new law to be enacted pursuant to the Constitution) should be analyzed.
By way of repetition, would this course of action allow us to have a deeper grasp of complex subjects such as Science and Math? Should we tolerate the sending of Filipinos abroad to hold positions beneath their dignity or decency? On the other hand, should we allow the talents of our competent citizenry to benefit and enrich the host country instead of ours?
It may also be argued that religion plays a role in the well-being of a nation. Our Christian religion states that before a rich man could enter heaven, he must pass through an eye of a needle. The biblical pronouncement of go and multiply which brings about tremendous growth in population exceeding our resources should also be reckoned with.
Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism require their followers to work and accumulate money and properties as they are not only needed in the earthly life but in the life after. No wonder that the Chinese, Japanese, etc. are overly ambitious while Filipinos tend to be complacent after attaining a certain degree of economic security.
Be that as it may, there are various complexities if the country has been colonized similar to the Philippines. She was under Spain (but the majority of the inhabitants did not learn the Spanish language as it could have been taught only for the illustrados) for several hundred years and under America, where the Thomasites inculcated the use of English as a medium of instruction (which could have affected the learning processes).
Allow me to quote Professor Antonio Isidro in his book The Philippine Educational System 1949 Edition, on page 307:
“One of the unique features of the Philippine educational system is the use of a foreign tongue as the medium of instruction. From the primary grades to the graduate department of the university, instruction is given in English, a language that an ordinary child in Philippine villages rarely hears until he goes to school.”
Language is identified with distinct cultural heritage. To be really proficient as well as to assimilate better in English, we must always think and speak even in our abode and everywhere. There is a danger, however, that we would obliterate our cultural heritage.
Amidst these contradictory influences, there may still be hope to retrace our steps and enhance our cultural foundation to serve as a true basis for economic and social growth.
Going back to the ROC, I was able to visit the National Palace Museums on two occasions: the Martyr’s Shrine, the Sun Yat Sen Temple, etc. I learned that the guards watching the place were not allowed to wink their eyes for at least two hours.
On February 13 we were able to visit the National College of Performing Arts. Unlike the experience in Beijing where we did not understand the opera presentation, this time we were firstly briefed on the activities of students aspiring to become actors or actresses. Thereafter, an oral explanation followed by a brief cinema further explaining on how to understand the characters were conducted. During the presentation, one of the screens explains in English the various movements of the opera characters. Their attention to details could also help explain their economic prosperity.
During that same day, we visited the Luang-Shan Temple where we witnessed how the people adore or give respect to Buddha amidst colorful lanterns and the gushing waterfalls. We were thereafter brought to the Snake Alley. The Alley promotes and sells real (as aphrodisiac) and artificial (plasticized male reproductive organ) snakes. I learned also that there were brothel houses within the area to complete the cycle.
We then proceeded to Jungli to observe the lantern festival. I and the people from the Czech Republic were personally welcomed by the Mayor. We were gifted with lanterns and treated with exotic food. We experienced the unique ethnic atmosphere at the night market.
On the following day, we visited Keelung where we saw the Taiwanese warships. Thereafter we proceeded to Cheupe which was the site of the old mine. Then we proceeded to Pings-hsi to launch the aerial lanterns.
The following day we went to Taichung City. We were welcomed by the Mayor. We stayed at the Splendor Hotel where the facilities were similar to the hotel in Taipei. In the company of foreign correspondents, we were treated to a sumptuous dinner by the Mayor (whose political affiliation was that of the People First Party) who was desirous of making the city a global village.
The following morning we visited the sprawling botanical garden and the very huge and modern Museum of Arts and Natural Sciences which could justify the Mayor in aspiring to win global interest.
We thereafter visited the so-called Warehouse 20 which were old warehouses which the Taiwan government converted for the use of developing artists with budgetary allocation of eight million NT dollars yearly. This gesture on the part of the government is indicative that they put premium to art and culture.
I am truly honored by the wonderful hospitality coinciding with the celebration of the colorful Lunar New Year of the ROC through the GIO in the persons of Senior Specialist Emily Wang, Deputy Director General Hong Chong-Jan, Protocol Officers Emilia Chang and David Sun and through the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in the Philippines in the persons of Ambassador Benjamin Lo with the assistance of Director Robert Shih and First Press Secretary Owen Chiu prompting me to imagine that if there is truly a Shangri-la as envisioned in the book of James Hilton “Lost Horizon” this must be it for me.