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Dual-national TV host hopes naturalization can inspire

2018/04/22 15:04:38

Ugur Rifat Karlova (吳鳳, left)/file photo (photo courtesy of National Immigration Agency)

By Lee Hsin-Yin, CNA staff reporter

After getting his Republic of China identification card last month under an amended immigration law that allows foreigners with "special talent" to gain citizenship without having to renounce their original nationality, Turkish comedian and TV host Ugur Rifat Karlova (吳鳳) said he feels he has become a "real Taiwanese."

"It was a sense of belonging that money can't buy, a sense of happiness of being at home," said Karlova, 37, one of 23 foreigners who became Taiwanese under the Standards for Defining High-Level Professionals for Naturalization, which went into effect in March 2017.

Despite having stayed in Taiwan for only 12 years, Karlova, better known by his Chinese name Wu Feng, told CNA in an exclusive interview that he hopes his naturalization will encourage other foreign residents in Taiwan to contribute more to the country.

"I want to tell all foreigners that if you come to Taiwan, you need to cherish the society here," Karlova said, adding that he wants to send a message to the Taiwanese public that foreigners can create more value for Taiwan, given the chance.

Karlova, current host of the Taiwanese television travel show iWalker, which won him the best travel host award at the Golden Bell Awards in 2012, is the first foreigner to have won the award, Taiwan's equivalent to the Emmy Awards.

He was recognized by the government for distinguished achievement in the cultural or artistic fields, one of the six categories of foreign nationals who will be allowed to retain their prior citizenship while also getting ROC identity.

1st naturalized foreign 'cultural' talent

The naturalization also made Karlova the first foreigner to be granted citizenship in that category.

One of the biggest benefits of gaining Taiwanese citizenship is that he can express his views about Taiwan's politics, society and culture, on what Karlova describes as "more legitimate grounds."

"From now on, no one can call me 'Lao-wai (老外),'" referring to informal mandarin usage for "foreigner," usually neutral but often used locally as a pejorative.

"After I got the ID, I felt like a Taiwanese, and I wanted to do more things about Taiwan, the future of Taiwan," he said, expressing hope that his journey will inspire other foreigners.

Karlova said that he feels more pressure on his shoulders, since he needs to live up to the recognition of both his reputation and the international image of Turkey.

After graduating from Ankara University's Department of Chinese and Sinology in 2006, Karlova came to Taiwan on a scholarship and got his master's degree from the Department of Political Science at National Taiwan Normal University.

Pals have good words about Taiwan

He said he chose Taiwan because his teachers and schoolmates who had previously been to Taiwan had good words about it.

Karlova entered show business after being spotted by a scout to play the late George Leslie Mackay, a respected missionary in Taiwan, in a TV program.

Besides the award-winning program, Karlova also did stand-up comedy, commercials and short films.

Karlova married a Taiwanese woman three years ago and has a two-and-a-half-year-old child, and he said it was his wife who found him the program and prepared the documents needed during a year of application process.

"I feel a sense of responsibility now after I was naturalized. I must come up with better performances and show a better attitude," he said.

A bridge between Taiwan and Turkey

Karlova also said he plans to do more to enhance exchanges between Turkey and Taiwan, including encouraging more Turkish businesses to invest in Taiwan and inviting Turkish Youtubers to come to Taiwan to promote it.

Meanwhile, Karlova said, he would also like to introduce Turkey to Taiwanese, just as he did in a travel book published in February, titled "Invitation from My Homeland: Beautiful Turkey."

Karlova said he hopes that Taiwanese society can think big and pay more attention to international affairs.

"Taiwanese spend too much time and too many resources in trivial things and repeated patterns," he said, giving an example of the way Taiwanese use gourmet food to promote tourism.

"Stop bragging about how delicious your sausages are, as if they are the only thing Taiwan can offer," Karlova said, adding that Taiwan should focus more on achieving an innovation-driven economy to raise its international profile and get connected to the world.

Through China to the world

Reaching out to the world includes more cooperation with China as well, he said, when asked to share his thoughts on seeing more Taiwanese entertainers going to China for career development.

"Performers need a bigger stage, and if both sides can work together, it will bring out the best that is in them," Karlova said.

The best thing he has found about Taiwan is its "tender society," as he puts it, but he also encourages young people to show more confidence and be more assertive to pursue their dreams.

"If you always focus on small things, you will miss the opportunity to see the world," he said.

Karlova said he will continue to shoot short videos about his interactions with both Taiwanese and expats about their views of creating a better Taiwan, put them on his YouTube channel and encourage further discussion.

"Just because I am not from here does not mean I can't fall in love with a foreign land," Karlova said. "I believe that if we love our land, it will love us back."