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Abuse of foreigner on Taipei MRT reflects social problems: scholars

2015/11/14 15:12:32

(From DREAM清醒夢LUCID YouTube channel)

Taipei, Nov. 14 (CNA) The verbal abuse that a British man and his Taiwanese girlfriend suffered at the hands of a Taiwanese man on Taipei's mass rapid transit (MRT) system recently reflects bigger social problems in Taiwan, local scholars said.

The verbal abuse came to light on Nov. 11 after a British man, who identified himself as Christopher Raymond Hall, uploaded a video of the incident onto his YouTube channel. In the video recorded by his girlfriend, the apparent abuser, later identified as a 30-year-old who worked for a security firm, was shown calling Hall a "scrounger," "trash" and "a piece of crap" and his girlfriend a "whore" and "Taiwanese trash" for dating a Westerner.

The video has since been viewed over 1.6 million times on YouTube and attracted media reports, which prompted police to find and question the Taiwanese man and hand him over to prosecutors on charges of public insult, which is punishable with a fine of no more than NT$9,000 (US$274).

Lan Pei-chia (藍佩嘉), a sociology professor at National Taiwan University, said it is hard to comment on this specific incident because the public knows little about the abuser on the MRT, but added that she believes the most important thing right now is not to launch a witch-hunt after the abuser because "he is not an isolated case."

"If a Caucasian man from the West, who enjoys a privileged position in Taiwan, can encounter such a thing, what about someone from a Southeast Asian country or other countries who is in a structurally disadvantaged position in Taiwan, and who struggles with the double disadvantage of class and race? What would his situation be like?" said Lan.

"We may also have to ask ourselves, 'why didn't the other people on the MRT train do anything? Why are we indifferent toward such racial discrimination?'" Lan told CNA in a telephone interview Friday.

Although hesitant to comment on the case, Lan said one of the likely reasons causing the extreme hatred as witnessed in the video is the Taiwanese man's feeling of inferiority in front of the British man.

The Taiwanese man was quoted by local media saying Thursday that he yelled at Hall because they bumped into each other on the MRT train, and Hall had shown him a poor attitude.

In Hall's account in the video, he said the couple boarded the train at MRT Da-an Station and sat down as soon as there were free seats. They moved away after realizing that the man was staring at them, but he followed them to the next carriage and began insulting them, according to Hall.

Lee I-ching (李怡青), a psychology professor from the National Chengchi University, said as Taiwan's society becomes more racially diverse, some Taiwanese people may not be accustomed to the change and may vent their anger and frustration over their own lives at a foreigner, believing that the foreigner "is here to rob them of their jobs or resources."

The fact that the abuser targeted the Taiwanese girlfriend of Hall may show the man's prejudice against what he perceived as the girl's xenophilia, Lee said.

The feeling that Taiwanese girls have been "snatched away" by foreign men originated from nationalist discourses, which view the female body as an important "boundary marker" for the nation, Lan said.

Lee said the outburst of the Taiwanese man is not necessarily a response to what the foreigner said or did, but a reflection of his own discontent in his work and life.

"It is possible that he had a bad day at work, was scolded by his boss and missed his ride home. Many things could have gone awry before he met the foreigner, when his emotions erupted," Lee said.

Lee said she believes that the Taiwanese public's reactions would not have been as strong as they were -- with many people taking to the Internet to strongly condemn the abuser, saying he has "brought shame on all Taiwanese"-- if the victim was not Caucasian, but someone from Southeast Asia.

"It is because it happened to a white person that it became news. If this happened to a person from Southeast Asia, it might not become news because it happens quite often...some people who differentiate between races may wonder, 'how could this happen to a white person?" she said.

The fact that there was a vivid video footage, and that the victim appeared to be a civil and polite person, may have also contributed to the outrage, Lee added.

The viral video has generated much discussion on social media, with many foreigners jumping to the defense of Taiwan, saying such treatment of foreigners is not common in a country that is often touted for its hospitality and friendliness.

"A terrible experience, but thankfully a minority response to foreigners in Taiwan," wrote Facebook user Mark Bell.

(By Christie Chen)
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