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April 29, 2017

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The man behind 'I Love Taiwan' rekindles enthusiasm for lost slogan

The China Post--Shaun Bettinson from the UK loves Taiwan. Some days it seems he could be the only one.

The 30-something expat is running "I Love Taiwan," a photo drive aimed at mounting a jumbo collage to the Taipei 101 on October 10. The display will be an extension of feeling, of a Lloyd Dobler's radio-over-the-head kind of love.

Bettinson's willingness to declare love for Taiwan has gained him micro-fame in Greater Taichung, where he has lived for about eight years. Over these years, politicians on both sides of the partisan divide have launched grassroots and nationwide patriotism campaigns, largely to mixed success. Over the years, declaring love for Taiwan has become increasingly rare in the public sphere by most besides the electioneering politician.

But Bettinson is not a politician, and to him, "I Love Taiwan" is deeply uncomplicated.

"I don't really know anything about politics," he said.

"I suppose that technically everything you do is political ... But I don't have any political backing, and I don't have a party affiliation."

He Loves Taiwan

Instead, what appears to be propelling Bettinson's photo drive is actual love for a localized, purely observational sense of Taiwan. He loves Taiwan because the traveling is easy and the food is good and his city is booming. He loves it because his neighbors are good and strangers aren't crafty.

"Here they don't try and rip you off. You can be on a mountain and want to get tea or something. If you were back at home in the U.S. or the UK, they'd be like, you're miles away from everything so we're going to charge you double the price. But they don't really do that here," he said.

On Forumosa and other Internet haunts for English speakers, observers call him naive.

But for the project itself, Bettinson's simplicity of purpose appears only to have burnished an appeal. "I Love Taiwan" is curiously popular.

On April 23, Bettinson launched the "I Love Taiwan" concept with a video.

"I have a crazy idea," he declared on YouTube. "But I can't do it by myself."

The video went viral, drawing upwards of 320,000 hits in a week. Within a month, Taiwan residents had sent in more than 4,000 photographs of themselves with arms outstretched over the head in V, Lloyd Dobler style.

Advice for Taiwan

Now just over three months old, "I Love Taiwan" is kicking the door of 10,000 submissions. People have posed underwater, overseas, at the shore, at the home, on the job, and even while bedridden in a hospital.

Per request, many entrants write in how they believe that Taiwan could be made better.

Bettinson has his own, serious-minded answer to this question.

"I would like to see some kind of improvements where students are given more opportunities to be creative," he said.

"A lot of the Confucian ideas that the Taiwan education system is built on are about testing, passing tests, but tests don't mean anything in real life. You've got all these young people just trying to remember all this stuff ... and it's just getting worse, honestly it's just getting worse."

Many entrants do not respond to Bettinson's question. But those who do strike a surprisingly similar chord.

A man surnamed Chen said he wishes Taiwan "would not fight among itself anymore."

Another entrant, surnamed Lin, writes "I wish for a little more unity of the Taiwan people. If Taiwan can unite, then we can improve quickly."

"I hope that national baseball can be more beloved by the people," says "Jack," while a woman surnamed Xia said she wished the "Taiwanese could have more confidence in themselves."

There are myriad others in this tide of encouragement, their responses reading like talismans for the nation: "preserve your beautiful things, "respect your worth," "please believe." In a society that remains conflicted over national identity, it's a risky and complicated thing to love Taiwan. But it's clear Bettinson isn't the only one who does.

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