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Give yourself and the nation a break, Mr. President

Former Premier Sean Chen on Monday called on his old boss to set an example for the nation's public servants by taking a vacation. The public expectation for civil servants to be non-stop workers is unhealthy, he pointed out.

By his own admission, the ex-premier was not a good example himself. In his tenure as leader of the Executive Yuan, Chen did not take a holiday. “How was it possible for me to take days off?” Chen asked even as he prescribed the same medicine for the president.

Perhaps befitting our nation of workaholics — Taiwan had the third longest working hours among the 30 major global economies last year according to the Council of Labor Affairs (now the Ministry of Labor) — local elected officials are known to be work fanatics. Weekends are actually their busiest days, being the time when they make their blitz wedding banquet and funeral ceremony tours all around Taiwan to schmooze with local residents.

In a culture that equates work hours to dedication to (if not quality of) the job one does, officials dare not take a holiday. Even Chen, in his new role as the vacation advocate, suggested that holidays are not a time for civil servants to “have fun,” but to recharge and be ready for work. In other words, as far as Chen is concerned, the purpose of a vacation is to execute one's job better.

Chen's idea represents the dominant view in Taiwan that work is the purpose of life. Experts have long complained that the nation designs its education system — now stretching to postgraduate education — as a two-decade long vocational training program with only secondary regard for one's enlightenment. Many local workers observe the unwritten office rule of not punching out before their supervisors in order to maintain the appearance of diligence, even if they are just staring at the wall during most of their overtime hours.

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