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September 26, 2017

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Orchid Island affairs should be left for islanders to decide

President Chain Store Corp. (統一超商) recently opened its 5,000th convenience store in the nation. During a press event in Kaohsiung, President Chain Store Chairman Alex Lo (羅智先) announced the franchise's plan to open the first convenience store on Taiwan's outlying Orchid Island (蘭嶼), also known as Lanyu, in early August.

However, Lo's plan may not be carried out successfully due to growing concerns. This is not the first time President Chain Store has tried to establish a 7-Eleven on an outlying island, however, this is the first time the chain has encountered strong objections to such a plan.

Opponents include former Premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷), writer Liu Ke-hsiang (劉克襄) and actor Chris Wang (宥勝). They are worried that once the convenience store is operating on the island, it will pose a threat to the long-established traditional culture of the island's indigenous Tao population.

Hsieh said that a convenience store like 7-Eleven will threaten the operations of local grocery stores and negatively affect the livelihood of local people. He said, moreover, that introducing an urban-style convenience store on the island would undermine the traditional forms of interaction between people.

Liu said the potential changes to the local culture, life and landscape of Orchid Island cannot easily be calculated, stressing that the Oceanic culture of the Tao people may eventually be ruined. Liu said "7-Eleven could be the next evil spirit for Orchid Island after the nuclear waste."

Actor Chris Wang used a stronger phrase to express his objection, saying "once there is a convenience store on Orchid Island, Taiwan will be ruined."

Wang further said that once the elements that come along with 7-Eleven "invade" the island, the young adults of Orchid Island will become more "civilized," and the core value of the culture will be slowly abandoned. He said that if the people grow used to living life comfortably, why would anyone go out fishing again?

The issue of whether or not Orchid Island should have a 7-Eleven has given rise to heated debated on the Internet over the past few days. As a result, the franchise said it will reconsider whether the store should be opened as scheduled.

The main concerns of the opponents are centered on the idea of losing Orchid Island's unique culture. However, the issue of whether there is a relationship between having access to convenience stores and a loss of local traditional culture remains debatable.

Culture is not unchanging. It never stops defining itself or transforming. The culture of the Tao indigenous people today is different from the culture of the Tao 50 years ago. Not so long ago, there was no "traditional" grocery store.

The aforementioned opponents praise the Orchid Islanders' simple life, and these remarks reflect their patronizing, elitist perspective.

The issue of whether or not Orchid Island should have a 7-Eleven should be left for the local residents to decide. People who do not live on the outlying island should respect local opinions and demands. Opponents should not try to satisfy their own imaginings of Orchid Islanders' life and culture by saying that they need to be protected from a convenience store.

The vast majority of Taiwanese across the country enjoy the convenience brought by these stores. Apart from providing groceries, they allow people to withdraw money, mail packages, pay bills and buy transportation tickets quickly and easily.

Who are we to say that the Orchid Island residents should not enjoy the services of a convenience store? Before judging whether or not a convenience store should be opened on Orchid Island, are we sure we know exactly what the Orchid Island people want for themselves?

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