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May 29, 2017

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We want the security, but not the work: civil servants in Taiwan

Before having wanderlust and a yearning for adventures became something to aspire to, the common goal of many Taiwanese people was to achieve stability. Nothing to be ashamed of. With a steady income, stiff work hours and ample holidays, being a civil servant was as good as a Christmas package that too many coveted. Sure, there are national exams to pass and a horde of people just as eager as you are, but the security the position ensures is worth every ounce of fierce competition.

At 350,000 people, civil servants now make up roughly 1.5 percent of Taiwan's population, a number that seems a relatively tiny ratio. But for a slip of land the size of Taiwan, the fact that there is one civil servant in every 66 citizens is rather startling, and the government has already cut some 60,000 positions over the last decade.

But while no one is reprimanding the ages-long chase for security, the mere mention of the term "civil servant" has begun to invoke negative reactions from a considerable number of locals. Rather than branding it as mere jealousy, spouting from an economically unstable era that has rendered others jobless, it is more an indication of the displeasure felt at general attitudes that have come to represent this "privileged" group.

Men and women attend to citizens, are engrossed in paperwork or talking on the phone behind counters, while other civilians wait in lines or loll around with number slips in hand, waiting their turn. Such is a common scene in Taiwan's banks, post offices and other government-run units, forming an essential part of citizens' daily lives. But almost everyone who has gone through the dull waiting process can recall at least one complaint about a certain person who served them before.

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