Sweden's presence in Taiwan has seen growth in all areas

Wednesday, June 6, 2007
By Erika Wang The China Post

Sweden is the birthplace of such notable and celebrated personalities as Alfred Nobel, Greta Garbo and Ingrid Bergman.

Astronomer Anders Celsius, who proposed the international temperature scale that bears his name; Carolus Linnaeus, the father of botany and modern taxonomy; and Astrid Lindgren, the author of "Pippi Longstocking" books, have also called the Nordic country home.

Sweden has consistently topped world rankings in global competitiveness, freedom of the press, quality of life, economic freedom and equality.

Here in Taiwan, the Scandinavian nation has been represented since 1983 via Exportradet Taipei, the Swedish Trade Council.

"With Sweden's presence here in Taiwan over the years, we have seen growth in all areas, such as trade, tourism, as well as cultural and academic exchanges," said Henrik Bystrom, council representative.

Sweden's major imports to Taiwan are telecommunications equipment, vehicles, machinery, pharmaceuticals, paper, board and steel, while Taiwan exports electronics and bicycles to Sweden.

Looking toward the future of trade relations between the two countries, Bystrom aims at broadening the council's presence. "There are at present some 60 Swedish companies here, but I think many more companies would be needed to set up a local presence," he said.

"I think new industries that haven't really been looking at Taiwan need to start looking at Taiwan. Maybe the most important thing is that Swedish companies must be more successful in participating in the large tenders because they influence the trade figures a lot," he suggested.

"I really hope that we can catch up, because even if Taiwan is an important trade partner for us, we can see that we haven't kept pace with the growth of Taiwanese imports over the recent 10-year period," continued Bystrom.

For the past 15 years, the council has also been authorized to issue visas, whereas before that it only received applications.

More people from Taiwan are going to Sweden. Every year there are about 15,000 to 20,000 Taiwanese who visit Sweden, 40 to 50 Taiwanese who choose to study in Sweden, and 30 to 40 who choose to marry a Swede and move there.

And of the some 160 Swedes who are in Taiwan, most are here for business reasons, some for academic reasons, and also a few more for personal reasons.

For this small community, their national day is a time to catch up with each other and strengthen the bonds between them.

Declared an official public holiday in 2005, the National Day of Sweden commemorates "the day we broke away from the Danes in the 16th century and is also the start of the renaissance and end of medieval period in Sweden," said the representative.

He explains that unlike many countries, Sweden does not have large-scale celebrations for its National Day, which is actually fortunate. "We have never had a revolution, [which is what] most national days celebrate."

The roots of Sweden go back to pre-Christian times. And for the better part of the past two centuries, Sweden has been "very fortunate to not have been under foreign occupation and stayed out of major wars," he continued.

The big celebration in Sweden is Midsummer's Day, when most people go to the countryside; raise the midsummer pole made out of branches and flowers; dance and sing to traditional music; have a very special meal with herring, new potatoes, fresh strawberries; and drink Aquavit, explained Bystrom.

Other Swedish holidays that are also celebrated by the expat community in Taiwan are Santa Lucia Day and the Crayfish Festival.

Bystrom describes his compatriots as people with a great love of nature and who engage in many outdoor activities such as boating, hiking, cross-country skiing, fishing and hunting.

It is also common for Swedes to have a summerhouse or cottage in the countryside, and to walk through the forest looking for local natural delicacies such as mushrooms and berries.

But at the same time, "Sweden is in many ways a very modern society at the forefront of development," said the representative, who cited not only technological advancements but great strides in the social arena as well.

"We have been at the forefront and still are when it comes to equality. The participation rate of women in the workplace is among the highest in the world ... Parents share responsibility for their children," he said.

Some of the greatest similarities he sees between the people of Taiwan and Sweden are their openness, easy-going personalities, as well as their respectful attitude toward people of all religions.

Also, "the Taiwanese depend on exports to prosper and survive and so do we," said Bystrom. On the same token, the work ethic in both nations is very high, he added.

Tourists who visit Sweden go for its natural beauty and historic sites. Bystrom recommends Stockholm's old town, which is well preserved from medieval days.

Other major attractions include the Vasa Museum, the capital's waterfront and archipelago, and the several lakes throughout the country.

For the more experienced traveler, Bystrom said that Sweden has a lot of offer as well, with the midnight sun in the north in the summertime, the Northern lights or Aureola Borealis in the winter, as well as adventures on snowmobiles or on reindeer or dog sleighs.

And, unlike in other parts of the world, these exotic trips are very easily accessible. For example, the Aureola Borealis can be seen by taking an hour's flight from Stockholm to Kiruna.

"Sweden is a developed modern society. We have settled even in the very far north. It's ... not difficult to go anywhere," he said.

For Bystrom, who has lived in Taiwan for five years, it is the small gestures of kindness he has personally witnessed that make the Taiwanese so unique.

He recalls walking to a meeting from his office in torrential rain, when a man on the street who had an umbrella offered to walk with him and share the umbrella.

In another instance, his wife got lost while driving and asked someone for directions. The man then drove in front of her for some 20 minutes and guided her to the right place.

"That was extremely nice," Bystrom remarked. "We have had several experiences like that."

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