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September 23, 2017

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Most valuable asset for Taiwan is the kindness of locals

Taiwan is keen on putting its tourist sights on the international radar. Last year the island mobilized in a failed bid to make Yushan (玉山) one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. But ask tourists and foreigners about their favorite attractions in Taiwan and more often than not they will say it's the Taiwanese people.

We are not talking about the mega-athletes, the pop stars, not even high-caliber philanthropists such as Chen Shu-chu (陳樹菊), who was honored by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in 2010. It is the random acts of friendliness and righteousness by common Taiwanese people, the small doses of kindness that truly charm.

This Monday media reported just such an example of everyday righteousness. After his pleading with passengers to yield a priority seat to an elderly man failed, bus driver Chang Zhi-de (張志德) from New Taipei City stopped his bus and told his passengers that the bus would not start until that man had a seat. When interviewed, Chang said he was only doing what he should do.

While Chang's professionalism, kindness toward the needy and his sense of righteousness are all laudable, the story also reveals a special characteristics of Taiwanese society. Even in the highly urbanized Greater Taipei area, it is still common for bus drivers to address their passengers directly and personally. In turn, it is also common to hear passengers say "thank you" to bus drivers on their way out. Similar occurrences are rare in Greater China cities such as Hong Kong and Macau.

Taiwanese people still have elected neighborhood chiefs (里長, lizhang) to provide service in their communities, whose homes are often open to people coming for help or even just to hang out. Government agencies and hospitals are staffed with patient volunteer workers providing guidance and warmth to those in need. People are generally kind to strangers and are willing to help. Instead of chiding the driver for delaying the whole bus of passengers, the public sympathized with the elderly passenger and applauded the driver's action.

  Of course things are not all rosy. It is, after all, the unwillingness to give up one's priority seats to a passenger in need, even after repeated calls to do so, that started the whole event. There is room for improvement. Overall, however, Taiwan presents a rare case in Asia, especially in the Chinese-speaking region, in which the sense of community connection between strangers survives rapid economic development. Such social glue is one of Taiwan's most valuable assets and its greatest attraction in an increasingly developed and alienating world.

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