Saturday, August 21, 2010

The insidious channel

More paper money burning, more daily fireworks, more pole-dancer stages during Ghost Month, more sex-ed up Ghost Month performances, performances that are supposedly more true to those of 50 years ago, more prostitution, more old time religion and superstition: these are all the soft indictments tossed at Yunlin County by Michael’s private student A. who hails from up north in Hsinchu.

But my younger Yunlin-born coworkers beg to differ; and in fact, they were quite embarrassed to the point of giggles at the accusation that Huwei is any different than any other town in Taiwan. I tried to assuage their hesitancy to admit its southern eccentricity by telling them that I’ve lived in some unusually distinct places in the U.S. myself. There are parts of the U.S. that if a foreigner found him/herself I’d feel it’s my duty to tell them that, “Hey. This is strange place, I know. And not all towns are like this one. Those other towns are strange in their own ways.” Still they insist there is nothing special about Yunlin County.

This story’s been circulating in the local news:

It’s known that Yunlin County has the highest incidence of renal failure than in any other county in Taiwan. There are dialysis and treatment centers all over to account for this sad fact. As it’s come to be discovered, the renal failure is the result of one insidious channel.

There is an underground group that hands out small hand-radios to old people throughout the county. The radios are are tuned to only one station, which plays old variety shows, Taiwanese opera, and nostalgic music. And as expected the station airs just one commercial for a single product-- a potion that cures anything that ails you.

The treatment costs as much as $10,000 NT (approx. $300 ), which is a considerable price for any middle-class person, let alone the elderly. The treatment bears the additional cost of causing your kidneys to stop working.

The authorities can’t seem to interfere with and track down the underground operation because the group periodically changes their broadcasting locality, as well as the station’s channel itself. This scheme strikes me as particularly old-timey, particularly “snake-oil” (which exists here too!), and, of course, insidious.

This despicable crime points to a gullibility and nostalgia that in a county privy to old ways, to superstition and religious zeal, can easily be exploited. That the siren’s call of the old times as it statically escapes through a cheap piece of plastic can bring with it anything that is good. That despite this town having been long ago transformed by Taiwan’s economic boom, its streets now over-run with scooters and cars zooming past the old men and ladies in wide-brimmed straw hats crawling along on rusty decades-old bicycles, that there is still room enough for believing in a cure-all, in an otherwise cynical world.

About Me