Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Taiwan Culture: TV and what sells

Society gave TV producers the sex industry, gangsters and superstition and they have been running and milking better than - the producers of a hit American soap, the Now That’s What I Call Music Album producers and CNN with a war on their hands – ever since. One of my favorite programs before was a current affairs one that ran for about five years covering the same subject every week – prostitution. I watched it in awe at their ability to find a new angle on the subject.
Summer had just arrived and this week's creative angle was the phenomenon of students prostituting themselves during their summer vacation – As opposed to students who did so during the weekends or evenings (last week’s show) or students who went to all girls' schools (two weeks ago) or air hostesses or ex-air hostesses, and so on and so on.
It seems this was justified: the ones doing so during the summer were not the same girls taking advantage of the chance to work full-time instead of part, but a wholly unique subset of the female teenage student crowd with their own unique compelling, and sociologically important reasons for doing what they were doing, and the public had a right to understand.
As it was students and summer there was only really one place to go – Hsimenting. Taipei has a number of different centers catering to different age and income groups: Chonghsaio East Road was more for your twenty-something working woman; HsinYi area for the ABC crowd; and, Hsimenting, was the most popular area for the high school crowd in Taipei. Recently revamped and closed off to cars, it was a mixture of: high street brands and small designer shops specializing in Japanese young girlie fashion; cinemas, record shops, teahouses, noodle stalls and restaurants; walk down the back alleys and kids were getting tattoos outside on the street; in the main square top Taiwan singers could be found promoting their latest album; music blared from speakers in restaurants, shops and from street stalls competing for public attention; kids practiced hip-hop dance moves, while school uniformed kids wandered around trying to avoid going home to do their homework.
Not only is it the trendiest place for teenagers in Taipei, it is also home to the largest concentration of sixty-plus old men, you could find anywhere in the world outside of a Florida Mall. Of particular curiosity was the McDonalds at the entrance to the labyrinth of streets that made up Hsimenting: old men who you expected to be sat perched over a rice bowl were instead sat picking at their fries and big Mac, taking up its every plastic seat. They were here for the students, not just to look but hopefully to find one who was looking to earn a little extra cash. If they couldn’t get a seat in the McDonalds, they fanned out to the benches outside, always alone, they sat motionless all day, like a reptile; knowing at their ages, with what they had planned, they needed to conserve their energy. Perhaps for weeks...
Back to the show and our first deep insight into the motivations of the teenage mind.
“My mother is at home at the weekends and evening so I only have freedom during the holidays,” replied the girl being interviewed on condition of anonymity. Condition of anonymity on this show was anything but: there was always a mosaic on the face of the person concerned, but then they would be being interviewed wearing their distinctive favorite, striped dress, usually in their living room with their school photos on display behind. For good measure the cameraman would slip revealing the person’s face at least once.
The reporter moved onto the interesting bit. “You think you could show us? For the camera?”
No entrapment issues here, and, of course, because only seeing is believing, they were off to Hsimenting.
They found an unfortunate old man who was going to be the star of the show and she hovered around the garbage bin next to his bench.
He was quick to react for his age. “Mei mei (little sister), would you like to drink tea with me?” he asked. Of course, while he spoke, like a crocodile, he still didn’t move a muscle, trying to control the excitement that would dissipate those energy reserves. It wasn’t code - Teahouses were brothels when he was young.
“What do you want to do?” she asked, a natural at her new role.
“Chat and tea,” he replied.
“How much you give me? I want 1,000,” she said.
“No, we just chat and drink tea. Just let me touch a little. We are friends. Yes, mei mei!”
“I want 1,000 for an hour,” she insisted.
“Mei mei, don’t talk so direct. We discuss on the way, just fun, okay?”
The reporter followed the old man and the student to a hotel. “Why this hotel?” asked the reporter.
“They have a special deal for student. Also they will give you business. Call you up if they have clients,” replied the girl. “But you have to show them your student card first. Proof.”
The program then cut to another girl.
To this day I still wonder if the girl and the old man completed the deal...


Sebastienzn said...

Awesome blog bro just remembered I should say thanks for keeping it up to date.

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