Tuesday, May 18, 2010

705 To Change A Light Bulb

705 To Change A Light Bulb

(TAIPEI) -- There's the old joke, and you've heard it. "How many Teamsters does it take to change a light bulb?" Answer: "twenty three. You want to make something of it?" People who dislike unions have always thought they "required" too many people on any given job. So how many Taiwanese does it take to change a light bulb? Lots. And that's good. There is no shortage of help.

The minimum wage here is 17,280 NT, New Taiwan Dollars, a month. That's $542.15 USD. A major expense for most of us is covered, sort of. Universal health care has been in place here for 15 years. And according to studies the system may have its flaws and inequities, but basically it works. So while the wages are low, no one is running around worried to death about the cost of a catastrophic or even minor ailment. The money can be used otherwise.

In America we have become accustomed to endless waiting, usually because there isn't enough help. Here, the hospital has enough clerks and nurses and dental assistants and accounting people. There are what we used to call "Traffic Brownies," people to keep things more or less moving on the street. There are rush hour platform agents in the subways who keep things moving. The banks have enough tellers. The supermarkets have enough check out people. The street side parking garages have enough attendants.

As Americans we may look at this as over employment, too many people. We are so used to insufficient we don't recognize sufficient when we see it. Those of us who remember conductors on buses, full time handymen in apartment houses, two guys behind a soda fountain counter, five clerks on duty in the deli, car inspectors on the subway and rail platforms, beat walking cops, two daily deliveries of mail and street sweepers are jarred back to an earlier time by the abundance of help.

The unemployment rate here is just under six percent. And that's the highest it's been in seven or eight years. So, yes, the global economic woes hit here, too. But there are plenty of jobs available here, and yes, you can make ends more or less meet on that 17-thou a month.

From the perspective of a tourist, especially an impatient New York tourist, you can't do better than this.


--Chinglish, as they call it, can lead to some interesting constructions. So you may smile when you see a sink with a sign that reads "automatic sensoring faucet," or puzzle the meaning of a sign that says "visitor stop" over a doorway. But chances are that their English is a whole lot better than your Mandarin.

--In doing some research for the health insurance aspect of this post, one thing leaped off the page. Taiwan has an obesity problem, it said? So where do my fellow fatties hide? Haven't spotted more than a handful in two weeks of walking the streets here.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2010

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