City to begin charging residents to stare at foreigners

May 12, 2001

TAIPEI Mayor Ma Ying-jeou on Saturday touted his latest revenue plan, wherein people would be taxed according to how many foreigners they stared at. “I was attending a rally one day last year, and these two foreigners just showed up,” said Ma at a press conference. “All of the sudden, it was like I wasn’t even there. They were just passing through, but for the rest of the night, all anyone could talk about was all the foreigners they ever knew. It occurred to me then that this kind of behavior was a limitless resource that could be put to use.”

The plan is based not only to staring, but also to other types of undue attention paid to foreigners. “The basic rate will be NT$30 per standard stare. A lingering stare will add NT$5 per second for up to a minute while in motion, and up to five minutes when stationary,” the mayor said of the new law. “Actual pointing will be taxed at NT$50 per point, and the use of words like ‘Big Nose’ or ‘Foreign Devil’ will cost each offender NT$1,000.” Pointing out the need for education of children in the matter, Ma emphasized that parents of children who exhibit such behavior will face especially heavy fines, while parents who actually point out random foreigners to their children will be “slapped up-side the head.”

“I realize that this is just harmless curiosity on the part of basically good-hearted people,” Ma stressed. “But, as mayor of this supposedly ‘international’ city, I have to cringe every time I hear someone complement a foreigner on his or her Chinese after only hearing them speak only two, badly pronounced words. That, by the way, will put you back by about NT$2,000.”

Police officials, armed with video cameras and microphones, were posted in Tianmu, near the World Trade Center/Hyatt complex, and along Zhongxiao East Road last night as the law went into effect.

Some residents voiced protest over the move, which they said is just another scheme to make money for the government.

“It’s well within my rights to stare at foreigners. I have been staring at them for nigh-on 40 years now, and I sure ain’t about to stop now,” one elderly man who operates a sausage stand outside a well-known bowling alley told reporters.

There were also reports of some affluent residents actually using the new law as a way to express their wealth and influence by deliberately gawking at foreigners with complete disregard for the expense involved. “What do I care?” one young women said as she stood next to her triple-parked BMW as police looked on. “I stare at foreigners all the time. They’re so exotic. I feel like I’m part of an HBO movie, and of course I won’t miss the money.”

Police were reportedly ‘unclear’ of what they would do if they found foreigners staring at each other.

Mayor Ma said the profits from the new tax scheme would go towards the funding of yet another incomprehensible street sign naming plan.

This article first appeared in Taiwanease magazine in September 2006