Taipei Times. Vol. 4. No. 241. February 10, 2003. p. 8

 

"AMERICA SEEN FROM AFAR"

My wife and I just relocated from New York City to the small town of Wufeng in central Taiwan. The town doesn’t even have a movie theatre so we got cable and subscribed to HBO. Last night we watched our first movie, which my wife chose because of its title — the 1981 film “Escape from New York.”

“This is trash,” I said, after checking it out on the HBO website. I saw it was showing not just in Taiwan, but on HBO all across Asia.

“Doesn’t matter,” she said. So we switched it on.

We could not exactly believe our eyes at first. The initial scenes portrayed a passenger plane commandeered by a suicide-bent terrorist pilot crashing headlong into a tall boxy skyscraper in lower Manhattan. If it wasn’t the World Trade Center, it certainly looked like it. Besides, the film’s whole plot revolved around the twin towers. In a scene that was particularly chilling for us to watch, the impact of the plane with the building was depicted in graphic detail on a computer screen. I was astonished to discover that for two decades America has been fobbing this image off on TV viewers around the world. Someone watched the film, I’m certain, in Al Qaeda and got the idea for 9/11 from it.

The film reeked of America’s hatred of New York and its then decaying urban center that I remember only too well from back in those years. It’s so amazing we can export our own hatred of New York and give it to others on the other side of the world, along with a detailed blueprint of its most vulnerable point and how to strike at that.

Even what our enemies do comes from us. We Americans ourselves create so many of the problems we blame on others. This awareness is lacking in the American leadership today. If President Bush could live for just one day in this small Taiwanese town, he would see just how pervasive America is. No matter where he turned, he’d find America’s footprints. I walked into the store the other day to buy Maxwell House Coffee. The Chinese music playing over the loudspeaker sounded so familiar. Then I recognized it was “Oh Susanna!” Then I noticed the words being sung in a Chinese accent were English. “I come from Alabama with a banjo on my knee.”

No matter where you go here you meet America in the heart of the people, or you read America, or view it, or wear it, or eat it, or drink it. The Cabernet Sauvignon they sell in the supermarket here is Gallo, from California. We drove way up into the mountains and there, atop a peak, — found a Starbucks. Billed as “the highest Starbucks in Taiwan,” it was filled with young people. Without doing anything in particular out of the ordinary, America is already all over the place. I couldn’t see this from inside the country and suspect President Bush can’t either. He seems to imagine he has to do something big and invasive. Not so. A far more subtle process is already at work. He’s going to ruin it.

America is a giant among nations. It’s a natural trait for the tall guy to stoop a bit — make himself seem smaller than he really is. Bullying and insulting friends, twisting arms here and there to get what he wants, showing that he doesn’t care what the others think — this isn’t the way a true giant acts. America is not behaving as it should. This is the feeling you get over here.

“With a true leader, no one knows he’s leading,” said Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese sage. Subtlety, tact, a willingness to respect the will of the majority — and maybe even a modicum of self-understanding — these are the traits the world is looking for in the superpower today but not finding.