Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Cha-ching! The culture of money.

When I asked for the news release from the distributor of the cracker company, whose butter crackers tested levels of 2.57ppm of melamine, the spokesman pulled out a big manila envelope, and then a smaller envelope that looked unusually bulky. With a shaking hand, he put the smaller envelope into the big envelope and handed it to me. I suspected there was cash in it, and I was right. There must have been at least TWD10.000 packed in there. In front of him and Gu Caiyan, my TVBS colleague that arrived later than I did and was waiting to interview him, I put down the envelope containing the money on the table and left.

This isn’t the first time I’ve run into an interviewer who tried to give me cash. It doesn’t happen often, but in the last 2,5 years, I’ve been passed anywhere between TWD2.000 and TWD35.000 at a time. Of course, I returned all of it and also informed my supervisors of what had happened. After talking to the night shift assignment editor, I learned that it used to be common practice to give money to reporters, and it still happens often in southern Taiwan. I used to feel deeply insulted when offered money by an interviewer, but not so much anymore. I just return it, or have Paul, the deputy managing director to return it for me if I realize after the fact that there’s money in the press kit.

Money as a gift (紅包 “red envelopes” they’re called because they’re put in red envelopes) in Taiwan is an interesting thing, I’m learning. Parents give their children money on their birthday and at Chinese New Year. People give money to newlyweds at their wedding, and to the family of the deceased at funerals (in this case, money is put into white envelopes 白包). In these situations, money gifts seem appropriate, right? I think so. Money to celebrate, money to pay for wedding, money to pay for funeral. Then two years ago, during a political conflict outside of what used to be the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial, one of our cameramen was nearly run over by a truck driven by a crazed protestor. The cameraman was hurt and after returning to the station from the hospital, the general manager of our TV station came and gave him a red envelope with money inside. I didn’t know what to think. It was a culture shock to me. Apparently, it was to help him forget the bad memories of what happened our there, and the auspicious color of red was to suppress the inauspicious event that just occurred. Interesting. If it were me, I think I’d much rather receive a fruit basket, attached by an official order that says to stay home and rest for a week.

Update: I removed the name of the cracker company from this post, at their request.

No comments: