Last week, all of us in MECO received our consumption stimulus vouchers from the Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
For a one thousand NT dollar expense, we got three thousand dollar valued spending vouchers, which one could use to pay for practically anything, from food in restaurants and “ipay-ipay” food stalls (their version of our neighborhood carinderia), to the groceries and supermarkets to shopping in malls anywhere in the country.
The stimulus vouchers in effect give a person a 66.66-percent discount on every use.
It was unveiled some two months ago for their nationals and expanded in mid-November to include even diplomatic staff. I would not be surprised if in the next phase, they would include overseas contract workers.
The intention of this stimulus program is quite apparent: to pump prime the economy by getting more purchasing power in the hands of consumers. Not only does it perk up the economy, even if Taiwan’s expert handling of the coronavirus contagion did not cause a recession, as in almost every other country of the world. It also gives a psychological sense of normalcy, even if Taiwanese hardly panicked over the pandemic as their government never imposed a lockdown.
The stimulus voucher works like cash, except that you cannot expect change if your 20 and 50 dollar-denominated paper bills are paid to the cashier. You need to fork over some cash if your purchase exceeds the amount on the face of the voucher.
The consumption stimulus is a one-time shot in the arm for the economy, particularly aimed at the small and medium-scale enterprises that have suffered from a lack of tourists and foreign visitors.
Taipei has had some very outstanding performances of late. Two weeks ago, the inimitable YoYo Ma, the world-renowned Taiwanese-American-French cellist, without doubt the inheritor of the greatest cellist of the 20th century, Spain’s Pablo Casals, gave a masterful solo rendition of six Bach symphonies through all of two hours in the newly-built Taipei Music Center with an audience of some 4,000 paying high-priced but value-for-money tickets. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, just as my watching Zubin Mehta’s final world tour at the Taiwan National Concert Hall was.
Last week, we were invited by the Taipei Philharmonic to a concert of its Youth Ensemble, where eighty young boys and girls masterfully played beautiful classics under the baton of You Jia-fa and the energetic Liu Bo-hong.
Particularly endearing were the performances of a 13-year old Filipina-looking girl, Zheng An-jie, who played Sarasate’s popular Zigeunerweisen, and 11-year old, dimunitive Qiu Yu-en who started playing the violin at age 5, and his rendition with orchestral accompaniment of Mendelssohn’s violin concerto in E minor.
The audience warmly applauded, with feet stomping and hand clapping, the sonorous cadence of the happy finale, the overture from Offenbach’s Orphee aux Enfers, which children connect to Disney cartoons.
Taiwan’s cultural fare never seizes to enthrall.