Writer's Block

The USA is the place I was born. Canada is the place I was raised. Taiwan is the place in my heart.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Suicides in Taiwan

Recently there have been two highly publicized suicide cases in Taiwan.

On Aug. 14, 23-year-old model Hsu Tzi-ting jumped from the top of a 15-story department store in Taipei after a quarrel with her boyfriend.

Just last week, on October 20, another young woman, 29-year-old Huang Hsin-yi hanged herself . She was an attractive young woman, the daughter of prominent politicians, and was engaged.

Both of these young women seemed to have it all. What drove them to such drastic measures? Is this society particularly hard on a young woman’s self image? Are suicides more prevalent among females than males?

These are interesting questions. Unfortunately, I don’t have any facts or statistics, to answer these questions, but I do have some of my own theories regarding the high incidence of suicide among Taiwan’s youth.

The evening news is full of reports of increasing cases of violence among the youth of Taiwan- who I will loosely define as those ranging from their teens to twenties. There are also disturbing stories of jilted ex-lovers taking revenge after a breakup by disfiguring or even murdering the object of their unreciprocated affections.

Many will point to the usual scapegoat and blame the media, in particular, the sensationalism of the media in Taiwan.

In Taiwan I think that the culture of materialism is killing the youth. I see it every day when I see my students at school, people younger than me on the street or in department stores- all toting around Louis Vuitton purses, shoulder bags and matching wallets. When a new Louis Vuitton store opens in Taiwan it is a major event. During the opening week the red ropes come out and people queue around the block to enter. It is a national obsession. The frequency with which I see people toting around these things (fake or genuine) makes Louis Vuitton seem like a commodity.

Through discussions in conversation class and compositions in writing class, I have gotten to know my students and to discover what their hopes and dreams are. Most of my students say they’d like to be a model, someone famous, acquire wealth and status and shop, shop, shop. Sadly, I haven’t heard of any aspirations to invent, create or revolutionize the world.

Certainly, many of us have had our own superficial dreams of grandeur in our youth. I myself have aspired to be a contestant in a beauty pageant, a singer, or model. But I’ve also aspired to be a teacher, scientist, reporter, lawyer and writer. It seems to me that the youth of Taiwan get so stuck grasping for shallow ideals, only to either fall short of obtaining them, or upon obtaining material goods or a glamorous, high-profile life- that they are still not happy- so then what’s left? As they keep grasping, they want more and more. Nothing seems to satisfy the void. There’s always something bigger, better, flashier, newer… followed by despondency, frustration, hopelessness, and dissatisfaction.

Not knowing how to else to be happy, they decide life is not worth living. That living is too painful.

Taiwan's suicide rate is 14.1 suicides per 100,000 people. Japan has the highest rate of suicide in Asia with 22 suicides per 100, 000 people.

Another disturbing fact about suicides in Taiwan, is that according to the Taipei Times- Taiwanese parents are three times more likely than Americans to to kill their children along with themselves when they commit suicide .

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