Made in Taiwan

It Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

By Jamie Elvidge, Photography by Jamie Elvidge

In addition to products looking for distributors, the show was attended by dozens of companies looking for parts contracts. Among them are Ducati and Harley-Davidson, two staunchly nationalistic brands that have jumped on the outsourcing bandwagon. The global economic crisis has created a big moment for Taiwan. While the country’s manufacturing quality has improved, costs have remained low. That has prompted established brands to look to Taiwan for parts, while introducing their own technologies and demand for higher quality, elevating the industry as a whole. While the country produces parts for European, Japanese and American brands, it’s clear from the number of new brands on the showroom floor that Taiwan someday hopes to see its own machines on the main stage.

That would be a tough row to hoe, especially when you consider how brands like Ducati and Harley-Davidson are embedded in the consumer psyche. Ironically, on my third night in Taipei, I help celebrate the first anniversary of the city’s only Harley dealer. The facility is absolutely palatial—totally hip and glamorous—and overflowing with bikes and revelers. We spit-roast a hog right on the sidewalk, and people honk wildly as they drive by. There are also plenty of pig’s feet—a Taiwanese staple—to go around. I’m down with Hogs, but not hog’s feet!

Having toured several motorcycle plants in America, Europe and Japan, I’m curious to see the Taiwanese factories in action. So in the morning I jump on the high-speed railway and head to the island’s largest manufacturing hub, Kaohsiung, to visit TGB and Kymco. The volume of production is massive, especially at Kymco, and the facilities are stringently run. Though the assembly workers are under intense pressure to perform and pace quota, there’s a feeling of calmness similar to that in the Japanese factories. I return to Taipei impressed with the cleanliness, efficiency and precision of the facilities. Any lingering preconceptions about the quality of Taiwanese manufacturing have evaporated.

On my last night in Taiwan, I hire a car to take me to the Modern Toilet, where I do indeed eat tasty curry from a cute little potty. But the place is so phony that I’m embarrassed to be there. It’s a tourist trap, and has nothing to do with the aspects of modern Taiwanese culture that I’ve grown to respect and enjoy. Like other presumptions Westerners may have about this country, Snake Alley is a totally conjured notion. What’s being “Made in Taiwan” today deserves the world’s full attention and open-minded enthusiasm.

Well, everything except the pig’s feet.

By Jamie Elvidge
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