While on my way home today, I was confronted by a table displaying dozens of adorable scarves for 100NT ($3 U.S.).
"My God, I should buy ten of them!" I thought.
Doing so would've compromised my ability to buy next week's bus tickets. To avoid imminent folly I turned my head, intent on staring at the opposing wall until the scarves were safely behind me.
When I turned something else caught my eye - a Chinese guy, about my age, asleep against the wall. He had regrettable dyed-orange hair. I noticed an insignia patch on his sleeve - the SS Bolt. He was wearing big lace-up boots, and his shirt was military-style, black and double-breasted, like a Nazi.
I did several double takes as I walked toward my bus. I wanted to take a picture (after all, he was asleep), but I didn't have my camera on me. Argh! From now on I will bring it everywhere!
I puzzled all the way home. Who was this guy? And ... why?
I figured it was probably an ignorant, tasteless attempt at looking cool. The things that get lost in translation here are amazing - but that's a whole other blog entry. Anyway, when I got home I Googled "Nazism Taiwan," not really expecting to find anything. But lo and behold!
The AP wrote about Neo-Nazism in Taiwan in 2007, and prominent Taiwan blogger Michael Turton wrote about it here and here.
Like the majority of stupid radical ideas the world over, Nazism here is a student movement. The Taiwanese Nazis say it's not about anti-Semitism. They say it's about nationalism, preservation of Chinese values, and imposing limits on the number of foreign workers in Taiwan.
"Hitler did a lot of bad things which I don't condone, but he also turned Germany from a weak and divided nation into a world power. I admire that because unity and strength is what Taiwan needs." said one anonymous proponent, according to Turton's blog archives.
That's like saying, "Gee, you fed me a steamy heap of turds for dinner, but I really like the bowl it came in."
The director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center wrote about Taiwanese Nazism in the Jerusalem Post. He noted Israel has focused most its Holocaust education in places where it seemed necessary; Asia has been pretty much ignored.
The AP said this about local views of Hitler, Nazis and World War Two:
While high school and university courses do cover the European experience during World War II, relatively few Taiwanese understand the revulsion — and the reasons for it — that Nazism conjures up in the West.
Hitler images and iconography have sometimes been used to promote commercial products in Taiwan — including a now-closed Nazi-themed restaurant — on the grounds that the German leader symbolized strength.
There is no indigenous Jewish community on the island, and most Taiwanese seem confused by distinctions among European populations and religions.
My grandparents served in World War Two, a lot of my friend's grandparents served, and for several friends the Holocaust isn't a textbook lesson, it's family history. It makes sense Nazism carries greater weight in my culture than the local one.
But as for the Nazi students, or the people who would construct Nazi-themed restaurants - I don't understand how you get to the part about Hitler as symbol of strength, or the part about nationalism in Hitler's Germany and completely bypass the deaths of six million Jews.
It's probably not worth thinking about too hard. I like to think Nazism gets more media attention than it deserves simply because wherever it crops up it's so shocking.
Granted, I don't know if the guy I saw was a card-carrying member of the local outfit, or just some guy taking a post- costume party nap dressed in deplorable regalia à la Prince Harry.
Suffice it to say, I was shocked.