A night at the presidential office: Taiwan enlists YouTubers to help with PR

UNTV News   •   December 20, 2019   •   524

Polish Youtubers Natalia Sitarska (L) and Lukasz Smolinski (R) display their card pass at the entrance of the Presidential Office Building in Taipei, Taiwan, 19 December 2019 (issued 20 December 2019). The couple spent a night inside the Presidential Office Building in Taipei, Taiwan, 19 December 2019. EFE-EPA/RITCHIE TONGO

TAIPEI, TAIWAN – Spending a night in Taiwan’s presidential office building has become a thrill among some of the world’s most popular ‘YouTubers’ over the second half of the year, when the island’s government came up with a campaign to increase its visibility in the real world through the help of the Internet.

Earlier this year, cross-ministerial meetings in Taipei saw tourism and foreign affairs representatives brainstorming on how to break through China’s long-term efforts to undermine Taiwan’s sovereignty in the international community.

Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, welcomed the concept, which was inspired by an initiative launched by the Louvre Museum in Paris and Airbnb – an online marketplace that arranges private short-term lodging – to let people stay one evening in the museum’s pyramid.

In May, Tsai’s entourage released a video of her inviting people to spend a night in her office’s building, without any other details disclosed.

“The campaign’s preliminary started when we released the invitation video. Since Taiwan is the first to do such a thing, it becomes defined as a country throughout the cyber world,” said Lee Hou-ching, the deputy secretary-general of the General Association of Chinese Culture, the civilian organization in charge of the campaign’s production.

“The video received over 5.5 million views within a month since it was released. That is a number that was not equaled by the sum of all the videos’ views made by the president’s entourage. Requests to spend a night in the presidential office came from everywhere in the world, especially celebrities and YouTubers from Japan. Now this is going to be real, what are we going to do?” said Lee.

One of the most difficult aspects was the coordination between government agencies, especially with the office of the president – the palace is one of the most safely-guarded places in Taiwan due to its political importance dating back to the island’s colonial past and its value as a historical monument, according to Lee.

The selection method was made public mid-August. Applicants were asked two questions: “Why do you want to visit Taiwan?” and “How are you going to promote Taiwan?”

When the deadline arrived on Aug. 31, the GACC counted 167 applications from YouTubers and Internet celebrities from 33 different countries.

Among the shortlisted, the GACC chose 10 sets of some of the world’s most influential Internet personalities with significant traffic on their own channels.

The lucky 10 were made up of Kim Juhyeok, a Korean travel photographer and blogger; Ishii Mikiko, a Japanese author and travel blogger; Robert Revesz and Lea Kenesei, who work for Hungary’s biggest travel media, “Turizmus”; Aakash Malhotra and Aparajita Misra, who operate the online marketplace “WanderWithSky” in India, and Calvin Young and Sabrina Walker, a hearing-impaired couple from the United States and Germany who tell their travel stories on Facebook.

In addition, the final selection included Kanisorn Pringthonfoo and Varaporn Rasmeekajorndej, a Thai couple who publish their travel photos on several social platforms; Victor Habchy and Ali Lair, both photographers and photojournalists from France; Nuseir Yassin and Alyne Tamir from Israel and the US, respectively, who manage the “Nas Daily” channel with over 14 million subscribers; Lukas Dean Martin and Sabrina Frances Davidson from Canada, who publish Chopstick Travel, a brand that mainly focuses on food; and Natalia Sitarska and Lukasz Smolinski from Poland, who manage a well-known food blog and run a Taiwanese bubble tea chain store in the Eastern European country.

“Every set of selected YouTubers are all very excited when they set foot in the presidential office. They don’t stop mesmerizing about the architecture and the ambiance in the building. We often have to remind them to calm down and lower their voice,” said Evangeline Tang, GACC’s Media and Communication Supervisor.

Smolinski, the Polish food blogger, appreciated the “Japanese touch” of the room he stayed in with his wife Natalia Sitarska. “The first impression was the smell of the tatami, like in Japan.”

At the earliest, the YouTubers are allowed to check into their suite – a former duty-room for the OOP’s military personnel who needed a place to rest and stay– at 3 pm on a Wednesday.

They are then given a short tour of the suite by personal butlers provided by Caesar Park Hotel Taipei, and they are shown around the prestigious building until 6 pm when the tourism bureau takes them out for dinner at a Michelin restaurant in Taipei.

Back in their room (to which they have to return before 10 pm), they are met with a surprise: a mid-night snack and a welcome letter from president Tsai in person.

“I appreciated the midnight snack. They were some kind of sweet Taiwanese buns. I ate two. They were good,” said Sitarska.

The next morning, the butlers wake them up at 6 am sharp. The guests are invited to the daily national flag-raising ceremony – if they feel like witnessing it – at 6.15. For breakfast, they can choose between the traditional Chinese-style “youtiao” (deep-fried dough stick) with soymilk, beef noodle soup or continental breakfast.

“To our surprise, no one has ever chosen the Western continental in the nine YouTuber sets we attended. The most popular is the ‘youtiao.’ Still, two chose the beef noodle soup, which we normally have for lunch or dinner,” said Tang.

After a guided tour in the building to learn about Taiwan’s development from an authoritarian regime to a democracy, they meet with a reporter of Taiwan’s Central News Agency for an exclusive interview on their unique experience.

“When doing this campaign, the GACC’s staff members feel a lot of emotions, especially when receiving and entertaining those YouTubers. But the rational aspect of it is what we are looking for, which is to let Taiwan have a dialogue with the rest of the world,” said Tang.

No alcohol, lighters or knives are allowed inside the presidential office. EFE-EPA

Check in but go nowhere: Taiwan offers fake flights for travel-starved tourists

UNTV News   •   July 3, 2020

Starved of the travel experience during the coronavirus lockdown? One airport in Taiwan has the solution – a fake itinerary where you check in, go through passport control and security and even board the aircraft. You just never leave.

Taipei’s downtown Songshan airport on Thursday (July 2) began offering travellers the chance to do just that, with some 60 people hungry to get going, albeit to nowhere.

Around 7,000 people applied to take part, with the winners chosen at random. More fake flight experiences will take place in coming weeks.

The passengers got boarding passes, and proceeded through security and immigration before boarding an Airbus A330 of Taiwan’s largest carrier, China Airlines, where flight attendants chatted to them and explained coronavirus prevention methods.

The airport is using the event as a publicity opportunity to show off renovations it has completed while passengers have stayed away.

Songshan usually has flights to Tokyo, Seoul and several Chinese cities, and is also an important domestic hub.

Taiwan has emerged relatively unscathed from the pandemic thanks to early and effective prevention steps, but has largely closed its borders since mid-March and advised its citizens against all overseas travel unless absolutely necessary.

While a handful of international flights have continued, passenger numbers plummeted almost 64 percent in the first five months of 2020 compared with the same period last year, according to the government.

Still, in one bright spot, internal travel is booming.

Taiwan’s two main domestic carriers – China Airlines unit Mandarin Airlines and Eva Air’s Uni Air – have added extra capacity over the summer to Taiwan’s sun-soaked offshore islands and rugged east coast. (Reuters)

(Production: Ann Wang, Martin Pollard, Ben Blanchard)

Taiwan rejects deportation call against Pinay caregiver critical of Duterte

Marje Pelayo   •   April 29, 2020

TAIPEI, Taiwan — The country’s foreign ministry has rejected calls for the deportation of a Filipina caregiver accused of cyber-libel by a Philippine labor official in Taiwan for “willful posting of nasty and malevolent materials against President Duterte.”

In a news conference on Tuesday (April 28), Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) spokeswoman Joanne Ou noted that as a democratic country, Taiwan gives the same treatment to all foreign workers as its own citizens and that “their rights are protected, including freedom of speech.”

Labor Attaché Fidel Macauyag of the Philippines Overseas Labor Office (POLO) in Taichung, Taiwan brought up the issue on the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) website on Saturday (April 25).

In a press statement, Macauyag said the Filipina worker’s action “intended to cause hatred amidst the current global health crisis caused by coronavirus disease (COVID-19).”

The Pinay caregiver,  identified as Elanei Egot Ordidor, is employed in Yunlin County in Taiwan.

The official alleged that Ordidor was using multiple social media accounts and joined groups “organized to discredit and malign the President and destabilize the government.”

He said his staff went to warn the OFW of the consequences of her posts on April 20 to which she conceded and assured to delete them and post a public apology to the President and the Philippines government.

His office also has coordinated with the worker’s broker and employer on her deportation on her supposed violation of the Philippines’ Republic Act No. 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

In an interview with Taiwan’s Central News Agency (CNA), Philippine representative and chair of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) in Taipei, Angelito Banayo said there was no instruction coming from the Philippines regarding the matter. 

He also noted that the order for deportation is a sovereign right of Taiwan being the host government.

“So the question of deportation is something that only the Taiwanese government can decide upon,” he said.

PAL, Cebu Pacific resume PH-Taiwan flights

Marje Pelayo   •   February 17, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Philippine Airlines (PAL) and Cebu Pacific announced the resumption of their respective flights to Taiwan.

The decision came after the Philippine government lifted its travel ban imposed on the island nation due to the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Flag carrier PAL said they will operate the following flight schedule going to and from Taipei Taoyuan International Airport:

February 21 to February 29 (Monday, Wednesday, Friday)

  • PR 890 Manila-Taipei
  • PR 891 Taipei-Manila

March 1 (onwards)

  • PR890 – Manila (6:05 AM) to Taipei (8:30 AM)
  • PR891 – Taipei (9:30 AM) to Manila (11:40 AM)

March 29 (onwards)

  • Standard regular schedule of twice-daily flights
    • (PR890/PR891 and PR894/PR 895)

Meanwhile, Cebu Pacific also announced resumption of the following flights:

February 17 (until further notice)

  • 5J310 Manila-Taipei  (Departs 10:40 pm)

February 18 (until further notice)

  • 5J311 Taipei-Manila  (Departs 1:45am Mon/Wed/Sat; 2:15am Tue/Thu/Fri/Sun)

February 21 (until further notice)

Manila-Taipei

  • 5J 312 (Departs 7:05 am)
  • 5J 310 (Departs 10:40 pm)

Taipei-Manila

  • 5J311 (Departs 1:45 am)
  • 5J313 (Departs 10:45 am)

For passengers who booked the said flights but have not availed for refund will depart as scheduled.

Passengers may also check the status of their flights through Cebu Pacific’s website on the Manage Booking menu.

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