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Vincentian is darling of Taiwanese press during President Ma’s visit

Vincentian is darling of Taiwanese press during President Ma’s visit

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Gordon Shallow, newly appointed curator of the Botanic Gardens, is already beginning to make a name for himself, inside and outside of the Gardens.{{more}}

The Kingstown native was recently praised by local and Taiwanese officials for the professionalism he displayed during the visit of the President of the Republic of China (Taiwan) Ma Ying-jeou.

Shallow, curator since April, was thrust into the spotlight last Saturday, when he introduced President Ma and invited him to plant a wax apple tree in the gardens. He also drew attention when he offered the opening prayer, in English and Mandarin, at the reception held in Ma’s honour at the Beachcombers Hotel, later that evening.

His fluency in Mandarin, eloquence and confidence, left residents and vistors, officials and journalists, wide-eyed and with dropped jaws.

On both occasions, Shallow was mobbed by Taiwanese media, who, throughout the day, seemed awestruck by everything Vincentian.

The foreigners could not get enough of local musicians on their steel pans, and even took time out to sing songs in Mandarin with Vincentians who had studied in Taiwan.

During an interview with SEARCHLIGHT, Shallow spoke of the foreign media’s reaction.

“Journalism in Taiwan is slightly different from here. Whereas we might focus on more serious and more topical issues, they would sometimes take a parochial approach,” he explained.

“It was nothing really serious (they asked). It was just some trivial stuff: What I thought about the president; what I thought about him coming to St Vincent; do I think he should have come; what are my views of Taiwan; is there anything I liked in Taiwan; how long I was there…. Nothing too serious as such.

“I just basically answered and said the president is one of the best guys ever, a really handsome guy, basically to big him up, as we say in our culture, and told them that it was meaningful that he made this trip. He didn’t necessarily have to come to St Vincent; the purpose was to see the inauguration in Paraguay and I thought it was extremely important that he does something like that, because that is the only ally that they have in Central America right now, and him passing in St Vincent was just along the way, so we are very grateful that he did, and really strengthening the ties here.”

The plant pathologist, who studied in Taiwan from 2005 to 2010, said that he had no idea that his latest career move would have brought him full circle to meeting the president, whom he had known since the head of state was the mayor of Taipei.

A former student of the Kingstown Anglican School, the St Joseph’s Convent Marriaqua and the St Vincent and the Grenadines Community College, Shallow said that the opportunity to represent his country and meet the president was a surreal experience.

“It was actually one of those things that you never really plan for. It was one of those deep historic moments; it was really outside of the person itself, because it is something that impacts the country on a whole, but it really had a special place for me, in terms of the historic value, everything just happened to fall in line and so it is not something I would have thought of as a matter of fact.

“I told him I knew him when he was the mayor of Taipei, because I participated in dragon boat races over there. The school had not won a race in 10 years, but when I was there, the only Vincentian on the team at that time… and we won the Taipei county mixed team race and Taipei city races, the certificates that we got were all signed by the mayor who is now the president…. So, being there in university and seeing him going on to become president, I knew that he would have won.”

The current president of the SVG Taiwan Alumni Association said that it was an honour to make Vincentians proud, and used the opportunity to urge Vincentians to “think more of themselves.”

Admitting his bias, he also advocated that Vincentians make an attempt at learning the Chinese language.

“We are a people who are very capable of accomplishing anything,” he pointed out.

“I remember in my college years, the Prime Minister (Ralph Gonsalves) talked about the Education Revolution when it was really starting, and that everybody was ‘a billion dollar child’, and I remember that even more so him saying that when Caribbean people, with the emphasis on Vincentians, are given a level playing field, that we always come out on top….

“People think that the Chinese language is so hard to learn, but it isn’t, and Vincentians, from my active observation, have the greatest opportunity and ease to learn the language and to learn it proficiently with proper pronunciation and fluency, because it’s in our local palete already, which is what we call our dialect.

“If you say ‘na’ and point, that means ‘there.’ If you say ‘yow’ that means ‘to want’, and if you say ‘how,’ that actually means ‘yes’ or ‘good’ or ‘ok.’

Vincentians can, learn Chinese so easy its amazing…. It is not as hard as we think. There may be some challenges, but I might even dare say that it is easier than French and Spanish to an extent.”(JJ)

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