I was having tea at a coffee shop with my friend Roy and his girlfriend Cherry tonight when Roy caught me ogling an extremely good-looking man sitting in a corner in front of a laptop.
"Handsome, right?" he asked, nudging me a little.
I flushed, embarrassed at having been caught staring, and admitted that he was indeed rather attractive.
Roy shrugged. "He's a singer. He was a celebrity." He leaned forward and repeated for emphasis, "Was."
I find the celebrity culture in Taiwan a little baffling, to tell the truth. Here this guy who apparently used to be quite famous was sitting off to the side of some nondescript coffee shop minding his own business, and all the rest of the people in the place knew who he was and were just kind of ignoring him. No one was pointing or staring or whispering behind his hand like they would have with a has-been in America. He was just another guy who at one point happened to have been famous. Roy would never have even thought to mention it to me if he hadn't noticed me looking at him.
The thing is that for as small as Taiwan is - the population of Taipei isn't much more than that of Seattle - they still manage to produce a thriving pop culture that's almost on par with our own, if on a somewhat smaller scale. They have the beauty magazines and the pop stars and the famous models, and it's a culture that extends across the strait and into the mainstream on the super-populated mainland. What the Taiwanese don't seem to have much of, however, is the culture of idolotry that we tend to. My sneaky suspicion is that the size of Taiwan makes it a little more difficult to be high-and-mighty, because at any point any of your fans could bump into you on the street...