Tsai Ing-wen Clocked in Texas

Every country is filled with rich history, traditions, and customs that are what make that nation what it is. Part of receiving foreign diplomats and royalty is to understand those cultural significances – especially when giving gifts. Texas governor Greg Abbott apparently didn’t get the memo.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen is making a four-country tour of Taiwan’s allies in central America, visiting Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador. But first, a pit stop in the United States. President Tsai stayed overnight in Houston, Texas Saturday, exchanging gifts with Governor Abbott Sunday.

President Tsai presented the governor with a lovely vase from her home island, and Governor Abbott? Well, he presented something not so lovely.

Abbott gave president Tsai a clock bearing the Texas state seal, according to the governor’s office. This may seem like an innocuous or even nice gift, but if Abbott had bothered to do his homework on his guest he would have known that giving a clock as a gift to a person from Chinese-speaking nations, especially Taiwan, China, and Hong Kong, is a huge n0-no.

This is because in both Mandarin and Cantonese the word for “clock” 鐘 is pronounced the same as the word for “end”, 終. So, “giving [the gift of] a clock” 送鐘 sounds the same as sending someone off to their end 送終. Clocks also signify that time is running out, as if you are blatantly pointing out to the receiver that his/her time is running out. If these are not reasons to abandon your clock gift, then I don’t know what is.

While President Tsai may have handled the gift-exchange with diplomacy and poise, Governor Abbott should have understood the cultural implications of such a gift, saving himself the embarrassment of this massive blunder.

Tsai Ing-wen will make a stopover in San Francisco on her way back to Taiwan. Hopefully Governor Abbott is not there to greet her – or if he is, please don’t make it be with a clock.