As someone who’s worked in the media for years, it’s easy to tell when people that love to get interviewed play themselves up for the camera. It becomes really clear really fast when someone is trying to craft a particular image of themselves. While I was interviewing National Cheng Kung University Vice President Fong-Chin Su, one thing he said was incredibly touching because of his natural sincerity. “Most of the time we can do something meaningful only after we understand our cultural differences,” Su said. After I turned off my voice recorder, I got a chance to chat with Vice President Su and hear his thoughts on life. Both times I interviewed Su, he had a striking resemblance to Jang-Hwa Leu, former Director General of the Industrial Development Bureau, because he was very kind to the administrative staff around campus. Su said, “I’m really close to Director General Leu. We both grew up in poor farming families, so I treat everyone with a level of respect. A lot of academicians have achieved much more than I have and still remain down to earth. They’ve been true role models in my own personal development.”
Picture 1: Taking a Picture with Fong-Chin Su, Cheng Kung University’s Friendly Vice President (Photo Taken by Pei Lin Lin)
Rapidly Forming Ties in Post-pandemic Exchange Between Taiwan and Thailand Through Cheng Kung University Academic-Industry Connections
As the pandemic gradually slows down and borders open up, Vice President Fong-Chin Su has jet set in and out of Taiwan three times. One of these trips brought him to six of the best universities in Thailand. His top priority was to promote the Taiwan Center for Smart Healthcare Science and Technology in Thailand, which is a collaboration between Cheng Kung University and Mahidol University.
Vice President Su was overjoyed when he said, “It’s really been forever since I’ve met with the president of Mahidol University. We are both founding members of the Asian-Pacific Association for Biomechanics, but we’ve been good friends for more than 18 years. While I was still at the Ministry of Technology (as the Deputy Minister), I invited the president of Mahidol University to Taiwan to speak at the first Yushan Forum. The last time I saw him he told me he wants to send his son who’s a doctor to Cheng Kung University College of Medicine for further training!”
10 years ago, Fong-Chin Su was the director of Cheng Kung University’s Medical Device Innovation Center. Back then, he thought that in addition to the US and Europe, Southeast Asia would be an important partner for Taiwan in the future. Therefore, he brought together countless companies throughout Taiwan to form the National Medical Team. To date, Cheng Kung University has established three Science and Technology Innovation Centers in Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia under the New Southbound Policy.
Su asked me, “Why are connections between industry and academia so important? It’s because such a platform naturally links up all relevant stakeholders such as the government, key opinion leaders, small and medium-sized businesses in Taiwan, and business agents from foreign countries. For instance, when we told the founder of a Taiwanese startup we were going to Thailand in July, he made a point of flying all the way from Indonesia to meet up and serve as our bridge to the Thai government. I also started the Master Program in Biomedical Engineering Department/International Medical Device Innovation at Cheng Kung University. One of the graduates was a foreign student from Thailand whose uncle is a medical device agent with 3000 people working under him. The agent always had hoped to import high-quality medical devices from Taiwan into Thailand. We’ve depended solely on this one student to link up Taiwan and Thailand’s respective medical device industries. This type of platform creates multilateral networks and innovative ecosystems much more easily than business matchmaking.”
Picture 2: Vice President Fong-Chin Su (Third from the Left) Leading a Team to Visit Mahidol University Faculty of Dentistry Dean Dr. Sirichai Kiattavorncharoen (Third from the Right) in July 2022 (Photo Courtesy of Fong-Chin Su)
Connecting Training Between Taiwan and Thailand—Initiatives on New Forward-thinking Science and Technology
The world now pays more attention to the latest developments in smart medicine and precision health because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Even though border controls have limited the closeness of in-person interaction recently, Taiwan and Thailand have made do by holding virtual symposiums once a month. By working tirelessly to provide information on the latest innovative topics, the Cheng Kung University Project Team has hosted regular exchanges that have grown to over 200 participants. These monthly symposiums have given the representatives of industry, academia, government, and research institutions from over 10 countries a venue to learn from each other.
After hosting hybrid events during the pandemic, Vice President Su stated that he wants to resume in-person international exchange because he thinks we can only expand into new frontiers by training international leaders. For instance, many European countries and the US train future international leaders by sending students to Taiwan for summer internships. However, international exchange must move in both directions. For instance, Southeast Asian countries don’t just send their students to Taiwan. Cheng Kung University also sent five medical engineering students to intern at Mahidol University. In the future, these students will naturally become leaders when they enter the working world because they now possess cross-cultural communication skills.
In addition to training, world-class universities must face global challenges with forward-thinking policy and concrete action. For instance, during the pandemic, R&D increased in areas such as telemedicine, digital medicine, and digital health. Even though Taiwan’s medical technology has stayed relevant, rapid regulatory reform and a shift in public-sector mindset are necessary because Southeast Asia has gotten ahead of Taiwan in terms of loosening relevant regulations.
Picture 3: Vice President Fong-Chin Su with Medical Engineering Students at a Hybrid Workshop Co-organized by Chulalongkorn University (Photo Courtesy of Vice President Fong-Chin Su)
Promoting Mutual Understanding Through Local Experiences
During the interview, Vice President Su mentioned that he once visited the president of an Indonesian university and the dean of a dentistry college on the outskirts of Jakarta. As Su was leaving, the university president asked him how he got to campus from downtown. Su said that he took the train. The university president was shocked. He thought the train station was old and dirty so most people from abroad arranged their own transportation. Su looked at the university president, smiled, and said, “Taking public transit is an important part of understanding the local culture.” Su was able to experience the friendliness of Indonesian people by actually mixing it up with locals on the ground. For instance, the train conductor was concerned that Su and his team would miss their stop because they didn’t understand the local language. Therefore, the conductor went out of his way to let them know when they were about to arrive. Su’s experience shows that having an ongoing partnership based on mutual understanding needs time, effort, awareness, and an intention to meet each other’s needs.
Creating Respect and Equity through Cultural Literacy
It’s fitting to reiterate Su’s moving words from the beginning of this article to wrap things up. “Most of the time we can do something meaningful only after we understand our cultural differences.” Vice President Su said this in the context of the Taiwanese media using the word “demented” to describe a condition that Japanese people call “cognitive loss.” Afterward, the rare appearance of a derogatory term showed up in the Taiwanese lexicon due to the media’s influence. In this vein, the international community thinks the way people talk is the biggest difference between Taiwan and China. This discrepancy comes down to education and a willingness to create mutual understanding, cooperation, and benefit by respecting cultural differences.
This idea has resonated deeply during Cheng Kung University’s time in Malaysia. Vice President Su mentioned that he didn’t establish connections through other ethnically Chinese people or former classmates when he first got to Malaysia. On the contrary, Su directly linked up with the president and dean of the top school in the country—The University of Malaya. Su said he will always remember that the school’s staff was completely absent of ethnically Chinese people and entirely Malay. This stands in stark contrast to Thailand’s top medical school, in which 90% of the people are ethnically Chinese.
Su has gradually come to understand Malaysia’s complex tapestry of ethnic, political, cultural, and religious identities. After getting a better grasp of the situation, Cheng Kung University’s organizations at the University of Malaya organized activities such as jog-a-thons with the Cheng Kung University Association for Ethnically Chinese Students to give back to the school. The interaction of ethnically Chinese medical and academic institutions with their local counterparts has slowly created mutual understanding and dissolved long-standing discrepancies in the distribution of medical resources.
All people are created equal, but this doesn’t mean we are all the same. For Vice President Su, having the chance to bring people closer together is a deeply meaningful endeavor.
Picture 4: Vice President Fong-Chin Su Showing Me Around Cheng Kung University (Photo Taken by Pei Lin Lin)
Pei-lin Lin obtained her B.A. in Philosophy from Fu Jen University and her M.A in Political Science from National Taiwan University. Lin embodies a humanistic literacy and political sensibility. In recent years, Lin has collaborated with the Taiwanese government to shoot videos promoting various policies. Currently, Lin splits her time between running a Chan Lands Ltd., Zongdipan, making documentary films and hosting the podcast “Human Translation Machine.” In the past, Lin has been a reporter for several media outlets and the anchor of shows on TVBS, CBC and Da Ai Television. While at Da Ai Television, Lin’s piece “Muhammad Yunus- Savior of the Poor,” was nominated at the First Taiwan Golden Wheel Awards for Outstanding Television News Feature.