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Tsai Ing-wen

Why a clock was absolutely the wrong gift for Texas governor to give Taiwan’s President Tsai

Greg Abbott apparently didn’t understand the cultural significance of giving a clock to visiting Taiwanese president

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 January, 2017, 8:02am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 January, 2017, 9:37am

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen received a clock from her host during her overnight stay in Houston – a gift she might not want.

In concluding their meeting by exchanging gifts on Sunday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott handed Tsai a clock bearing the Texas state seal in return for a vase given to him by the island's president, according to Abbott’s office.

Giving a clock as a gift is an absolute no-no in places where the Chinese language is spoken, especially in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the mainland. That’s because in both Mandarin and Cantonese, the phrase for “giving a clock” sounds the same as the phrase used for bidding farewell to the deceased.

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Clocks also symbolise that time is running out so when a timepiece is given as a gift, the suggestion to the recipient is the end of a relationship and life is soon.

Two years ago, a similar gift caused embarrassment when visiting British transport minister Susan Kramer gave a pocket timepiece to her host, Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je.

Ko later told reporters he would sell it as scrap, a remark for which the politician – who has been called a “loose cannon” in Taiwan – later apologised.

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Tsai’s US stopovers – including Houston where she stayed overnight from Saturday, and San Francisco where she will stop on Friday at the end of her Central American visits to four allies – have irked Beijing, which sees Taiwan as a breakaway province and has warned Washington against admitting her.

Tsai later left Houston for Honduras – the first leg of the visits that will take her to Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador.

This time she received an auspicious sign – pouring rain upon her arrival at the airport in Tegucigalpa.

Tsai said Honduran Vice-President Ricardo Alvarez Arias informed her that water meant wealth or good fortune.