TAIPEI – The computers and machines at my local bank in Taiwan rely on a particular type of chip to function, and I do not mean the semiconductor kind. These chips are butter and coconut flavored.
Almost every major electronic device in the two-storey Taipei bank is adorned with a bright green bag of puffed corn chips, each packet emblazoned with a picture of a toothy cartoon character donning an oversized hat.
“They’re necessary to keep the machines running properly,” bank teller You Mei-yu told me as she processed a currency exchange transaction.
“We have not had machine breakdowns because of them.”
The supposedly magical snacks are the “Kuai Kuai” (or “guai guai” in pinyin) brand of chips, which means obedient or “be good” in Mandarin. Putting them on top of machines and computers symbolizes the hope for the devices to behave.
“It’s a special tradition in Taiwan,” Ms You added. “Many people do this.”
Indeed, the custom is practiced not only at my bank.
I’ve spotted the savory snacks “powering” devices at various shops and organizations islandwide: a cash register at a ramen outlet in the bustling Banqiao Railway Station in New Taipei city, equipment at an electrical substation in Changhua county in central Taiwan, and a humble inkjet printer at a bed and breakfast in Taitung city in the island’s remote and rural east.
Superstitions are common in many cultures, from the idea in Malaysia that one must bite a new pair of shoes so that they do not pinch; to how in the West, walking under a ladder would bring bad luck; and the old wives’ tale that unmarried couples who visit Indonesia’s Bali would break up.
But the prevalence of such an unscientific practice, on the face of it, is somewhat surprising in an economy known for being a global leader in the production of the other type of chips: the critical, high-tech semiconductors which are found in countless electronic devices such as smartphones, laptops and advanced medical equipment.
Taiwan is estimated to supply more than 60 per cent of the world’s microchips, and 90 per cent of the most advanced ones, making it a crucial player in the global supply chain.
But the Kuai Kuai culture runs deep, even among engineers in Hsinchu Science Park – home of the island’s semiconductor industry – a reflection of how folk traditions and pseudoscience can continue to evolve and thrive in a technologically advanced society.
“Great day in Taiwan meeting with our AMD team,” Ms Lisa Su wrote in a July 2023 post on social media platform packaging.
The Taiwan-born American, who is nicknamed the “Queen of Semiconductors”, is the chair and chief executive of American company Advanced Micro Devices, which produces high-performance computer processors. In the photo, she is flanked by a group of co-workers, including one who is also holding a bag of the chips.
“So much energy, excitement and fun!” she added in the post.