By Mark Johanson
What's a good way to drum up interest in your city and generate tens of millions of dollars in the process? If you are Kaohsiung -- Taiwan's second-largest city, located on the opposite side of the island from Taipei -- you do everything in your power to lure an outsized version of an age-old tub toy to your harbor. Behold the 18-meter (59-foot) rubber ducky.
Some 200,000 eager fans -- including dozens decked out in duck costumes -- lined the shores of Kaohsiung's harbor last Thursday to welcome the 1,000-kilogram (2,205-pound) floating duck to Taiwan. Yet, the festivities were short-lived. Just 24 hours later, the duck was gone.
It wasn't an act of vandalism, an art heist or a deflating leak. Organizers plucked the duck out of the water and put it back in its industrial coop Friday amid the threat of Typhoon Usagi, which brushed the southern coast of Taiwan over the weekend.
Two days of duck drama only served to catapult the toy to iconic status in Taiwan, and it lured another 100,000 spectators to Kaohsiung's Glory Pier and Love Pier early Sunday for a re-welcoming ceremony.
%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%The beloved duck itself is the brainchild of Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, and it's his largest yet to nest in Asia. Hofman has made a name for himself over the last six years by transporting his playful installations to 15 cities, including Sao Paulo, Osaka, Sydney and Auckland -- all in the name of "spreading joy around the world."
Before arriving in Taiwan last week, versions of the rubber ducky also graced Hong Kong's Victoria Harbor and a Beijing park. Both of those inflatables had widely-publicized issues with deflation, but the team in Kaohsiung said they had created a new air pump and duck design to ensure the art maintains its bulbous figure.
Kaohsiung officials hope their new inanimate guest can attract more than 3 million visitors to the city and generate $33.71 million dollars for local businesses in the process, according Kaohsiung Information Bureau Director General Lai Jui-lung. Lai said many businesses in the area had developed tour packages and products based around the duck's visit.
If the plan seems a bit outlandish, consider this: The duck lured half a million people in its first three days in the harbor, and its dedicated website has already sold out of some of the official authorized rubber duck merchandise. Its arrival in Taiwan alone is a testament to just how eager Kaohsiung was to secure the honor. Hofman said recently that more than 300 other cities had contacted him in hopes of turning their harbors into proverbial bathtubs.
Pending any natural disasters or mechanical failures, the Kaohsiung duck will remain in the city until Oct. 20, before migrating north to Taoyuan (Oct. 26-Nov. 10) and Keelung (beginning Dec. 21). Expect to see even more ducks in even more cities in 2014.
By Mark Johanson