What the Duck is Up With Taiwan’s Yellow Duck?

What the Duck is Up With Taiwan’s Yellow Duck?


The Big Yellow Duck threatening innocent bystanders. Image source:

What would you do if all of the sudden everyone went duck-crazy? Everyone here in Taiwan is going nuts over ducks all of the sudden, or rather, over one duck in particular.

I love ducks. I really do. But I like to eat them. I like my ducks roasted and on my dinner plate. A duck on my plate is a gorgeous sight.

There is one duck I have come to hate, however, and it is the duck that everybody else loves here:  Taiwan’s Yellow Duck.

The Big Yellow Duck has taken Taiwan by storm, and I have no idea why. I was perplexed by the Duck for ages before I got the full details. What is it for? Why would anyone make such a thing? Why is everyone fawning over this fantastic fowl? What the Duck?

The Big Yellow Duck (as it is called in Taiwan) is an 18 meter-tall (59 feet) replica of a classic rubber ducky that looks like the one you might have played with in the bathtub as a kid. It inflates and floats in the harbor of big cities and creates crowding and mass hysteria. To top it off, it occasionally explodes!

It was originally an art installation created in 2007 by Florentijn Hofman, a Dutch artist. The Yellow Duck floated around the harbor of Amsterdam for a project called, “Spread Joy Around The World”. The purpose of this, it turns out, was to inspire goodwill and make everyone feel happy.

Since 2007 the Yellow Duck has been all over the world to 11 different countries, including Taiwan. Everywhere it goes it draws crowds of admirers who take millions of photos. But why? It’s a rubber duck.

roast duck

The best ducks are ROASTED

Ok, it is a big rubber duck.

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What really grinds my gears is the marketing that it has inspired. Everywhere you look there is something with the Yellow Duck on it. If you go into a stationary store or a bookstore your eyes will be burning with yellow tracers after you leave; the Yellow Duck is on everything from pencils, pencil cases, lunch boxes, and notebooks to coffee mugs, backpacks, and t-shirts. The night markets are full of Yellow Duck items as well.

Yellow Duck socks! Woo!!

I have a friend and colleague, (Let’s not use his real name. Let’s call him Dean) and he is absolutely obsessed with the Duck. He’s has a Yellow Duck thermos, a Yellow Duck mouse pad, a Yellow Duck shirt, and a Yellow Duck change purse. He’s even got Yellow Duck house slippers, too (the big plush ones). When I asked him why he loves the Yellow Duck so much, he shrugged and said with a smile, “It’s just cool and I’m a slave to fashion.”

duck backpack

Every kid needs a Big Yellow Duck backpack

I must admit those slippers do look warm… but I still don’t understand the big deal.

Taiwan’s Yellow Duck first came to my attention last year. The Yellow Duck arrived in Taiwan first in Kaohsiung and then visited Taoyuan and Keelung. My wife and I happened to be vacationing in Kaohsiung the very weekend it first arrived. There was a buzz on the streets. This was the day that they were inflating the Yellow Duck  for the very first time in Taiwan. Everyone we talked to noted we were visitors, and without exception asked us if we were going to see the Big Yellow Duck. When we asked what it was, most people just shrugged and said, “It’s a big, yellow rubber duck,” as if that were explanation enough. That description wasn’t inviting enough to distract me. We didn’t think much of it until the tenth person asked us about it. Then the confusion set in, laced with curiosity.

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The next day, we found ourselves in the general vicinity of the harbor. We saw people walking around with Yellow Duck balloons. My wife suggested we go check it out just to see what all the fuss was about. As it turns out, they had to deflate the Yellow Duck and store it because a massive typhoon was on its way, so there was nothing to see. That didn’t deter people from going to the “holy site” on which it had been floating and basking in the glory of the Yellow Duck’s afterglow. It was like thousands of people saying, “The Big Yellow Duck was right here! I feel better already!”

We did see the Yellow Duck the next day, but it was from the observatory of Kaohsiung’s tallest building, the 85 Tower, halfway across town. It was a dreary day, not rainy, but with poor visibility. Still we could see the Yellow Duck in the distance, surrounded by a gigantic crowd of onlookers. I took a photo of the harbor from far away, and even though the Yellow Duck was just a yellow speck, when you zoom in you can see it clearly.

The following Monday at school, my students were overall in a bad mood. They had all had a long weekend off like me, and weren’t happy about being back in school. After break time, I decided to see what I could do to cheer them up. The jokes I told flopped. My dancing didn’t even garner a giggle. So I said, “Hey, guess what I saw over the weekend in Kaohsiung?” I whipped out the photo of the duck and zoomed in. There was silence…and then they went ballistic! They were so excited to hear that I had seen the Yellow Duck, so impressed at my impeccable cultural taste, and so jealous that I had seen it before them. I was, for about 55 minutes, a god in their eyes. The Yellow Duck saved my class.

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So again I ask, “What the duck?” Well, I still don’t have a definitive answer. But I have observed that The Yellow Duck makes people smile, creates positive energy, and makes people happy wherever it goes. Anything that does that can’t be bad, right? In fact, the world could probably use a lot more things like the Big Yellow Duck.

little big duck

Sheesh! Even my wife Courtney loves the Big Yellow Duck…

I still want to burn Dean’s slippers though.


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