Taiwan has always had a close relationship with Alaska due to coal imports and the friendship of the Murkowski political family, father and daughter both.
But now comes a new kind of relationship, and this one's for children in Taiwan -- and the U.S. -- where a coin-operated arcade game called "Hit, Hit, Alaska" has been selling like hotcakes. The Alaska-themed game was the brainchild of Ben Lu, who runs an arcade firm in Taipei called Saint Fun.
In Chinese, the game's name means "Ice Hunters."
Since 2009, Saint Fun has been selling the game in Russia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Japan as well, according to Rita Lai, a Saint Fun office staffer in Taipei.
When a reporter who spent 12 years living in Alaska spotted a "Hit, Hit, Alaska" machine in the lobby of local supermarket in south Taiwan, he couldn't help but chuckle at the thought of Taiwanese children (and some adults) having fun whacking penguin icons on the colorful arcade console. A good player can win extra points and get a free game as well.
Other icons in the game include such Alaska wildlife and sea mammals as a walrus, a turtle and an octopus.
"The animals appear from ice holes, and players try to whack them on the head to try to force them back into the holes," Lai said in a recent email. "It's quite popular in Taiwan."
The game has also been sold in arcade shops in the Philippines and Singapore, she said, but it has not yet made it to any malls or supermarkets in Alaska.
When asked if her boss has ever visited Alaska, Lai replied: "Not yet."
The game's penguins, while cute and naughty, do not actually live in Alaska -- or anywhere in the Arctic. Most penguins make their home in Antarctica. But it's just an arcade game, and most children outside Alaska won't even notice.
With "Hit, Hit, Alaska" the distance between Taiwan and Alaska has shrunk a bit, whack by whack, even if not all the animals are native to the 49th state.
A 10-year-old boy named Bobby Lin played the arcade game the other day while his parents shopped in the nearby supermarket. He was all smiles and screams as he whacked away at the game console. When asked if he knew where Alaska was, the Taiwanese boy said he had never heard of the place and had no idea where it might be.
"Is that where people go for gambling and casinos?" he asked, since the Chinese pronunciation of the city "Las Vegas" is similar in sound to the Chinese pronunciation of "Alaska."
"All I can see is that it must be very cold there," he added, as he wacked away at another penguin.
Dan Bloom, a former editor of The Capital City Weekly in Juneau, is a freelance writer living in Taiwan. A version of the preceding report first appeared in the Taipei (Taiwan) Times.