Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Taipei, Taiwan

Map picture

Taipei, Taiwan – One of Two China’s

It is impossible to talk about Taiwan without first delving a little into the political history of the large island, which lies 100 miles off the East Coast of China. From 1895 until 1945, Taiwan was ruled by Japan, and as such, entered the modern age much earlier than its nearby neighbor China. During the Second World War, Taiwan was a major military installation for Japan, and near the end of the War suffered heavy damage from Allied bombing. With the end of the War, under the terms of the “Potsdam Declaration” control of Taiwan was transferred to China.

At this time, China was undergoing an internal struggle of its own, and in 1948, China adopted a new Constitution and elected Chiang Kai-shek as its first President. However, before long, it became clear that the communists were going to seize control of the government, so Chiang and his followers moved the government of China to the nearby island of Taiwan. So, even though he was the legitimately elected President of China, he soon became isolated on Taiwan.

Now I am not an expert on Asian history, but I do know that China, until this day, claims that Taiwan is properly a part of the Chinese Republic and many times has threatened to take the island back by force. The United States and most countries of the world initially supported Taiwan, but as time has passed it has become more than clear that Taiwan is isolated. Several years ago Taiwan lost its seat in the United Nations, and other than the US, is recognized by only a smattering of relatively small countries. However, even now, the government of Taiwan rattles the sword at China and claims that it is ever ready to defend itself to the death. Even as recently as this week, during the visit to the US by the President of China, Taiwan launched 16 missiles in a protest, and to bolster its request that the US sell it more F-15’s for self-defense. I am sorry for the long background, but with that knowledge much of what we saw and heard now will have some perspective.

I actually visited Taiwan on my trip some 40 years ago, and I remember that it was a very modern and clean country; while at the same time, China by comparison, was still stuck in the past and closed to the outside world. On this visit, I see that Taiwan has grown and modernized into a highly efficient industrialized economy, but the growth is nowhere near as amazing as what I have seen in China itself; and therein lies much of what we saw.

Our ship docked at the port city of Keelung. From there a drive into the capital city Taipei took from 30 to 45 minutes depending on traffic. We had a private car and driver for our trip to the city, and during that drive to my surprise, our older guide was more than willing to discuss the political situation in great detail. He observed that over 80% of the Taiwanese population already sees the eventual reunification with China as inevitable, and in many ways beneficial. Going back 40 years ago, there was no contact between the two Chinas, and in fact, the two entities used to lob shells at one another across the Formosa Strait. However, with the passage of time, all that has changed until today people pass freely between the two Chinas. There are direct flights from Taiwan to most of the major cities in China, and China is the major trading partner with Taiwan. He told us that today the two entities are so intertwined as to have become almost one except in name only. In the opinion of most of the people, the major impediment to reunification is to find a way in which it can be accomplished without the current leadership losing face. That is most important in Asia, and he feels that with the paths open by Hong Kong and Macau, that a way can be found to accomplish that in time.

Our entire drive was slowed by the unforecast rains, but in what seemed like short order, we arrived in the city. Our guide arranged our tour so that we drove to all 4 corners of the city, and also directly across the city, thus allowing us to at least see quickly all that there was to offer.

Taipei, Taiwan

Our first stop was a photo stop to see the recently completed Taipei 101 Tower, an office building that is 101 stories high. The top of the building was in and out of the low overcast, but we did get a good picture.

From there we moved on to the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.

Taipei, Taiwan

As you can imagine, a monument to the founding father would be an impressive structure and indeed it was. The monument covers over two million square feet. Also on the grounds are the National Concert Hall and the National Theater. A giant statue of Chiang dominates the main hall, and it is watched over, at all times, by two military honor guards.

Taipei, Taiwan

Every hour there is a changing of the guard ceremony, and we were lucky enough to be there to witness the ceremony. A little known fact to most tourists is that Chiang is not buried here. Indeed, he is not buried at all, but rather his coffin sits in the entryway of his former residence where it is also guarded with a ceremonial unit at all times. Apparently, in this culture, the location of a burial site is a very personal and family choice, and so far, no one in his family has decided where he should be buried. Both is wife and son are now dead, and thus the government is in a quandary about what should be done, and as in many cases, they simply have elected to ignore the issue for now.

At this point, amidst the constant drizzle, we drove through the center of town, stopping long enough to jump out of the car and snap a picture of the Presidential Building.

Taipei, Taiwan

Then we continued on to the oldest part of the city which is located alongside the river, and which today is the scene of a very lively local market.

Taipei, Taiwan

In fact, the market has an almost carnival atmosphere about it as vendors selling everything from shark fins to computers vie to catch your attention and attract you to their stall. The entire area is covered with flags and balloons and is a complete cacophony of sound and smells.

We moved onto visit the Taipei Confucius Temple. Originally built in 1879, it was demolished by the Japanese during their occupation of the island.

Taipei, Taiwan

Eventually in 1939, construction started on a new temple which now belongs to the City of Taipei. Not really a temple per se’, it is, however, used by the National Government for an annual ritual giving tribute to the teachings of Confucius and to commemorate Teacher’s Day. Directly across the street was Pao-An Temple, which is considered as one of the three most important temples in the country.

Taipei, Taiwan First constructed in 1755, to honor the God of Medicine, it has been added to and rebuilt many time over the centuries until in 1998, it underwent a major restoration which was recognized by UNESCO as a restoration masterpiece.

Our final stop before returning to our ship was a quick one hour visit to the National Palace Museum. Our guide had wanted to start our day at the museum, but I figured I had seen enough old museums in my day, that we would make that last and see what time we had – what a mistake!

Taipei, Taiwan

The Museum was originally founded in 1925, and given the responsibility of cataloguing everything inside the Forbidden City in Beijing, once the final Emperor was moved from the Palace grounds. With the impending war with Japan looming in 1931, the historic collection was moved from the Forbidden City and hidden in the countryside. At the time, Chiang Kai-shek decided to move the government to Taiwan, he also had much of this National Treasure moved to Taiwan. Today over 600,000 treasures are on display in an ultra-modern facility which is recognized worldwide as the center of Chinese culture and tradition. The museum houses over 5,000 years of China’s history, and is the world’s largest collection of Chinese Art Treasure. To say that we saw one a small part of the collection in one hour would be an understatement, it was nonetheless breathtaking.

We arrived back onboard our ship around 2pm, and today we are enjoying a rather warm and humid day at sea with occasional rain showers. Tomorrow will be our last stop at Okinawa, Japan, which is one place that neither Lisa nor I have ever visited. From there it will be another day at sea and then we dock at Shanghai, from which we will be flying directly home this Sunday.

I hope that everyone is well and enjoying our travels.


1 comment:

scapel said...

Well I enjoyed reading this. I only had a fuel stop at Taipei on a flight to Australia once.
Dr. Joe Reynolds