Friday, 15 November 2013

Taiwan: Final Observations

A foggy view of the city from Taipei 101
During our trip to Taiwan, we saw lots of mainland tourists, but also Japanese as well. You could instantly tell the difference between the two because they were like night and day.

The mainlanders spoke loudly, usually wore mis-matched clothing and footwear, and carried lots of shopping bags, while the Japanese were the complete antithesis -- polite, quiet, well dressed and well traveled.

It's interesting to see how the Taiwanese have been so strongly influenced by the Japanese decades after the occupation, or it's because the Taiwanese are so desperate not to be mistaken as mainlanders.

The Taiwanese are also very polite, quiet, well-dressed, and also very honest and generous. One time our tour guide opened the lid to her lip balm in a washroom in a shopping mall and it fell and rolled out of her stall.

After she came out she asked the washroom attendant if she had seen the lid and to give it back to her. The attendant kindly said she would, and seemed to try to memorize the guide's face. This would never happen in Hong Kong -- in fact one would never bother to ask because the answer would be "No", or "Find it yourself".

Also the honesty and straight-forwardness was refreshing. It made me realize how skeptical I am when I hear about or see something in Hong Kong -- I'm always on alert wondering, "Is that true?"

But in Taiwan, there seemed to be almost no reason to be skeptical of almost anything which made me realize how typical it is for people in Hong Kong to be scammed and it is your own fault for not knowing.

Or is it because the Taiwanese do a good propaganda job on us?

For example they are so proud of the National Palace Museum, for Chiang Kai-shek's foresight in protecting the treasures from the Forbidden City. Many locals are fans of the museum and come every few months when some of the exhibits change. They are also very learned and educated people who know a lot about Chinese culture, particularly history, literature and the arts.

While they respect Chiang for establishing Taiwan after 1949, the Kuomintang practically colonized the island, resulting in the White Terror period, where anyone considered against the KMT were arrested and or killed.

However in hindsight they resented his spending two-thirds of the budget on the military because he wanted to be ready to fight China anytime to reclaim it, and only one-third on developing the island.

It was his son Chiang Ching-kuo who became Premier of the Republic of China from 1972-78 and then President of the Republic from 1978 to his death in 1988, who realized that Taiwan would lose the battle to reclaim the mainland and instead focused on building the island into what it is today.

When we visited the Culture Park of the Chiangs, I remarked to our tour guide that American General Joseph Stilwell didn't like Chiang Kai-shek and called him "Peanut" for his incompetence, a fact she did not know at all.

But back to today, where Taiwan is being led by President Ma Ying-jeou and his popularity is at an all-time low of 9.2 percent in September from 13 percent -- even lower than when Chen Shui-bian was in office -- thanks to Ma's pro-China stance. Many Taiwanese feel he is selling out Taiwan to the mainland. Not that they want Chen to return as he's in jail for corruption, but they definitely want someone representing their interests. Sound familiar?

There are other domestic issues too, as Taiwan's economy is stagnant, with nothing really stimulating it except for mainland tourism. Fresh graduates are having trouble finding jobs and property prices are sky high. Sound familiar?

The Taiwanese are also curious to see how Hong Kong is dealing with China and so they are watching with interest what happens next year with Occupy Central. While the pro-Beijing camp is trying to pre-empt the group by saying it's radical and its plan is illegal, some Occupy Central members have reached out to Taiwan for moral support.

This has really annoyed China, but in some ways, Hong Kong and Taiwan are two peas in a pod, dealing with the same dragon.

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