Sunday, 4 January 2015

the political desert island

Hans is soon to depart for LA where he will work for half the year on a project researching how to regenerate skin cells.  He came back to Taiwan seven years ago and he and Ting look very happy in Tainan.  At least he will be able to work the other half of the year here.  Hanging on his wall is a poster:

If you're not interested in History, look away now.   When the Kuomintang fled mainland China back in 1949 they brought with them their army, the gold reserves of China, the finest collection of Chinese art and their flag.  About 2 million Chinese turned up with Chiang Kai-Shek uninvited.  Martial Law had been declared in 1947 towards the end of the war with the Communists and this wasn't rescinded in Taiwan, staggeringly, until 1987.  The Americans supported the one-party state run by the KMT in Taiwan, seing them as a useful ally while they fought in Korea and then Vietnam.  Originally the KMT planned to retake the mainland but this dream faded.  Chiang Kai-Shek could never accept that the dream was dead though and so the Republic of China continued to exist only in Taiwan.  When in 1971 the People's Republic was admitted to the UN Security Council, the R.O.C. withdrew.  It was probably the best opportunity for Taiwan to declare independence from China, but it was missed.  Then gradually the R.O.C. lost diplomatic ties with most of the world - only 27 countries now officially recognise the R.O.C. and they have a combined population of about 30,000.  The current situation is that neither government renounces it's claim on the other's territory - a political impasse that has left Taiwan with a very weak hand - a low pair at best.  Ironically the KMT government has courted closer ties to Communist China in an attempt to spark an economic recovery that isn't happening. China is holding all the aces.  But no surprise when you consider they probably manufacture the playing cards. Since free elections began in Taiwan the KMT have still been elected.  We ask Hans why. Simple, he tells us. They are the richest political party in the world.  He is optimistic about Taiwan's future and becoming truly free.  I just hope he's not the gambling type.
a poster from the recent local elections. This candidate is getting the arm-over-the-shoulder treatment from his party leader.

can you spot the difference?  Looks like the leader is made of wax - hopefully he is more sincere than his endorsements.

We go for a great meal at one of Hans and Ting's favourite places in the city, with lots of barbecued meat, some of it unidentifiable.  As we chew some fatty grilled bits of chicken Ting asks us to guess the part of the chicken we are munching on.  There's a glint in her eye which only spells mischief.  "Chicken ass!" she delights in informing us only when we have swallowed.  Afterwards we go to another place for dessert.  Ting likes sweet things, Hans tells us.  We join a throng of people queuing at a place where they are serving steaming bowls of beans - red, green, white - in hot syrup.  Ting goes for the sweetened rice porridge.  The beans are strange, the syrup not so sweet.  Now we know Ting's having a laugh.  On the way back they show us their cinema - it's the one that Ang Lee used to frequent - kind of old fashioned in the classic sense and it still shows films from all over the world.  Down towards the harbour Hans points out his favourite temple - a low-key affair used by local fishermen and sailors and dedicated to the God of Wind. Sounds like my kind of temple.

Hans and Ting
I want to ask Hans about the dogs. Dogs? Yes, all the stray dogs we see - in the mountains, in the fields, around the towns.  Often in the middle of nowhere.  I usually freak out cycling past dogs but these are all very quiet. It's the farm guard dogs that are worse - leaping out when I least expect it.  Hans tells us that a lot of people like the dogs and the authorities will only catch them if they're a nuisance.  But in Tainan they have a good policy of rehabilitation - the dogs are trained to guard farms.....

Hans tells us that southern Taiwan is the real Taiwan.  With the KMT firmly entrenched in Taipei, he jokes that south Taiwan begins just south of the capital.  Tainan is still the heart of the country for many and it's a pleasant city to be in.   It seems a shame to leave.

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