Friday, December 15, 2006

Desultory memories from Taiwan, Part 1

A little disgraceful and disgusting story of Carolyn's misadventure pre-FAPA trip: (Please skip if easily disturbed.)

The voyage to Kaohsiung

My uncle was originally going to drive me to KH, but he was unable to due to a buddhist retreat. Instead, he decided to have a private "bus" (more like a Ghanaian 'trow trow' or a rickety old van) take me. What should have been a 1 hr ride ended up taking 3.5 hours, as I was the first person picked up and the second to last out of 6 to be dropped off. Right before I stepped on the bus, I had eaten a load of oysters and hot pot, a feast prepared by my aunt-in-law. It was delicious, but I started feeling uneasiness in my stomach as we picked up the 2nd passenger. The rickety van did not absorb any impact from the bumpy local roads we traveled. By the 3rd and 4th passengers, I began to sweat profusely and my throat was constricting uncomfortably, but I managed to subdue the discomfort. The driver did not know I was ill, so he continued to ride mercilessly over the potholes while my stomach lurched in dismay. When the last man to be picked up came and sat next to me, my heart sank. He was a garrulous old man who started probing all of the passengers with questions. I pulled out a plastic bag because I knew my "moment" would come soon, and it was divine comedy that he started asking me questions about myself right as I felt the sweat and lunchtime oysters rising. He asked me where in Kaohsiung I was going and I told him, "Sorry, I don't really speak Chinese", mistakenly hoping it would end the conversation. Of course not. Instead, it opened the pandora's box of questions regarding my American upbringing, and just as he was lecturing me on how I really should cultivate my language skills, I threw my face into the plastic bag. Oh, the glorious mixture of food... I hoped that, incognito style, I could bypass any attention, but I think the reaction of my neighbor passengers was immediate. The girl sitting next to me lunged to open the windows, and the man stopped talking. After that horrible moment was over, I tried to apologize and act as gracefully as I could to retrieve my dignity. No, my Audrey Hepburn efforts failed me when I soon had to ask, "Excuse me, does anyone have a plastic bag I can borrow?" The old man quickly asked the driver, adding, "She's going to throw up again!" and the girl next to me quickly handed me a bag that she had been previously using to carry a box of cookies. Yep, for the rest of the 2.5 hours, I held my bag of tossed cookies as low away from our seats as possible so no one would see the contents of my stomach. The old man would eventually tell me that I was brave for traveling by myself, but that it was unsafe for a non-native Taiwanese high schooler to be alone. To which I responded in surprise, "I'm 23!" When the ride finally ended, I was uncomfortable and drained. I ended up in Kaohsiung with just enough time to take my wretched self to the hotel. When I first met a few of the gang, we were sitting in a car with Henry driving. I felt bad for feeling antisocial and distant, so I explained this story. They wanted me to share it over the blog, and perhaps I have done too detailed a job describing it. Hopefully it's as amusing to you as it is now to me.

Meeting the President

Although I don't believe this session was the most informative from the ones we attended, it was certainly one of the most memorable. We walked into a richly decorated room to await President Chen. The wall held a frame of artistic Chinese calligraphy, and each corner of the room contained a pot of perfectly arranged orchids. I glanced at the oriental carpet and was not disappointed by the wealth of colors - asynchronous to the rest of the room, but creating an overall elegance. Media cameramen passed through the double doors, and each time, my head would turn swiftly in that direction. I felt my heart counting down the moments before... he stepped in. We all rose, shook his hand, and sat down. President Chen gave an opening statement, praising FAPA's role and dedication to improving relations with the US Congress and Taiwan's state of current affairs. I believe Cindy posted the link to his statement. After his statement and tag-along English translation, the cameramen left. He joked, "Now that they are gone, we can really talk."

The question and answer session began slowly, as we were all recovering from shock and nervousness. I think he felt the initial silence, and filled it comfortably. We asked him rather light, open-ended questions. Some pertaining to his time as President, greatest/most memorable achievements, and globalization's future effects on Taiwan. I don't mean to be overly flattering, but I do believe he was very natural as a speaker. I felt at ease in his presence, and from his responses, I could sense the intelligent inner-workings of his mind. He was a graceful, well-spoken man, one who easily impressed you with warm-heartedness. Overall, the visit seemed to me like an informal chat with the President. While this environment was nice and safe, I felt slight disatisfaction that we had not asked more pointed, more difficult questions to our polemical president. But I'm sure this is just my opinion...

While I want to write more, especially about the Thinktanks and NGOs we met up with (I think they were a great contrast to the government divisions/politicans we met), I'll have to save my impressions for a later date. I'm still jet-lagged from the plane ride back.


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