Friday, May 18, 2007

Day 2 - (Almost) Nothing But Talk

Don't let the title fool you. I am, after all, an academic. I did come on this trip for largely educational purposes, so it should come as no surprise when I tell you that we spent nearly the entire day engaged in a series of meetings and discussion sessions. They speakers were very open, interesting and unafraid to give their honest opinions on some very tough issues.

Our first stop was the American Institute in Taiwan. The AIT was founded in 1978 when the United States moved its Embassy from Taiwan to mainland China. We met with the Defense Attache and other staffers to talk about security issues in Taiwan. The conversation was surprising and. For instance, did you know that the U.S. currently has active duty troops deployed in Taiwan? We did not. The reasons for the deployment are good ones, and the staff made strong arguments for the benefits of having them there. After this the Director of AIT, Stephen Young, came and met with us to answer additional questions about cross-strait relations between China and Taiwan.

We left AIT and went to meet Joanna Lei, a member of the Legislative Yuan. This is the 225 member legislative body in Taiwan. Taiwan has a unicameral legislature, so unlink the U.S. which has a Senate and House of Representatives, Taiwan has only one lawmaking body. We waited more than 30 minutes for her to meet with us, because shortly before our appointment, she was called to the floor for a vote and was required to appear. She was bright and enthusiastic and talked quite a bit about the current challenges to democracy in Taiwan. Taiwan was under martial law until 1987, so this is a very young democracy that is experiencing lots of growing pains. She is also a member of the KMT, or blue party, the political party that has been out of power since 2000.

After our meeting legislator Lei, we went to a very swanky hotel for lunch in a private room with the Director of the Department of Chinese Affairs for the DPP, or green party, the current ruling political party in Taiwan. We were treated to a 10 course meal that simply cannot be described. I stopped eating less than half-way through because there was simply too much food! We ate and talked for nearly 2 hours before leaving for our next meeting.

I'm sorry to say that the last meeting of the day was at 3 pm, the bewitching hour for me here in another time zone. The hours between 2 and 4 pm are very tough right now, so I'm afraid I had some difficulty keeping my eyes open. We arrived at the Chiang Ching-kuo foundation for International Scholarly Exchange at 3 pm to find Starbucks latte's waiting for everyone. STARBUCKS! I shouldn't have been surprised. We see one of these stores on nearly every other block we pass through. While the sign may look familiar, the menu inside is in Chinese, so you'd better know what you want and what they serve, or you're out of luck. Since I don't really drink coffee, asking for a grande hot chocolate is a piece of cake!

Our last stop of the day was at the Eslite Gallery to view the solo exhibition of Yeh Tzu-Chi. This artist lived and trained in the states for more than 10 years. Most of the landscapes were scenes from the U.S., including Niagara Falls, (OK, so this one is Canadian!), South Dakota, California and Maine. The artist, his wife and children rode a train for three hours to come to Taipei and meet us simply because they are friends of Vincent, the leader of our Faculty Seminar and a native of Taiwan. You can read about him and his work at Eslite Gallery: Tzu-Chi YEH. Here are two of his works.

After viewing the works we went to a cafe, drank tea and talked with the artist for a while.

All-in-all, we had a wonderful day. My roommate and I went for a short walk once we returned to the hotel. I did take one final picture of some of the amazing fruits at a local market. This one particularly caught my eye.
This large fruit is covered with thorns and has the reputation for being particularly smelly. In fact, the aroma of the durian is so pungent that travelers in Southeast Asia are forbidden from bringing them on airplanes or into hotels. It has been nicknamed the "King of Fruits" because of its large size. They certainly looked interesting, but I'm not sure I'm up for trying one. I will say that I have been eating a wide range of really delicious fruit. The pineapple has been particularly good.

Tomorrow is our day for sightseeing. We will visit at least two museums and will finally get to ride to the top of Taipei 101 to see the city from above. In the evening we will visit the night markets to finish out our day.

For the first time since arriving I will actually get to bed early, so I'll sign off now and wish you all a happy Friday. See you tomorrow!

1 comment:

  1. If you get a chance to try a rambutan at the market, go for it. They look like little red porcupines - the spikes are longer than those on the durian. They are soft enough to peel off, and inside is sweet and delicious (and not smelly), rather like a lychee or grape in texture.