Taiwan Journal, Part XI

Chen Shui-bian in 2005


Friends, thank you for joining me on this journey — this exploration of some things Taiwanese. We’ll conclude today. For previous parts of this journal, go here: I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, and X.

As you may know, Chen Shui-bian is in prison. He was president of Taiwan from 2000 to 2008 — the first and only president from the “Greens,” the Democratic Progressive Party. He was convicted of corruption. I understand that there are people who feel that his imprisonment is unjust — that he was railroaded. But all the people I talk to believe that his imprisonment is entirely just. A couple of them say, “It’s not just that he stole. It’s that he stole so much.”

I talk to one strongly Green person who says that Chen let everyone down: “He rose from poverty. He was such an example. We were so proud of him. And now this . . .”

Well, put not your trust in princes. (That line does not originate with me, just so you know.)

We have spoken of Taiwan as an example to China: What must they think of a law that no one, including a president, is above? What must they think of separation of powers? Anything?

One night, I go with a friend of mine — a Taipei native — to a barbecue joint on a back street of the city. “Barbecue joint” is my designation, not the restaurant’s. Waitresses are swinging around buckets of flaming hot coals. They are quite casual about it. I think, “What would OSHA or some other agency say?” At home, in America, I spend all my time decrying regulation. In other parts of the world, I think: “Maybe we could use a speck more . . .”

The waitress places a bucket of coals on our table. A little grill goes on top. Out come an assortment of (raw) meats and vegetables. We place them on the grill. And away we go . . .

A little party of us pulls into Yangmingshan National Park, in the mountains outside of Taipei. In the parking lot, I get the surprise of my life. Five days before, I was led around the National Palace Museum by a wonderful docent — a refined man steeped in the history of art. Here before me now, dressed in a ranger uniform, is the same man: He will guide us around the park.

I say, “Do you know about everything? Is there any end to your talents?” He smiles and says, “Well, these are my two volunteer jobs. My wife does the same: art and nature.” A very knowledgeable fellow, about art, nature, and still other subjects.

The park is full of cicadas, noisier than a construction site downtown. Too bad.

Some of the butterflies (for which Taiwan is well known)? As big as birds.

Back in the U.S. of A.., and elsewhere, I’m sure, there is a longstanding debate: How many roads and trails should there be in a park? How accessible should a park be to one and all? On one extreme, there are people who would have a park closed off to all but the fittest backpackers. They consider roads and trails a desecration. Grandma will just have to look at a picturebook at home. On the other extreme, there are those who — who would go pavement-crazy, I guess.

Don’t you think there ought to be a balance? I do.

In Yangmingshan National Park, there are actually trails for the handicapped: for wheelchairs. I’m glad there are. There is enough nature to withstand a little pavement, and the average person — even the halt and the lame — can enjoy this glory.

We also visit the summer home of Chiang Kai-shek and his Madam — their getaway in the extreme heat. Swell, and fascinating, place. Just wanna say one thing: Her bathroom is pink. (An American Standard terlet.) His bathroom is blue.

Awwww . . .