Thursday, February 11, 2010

Wanderer of Formosa (福爾摩沙漫遊者)

Sun Moon Lake

My first trip to Taiwan was a gift given by my son, Kirk, for my retirement. Actually, it was made possible by cashing in miles from the airline I most favored. My son spiced it up by arranging a Taiwanese guide for me who spoke excellent Japanese. My son spoke to his Taiwanese colleague at work in San Diego and surprisingly it was his colleague's father, a recently retired UN worker, who helped me tremendously - starting with meeting me at the airport, traveling downtown together by bus, and walking to the reserved hotel close to Shin Guang Mitsukoshi Department Store. I have made trips to Taiwan almost 10 times since then, and I always stay at the same hotel.

I appreciated his discretion not to accompany me constantly. He suggested minimum necessary tips and gave me an overall orientation. At the University of Taiwan, he politely let me walk around the campus and study at the library. It was the day before the MRT subway systems came online. The crazy bus trip to Gugon Palace became a memorable story when I experienced a frantic moment boarding the bus. He and his wife were excellent hosts. The welcoming dinner was at Hai Pa Wang, and the farewell dinner was at Shinyeh, all serving local Taiwanese dishes. I fondly remember their warm hospitality on my first visit.

My second visit was to Fenyuang, north of Taichung. I visited my first e-mail friend, who is a dentist. It was my first visit to Taiwan's Toastmasters Club there and I was thrilled to see a club which boasts more than 50 members. They met in the basement of the hotel where I was staying. I am grateful to him for the early morning ride from Fenyuang to the Taoyuan International Airport, as I had to catch an early flight to the U.S.

On my third visit, my wife accompanied me to Taipei where we met Michelle Chen, who was a contestant speaker at the Toastmasters Convention. I never imagined Michelle had such a passion for traveling abroad like I did. My interest in Czech Republic was inspired by her trip to Pardubice. I got a lot of information from hearing about her trip there.

It rained hard in Taipei the day the convention was over. A gentleman with whom we sat together noticed us and instructed his chauffeur to take us to our hotel. We sent him our letter of appreciation. We never saw him again at subsequent conventions.

On my fourth trip, I was in Taichung for the Toastmasters Convention at Tunghai University with another Japanese delegation staying at the University dorm. It was the Taichung Central Japanese Club who offered to take us sightseeing to their historic Lukang Port. Lukang was the trade port of deer skins during the Dutch colonial days where the terms e-kang and teng-kang originated, referring to north/south of the port respectively. Dennis Chen, the Club founder led a fleet of cars with volunteer drivers one full day enabling us to tour Lukang's Longshan temple and see Maz, the Goddess of the Sea.

Talking to Dennis, I learned that he planned to visit Sun-Moon Lake the following day accompanying his New York physician friend and his wife and I made a bold request to get a one way ride if at all possible. He called me later, granting it as if it was my once-in-a-lifetime wish. I wanted to see the after-effects of the Jiji Earthquake that hit in 1999. I sent a small check as a contribution to the victims through the Fenyuang physician friend.

The view of the Jiji Mountains was tragic, but the lake resort had recovered. I walked up the hill to see the famous tea farms. Basking in the twilight I made a deal with a female captain and chartered a boat to cross Sun-Moon Lake.

Dennis Chen had stopped at the Muh Sheng Museum of Entomology in Puli on our way to the Lake and that gave me a good reason to return at a later date to the museum to write about the Chestnut Tiger, the butterfly that migrates between Taiwan and Japan. I met Meili Chang, while on the trip to Lukang and was struck by the beautiful Japanese she spoke. Later I learned that she had studied at the University of Kyoto.

On the fifth trip, again after the Toastmaster Convention, I traveled by bus for 3-days to Hsitou, deep inside the Nantou´s valleys, with my friend I met in Yangmingshan. He was a genuine Taiwan Alpinist, who walked mountain ranges above 1000 meters from far north to south in Taiwan. His adventure was featured in one of the southern local newspapers. I asked him for a copy, but he didn't keep any. He took me to Yangmingshan Library, or the Chiang Kai-shek Summer Resort. I met his family, his three granddaughters in Yunhe and through his granddaughters I got my message across to him. The granddaughters are all away from home. The eldest granddaugher got a PhD in Germany in biology and lives in Chiba, Japan until March this year (I'm asking her to visit us before her departure). The second granddaughter is in the UK studying fashion. The third granddaughter is in her senior year in Chenkong University in Tainan.

The experimental forest of Hsitou was very pretty with exotic bamboos and many therapeutic hiking trails. I saw a number of divine trees, 1000 years old. I inquired as to how the trails were kept so serenely and no rubbish anywhere. He simply said "Taiwan is a small country, so people empower themselves."

On the sixth visit, Tainan Chenkong University was the Convention venue. My wife and I flew to Kaohsiung and took a train ride to Tainan. DTM Y. H. Chen, the legendary southern Toastmaster leader, accompanied us to Tainan. Before moving on to Tainan, he and his Kaohsiung Toastmaster member gave us a tour to visit Cheng Ching Lake, a man-made water reservoir turned beautiful lake (about 300 hectares) and Tsuo Ying Lotus Pond and the nearby Confucius Temple. Cheng Ching Lake was undergoing quite a renovation and the lake was half dry when we visited. That night, the three of us returned to Kaohsiung and wandered through the famous night food stands to enjoy "eel shao-chi (small bite)".On the 7th trip, Dr. Kobayashi of Shimonoseki University joined us and the Japanese delegation to attend the Kaohsiung Toastmasters Convention and immediately afterwards, we visited Chi Mei Corp private art museum in Baoan Industrial Quarters near Tainan and Usanto Reservoir irrigation dam built by Yoichi Hachida (1886-1942). We owe a debt of gratitude to DTM Chen's advice regarding the visit and for making the museum reservations for us.For the visit to Chi Mei Corp, we prepared by reading Founder Wen-Lung Hsu 's book. Chi Mei is the No. l producer of ABS, plastics in the world and their main plant and research lab site are located near Tainan. We arrived before the museum opened and waited at the restaurant service desk. Then the morning meeting started, Japanese style, as employees lined up chanting something. I sneaked a quick snapshot (see the photo). The museum must be a jewel among the privately owned. Since photos are prohibited inside the museum, please visit their official Web site for images.Yoichi Hachida, a native Kanazawan, arrived in Taiwan upon his graduation from the University of Tokyo as a civil engineer. He tackled irrigation problems immediately and was revered by his lifelong dedication to complete Usanto Dam, as well as the Chianan Canal. Unfortunately, he was drafted by the Japanese Army and on his voyage to the Philippines, his boat was sunk by allied subs. His wife killed herself in the dam discharge leaving a note that she preferred to be with her husband rather than return to Japan.Daja near Taichung, was the Convention site on my 8th trip in 2007. I met the Taichung Central club members again, including Meili Chang and Melody Hou, who took me to Lukang years ago. They kindly offered to take us on a trip to Mu Sheng Museum in Puli and I fulfilled a wish I had for years. Melody said Mu Sheng was already there when his father was a small boy.

The latest Yangmingshan Convention was my 9th trip to Taiwan. I thought I made ten trips but not quite. I could not have made these trips without the help of many, many friends mentioned above. A real Big Salute and thank you! All of you have motivated me to return to Taiwan. I thank my Kitakyushu Toastmaster colleague Masaki Oshiumi who joined me on my trips to Taiwan these last few times. His son-in-law was stationed in a plant in Touliu and he visited the family there. He is very interested in Taiwan and is a great fellow traveler.

So, I am now looking forward to my double digit trip. Hallelujah!

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