Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Taiwan In The New Year - PART II

Here are more of my travels in Taiwan.

Taiwan In The New Year

PART II – Day 1

Taiwan is a country with a chequered past and an uncertain future. It is a country that is fiercely proud of its Chinese past, and just as proud of its more recent and vigorous democracy. It has existed under the shadow and constant threat of China since 1949 when the Mao Zedong lead communist army forced the dictator Chiang Kaishek and his army from the Chinese Mainland and into Taiwan.

Taiwan was not happy to play host to Chiang Kaishek and his Kuomintang or KMT Nationalist Party. Only two years earlier between 10,000 and 30,000 Taiwanese were massacred when anti-KMT riots had broken out and were brutally repressed. Taiwan remained under martial law until 1987, when it was transformed into a true democracy.

Since the 1980’s China and Taiwan have played a dangerous game, with China insisting that Taiwan is one of it’s provinces and Taiwan periodically hinting at a desire for official independence. However despite all the chest beating in some ways China and Taiwan do have close ties. Taiwan is now the largest foreign investor in China’s rapidly growing economy.

Taiwan is only 395km long and has a maximum width of 144km. Its mountains though are extremely high, reaching 3,952m at Yu mountain, which apart from the Himalayas is the highest peak in North East Asia.

We didn’t see any of this from our aircraft though as we made our way up the 160km wide Taiwan Strait, which runs between Taiwan and Mainland China. We flew into the Chiang Kaishek International Airport from the west, six days before the Chinese New Year.

As we flew in low on our final approach to the airport we had a good view of the surrounding countryside and already differences between the East and the West were apparent. All of the farmland was divided into small sections. Presumably rice fields, though it was a bit hard to tell through the smoggy haze. Also there appeared to be a distinct lack of tiled roofs.

It was already late afternoon before we made our way out of the airport. The first thing we did was exchange our money for Taiwan dollars. Then we went straight to the counter with a giant ‘Car Rental’ written in English above it and asked about hiring a taxi.

After leaving the airport and heading south for a while we passed by a solid wall of high rise buildings. They seemed to be all crowding up against the mountains that surround the city of Taipei. The city proper has a population of about 3 million with another 3 million in the surrounding Taipei County. Although the population of Taipei is of a reasonably large size the whole city is crammed into a surprisingly small valley making it one of the most densely populated places in the world.

Unfortunately as we drove into the Tamsui River Valley a combination of smog and twilight stopped us from seeing very much of the city. The surrounding area as far as we could see though was a mass of high rise buildings.


Blogger Seal&Vito said...

Yu Mountain. I prefer calling it Mount Jade.

12:05 PM  
Blogger John said...

Yes Jade Mountain does sound good.

9:11 PM  

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