Monday, November 05, 2007

Tripping Around Taipei

It was that kind of weekend, hip deep in Taipei. First, an early morning dash into the city with my family and a couple of exchange students from my university who wanted to go play in the big city. Next, the gathering at the Shannon, where we heard from the nephew of the Dalai Lama. After that, the DPP UN Torch Relay gathering in front of the Presidential Palace. Then, the Muddy Basin Ramblers' CD Release Party, attended by all the best people, and some bloggers too. Finally, the next day Michael Fahey took me "hiking."

First stop on Saturday morning was the Shannon Meet Up for the presentation of Kendroop Thondrup, a parliamentarian in the Tibetan government in exile, and the nephew of the Dalai Lama. His father, the Dalai Lama's older brother, married the daughter (sister?) of an influential KMT general, and he himself married one of Lee Teng-hui's most important lieutenants. In his own life one can see one facet of the myriad relations between Taiwan and Tibet.

Thondup spoke at length about the situation in Nepal -- in perfect English, on-message, smooth, good-humored, and gentlemanly. Urbane. The discussion touched on many topics -- beginning with the KMT's own interference in the Tibetan camps in the 1950s and 1960s. There the Party sought to suppress independence while at the same time encourage opposition to the Communists. The vehicle for this is the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission (MATC), still extant, though much reduced under the current administration.

Affairs took a turn for the better, according to Mr. Thondup, when the Dalai Lama came to Taiwan to rapturous acclaim in 1997. Chen Shui-bian, then the mayor of Taipei, attempted to get a meeting with the DL but was rebuffed by the KMT government, so he wrote a letter inviting His Holiness back to Taipei. In 2001, when Chen was President, this was accepted, opening up a thaw in Taiwan-Tibet relations. Chen started the Taiwan-Tibet Foundation to get around the problem of the MATC's reactionary views on Tibet issues.

Thondup also spoke of the famous railway into Tibet from China. While western reports have focused on the influx of Chinese into Tibet, Thondup pointed out that another key purpose of the railway is to extract Tibet's rich mineral wealth, a symbol of China' colonial attitude toward Tibet. He also mentioned China' reneging on the 17 point agreement between the two sides, and the result guerrilla war, supported by both Taiwan and the US CIA, that eventually ended in failure. While China's treatment of Hong Kong certainly provides hints to its plans for Formosa, it is the treatment of Tibet that shows the real goal of China. As we listened raptly, Thondup regaled us with personal anecdotes of his experiences in negotiating with Beijing, including official anger at his marriage to a protege of Lee Teng-hui. I could not help feeling, however, that at bottom Thondup, who expressed impatience with the Gandhian nonviolence path embraced by the Dalai Lama, felt it was a dead end. He mentioned that the younger generation in Tibet has grown impatient, while outside, they are drifting away from their heritage, drawn by the promises of television and global consumer society. Thondup emphasized, however, that if asked, every Tibetan would say that he wanted only what the Dalai Lama wanted for him. That, folks, is being on-message.

Michael Fahey remarked later that Thondup and other Tibetans had good luck when they fled to India, since they were able to learn to communicate effectively in English, something that has escaped our brethren here in Taiwan. Indeed, Thondup's urbanity and wide experience presented an object lesson for Taiwanese seeking to raise Taiwan's profile. (Darren's commentary and some great pics of the attendees)

After the meeting I sat around chatting and then Darren and I headed over to the Presidential Palace to wait for the Torch to arrive. Here vendors setting up for the UN Torch Relay rally in Taipei, so that passersby, through acts of consumerism, can participate in something greater than themselves (wonderful pics from Darren Melrose).

More and more good stuff is appearing in translation.

When we arrived set up had hardly begun.

Plainclothes policemen, probably cadet recruits, formed up before dispersing to their crowd control tasks.

TV cameras atop a nearby building. We watched ourselves on the wide screens set up by the stage.

The sign says it all.

As we waited for about two hours, busload after busload of DPP supporters appeared, mostly older people, from all over Taiwan.

The crowd was predominantly male and over 50. Darren observed after an hour of shooting that he had lots and lots of pictures of old Taiwanese guys.

Another contingent of supporters arrives....

At every rally there is always a vehicle like this. Shortly after I took this picture a truckload of KMT supporters showed up in a large red vehicle and shouted things at the crowd. Some yelled back, and one person threw a water bottle. Whatever you saw on TV, the reality was a lot less...

Nothing like being a sea of people who support the same cause you do. Unfortunately the Torch was late and I wanted to head out for food and music at....

...the next stop, a smaller love-fest over at Huashan Cultural Park for the Muddy Basin Ramblers' CD release. (Craig Ferguson's great pics)(Mark Wilbur's report)(Darren Melrose's pictures). Lots of familiar faces from the expat community, plus a great many people I hadn't met in person before. Blogs represented included The Taipei Kid, Wulingren, Battlepanda, Darren in Taiwan, Doubting to Shuo, CFImages, The Only Redhead in Taiwan, Poagao, Patrick Cowsill, and Prince Roy.

Eli Alberts of Radio Taiwan International, with Mark Wilbur in the background.

Darren, who proved to be excellent and informative company for a long day of talking and shooting pictures.

Mark Wilbur, stable, kind, and sensible.

Angelica Oung, ace reporter for the Taipei Times (with cup), who broke my heart by not introducing me to the gorgeous young woman sitting next to her.

Eli and Michael Fahey trade thoughts.

Robert Maguire, aka the Only Redhead in Taiwan.

The Muddy Basin Ramblers.

The crowd enjoys the show. The Ramblers were really, really great, though the venue was not exactly ideal for the kind of music they do.

Next morning it was off to Sanshia for some hiking with Michael Fahey, one of the brightest, funniest, most insightful people I know, and his friend Peter, both just back from bicycling in Yunnan. I suppose I should have known better than to go hiking with people who can ride a bike at 4,000 meters.

My idea of hiking includes ground that is more or less level. Not Michael. Our hike was entirely vertical. While Peter and Michael ran up, Reinhold Messner chasing Sir Edmund Hillary, I lagged far behind, sprawling over the rocks on all fours like John Candy trying to mate with a Texas Longhorn.

So now you know: if Michael Fahey invites you hiking, bring pitons.

Though most of the trail was enclosed by trees and bamboo, occasional breaks offered rich views.

Sanshia, which has a couple of well-known temples.

Peter atop Everest.

On Monday, as if it were all a dream, I found myself back in the classroom, where my students greeted my lectures with their usual enthusiasm.


cfimages said...

It was good to see you on Saturday. The unidentified girl in green in the photo is Dragonbabe from forumosa, just recently married to Dragonbones. Both are very lovely people.

Michael Turton said...

Thanks, man. My pic of you wasn't good, so it ain't up.

See you around, for sure.


Wayfarer said...

Haha. I automatically assume you already know everybody I know at those events.

Anonymous said...

are those students really asleep?

Michael Turton said...

Mashood, yep. In the 10 minute break between classes, they go right out. Taiwanese students don't sleep until after they graduate, most of mine go to bed at 2 or 3.


Robert said...


It was nice seeing you the other night. I appreciate all the introductions. It was nice to put some faces with these sites I spend so much time reading.

Hopefully, there'll be one or two more occasions like this before Fanfan and I head home in December for a couple of months.

Have a good one.


Unknown said...

loved the photos! Your description of hiking was priceless. And your students--it's amazing how they pass out like that during breaks and before classes. Looks like my Monday morning English class, too!

Anonymous said...

Nice to finally get a chance to meet you! Keep on bloggin'.