The Wealth of Taiwan is Her People -- By Joel H. Linton

People can live in Taipei, Taiwan their whole life, make a mint off of
those lucrative English-teaching jobs, see the accumulated wealth of
several thousand years of autocratic rule of ChinaÕs emperors at the
National Palace Museum, and yet hardly even taste of the true riches of
Taiwan.  

    Five years ago, I knew almost nothing about Taiwan except the few
bits of recent history mingled with military-dictatorship- era KMT
government propaganda that wormed its way into all of the American travel
guides about Taiwan.  But when I met my wife-to-be, Judy Lin, whose family
is Taiwanese from the countryside in I-Lan County, I began to realize how
much I truly did not know about her native land.  And as I started asking
questions and reading different sources, I was able to piece together an
incomplete, yet helpful, picture of the nation of Taiwan.  And last year,
we moved to Taipei to begin a life here in Taiwan.  

    Even more than the move to Taipei, though, the thing that has most
filled in my understanding of Taiwan this past year is the Tsunah
Foundation's Taiwan Cultural Tour.  The foundation has been hosting tours
every winter for several years now mostly for young second-generation
Taiwanese-Americans, but we who are native to America and probably also
Taiwanese who have lived their whole life in Taiwan could equally benefit
from it.  The tour starts in Taipei, moves down the east coast spending
several days in I-Lan, Hua-Lien and Tai-Dong, and then from the Ken-Ding
goes back to Taipei via the west coast with a stop in Tai-Chung and in the
Hakka area of Miao-Li.  The final days are spent visiting more places in
Taipei area and Tam-Sui.  Let me tell you some astounding things I came to understand about Taiwan on this ten-day circuit.  

    People seem to think of Taiwan as a small island; only about the
size of Maryland, the guide books say.  But the island of Taiwan is BIG.  
On this one island, I saw so many different types of terrain, climates and
cultures.  Taiwan spans two crustal plates, has extremely high mountains,
deep gorges, myriad river valleys, all kinds of coastlines and geological
land forms.  And so also with the climates and people groups.  As you go
from region to region, passing from one valley through mountain tunnels
and winding roads to the next valley, it is as if you are crossing into
different countries, different worlds.  Taiwanese (Minnan), Hakka,
"mainlander" Chinese, and ten different Malayo-Polynesian tribal groups
with their own sub-groups have settled in the island-nation.  There is
such a richness of peoples and places that I do not think anyone could get
the "island fever" restlessness that comes from living on too small an
island with nothing to do or see.

    Some policy makers living in Taiwan do not see the rich natural
resources of Taiwan.  They think that TaiwanÕs economy is forever hampered without being politically connected to some continental mainland with the vast mineral and natural resources of its hinterlands.  They think, "We cannot make it on our own."  But what I saw on the cultural tour disproves their pessimism.  Take the Bai-Mi (literally "white rice") Community in I-Lan County, Taiwan.  Many thought they were doomed.  As happens in America and all over the world, the younger generation from the rural areas were moving away to the big cities.  But Bai-Mi had an even bigger problem.  There was nothing to attract these youth back home, for home was
a very polluted place from the cement and mining industry of this small
town.  But the people of the Bai-Mi Community did not give up, but looked
to the one natural resource they did have, the knowledge and energy and
creativity of the people.  They found two old gentlemen who knew the
secrets of a craft of making wooden clogs.  And they turned it into a
huge, sustainable industry for the whole village.  It even got them into
film-making.  (To promote their product and aid in the development of
tourism there, they filmed a comedy about their village which they show
all of the tour groups.)  And the Tsunah Cultural Tour brought us there to
witness the results (and take home some of the products, I might add.)

    I could spend of lot of time giving you other examples we
witnessed.  How a local canned coffee and soda-making food company went
bio-tech and began breeding, cloning and exporting ornamental orchids all
over the world.  Or how the different indigenous tribal groups have
revitalized their cultural traditions and mined these riches to export to
a world in search of beauty and diversity.  Or how one county took one of
its rivers, carefully planned and constructed its water course, turned it
into a beautiful water park and now have captured the coveted honor of
being the site of the annual international crew rowing competition.  

    In short on the cultural tour, I learned something about Taiwan,
that every community of people around the world should take note of.  What
is it?  The wealth of any nation is its people.  The wealth of Taiwan is
her people.  The most important natural resource of Taiwan is her people.  
She need look nowhere else.
       
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     "The Wealth of Taiwan is Her People" © copyright 2003 Joel H. Linton