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 Created: 08/30/04


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Summer 2004 Voyage


ALASKA: Sitka & Kodiak

RUSSIA: Petropavlovsk

KOREA: Busan
Part 2: Photo Gallery

CHINA: Shanghai

CHINA: Hong Kong
Part 2: Photo Gallery

VIETNAM 1: Ha Long Bay
VIETNAM 2: Cuc Phuong
VIETNAM 3: Hanoi

TAIWAN: Keelung

Coming Next: JAPAN

August 30, 2004 – It took several days to steam from Ha Long Bay in Vietnam to our next destination, Taiwan. We docked in Keelung, Taiwan's third-largest seaport. Although we were there for four days, most of us spent little time exploring Keelung. Taipei, Taiwan's capital city, was just a 45 minute bus ride away and it provided a more compelling destination in terms of culture and commerce. Also, many side-trips offered through the field program took students and passengers far away from Keelung and Taipei.

Every port offers different things to different people. I must admit that I was not very taken with Taiwan compared to our other ports of call, however, many students on the ship told me it was one of their favorite stops. I'm not sure what the attraction was. (Perhaps for some of them it was the opportunity to drink snake blood – I'll have more on that later.)

Diplomatic Briefing
When we reached Keelung, the shipboard community was treated to a diplomatic briefing by a representative from the American Institute in Taiwan. Lung-Shan temple lantern in TaipeiThe AIT is a non-profit organization staffed by members of US State Department (on excursion tour visas) along with locally hired Taiwanese citizens. AIT performs the services of a US embassy, but in an unofficial capacity. Taiwan hasn't had a US embassy on its soil since 1979. That's when the United States stopped recognizing Taiwan (Republic of China, or ROC) as a sovereign nation and acknowledged mainland China (People's Republic of China, or PRC) as the legitimate Chinese nation. Almost overnight Taiwan (ROC) became a "non-nation" to the United States, but we've continued to maintain close military, economic, social and political ties with the island.

The normalization of relations with communist China was a significant change in our foreign policy. Why did we do it? The United States – along with many other nations – wanted access to China's huge trade market. China refused to establish diplomatic and/or trade relations with any country that recognized Taiwan's sovereignty. Normalization of relations with the United States in 1979 signaled that China was ready to open itself to the world and adapt to outside influences.

The Taiwan Question
The speaker from AIT told us that Taiwan, population 20 million, is a thriving capitalist economy and a world leader in high tech industry. I was surprised to learn that 80% of the world's laptops are manufactured in Taiwan. Chung Hsing PagodaIt is the second largest importer of US military equipment and our seventh largest trading partner. Taiwan maintains a trade surplus with the United States and holds large stocks of foreign reserves. Today Taiwan is the largest single investor in mainland China (PRC). Taiwanese companies are heavily invested in other Asian countries as well. The success of Taiwan is due, in part, to its highly educated population. It has a 94% adult literacy rate. Taiwan sends more students to the United States for academic study than any other country in the world.

Taiwan is also a leader in the democratization of Asia. Its current government is a multi-party democratic body that is working very well. This is in contrast to the years from 1949-1986 when Taiwan was controlled by the repressive Nationalist party. Meanwhile, China remains a one-party communist country with an oppressive regime, although it is gradually moving to a more capitalist economy and showing some limited political liberalization. China continues to insist that there is only ONE China, that Taiwan is part of China and it should fall under China's control. Taiwan, naturally, feels otherwise. Although many Taiwanese would like closer ties with China and perhaps a reunification of sorts in the distant future, they also want to maintain their political and economic independence. Taiwan's position in the world as an "independent state" is likely to remain ambiguous until some sort of formal agreement is reached with China. And that won't happen anytime soon.

Fokuangshan Buddhist Monastery in Kaoshiung, Taiwan

Prayers at Lung-Shan temple in TaipeiTouring Taiwan
Whenever Semester at Sea is in port, it relies on local assistance, usually from a well-established tour agency, to provide support for the SAS field program. The agency provides, or arranges, transportation along with meals and overnight accommodations. They also provide translators to act as guides. The guides perform a valuable service by assisting with travel logistics, providing educational discourse about the host country and specific field sites, and enabling trip participants to have direct contact with a local citizen. The guides work closely with the SAS tour leader to provide a quality field experience.

In most cases this arrangement works very well. I was very impressed by the overall quality of the tour companies hired by SAS. They were exceptional. Until we hit Taiwan, that is. We spent two full days with the "tour agent from hell." We traveled with this woman, and 32 other students, to Kenting National Park on the southern-most tip of Taiwan. It was quite an experience, and not one I'd like to repeat! When we finally got back to the ship, we heard other stories from people who had encountered similar problems on their tours. Later, we all laughed about it, but at the time it was going down, we were not amused. Next week you'll hear about our guide, the field trip, and the snake blood.

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