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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Beaching about Taiwan

Taiwan is an island. An island is a large body of land surrounded on all sides of by water. The early Portuguese called this land Ilha Formosa, meaning "beautiful island". Taking these facts into account, one could assume that Taiwan would be an ideal place for a beach lover. One would be wrong, especially when looking at the western half of this island, where 80% of the population live. On this long stretch of coastline facing the Taiwan Strait 台灣海峽 there is nary a decent beach to be found. Where there are stretches of sand and surf open to the public, one faces the daunting prospects of trash-strewn sand, detritus-filled surf and water of dubious sanitary quality. This is partly due to the legacy of Cold War political tensions, as for a number of years many areas along the coast were closed off to recreational users by the military and police, who feared a Chinese invasion force someday storming ashore. An even bigger legacy is industrial development, as the western coast is home to several large factory complexes, which doesn't do much for swimmers, or rare dolphins for that matter. But the main factor explaining the sad state of Taiwan's western beaches (or lack of them) is cultural.

Taking a look at a map of this island, you can see that, with the exception of the southern port city of Kaohsiung (Gāoxióng) 高雄, all of western Taiwan's major cities and towns are located well-inland, as if they're collectively turning their backs on the sea. Despite living on an island, many people here don't know how to swim, and the cultural preference for sickly pale white skin, especially on women, discourages people from getting out and soaking up some rays. Even in other parts of the country where there are good beaches, such as K'enting (Kěn​dīng) 墾丁, many visitors spend large chunks of their time checking out the glorified night market that constitutes the region's main town, while avoiding any physical contact with the water or the sunshine.

And what has brought about this, bitching? The fact that I was looking forward today (Saturday) to going with my wife and daughter to Mashakou (Mǎshāgōu) 馬沙溝, one of the few remotely attractive places to enjoy the sun, sand and surf between Kent'ing in the south and Fulung (Fúlōng) 福隆 in the northeast. Located near T'ainan (Tái​nán) 台南, Amber and I went there a couple of years ago (with my friend Steve and his brood) and really enjoyed ourselves. Unfortunately, when Pamela called yesterday afternoon to see if the beach area was still open, she was told that it has been closed since the end of August. Apparently, it's only open during the summer months. Of course the fault is mainly mine, for not getting off my ass and taking Amber to the shore earlier, when Mashakou and other west coast swimming areas would have still been open for business. And yet, when I see all that coastline and think of what could be if only cultural attitudes toward the sun and the sea were different, I'm left once again with that cultural disconnect that keeps me and Taiwan so far apart from each other.

Oh well, at least I got to go to Okinawa 沖縄 this year.

Looking sunnier than my beach outing plans is the relationship these days between Japan and Taiwan. Friday's Japan Times ジャパンタイムズ has this Kyōdō News 共同通信社 on the signing of the investment pact between the two countries:

"Taiwan and Japan on Thursday signed an agreement that lowers bilateral investment barriers, a significant step toward an eventual free-trade deal between the two countries.

In the absence of diplomatic ties, the agreement was signed in T'aipei (Tái​běi) 台北 by Mitsuo Ōhashi 大橋光夫, chairman of the Japan Interchange Association 財団法人交流協会, and his Taiwanese counterpart, Peng Run-tsu (Péng Róng-cì) 彭榮次, chairman of T'aipei's East Asian Relations Commission.

The accord covers three areas: trade liberalization, trade promotion and protection of investment. It will now be sent to Taiwan's Parliament, the Legislative Yuän (Lì​fǎ​yuàn) 立法院, for review before it enters into force.

The investment arrangement is the first economic deal Taiwan has signed with a nonallied country since T'aipei and Beijing (Běi​jīng) 北京 inked a preferential free-trade agreement in June last year.

Ōhashi said the pact is a major milestone for bilateral relations that will allow exchanges between the two countries to enter a new phase.

Japan is Taiwan's second-largest trading partner and its biggest investor, with more than $16 billion invested over the past 50 years, while Taiwan is Japan's fourth-largest trading partner and has invested about $1.6 billion in its Asian neighbor."

Downtown Fengyuan (Fēng​yuán) 豐原 on a Friday night

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