We started at a gentlemanly hour and first headed to a meeting at what is essentially the equivalent of our U.S. Trade Representative to talk about trade issues. Taiwan's status (or lack of status) worldwide means that it has a tough time getting trade deals that advantage other nations. Putting aside for the moment the lack of diplomatic relations that stands in the way of such agreements (with some nations), there is also the bullying behavior of the mainland to take into account, whose mafioso-like threats tend to diminish enthusiasm to reach deals with Taiwan. There is also an issue between the U.S. and Taiwan on pork imports, but it is hard to see this as much more than something to be overcome rather than a fatal break. Of note, there was a young woman in the meeting with flawless, Fairfax County English, and it turned out that she had gone to UVA as an undergrad. We exchanged all the necessary greetings and salutations of Hoos recognizing each other in the wild, and her supervisor did not seem to know what to make of the familiarity and lack of protocol.
We then moved onto a meeting with Andrew Yang who runs a think tank in Taipei. As you can see from the Wiki link here, he had been Defense Minister but resigned after a plagiarism scandal last year, six days into the job. Be that as it may, this was a fascinating discussion with a man who had served at the top levels of Taiwanese government who was now somewhat more free to discuss with us things that folks IN the government were a bit more coy about. I was much taken with Mr. Yang, who was very intelligent, thoughtful, and seemed to exude wisdom. He was also very patient with our group, who once again seemed quite happy to provide the benefit of their six days of experience in Taiwan to the difficult problems this nation faces.
|The haul, thus far|
From here we headed to "Jimmy's Kitchen" which our handler assured us was a famous eatery here in Taipei. It was not disappointing....I found both the pig's knuckles and the frog legs to be delicious. From here we took another one of our famous hit-every-red-light-along-the-way bus rides to the edge of town to have a "round table" discussion with a number of professors from the Taiwan National Defense University. We were met by a Major General who I believe was the #2 man at the school...and he could not have been smoother...six two, a jet black mane of hair, big smile and excellent English, he easily could have been an insurance salesman, or a car dealer. After a brief meeting (and more presents), we were taken to another building for the actual round-table.
It appears that there is sort of a standard Taiwanese military approach to these kinds of discussions. First, the tables are not round. A U-shaped arrangement is favored. Along each of the long sides sits the opposing sides, in this case, professors from their NDU on one side and our delegation on the other. We are seated in descending order of our "rank" or at least what they perceive our rank to be. Our delegation lead--my colleague at Hudson Seth Cropsey--is afforded head of delegation status and sits next to whomever is hosting the affair. Arrayed before us are usually several pens (which I cadge), tea and or coffee with creamer and sugar, water, sometimes coke, and often sweets or fruit or sweets and fruit. Next to these necessaries sits the bag in which the gift resides--tea, teacups, paper weights, etc. Perched at the front edge of the table is the microphone stand, and usually we each get our own microphones. Push the button, the little red light comes on, and speak. The practice of using the microphone does not seem to be geared to room size however, as even in rooms where someone of such a challenged auditory state as I can hear the human voice quite clearly, we still resort to amplified voiceovers. When in Rome....
In this case, as soon as we walked into the room, the professors began to very enthusiastically applaud our arrival. I don't mind telling you, there is something very pleasant in having one's arrival applauded. I did take the opportunity to let the retired SEAL Admiral know that this kind of applause generally attends my comings and goings, which caused him some amusement.
After our discussion, we piled again into our buses for the ride back to the hotel. We had been scheduled to go to a "very famous" Japanese restaurant, but none of us wanted to go through another long, multi-course dinner no matter how good the food--so we asked our handler if he minded if we didn't do it and he enthusiastically agreed. I think he is losing steam too. So it was back to the hotel to do a little work and hit the elliptical before meeting the boys down in the bar at 7PM. I think the plan was then to move to the buffet in the hotel or eat there in the bar, but the combination of the comfy chair, the bar lighting, and the utter lack of attention we received from the waitstaff caused me to declare that I was going to walk over the the Taipei 101 building foodcourt and avail myself of a McDonald's dinner--then go to bed. This I did, and I am glad of it, because I was able to have a quick, easy, familiar dinner and then get a good night's sleep.
Some quick hits?
The masks. My U.S. based expert on all things China emailed me yesterday that the people wearing masks are actually doing so because THEY are sick, or feel that they are becoming sick, and so they don't want to spread THEIR germs. I asked our handler about this, and he indicated that some of them fell into this category, as there is a pretty serious public health campaign that urges people to do so. But he said, he believed that more of them were trying to keep themselves protected against other people's germs.
The People. The folks I meet here in Taipei are a very happy lot. Smiles, handshakes, warmth...are abounding. I think the U.S. is missing out on a pretty good opportunity to actually point our what a success this place is, that right here, 170km from totalitarian China is a vibrant, free-market democracy that proves such a thing IS consistent with being Chinese.
Ok, that's enough for now. Have a good day/night as the case may be.