Indonesia: a country with similarities and differences to Brazil; A huge archipelago straddling the equator, consisting of 17,508 islands, about 6,000 of which are inhabited, with some of the most productive land on earth, providing for some three rice harvests a year. A country of innumerous races and languages, but the largest Muslim country on Earth, and the fourth most populous nation, with a population of some 238,000, 87% of whom are Muslim.

And then there’s the exotic fauna of the islands: the orangutans, rhinos and tigers of the forests of Sumatra, the giant Komodo dragon lizards. The Wallace Line runs right through Indonesia. It’s named after the British naturalist, Alfred Wallace, who described a dividing line between the distribution of Indonesia’s Asian and Australasian species. It runs north-south along the deep Lombok Strait, between Lombok and Bali. West of the line the flora and fauna are more Asian; moving east from Lombok, they are increasingly Australian, with typical marsupials.

And it is the land of volcanoes. Indonesia’s location on the edges of the Pacific, Eurasian, and Australian tectonic plates makes it the site of numerous volcanoes and frequent earthquakes. It has some 150 active volcanoes, including Krakatoa and Tambora, both famous for their devastating eruptions in the 19th century. And recently seismic activity was responsible for the 2004 tsunami that killed an estimated 167,736 in northern Sumatra and the Yogyakarta earthquake in 2006. However, volcanic ash is a major contributor to the high agricultural fertility that has historically sustained the high population densities of Java and Bali. It is a land, as my Lonely Planet waxes lyrical, of “impossibly green rice fields and traditional rice-growing kampong [villages], all overlooked by soaring volcanic peaks”.

And then there is the island of Bali, visited by some 3 million tourists a year, but where, in October 2002, a car bomb placed by Islamic militants killed 202, many of whom were Australian and British tourists. A further terrorist bomb killed 20, mostly Indonesians, in October 2005. But since then, it seems, business has got back to normal, with 2.88 million foreign tourists and 5 million domestic tourists in 2012, and forecasts for 2013 are at 3.1 million.

 

I arrive in Jakarta on Thursday night and venture out on Friday morning. The muezzin is calling: “Allah, Akbar”, and the civil servants, for my hotel is in an area of government offices, are making their way to the mosques. In the central park, Merdeka Square, there is a large obelisk, Monas, the National Monument, built in 1975, often called the last erection of dictator Sukarno, under which the diorama of the historical museum tell the story of Indonesia.

Most people switched from Buddhism to Islam between the 13th and the 16th centuries. The first regular contact between Europeans and the peoples of Indonesia began in 1512, when Portuguese traders, sought to monopolize the sources of nutmeg, cloves, and pepper in Maluku. Dutch and British traders followed, and in 1602 the Dutch established the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and became the dominant European power in the area, ousting the Portuguese.

For most of the colonial period, Dutch control over the archipelago was tenuous outside of coastal strongholds; only in the early 20th century did Dutch dominance extend to what was to become Indonesia’s current boundaries.

Japanese occupation during World War II ended Dutch rule, and encouraged the previously suppressed Indonesian independence movement. Two days after the surrender of Japan in August 1945, Sukarno, an influential nationalist leader, declared independence and was appointed President. The Netherlands tried to reestablish their rule, and the resulting conflict ended in December 1949, when in the face of international pressure, the Dutch formally recognized Indonesian independence.

Sukarno moved Indonesia from democracy towards authoritarianism, and maintained his power base by balancing the opposing forces of the military and the Communist Party of Indonesia. An attempted coup on 30 September 1965 was countered by the army, who led a violent anti-communist purge, during which the Communist Party was blamed for the coup and effectively destroyed. Around 500,000 people are estimated to have been killed. The head of the military, General Suharto, outmaneuvered the politically weakened Sukarno, and was formally appointed president in March 1968. His New Order administration was supported by the US government, and encouraged foreign direct investment in Indonesia, which was a major factor in the three subsequent decades of substantial economic growth. However, the authoritarian “New Order” was widely accused of corruption and suppression of political opposition.

Indonesia was the country hardest hit by the late 1990s Asian financial crisis. This led to popular protest against the New Order which led to Suharto’s resignation in May 1998. In 1999, East Timor voted to secede from Indonesia, after a twenty-five-year military occupation that was marked by international condemnation of repression of the East Timorese. Since Suharto’s resignation, a strengthening of democratic processes has included a regional autonomy program, and the first direct presidential election in 2004. And in the last few years the economy has done well. A political settlement to an armed separatist conflict in Aceh was achieved in 2005.

There is a rough kind of prosperity in Indonesia. Nobody seems to walk around. Well, it’s not too much fun in the constant 30C plus heat, but everyone seems to have a small 100cc motor-cycle, to cover even the shortest of distances. At the University of Semarang, which held the conference we attended, the Rector has even banned the use of motor-cycles on campus, in order to encourage the students, and staff, to walk.

I look around the nearby buildings in the old Dutch part of the centre of Jakarta: the Emmanuel Church, and the mock-Gothic 19th century cathedral, the new mosque, the white government buildings, the National Museum with its carefully catalogued anthropological collection of costumes and artifacts from the outlying regions of Indonesia: Papua New Guinea, Borneo.

Leisure for the Indonesians is generally to be found in the malls. But in the old part of town, Kota, once the Dutch town of Batavia, the “Queen of the East”, from where they ruled the archipelago, the buildings are being restored, the Naval Museum, the Puppet Museum and the Fine Arts Museum, plenty of cafés, a few hippies selling jewellry, you can rent old Dutch bikes and have your picture taken, and, on Saturday afternoon, the atmosphere the atmosphere is relaxed, and, with a leap of the imagination, you might think yourself, for just a moment, in Utrecht , or even Amsterdam, for there are some fetid canals in this old port area. And then I visit the huge Gereja Sion Church, dating from 1695, with its gravestones inscribed in Dutch, and its Spartan interior with copper chandeliers decked out for a wedding.

In the port of Semarang we attend the regional conference on translation, and part of the opening ceremony of a song and dance routine by a group of students. The girls sing and twist their hands and arms in the sensual South Seas way, and one of them has a Muslim headscarf. Indeed, both the majority of students and teachers wear Muslim headscarves. Ahmed, our visitor from Saudi Arabia walks out. It’s too much for him, and his strict religious code forbids such spectacles. After the conference he hands me some literature on Islam. He comes on out trips to the ancient Buddhist temples of Borobudur, dating from between 750 and 850AD, and Prambanan, built some fifty years later, but doesn’t enter. These polytheistic religions are frivolous and insignificant.

Indonesia is cheap and friendly. Everybody greets you with a “Hello misterrr!”, even the police. You can stay in top-class hotels for 100 dollars a night, you never need to think about taxi fares, and load yourself up with local artifacts and handicrafts. I find myself being seduced by this life I’ve always rejected. And why walk anywhere when there are plenty of bicycle trishaw drivers ready to save you sweating in the heat.

Near the temples of Borobudur and Prambanan, the city of Yogyakarta became the capital of the Indonesian Republic from 1946 to 1948, after the fall of Jakarta to the Dutch, in their brief attempt to regain control after Japanese occupation. Because of its significant contribution to the survival of the Indonesian Republic, Yogyakarta was given the status of Special Administrative Region, and the Sultan was made hereditary Governor, after support of the Dutch-educated Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono IX for independence. I visit the palace of the present Sultan, Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X, Sultan since 1998.

In the old silver-producing district of Kotagede the old mansions are being refurbished, and it has now become an environmentally protected area. On a very hot Thursday lunchtime I lose the other members of the tour party and take a stroll around. A plaque commemorates Lech Walesa’s staying at one of the mansions. In the centre of the village there is the newly-restored covered pavilion, the bale, the communal meeting place, and nearby the men are praying at the small mosque, and the children begin to leave school. I ask for a cold coconut juice from a street vendor, but it seems there is no refrigeration, and the elderly lady fails to understand me. I get lost, and at a nearby small company I ask the way. The workers call the girl who speaks English well, who puts me on the right track.

 

This short hop to Indonesia is soon over, and I return to Brazil, maybe to comeback to Asia next year.

 

Jakarta traffic

Jakarta traffic

Yogyakarta

Yogyakarta

Prambanan

Prambanan

 

Kota, Jakarta

Kota, Jakarta

Boys in Kotagede

Boys in Kotagede

House in Kotagede

House in Kotagede

Opening to congress in Semarang

Opening to congress in Semarang

Borobudur

Borobudur

 

 

The Year of the Snake

Nowhere do you get such an idea of the immense wealth of China as in Macau, the tiny ex- Portuguese enclave, 26.3 km sq., one hour by boat from Hong Kong. In my last series of blogs I mentioned its 33 casinos, with several more coming, the fact that five times as much money is gambled in Macau as in Las Vegas, and now, more and more of the Las Vegas casinos are arriving: Wynns and Sands are already here, and Caesar’s Palace will be arriving. Sands’ Macau Venetian is twice as big as its Las Vegas counterpart, has an arena with a 15,000 capacity, a permanent Cirque du Soleil troupe, a huge shopping mall, a vast hotel complex, and a recreation of Venice’s canals, with singing gondolieri, in Chinese of course! In 2010 25 million visitors came to Macau, more than half from the Chinese mainland, and more and more are coming every year.

And on this visit I notice some cheaper shops in The Venetian, and Macdonalds – the losers have to eat somewhere – and a jogger trots his way around the vast mall…

An enormous new casino, the Galaxy, in Thai style, has just been opened, and will be followed by The Parisian, then maybe The Egyptian, The Brazilian, The Tahitian. It has been built on the Cotai Strip, land reclaimed from the sea, now joining the islands of Taipa and Coloane, not so long ago quiet fishing villages. More land is being reclaimed from the sea; a light railway is being built to make it easier to get to the casinos, for, at peak times like the Chinese New Year, the entrances to the casinos are choc-a-bloc with taxis and the casino shuttle buses bringing punters from the ferries and the airport.

But Macau is not just casinos. Like all self-respecting Chinese cities, it has invested millions in a pair of giant pandas, Kai Kai and Xin Xin, and their luxury enclosure. It has museums and galleries. Its well-preserved Portuguese buildings have made it a Unesco world heritage centre. It is investing in the arts. And the University of Macau is moving to a huge new campus which will actually be on the mainland but linked to Macau by an underground tunnel, making it appear to be part of Macau. Through casino money, the University of Macau is fantastically wealthy. Money is there for scholarships, publications, projects, and my colleagues all earn fat salaries, fourteen of them a year. But the University keeps the casinos at arm’s length: the professors are only allowed in during the Chinese New Year, when they may blow their salaries and the department money! Working in the casinos has little prestige among the students who study Portuguese, who aim at jobs as translators in the Macau public administration – all public information and documentation must still be translated into Portuguese, despite the very low number of Portuguese in Macau. And only the weaker students, or the dropouts, it seems, go and work as croupiers in the casinos.

On my three previous visits to Macau I hardly met any Portuguese. I remember my first short visit in August 2004 when I was so disappointed to find that no one I met spoke Portuguese, and that, well, when I asked for a cake in Portuguese in a café, it was, well, as if I was speaking Chinese… But at the congress at the university there are number of Portuguese and also Macanese, mestizos, whose Portuguese grandfathers or great-grandfathers had taken local wives. Many were employed in the public administration, but in 1998, with the return of Macau to China, many went to Portugal, booming at the time, or Brazil, and now some are returning… And I eat cod in Portuguese restaurants which are actually owned by Portuguese, like “O Santos”, owned by a Portuguese ex-sailor, who employs mainly Filipino waitresses to serve the hungry gamblers.

So why hasn’t Portuguese been dropped in the University of Macau? Because Brazil is one of China’s main trading partners, and, as mentioned in the blog on Chongqing, China is determined to invest in learning Portuguese. When Brazilians started appearing at the Guangzhou Trade Fair to buy Chinese goods, the Cantonese university decided to open up a department to specifically train Chinese-Portuguese interpreters in for this trade fair.

And Brazil and just about every other country in the world buys Chinese goods. And tourists like myself, for whom shopping is anathema, buy and buy. Marcia, who teaches at the University of Macau and who speaks fluent Chinese and Portuguese, tells me that tours for which she has been a guide begin as cultural tours, but when the visitors discover how cheap manufactured products are in China – clothes, porcelain, shoes, electronics, tools, toys – and now even whisky and wine – the visitors soon lose interest in temples, gardens and museum. Buy, buy, buy, and nowhere can produce goods as fast and as cheap and as in such great quantities as China can.

Mao Zedong’s images appear on all Chinese notes; his portrait is there in the Forbidden City, but that is about all you see or hear of him. You can buy Mao caps and Little Red Books and Mickey Mouse Mao clocks in the junk shops, which hardly seems a way to honour the Great Helmsman. At a time when Mammon is worshipped more and more, and Mao’s notorious economic mismanagement is formally recognized, he is no longer an iconic figure. By contrast, everywhere I’ve been in the south of China I’ve found references to Dr Sun Yat-sen, the founder of the Chinese Republic, who is honoured on the mainland, in Taiwan, and in Hong Kong and Macau, where there are now a number of museums in his memory, and this is very convenient as a means of ideologically including Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan within China.

Sun Yat-sen, the son of a farmer, was born in 1866. He moved to Hawaii where he was brought up by his older brother, then studied medicine in Hong Kong, and after graduating in 1892 he worked in Macau, Guangzhou and Honolulu. He became interested in politics and established the Revive China Society, whose aim was to overthrow the weak Qing dynasty. In 1895 he took part in Guangzhou in his first abortive uprising. Forced into exile he lived in Japan, the United States and Britain. While in London he was kidnapped and imprisoned in the Chinese legation. In danger of being executed the British Foreign Office got involved and obtained his release.

The Qing dynasty was finally overthrown in the Chinese Revolution of 1911. Sun Yat-sen briefly became President, and with Song Jiaoren established the Kuomintang (National People’s Party). When the party was suppressed in 1913 by General Yuan Shikai, Sun Yat-sen escaped to Japan. On returning to Guangzhou and with the help of advisers from the Soviet Union, the Kuomintang gradually increased its power in China. In 1924 it adopted the “Three Principles of the People” (nationalism, democracy and social reform). He also established the influential Whampoa Military Academy under Chiang Kai-Shek.

Sun Yat-sen died of cancer in Beijing in 1925, at the age of 59, before the great divide between the Kuomintang and the Communists, thus enabling him to be seen as the Father of Modern China by all sides. His widow, Ching-ling, joined the Communist Party, but her sisters, May-ling, aka Madame Chang Kai-shek; and Ai-ling, wife of Chang Kai-shek’s Minister of Finances, H. H. Kung. So Sun Yat-sen died at the right moment, before having to choose… See the first post of this blog “Taiwan, What’s in a Name?” for more information.

His mausoleum is up on the hill in Nanjing, the “Capital of the South”, the capital of China in the immediate period after the 1911 Revolution.  It had been the capital of China during the Ming Dynasty from 1368 to 1421. I visit the revolutionary government headquarters there and see an exhibition of photos. I am impressed by a photograph of a small pair of women’s shoes, to fit a grown women with bound feet, a standard practice in China for many thousands of years, to restrain growth by binding and breaking toes in order to produce “beautiful” tiny, “erotic” “lotus” feet and immobile women who would often need to be carried. This practice was outlawed in the 1911 Revolution, which aimed at breaking with the feudal society of the past.

But China is still such a mixture of the old and the new. In the shadow of the banking district, live turtles are being sold on the street, for soup, of course; and a barber gives a haircut on a street corner.

It is the Chinese New Year, the largest annual movement of people in the world as several hundred million return to their family home, and, in the case of many migrant workers, it is the only time in the year when they will see their families. And, after a family reunion on the evening of 10 February they take a trip, maybe to the casinos of Macau. The ferries are full, but the wait to go through immigration in Hong Kong and Macau. It seems China is used to dealing with this enormous flux of people.HH

Because of the Chinese New Year my plane to London is half empty. No one is doing business in Hong Kong these days. But within four weeks I shall return to East Asia, to Indonesia, and continue the blog from there.

Macau skyline by day

Macau skyline by day

Macau skyline by night

Macau skyline by night

Tourists in Macau

Tourists in Macau

Portuguese restaurant in Macau

Portuguese restaurant in Macau

Rua dos Bem Casados

Rua dos Bem Casados

Shoes for woman with bound feet

Shoes for woman with bound feet

Dr Sun Yat-sen

Dr Sun Yat-sen

Barber's in Nanjing

Barber’s in Nanjing

 

Mestre de medicina chinesa

Mestre de medicina chinesa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Road to Mandalay

By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’ lazy at the sea,
There’s a Burma girl a-settin’, and I know she thinks o’ me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say:
“Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!”
Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay:
Can’t you ‘ear their paddles chunkin’ from Rangoon to Mandalay?
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’-fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!

From “Mandalay”, Rudyard Kipling, 1892
Adapted versions set to music and sung by Nelson Eddy, Frank Sinatra and Robbie Williams among others can be found on youtube.

The road from the airport to the hotel in Mandalay was at first quiet as we drove through the dry plains and bushland of Upper Burma. It is approaching the end of winter, rather the dry season, and it rains much less here than further south, on the coast around Yangon. Night falls quickly, and at the traffic islands some courting couples are sitting and chatting, and other groups of young guys have parked their Hondas and are shooting the breeze.

Then we enter Mandalay. Unlike Yangon, no ban on motor bikes here. The old capital of Upper Burma, conquered by the British in 1885, on the strategic overland route between India and China, where, during the long British occupation, until 1947, the old flotilla did lie on the Ayeyarwady. Though in the Second World War Burma was held by the Japanese from 1942 to 1945, as related in the post on Chongqing, and if the Japanese had been able to overwhelm the Chinese nationalists now pushed back into the hinterland, with their capital in Chongqing, they might even have threatened the jewel of the British Empire, India.

We reach central Mandalay, and the roads are potholed, dusty, badly lit. Most of the traffic is light motor bikes, hooting constantly. I’m dropped at the Silver Star Hotel, on the corner of 83rd and 27th Streets, between the Indian and Chinese quarters, for the Brits brought huge numbers of Indian and Chinese coolies to build the railways and work the land. I check in and take a stroll at 8 p.m. Street-lighting is little more than an occasional strip of neon light every 50 metres or so. Most shops are shut, but there are many vendors and hawkers on the street, and an open-air clothing market is closing down for the day. The streets all look the same, as ugly and depressing as each other. I have a good sense of direction but I worry a little about getting lost. I walk in the road for the pavements are cluttered with the vendors, parked motor bikes and trishaws, and where they do exist they are usually broken and dangerous. My Lonely Planet warns me about the biggest dangers in Myanmar: “stumbling on the uneven paving slabs or disappearing completely into a sewage-filled pothole”. And the next day a Frenchman arrives at the Silver Star after a ten-hour train journey from Yangon, asking for acupuncture as he had fallen into a pothole on a Yangon pavement…

The road is stained with dark-red blobs, betel nut juice which has been spat out, for this is betel nut country, and many men are ardent chewers, with swollen gums and dark-red stained mouths and teeth.

A few bearded worshippers are leaving the mosque after the last prayer, the Isha. Was that a rat I see scurrying past? Don’t wander around the dark streets of a big city at night, particularly if you don’t know the town. But then I realize my fears are misguided. There are no muggers lurking in the dark, only vendors and hawkers and rubbish. The foreign tourists, carrying their wad of dollars, have nothing to fear from the streets of Mandalay. I relax and buy some rice biryani, and enjoy it!

The congested and dusty central streets do not show Mandalay off at its best. So I visit Mandalay Palace and Fort, right in the centre of town, King Thibaw’s palace before he was ejected by the British. I climb Mandalay Hill, make my way past the vendors and hawkers, the many Buddhist shrines and halls to the summit, from where the smog of central Mandalay is in the distance, and the view is dominated by the stupas of Northern Mandalay, the golf course, and the old racecourse. Then I catch a motorbike taxi to get a closer view of some of the many temples, gilded stupas, images of Buddha and the Golden Palace Monastery, no longer gilded, but showing its carvings and structure of teak, the high quality hardwood which was one of the reasons the Brits took Burma.

But there is another danger in the dirty streets and restaurants of Mandalay, and I’m laid up for a day with the greatest enemy of the traveller, a bout of the Revenge of Montezuma…

But in Bagan I’m better and rent a bike to cycle to join the many tourists in wandering around the Bagan Plain see a few of the more than 4,400 Buddhist temples dotted around the area. They were built from the 11th to 13th centuries by King Anawrahta and his successors. Many have remained virtually intact, but others, in ruins, have been restored and rebuilt, a controversial decision for many, according to one Unesco official, resulting in a “Disney-style fantasy version of one of the world’s great religious and historical sites”.

Myanmar is a poor country with a small middle-class. Labour is dirt cheap. Six young female receptionists cram together behind the check-in desk at the Silver Star Hotel, though numbers hardly seem to help efficiency. All the teashops have an army of boy waiters, 12, 13, 14 years-old. But just about everybody seems to be able to read and write. The orange-seller reads a magazine while awaiting customers; the vegetable hawker studies a Buddhist tract.

And we rich Europeans and North Americans (and more and more members of the BRIC countries) are here to spend our wealth and be voyeurs of that poverty, spending US$100 a night (often much more) on a hotel, which represents some three or four time the monthly wage of many a teaboy and receptionist.

Yet there is no resentment. In the Hong Kong South China Morning Post I read of an elderly Japanese, who, as a child, saw the American soldiers in the destruction of post-war Japan, flaunting their dollars, chewing their gum, and buying nylon stockings for the girls, and he thought, maybe one day, we can be like him…

On my flight back to Hong Kong I read the most recent copy of the weekly Myanmar Times. Pictures of Auun Sun Su Kyi, “The Lady”, on her recent trip to South Korea are on p.3 and the back page. On p.2 there is a critique of Brunei banning a pro-democracy Burmese professor, Dr Maung Zarni, from speaking about democracy in Myanmar. P.7 reports on global debt cancellation and Myanmar’s entry into the global market; p.4 on Visa’s expansion in Myanmar; p.9 on an activist imprisoned in the September 2007 riots not being allowed to continue his university economics course – this is not in keeping with the democratic opening; and then on p.12 we read that newspapers are unwilling to publish anything negative about “The Lady” or her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) and they fear they may lose readers: “We have been oppressed by the military government for years, so [journalists also] want to oppose the government in this transition as much as possible”.

It was fascinating to seem Myanmar at the cusp of these democratic and economic changes. I am sure that when I return things will be very different…

On Mandalay Hill

On Mandalay Hill

Transport, Mandalay

Transport, Mandalay

Old woman by the temple

Old woman by the temple

Bagan Plain

Bagan Plain

 

Monk with a funny hat

Monk with a funny hat

Travelling by horse and cart

Travelling by horse and cart

Bboys

Bagan boys

Over the plain

Over the plain

 

 

 

 

 

 

Burmese Days

Few countries have been enshrouded in such mystery in recent years as Burma/Myanmar (the name was officially changed by the military government in 1989). From a distance one reads of the secretive military dictatorship clamping down on all form of protest and almost isolating the country; the protest of the Buddhist monks against price rises in 2008 when some 31 monks were killed; the long house arrests of Aung San Suu Kyi (The Lady), leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), from 1990 to 1995, 2000 to 2002, and 2003 to 2010, initially after the elections which the NLD won in 1990 were declared null and void. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, and now, after her release in November 2010, is wined and dined by world leaders, Hillary Clinton, David Cameron, and especially Barack Obama. She is very much a President-in-Waiting, and photos of her and her father, Aung San, are on sale on every street corner.

Aung San was the leader of the Burmese independence movement during the period of the Second World War. He first received military training in Japan, but then switched the allegiance of the Burmese army to the British in March 1945, helping the British to prevail over the Japanese two months later. In January 1947 he negotiated an independence agreement with Britain, and then his party, the Anti-fascist People’s Freedom League, won an overwhelming victory in the ensuing elections, but in July 1947 he and six colleagues were gunned down. There followed successive military dictatorships while the economy, once one of the wealthiest in Asia, disintegrated.

The military party won the 2010 election, boycotted by the NLD, and considered fraudulent by many, but, surprisingly for many, has introduced a number of liberal measures, granting amnesties to more than 200 political prisoners, introducing new labour laws that allow unions and strikes, relaxing of press censorship, and allowing the currency to float. Economic sanctions have been lifted by Europe and North America, Aung San Suu Kyi now said she hoped foreigners would now visit Myanmar, and the flood of tourists began…

Myanmar is in! The snowbirds come to escape the drudgery of the European and North American winters. And the tourist infrastructure can hardly cope. Hotels at twice the price I find in the Lonely Planet Guide are difficult to find, and plane reservations are tricky.

The tourists come for the culture shock; the quirks: men in skirts, rather longhis, the standard male attire here. To ride in cars with a right-hand drive, as in the UK, but you drive on the right-hand side of the road, as in Europe and the Americas – in 1970 the government decided to further distance itself from the colonial past by driving on the right – but continued to import old Japanese cars (Japan drives on the left). And for security reasons, no motor bikes may circulate in Yangon.

And bring a full bag of dollars, and only fresh clean greenbacks, for anything creased and old and dirty is not accepted. It is a country where ATMs are in their early infancy, and forget about credit cards, Macdonalds and Starbucks. And only 5% of the population own a mobile phone, one of the lowest percentages in the world. The tourists come for the smells and crush of the markets, the cheap gifts, the remarkable lack of hassle despite the poverty, the temples and stupas, and to see the male and female monks in their crimson robes holding their begging bowls. It is a country which is still in the 20th century, where you can smoke almost everywhere, where you don’t bother about a seatbelt, where you even get a paper non-virtual hard copy airline ticket, and in the most important airport in the country your luggage is weighed on a set of 1960s Avery scales, in pounds and stones, of course – I remember stretching up to put a penny in the slot of one of them to see if I’d already reached six stone in 1964.

But things are rapidly changing. I read that the price of SIM cards has come down from $600 to $100, and, by the proliferation of mobile phone shops, it looks as if they are much much cheaper. ATMs seem to be springing up. Motor bikes may be allowed into Yangon. The carpetbaggers have already been and gone. The price of lands has risen rapidly; the number of business visitors rose 64% in 2012. China is building an oil and pipeline right through Myanmar. And Thailand, Japan, the US, France, the UK and Germany are all important stakeholders in the new Myanmar.

As a result of the three Anglo-Burmese wars, 1824, 1853, and 1885, the Burmese kings were defeated, and all of Burma became part of the British Empire. Chinese and Indian immigration to Burma was encouraged. In central Yangon and Mandalay there is a large Indian population, with both Hindu temples and Muslim mosques, and the Chinese population in Yangon is beginning to celebrate New Year.

Burma was not a popular colonial posting for British officials, many of whom were insensitive to local traditions, especially that of taking off their shoes to enter temples. Eric Blair (aka George Orwell) went to Burma as member of the colonial police force in 1922, aged 19, and stayed five years. Two of his best essays, “The Hanging” (1931) and “Shooting  an Elephant” (1936) reflect his frequently tortured conscience as a representative of British colonisation. Indeed, his dislike of Burma, colonial officials, British wheelers and dealers, and also the Burmese themselves, is clear in his novel Burmese Days (1934), set in Kathar, Northern Myanmar, where he was stationed from 1926 to 1927. Indeed, this experience of the colonial was to a large extent responsible for his becoming a socialist.

But the Brits left a number of buildings in Yangon, which give it a colonial air: the dark red, or crimson brick Post & Telegraph building next to the Law Courts in a similar style; the classical Customs House, the colonnaded Inland Water Transport Office, and the exclusive classical Strand Hotel. And right in the centre of city is the huge and dilapidated also dark red brick Colonial Secretariat Building. Indeed, it seems that the dark red brick style caught on as a number of recent buildings have followed it.

Unlike some of my colonial predecessors, in the temples I do take off my socks and shoes and wear a longhi over my shorts, and in the Shwedagon Paya, dating back to 1485, I walk in the clockwise direction of all the visitors. The proliferation of the elaborately roofed pointed pavilions, the many Buddhas in their temples, and their followers and disciples is overwhelming. My Lonely Planet waxes lyrical: “You emerge from semi-gloom into a dazzling explosion of technicoloured glitter, for Shwedagon is not just one huge, glowing zedi (stupa). Around the mighty stupa cluster an incredible assortment of smaller zedi, statues, temples, shrines, images and tazaung (small pavilions). Somehow, the bright gold of the main stupa makes everything else seem brighter and larger than life” (p.45).

This is the big tourist attraction of all Myanmar, and we take our pictures and mingle with the locals, who are here praying, burning incense, meeting their friends, doing their homework, picnicking, for the visit to the temple is a family outing, to escape for a while from the cramped living conditions of most Burmese.

Shewedagon Paya

Shewedagon Paya

Walking around the stupa

Walking around the stupa

Meeting a monk

Meeting a monk

A street in Yangon

A street in Yangon

In the Muslim quarter in Yangon

In the Muslim quarter in Yangon

The Law Courts, Rangoon

The Law Courts, Rangoon

 

Chongqing

I am in Chongqing in mid-southern China with my colleague Maria Célia, from the Portuguese Language Department, at SISU, Sichuan International Studies University, mainly a language institute, training China’s future language experts. It is a city little known outside China, an ancient city more than a thousand years old, an age-old port on the Yangzi River. From 1937 to 1945, when the Japanese controlled most of China, it was the capital of United China, when the Nationalists and Communists united to fight the Japanese invaders. The CPC (Communist Party of China) martyrs in the subsequent war against the Kuomindang Nationalists are remembered in the Martyrs’ Monument, Museum, and Promenade, near the university and mountain area.

It is now an economic powerhouse whose municipality contains some thirty million, though a mere seven live in the city itself. It is hardly a city which attracts tourists. It is drenched once every five days by acid rain, according the Seattle Times. My Rough Guide (p.777) states: “Overcrowded and fast-paced, the city is plagued by oppressive pollution, winter fog and summer humidity”. It’s polluted and smoggy, but nothing like the Beijing smog we have seen recently. It is now, because of its economic importance, a special development area, together with Beijing, Shanghai, and Tianjin, administered direct from the capital, Beijing, and has been dismembered from its province of Sichuan.

We are accompanied by the teacher of Portuguese, Tam, or rather Camila, for everyone who has regular contact with the west adopts a western name. The course has only recently been set up, and we and discuss a possible exchange of students. The region here does a lot of trade with Brazil, importing iron ore and soya. We need people who speak Portuguese, and we don’t want them to speak the Portuguese from Portugal. Can we send you some twenty or thirty students every year? But only one or two will be coming from Brazil. Chinese is hardly a popular subject at the moment. We are accompanied at the meeting by the Secretary, as Camila calls her, a pleasant lady of some 55 years, and the Secretary’s assistant. The Department Secretary? Maybe a kind of Administrative Manager? Célia later tells me that she is the university department Communist Party Secretary, and all such exchanges of staff and students must get her approval.

SISU has its work cut out teaching languages to its students. At the FX Hotel none of the receptionists speak English when we arrive. A drinking group enlists one young lad who knows a few words as our interpreter to negotiate the deposit to pay, the system here. In the lift another group of male guests help us negotiate the computerized key system. He sees my card with “633”, says “Six”, and presses the button for the sixth floor. His friends are lost in admiration by his command of English. So, we try to speak some Chinese, make contact with the locals at the food stalls just outside the hotel, who are highly amused at our attempts to order chicken wings.

I get some idea of the language difficulties and isolation visitors to China, missionaries, traders, teachers, may have experienced, and indeed, still do. And the feeling of strangeness. The cuisine, for example, is also completely different. Nowadays you can get milk, at least in powdered form, as parents realize its nutritional value for children, in most places. But in vain do I look for the dairy sections in the supermarket I visit. No cheese, butter, yoghurt, cream, margarine. No television channels on the hotel TV in any other language then Chinese. But I do recognize “China’s got Talent!” No English, French, German newspapers anywhere. The South China Times seems not to reach Chongqing. No English books in the bookshops. At the airport bookshop I see the National Geographic, Elle, Elle for Men, Harper’s Bazaar, Home Trend, Manager magazines. But they are all completely in Chinese, apart from the title; English titles are chic! At least the Internet provides a lifeline. But no Facebook, Twitter, or WordPress, all censored here in China. I’ll send this posting from Macau.

We take a cab to the centre of Chongqing, Jiefangbei, at the Victory Monument, when the Nationalists, with their government retreated to Chongqing, were finally defeated by the Communists in 1949. The Victory Monument to the Communists, a clock tower, is surrounded by the poshest griffe shops in town: Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Rolex, Mont Blanc, Tissot, and Ermegildo Zegna. In Beijing, in Wangfujing, I found the same, and there are no benches to attract casual strollers.

By contrast, in mid-afternoon in the People’s Square, with the huge People’s Concert Hall on one side, built in the style of Beijing’s Temple of Heaven, and the modernistic three Gorges Museum on the other, everyone seems to feel at home. I approach through the broad passage from the light railway, where dance classes are taking place: ballroom, then jazz, then formation dancing with flaring ribbons. In the square there are badminton games, singing, an exhibition of traditional dance, a 40-year-old playing with his Chinese yo-yo, or diabolo, and a large number of people, mostly middle-aged, whipping tops. Mothers bring their well-wrapped up children, with their fat red cheeks. The toddlers’ clothes have a slit at the genitals, to save nappies, and many are the small boys who show off their tiddlers to the world.

Chongqing has been in the news recently. Bo Xilai, the charismatic populist mayor of Chongqing, was reckoned to be a candidate for a top post in the Communist Party at the meeting of the party in 2012. He had helped to make Chongqing an economic powerhouse, had cleaned up crime and the mafia, was generally popular as average incomes soared in the city by up to 20% a year, and, despite pollution and traffic, seems wealthy and healthy. Roads are good, pavements are firm, and investment is there. He had enabled many of the poorest in society to get free health benefits, now not a universal right in China, and had even and had even encouraged the singing of Chairman Mao’s songs in public.

But…, quoting from Wikipedia: “Neil Heywood (20 October 1970 – 14 November 2011) was a British businessman who worked in China. He was associated with Bo Xilai, the former Communist Party of China Committee Secretary for Chongqing and a member of the Chinese Politburo. Heywood was found dead in his hotel room in Chongqing, and the initial official reports (which have subsequently been challenged) attributed his death to alcohol poisoning. Media reports have suggested that the former chief of police under Bo, Wang Lijun, may have had information about Heywood’s death. Wang fled to the US consulate in Chengdu on 6 February 2012 and allegedly told US diplomats that Heywood had been poisoned, and that Bo’s family was involved in corruption. The Wang Lijun incident precipitated Bo’s high-profile sacking two weeks later. According to a reinvestigation by the Chinese authorities, evidence indicates that Heywood was murdered, with Gu Kailai, Bo Xilai’s wife, and Zhang Xiaojun, orderly at Bo’s home, “highly suspected,” according to Xinhua News. On 26 July 2012, Gu Kailai was charged with the murder of Neil Heywood and in August convicted of the crime.”

British newspapers have speculated about many things: were Heywood and Gu Kailai having an affair? Was the murder a result of a lovers’ quarrel? Was Heywood about to reveal the extent of the kickbacks that businessmen had to offer Bo Xilai to do business? Was Heywood an MI5 spy? Had Bo threatened Wang? Anyway, Bo is now in disgrace, and it seems he may remain so for ever.

Not as bad as Beijing!

Not as bad as Beijing!

Centre of Chongqing

Centre of Chongqing, Victory Monument

Dancing in the underpass

Dancing in the underpass

Watching the dancing

Watching the dancing

Mothers and child

Mothers and child

The People's Square

The People’s Square

Young children

Young children

Carrying the baby

Carrying the baby

Return to Hong Kong

Once again in Hong Kong. Once again among the masses on the crowded pavements, squeezed into metro carriages, in the queues for the restaurants. Once again in one of the greatest hubs of the capitalist world; the seventh richest “country” in the world in terms of per capita income though it’s hardly distributed evenly; now it is the financial and distribution centre for much of the wealth of southern China; one of the easiest places in the world to set up a business, attracting entrepreneurs legal and illegal like Kim Dotcom, resident here from 2003 to 2010; and maximum personal taxation is only 14%. One of the terms of the agreement to make Hong Kong a SAR (Special Administrative Region) was that China could not tax Hong Kong.

It is the paradise of shopaholics, with low or untaxed goods from all over the world on sale, and shop until you drop trippers come in from all over China and many other countries. The mountainous island and hinterland total some 1,092 sq. km into which are squeezed a population of over seven million, swollen through the years through refugees coming from upheavals in China, and many others seeking the pavements covered with gold. Most are squeezed into fifty, sixty, seventy-storey high rise apartments; there’s no land, so let’s get reclaim some back from the sea, like the site of the international airport at Chek Lap Kok; and some of the real estate here is the most expensive in the world.

And everywhere people, people, people. I took a ferry to Lamma Island on Saturday, one of the many small islands of Hong Kong, where many expats live, to hike along a path made of concrete, sensible as so many people take the paths, over to the other side of the island past the hills, the wind farm, and the power station. And pedestrian congestion on the path was at times a problem. And then to Lantau Island, once relatively remote, but now the home to the international airport at, Disneyland at Sunny Bay, and the huge Big Buddha statue at Ngong Pin, which has now become one of the main Hong Kong attractions.

It’s my fourth visit to Hong Kong. A short visit to a congress in sweltering August 2004, just a year after the bird flu outbreak, and now we are all warned never to touch birds in the park or feed them, and you get a hefty fine if you do. I spent a month as Visiting Fellow at City University, Hong Kong, in the more amenable mild winter of February in 2011, and passed through for a few days last year. Now I know my way around, feel at home in the cosmopolitan atmosphere, have friends to meet, enjoy the rush and crush, and especially the many things British. In 2011 I stayed in the YWCA in Begonia Road. I just moved from a hotel in Cameron Street to the Rosedale in Shelter Street, just off Causeway Road, along which the double decker buses and trams (and you can’t find double decker trams in Britain nowadays!) ply their way, on the right-hand side of the road, of course! Opposite is Victoria Park, crowded yesterday, Sunday, with many of the 300,000 Indonesian and Filipina domestic workers. And Victoria Park must have a statue of Queen Victoria. And there it is. It once stood in front of the Supreme Court, but when the area was developed, the late Queen was given a park of her own on land reclaimed from the sea. And the products on sale to kill what further longing I may have for the UK. Of course, there is a fairly sizeable Brit ex-pat population and a huge Hong Kong Chinese middle-class to buy my favourite digestive biscuits, Farley’s rusks, Boddington’s ale, milk from the Kowloon Dairy in small one third of a pint glass bottles which all British schoolchildren received every day until they were cut by the Minister of Education, Margaret Thatcher, “milk snatcher”, in 1971.

Right in the Central area of Hong Kong Island, the main banking district I stand in the square looking at the cenotaph dedicated to the soldiers who lost their lives in the two world wars. Behind the square is the tallest skyscraper in Hong Kong, Two International Finance Centre, the Mandarin-Oriental Hotel flying the Chinese and Hong Kong flag, the latter a little smaller than the former. Behind me is the Supreme Court Building, one of the few older buildings that is still standing. Behind is a large square, which, from 1851 to 1975, was the ground of the Hong Kong Cricket Club, now located up the hill. On the right of which is the Norman Foster postmodernist headquarters of the HSBC, the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. But this building is dwarfed by the futuristic spires of the Bank of China. Behind, up the hill, is Hong Kong Park, beautifully laid out on what was the British military arsenal.

I look at some old photos of Hong Kong in Hong Kong: The Classic Age, Peter Moss. I see a photo from 1930 showing the elegant administrative buildings, a mere four storeys high around the original harbor, in what was known as the city of Victoria, now almost all swept away: the City Hall, the Supreme Court (standing), the General Post office, the Hong Kong Club and adjacent cricket field, the Hong Kong Bank (now HSBC), the Prince’s and Queen’s Buildings, and beyond the harbor Government House and St. John’s Cathedral, both still standing

I look at the dockyards and shipyards, the established by Butterfield & Swire, now one of the most important companies in Hong Kong; Hong Kong as a key coaling station for the ships of the British Empire engaged on operations against pirates in the China Seas. I see the Hong Kong Jockey Club at Happy Valley, still in existence and now surrounded by luxury apartments which have made the Jockey Club very wealthy. Millions of Hongs Kong dollars are gambled by punters at the Wednesday night races.

Beyond Victoria there is the fishing port of Aberdeen, named, not after the Scottish port, but after Lord Aberdeen.

There are pictures of the governors of Hong Kong, visits by British government and military dignitaries, two visits by the Queen, and others by Prince Charles and Princess Anne. And then there is the period of Japanese occupation, from 1941 to 1945.

I see pictures of the opium dens: as explained in postings in previous blogs (below), Hong Kong was founded on the opium trade with China, with Britain defeating China in the three opium wars and acquiring step-by-step Hong Kong Island (1842), Kowloon (1860), and the New Territories (1898). Pressure to stop the opium trade came only with the US acquisition of the Philipines in 1898 when religious leaders and President Theodore Roosevelt felt uncomfortable with the opium trade the US had inherited, and organized the 1909 Shanghai conference, after which the opium trade declined.

The Chinese are always separated from the British. They are opium smokers, sedan chair or rickshaw bearers, coolies, always with their long braid. The higher-class Chinese seem reluctant sitters, always the “Other”, dressed differently, unsmiling, inscrutable. And indeed, until after the Second World War the Chinese were forbidden to dwell in the posher areas of town.

And finally the changeover, on the stroke of midnight, 30 June 1997, when the Union Jack went down, and the new Hong Kong flag and Chinese flag were raised, and a Scots piper played Auld Lang Syne on the deck of the HMS Tamar as Governor Chris Patten joined Price Charles on the deck of the royal yacht HMS Britannia, and the military band struck up Rule Britannia.

The previous blogs on Hong Kong are at:
http://jmilton60000.wordpress.com/2011/02/05/from-hong-kong-to-macau/
and the following sections.

And:
http://vietnamandbeyond.wordpress.com/2012/02/19/back-to-hong-kong/

Hong Kong trams

Hong Kong trams

The Chinese and Hong Kong flags

The Chinese and Hong Kong flags

The old and new buildings of the Bank of China

The old and new buildings of the Bank of China

The port  of Aberdeen

The port of Aberdeen

Hiking on Lamma Island

Hiking on Lamma Island

Taiwan, What’s in a Name?

I was going to be in Asia before a conference in Macau and had some time free and wanted to go somewhere nearby where I wouldn’t need a visa and hadn’t yet been. Taiwan fitted the bill. It conjured up images of being fiercely pro-American and anti-Communist, anti-Mainland. I had images of GIs jitterbugging, and handing out nylon stockings and chewing gum to adoring girls and children. I imagined streets strewn with the Stars and Stripes, maybe similar to what I had seen in Bill Clinton-loving Kosovo and Albania.

Taiwan, formerly Formosa, the “beautiful” island, is the island enclave to which Chiang Kai-Shek (CKS)(1887-1975), the nationalist leader of the Kuomitong (KMT), which controlled the Republic of China, retreated to in 1949, along with some two million followers, after being defeated by the Communists led by Mao Ze-dong. CKS believed that in Taiwan the Nationalists would regroup, and, supported by American might, they would be able to retake China. But the US had no appetite for another major war, were disgruntled with the Nationalists, who were syphoning much of the billions of dollars of aid to buy up properties in Brazil and even New York, and so, CKS remained in Taiwan, and, with solid American support there, became President in 1950 and remained so until his death in 1975. President Truman sent the Seventh Fleet to patrol the Taiwan Strait in the 1950s, but major conflict was avoided.

A dictatorship, in the old style, where the Generalissimo controlled media and unions, and his support from the people was cushioned by growing prosperity resulting from rapid industrialisation – in the 1960s and 1970s Taiwan had the world’s fastest growing economy and the hostility to nearby China.

But changes finally came to Taiwan in the 1970s when the US made its peace with China, which was officially admitted to the UN in 1971. Rather than share a seat with Mao, Chiang withdrew. Richard Nixon made his well-publicised visit to Beijing in 1972, panda diplomacy to the US started, and in 1978 President Carter switched recognition to China as the US tried to outflank the USSR. However, the US still supplies Taiwan with weapons, but there are no US soldiers stationed here.

With the Cold War and conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, the US needed a staunch ally and was ready to help repression of left-wing dissidents. But the winds of change were coming, and during the government of Chiang’s son, Chiang Ching-kuo, from 1978 to 1988, there were various political reforms, and a growth of informal opposition. Martial law was finally lifted in 1987, and press restrictions removed in 1988. Official hostility to China formally ceased in 1991, and the first free elections were won by KMT incumbent Lee Teng-hui. In 2000 there was finally a change of government as the KMT lost to Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which favoured seeking an independent seat for Taiwan at the UN. The DPP won again in 2004, but lost in 2008, and Chen Shui-bian was imprisoned for corruption immediately after stepping down. However, with a stagnating economy President Ma is very unpopular, with an approval rating of only 13%. Basically, the KMT, the blues, which originally came from the mainland, sees some kind of eventual reintegration with the Mainland, whereas the DPP, the greens, but with no link to the environmental greens, wants to follow a separate path.

We are in a country where ambiguity seems to be the name of the game. Are we in China? Well, yes. Indeed, let’s examine the name game. Maps and guides call the country “Taiwan”; in the Olympics it competes as “Chinese Taipei”; but it officially calls itself the “Republic of China”. Now, the Communist Party of China sees China as one country, including the “Special Administrative Districts” of Hong Kong and Macau, but also its “renegade province”, Taiwan, which will eventually return to the fold. But as only one country can call itself “China” and today Taiwan is only recognized as China by small insignificant countries such as Belize, Burkina Faso, Haiti, Paraguay and the Vatican Republic, the “People’s Republic of China”, “Mainland” or “Communist” China is relatively happy. Taiwan calls itself “China” and is therefore part of “China”. But, if Taiwan were to change its name, and call itself, for example the “Republic of Taiwan”, thereby asserting its independence, and saying that is another place and not China, Mainland China would be none too happy and would possibly threaten to invade. The status quo satisfies the great majority of Taiwanese, China and the rest of the world. Taiwan no longer has the ambition to retake China. And China now follows the openly capitalist system long embraced by Taiwan. And don’t we all want money. As Deng Xiao-ping said: “To get rich is glorious”. Taiwan heavily invests in China. Taste in clothes, popular music, television programmes are all shared. Conflict is bad for trade. The situation could not be more peaceful. At least for the moment…

I visit the superb Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, completed a few years after his death in 1975, and see his Cadillacs, pictures of his receiving such noted visitors as General Noriega of Nicaragua, the Shah of Iran and Richard Nixon, and pay my reverences to the huge bronze statue on the third floor. But personality cult worship does not sit easily in a democracy, and for the last 16 years Taiwan has been a flourishing democracy. I then read that the statue of CKS has been withdrawn from the central courtyard of the National Cheng Kung University in Tainan and placed in the storeroom. Less than a kilometer from the CKS Memorial Hall I visit the 2/28 Peace Park Museum, which commemorates the thousands killed in the massacre carried out by the central nationalist government under Chiang Kai-shek in Beijing after the 2/28 incident in 1947 and the consequent abduction and disappearance of members of the intellectual elite – doctors, teachers, businessmen – the “White Terror” which continued in independent Taiwan, with the disappearance of dissidents right up until the dictatorship formally ended in 1996.

Taiwan was ruled by the Japanese from 1898 to the end of World War II, in 1945. During this time the Qing dynasty in China had been overthrown by revolutionaries led by Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925), still revered both in mainland China and Taiwan. The Chinese Nationalist Party, the Kuomintang (KMT), ruled China off and on for the next 20 years, and from the 1920s was led by Generalissmo Chiang Kai-shek. The Nationalists had been involved in a fierce battle with the Communists, put on hold only to fight against the Japanese in WWII. After the war the Taiwanese, who had prospered during the Japanese occupation, expected greater freedoms but resented the centralization, venality and corrupt rule of governor Chen Li, and things came to a head on 27 February 1947 when a local female seller of smuggled cigarettes had her product confiscated and was roughed up by officials. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back and led to mass protests, strikes, riots, and a government crackdown that led to up to 28,000 deaths.

Much has been written on CKS and Madame Chiang, Soong May-ling (1898-2003), his American educated wife, advisor and interpreter, who raised much support and finance from the US. Madame Chiang’s heyday came during World War II, when she went to the U.S. as her husband’s spokesperson and made a rousing address to the U.S. Congress appealing for help against the Japanese. The Americans took to her – she was featured three times on the cover of Time – and she played a major role in nationalist politics, running Chiang’s air force at one point. But the “Dragon Lady” was often regarded as arrogant and an apologist for the authoritarian ways of the KMT regime. After her husband’s death in 1975, she moved to the U.S. and a life outside of the political spotlight.

I was worried that I would not be allowed into China if I had stamps from Taiwan on my passport. But this is not Israel and Palestine; Serbia and Kosovo; or North and South Korea. There is growing bilateral investment and trade, and Taipei is full of Chinese tourists, many of them on package tours, and they all visit the National Palace Museum, containing many of the Qing riches Chiang brought from Beijing, and the beautiful gardens of the CKS residence, complete with the Victory Chapel, where both Eisenhower and Nixon worshipped. Madame Chiang was a firm Methodist, and CKS switched from Buddhism in order to marry Madame.

In Taipei I find none of the tension I found in Seoul, where South Korea is still at war with North Korea and where my hotel room was equipped with an evacuation kit. Only on one television channel do I find a programme on the real stories behind the Chinese news, unveiling corruption, crime and malpractice.

In the Taipei Fine Arts Museum the Taipei 2013 Biennal’s main theme is that of the Apocalypse of the world as we know it, but I find few signs of that on the streets of Taipei. The night markets are full of courting couples, families, and friends scoffing fishballs and fried squid; in this mild climate the many parks are full of winter flowers; near my hotel in the old district of Wanhua the local youth rent fancy dress costumes for the weekend parties; many of the shrines are full as the faithful make their prayers and promises for the next lunar year, beginning on 10 February.

I take the metro the end of the Danshui line and visit the Fort San Domingo, originally built by the Spanish in 1628 and the occupied by the Dutch. When China was opened up to foreign trade in 1860 after the Treaty of Beijing opened Chinese ports up to foreign trade, with the demands of the British to sell opium to China, Danshui boomed, and Britain opened up a consulate and customs office, now a museum with a display of Victorian furniture, importing tea from China and exporting opium. I see the statue of George Mackay (1844-1901), Canadian Presbyterian missionary, doctor, and teacher, the Presbyterian church on the site of the original church he had built in 1882, the free dispensary, and Oxford College, the boys school he set up, now on the campus of Aletheia University. He is affectionately remembered, and today there is a Mackay Hospital in Taipei.

Praying

Praying

Evening meal

Evening meal

Victory! Against China?

Victory! Against China?

Chiang Kai-shek

Chiang Kai-shek

Chinese Garden

Chinese Garden

Madame Chiang Kai-chek

Madame Chiang Kai-chek