Keith Douglas' unique experience during a media familiarisation tour of Taiwan
International writers with representatives of Meet Taiwan
Having not been back to visit Taiwan for 35 years, I expected change, but not this amount of change. In the seventies, I was a young marine Engineer Officer in the British Merchant Navy and had joined the Alfred Holt Line, better known in those days as The Blue Funnel Line. One of our ports of call was to be Kaoshiung in the Southern part of Taiwan, in those days commonly known as Formosa and this port of call, was to be a part of our long voyage to the northern Chinese ports of Singkiang (Xinjiang) and Tsingtao.
The surrounding dockland area in those days, held little attraction for a young man with limited resources and even less shore leave. You can imagine my surprise, when I returned after all these years, to find a vibrant bustling sea port with lots of new tall buildings, shops and hotels, and to discover the Taiwanese to be most the friendly of folks, and extremely helpful to visitors and travellers alike.
In the competent hands of the Meet Taiwan team which incidentally has been tasked with promoting Taiwan’s unique business industry. The programme comprises of four subsidiary projects which grouped together will ensure the highest quality of business event to be held in Taiwan.
We were driven from the airport - a traveling time of around 45 minutes to the Palais de Chine, a modern and luxurious hotel resting in the heart of Taipei, ready to serve both business and leisure travelers alike. The hotel is conveniently situated within the proximity of the Taipei Central Train Station and the MRT Taipei Main.
Day 1 of our Media familiarisation Programme was a visit to National Palace Museum, where a collection of cultural artifacts held by the museum is composed of an enormous treasure trove of objects inherited from the previous Sung, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. When it comes to paintings, calligraphy, rare books and documents, ceramics, bronzes, jades and curios, the National Palace Museum is the place to go. Development of the Museum has been very closely connected to the social changes of modern China. The museum is a very popular destination and was very busy, however we did get to see the famous cabbage ceramic, known affectionately by the guides as the Mona Lisa of the Palace Museum, which is both beautiful and a pinnacle of expertise in the art of Chinese ceramic making.
This was followed with an exciting coach ride into the mountains of Taiwan, which saw us visit sulphur vents and bubbling springs. Eventually we were brought to the Dharma Drum Mountain World Centre for Buddhist Education. A tranquil haven for all travellers, the centre is set into the hillside with a fine view of the coastline and Taipei City.
After which, we continued our trip to Yangmingshan National Park, which was on our way to the Landis resort. The park is famous for its beautiful scenery with traces of volcanic activities and abundant natural resources. It is also Taiwan’s third national park and the one closest to a major city.
The Landis resort further down the hillside, welcomed us for dinner and before the meal, we were invited to an experience of a lifetime. Sulphur bathing in alternate hot, cold and warm bathing pools. This activity is very popular at Landis Resort, a very cozy and popular venue for locals and visitors alike.
Day 2 saw us up early and ready to go. We embarked on a site visit to the W Hotel, which although is a work in progress just now, is in the final outfitting stages of construction and will be ready to receive guests by years end.
At the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, you can see where Taiwan’s past meets the future. Respectfully referred to as a hero and the people’s “King” this great man, changed the Island of Taiwan into a proud and beautiful country where art, learning, the appreciation of nature and quality of life are revered and respected. A wonderful spacious and majestic site occupied by finely proportioned buildings and entrance arches, which houses some of the great man and his wife’s personal belongings, paintings and gifts from foreign dignitaries.
As part of the programme, we attended the Taiwan MICE Award Ceremony. There was much excitement among the prize winners. We met them with each media member interviewing a winner of his project. A few congratulatory words and some advice on organising MICE events saw us leave the proceedings with much joy and happiness. Lunch saw us arrive at the Ding TaiFung restaurant for some fabulous food in the form of steamed dumpling with mouthwatering fillings.
Taipei International Flora Expo was to be our next destination. The Floral Expo we are informed is based on three major design concepts, the 2010 Taipei International Flora Exposition will highlight many alternative possibilities in the area of gardening. The Flora Expo is also a great introduction to modern technology and innovation in the area of environmental protection and gardening science.
After leaving the Expo site, we were shuttled to the Hotel Shangri-La for check-in and to freshen- up before a site inspection of the property. Anyone who has stayed at Shangri-la Hotels will know the very high standard of this hotel brand.
The next morning we checked out of Shangri-La and headed for the EXCO 2010. It is the second year running for this event with 105 exhibitors and 236 booths promoting products from Taiwan. Lunch saw us repair to ‘Beijing Do It True restaurant’ with a manager who used to be a farmer. He was most genial and treated us to some of his specialties. We all left in high spirits and many photographs were taken with the manager.
A short shuttle bus ride saw us at the Taipei High speed railway station for a real fast journey to Kaoshiung taking around one and a half hours journey. Upon arrival we were taken to the Splendor hotel and checked in.
Following our visit to the Pier-2 Art Center and fine dinner at the harbour side Her Bian Restaurant Banana restaurant located in what used to be a dockland warehouse. We made our way back to the high Speed rail Terminal for our return journey to Taipei.
That evening had us checking in, doing a site visit and having an introduction to the Grand Formosa Regent Hotel in Taipei City Center. Dinner found us at Robins Grill of the Grand Formosa for a delightful dinner with Mr Richard Ko who is the CEO of the Round Table.
At 9.30 a.m. on our last day we were whisked off by shuttle bus to the Taipei International Convention Centre or (TICC). This is an older centre, which as we observed has served Taipei very well, and has clearly undergone many refurbishments. Boasting a host of different size banquet rooms and meeting rooms, including a very impressive large theatre size auditorium, this is a real large and hospitable convention centre in every sense of the word.
Our next stop would be the Taipei World Trade Center Nangang Exhibition Hall (TWTC Nangang), which is a purpose-built exhibition complex in Nangang, Taipei. Built in 2008, financed and built by the Ministry of Economic affairs (MOEA), it is managed and operated by (TAITRA) the Taiwan External Trade Development Council. Across the highway from the centre, is a High Tech park, a state-of-the art venue, with a combined exhibition spaces of around 3.5 football fields, a high rise column free upper level exhibition hall and excellent floor loading design complete with vehicle access.
Our final day lunch was hosted by the Bureau of Foreign Trade (BOFT) under the banner of the Ministry of Economic Affairs along with the MEET Taiwan team we were able to meet their Director, Grace H.F. Chiang from the trade development division. After pleasant exchanges discussion and photo shoots we repaired to the Wisteria Tea House for a small break to partake in a Chinese high tea of Ulong tea tasting, and a chance to talk to tea ceremony master Chow Yu who taught us some of the history of Taiwan’s journey throughout the 60’s 70’s and 80’s. After much tea and photographs following the Q&A session we moved on to our final dinner in Taiwan.
In the informal atmosphere of a local Taiwanese noodle restaurant, we were treated to 31 courses of traditional food and much joviality. A time to say our final thoughts on impressions of Taiwan - our heartfelt thanks to the Meet Taiwan team and reluctant goodbyes to our new friends in what was for us all, an experience of a lifetime.