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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

A visit to Taiwan many years ago

A trip to the island country that still tries to resist control by mainland China.
Taiwan in 1983 (Photo by Doug Thompson)

In 1983, I sat in the upstairs first class lounge of a China Airlines 747 as it glided into a landing at Taiwan’s International Airport along with several other chiefs of staff of members of Congress on a trip paid for by the government of that tiny nation that refused to be part of Communist Commonwealth of China.

Our trip was part of the regular use of influential staff members of House Representatives and Senators of Congress. It was not a trip sanctioned by Congress or the White House but was one used by staff and members as a way to meet members of the Taiwan government as they lobbied for support of their efforts to remain independent of the Republic of China.

That independence has been a thorn in the side of China’s Communist state since World War II and is under threat today more than ever before. Nearly two decades later, I would fly into Hong Kong’s airport a new months before the British Crown Colony would be turned over to China, an end to economic independence and a forbearer of what Taiwan is facing now.

During our Taiwan visit, we saw a tight-knit island community with a strong economic base, helped with strong ties to American business, and underground support from Uncle Sam. We saw Taiwanese soldiers carrying M-16 automatic weapons with upgrades not yet available to American military personnel. Seems they received guns from Colt Firearms, the primary manufacturer of the American M-16s but studied the mechanism and found new ways to upgrade the weapon and take care its “jamming” and other problems.

Colt wanted to put the fix in their versions but Taiwan wanted payments for the improvement and wouldn’t turn over the plans until they got the money. “That’s the way things work over here,” said a staff member of the U.S. Trade Office, which functions as a quasi-American embassy since Taiwan is not “officially” recognized by the American government.

Any member of our group who wanted to visit mainland China after the visit to Taiwan needed a second passport because trying to enter the Republic of China.

VD Clinic street front in downtown Taipei. (Photo by Doug Thompson)

One of the things we noticed was the high number of storefront “clinics” to treat sexually-transmitted diseases. Most seemed to be right next door to “barber shops.”

“This is because you don’t go to barbershops to get a haircut,” said one of our hosts. “Haircuts are available at ‘hair cutters’ and ‘barber shops’ are houses of prostitution where the ladies service their clients in barber chairs.”

And the sexual disease clinic?

“Sadly, too many of the clients do not use of condoms,” he said.

Those in our group, male or female, visited any of the barber shops. If any did, we never kenw about it.

That memory is one that remains from that visit nearly 40 years ago. Somewhere, in a jewelry box, is a stainless steel knock-off of a Rolex watch, given to each of us by the then defense minister, and Admiral, during a visit and dinner. It still works and is inscribed with the general’s name.

Shortly after returning to Washington after the visit, I wore the watch at a Chinese restaurant in Arlington, VA. The waiter noticed it and said, “oh, you have the Admiral’s watch! Thank you for supporting my homeland!” Dinner was on the house.

Maybe I should dig it out and wear it the next time we go out for Chinese food before it becomes a mento of another land that loses its independence and freedom to a Communist nation our country still recognizes and supports. We also wonder if Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will get a fake Rolex from the current defense minister of Taiwan in her visit Tuesday to the beleaguered island nation.

At least she won’t be bumping fists with the murderous Saudi Arabian leader.

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