Seeing Taiwan Through a Local's Eyes
By Gay Courter
The first time I visited Taiwan at age 6 my mother was looking for my father, who had asked us to meet him in Tokyo. When we arrived, we were told he was in what was then called Formosa. A few days later we arrived at the imposing Grand Hotel, perched on a hill overlooking Taipei.
Almost 70 years later, in January 2020, our Diamond Princess cruise docked at the port of Keelung. As our guide, Tom Lee, started up the winding road, I imagined the towering gold-and-red structure glistening in the sun, with massive columns and a vast gilded roof, girding myself for a letdown because places remembered from childhood inevitably shrink to the adult's eye. But the Grand Hotel did not disappoint. The lobby really was as lofty as a cathedral. With my heart pounding, I walked toward the front desk, remembering the moment when my mother asked for my father.
"Mr. Weisman -- not here for many weeks, but we have his laundry," the clerk had said.
I had told Lee I wanted to return to some other sites I remembered. He advised me that Taipei is now a modern city -- with one of the tallest skyscrapers in the world -- and I would barely recognize it. Still, our next stop, at the Lungshan Temple -- with its colorful dragons on the peaked roof -- brought back memories. Taiwan has always been inclusive in its attitude toward religion, but it was still surprising that Lungshan is a shrine for Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian faiths.
Lee asked what we knew about Taiwan's history.
"During the civil war with the communists, Mao's army was much stronger, so Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalist army retreated to Taiwan," I answered.
"That was in 1949," Lee said. "Following the defeat of the Japanese, the Allies gave Chiang Kai-shek control of Taiwan because it is strategically placed. Many in the West applaud him because he was anti-communist and a strong leader who stayed in power for 46 years. But that's only one side of the story."
He led us to a brick building.
"Welcome to the 228 Museum," he began. "It's named that because on Feb. 28, 1947, there was an anti-government uprising, which was put down violently. After that we were placed under martial law for the next 38 years."