Taiwan: Where The Sound Of Freedom Is Laughter
After having spent a few weeks in a Communist country (Vietnam), and a few days in one still reeling from mass oppression and genocide (Cambodia), it was a breath of fresh air to land in Taiwan, the Republic of China or, as many would say, the real China. That other China, the big one (1.4 billion people vs. 23 million here), has endured the Cultural Revolution and a mass amnesia of its heritage. Here, in what was once the island of Formosa, the seeds sown by Chiang Kai-Shek when he escaped the Mainland in 1949, having lost the civil war to Mao, have blossomed into a modern democracy with a burgeoning economy and, most importantly, a free population. Free to earn. Free to grow. Free to laugh. And laugh they do.
We explored Nantou County about four hours south of Taipei by car with its rolling hills, switchback roads, and Sun Moon Lake. We were two of the few westerners at the 2019 World Floral Exhibit there, but felt comfortable and unthreatened in any way. People were polite, smiling and laughing as is only true in a free country.
Moving back to Taipei we toured the city and its treasures, particularly the ones that Chiang Kai-Shek miraculously got out of the Mainland prior to 1949 and are now preserved in the National Palace Museum. As is usually the case of a free society, it seeks to remember its history rather than try to alter it as is the case in the People’s Republic. Even here, as was true in Vietnam and Cambodia, the visitors from the Mainland are not welcome. They are viewed as loud, pushy and rude. Here in Taiwan, under the heavy influence of the Japanese for years, a more delicate and polite demeanor is far more frequently encountered. One senses a great difference in a free country than one does in a Communist one. Here, people laugh. There, not so much.
No where was this more obvious than the Food Court in the basement of Taipei 101, one of the tallest buildings in the world, with one of the fastest elevators, and the largest wind dampers to curb the skyscraper’s sway in typhoons. The building is a feat of engineering. The people are a tribute to freedom. The mall is jammed and there must be fifty venues to get fresh food. There are rows and rows of tables. But there is no pushing or shoving. There is smiling and cordiality. There is laughing. There is freedom.
As an American living in a country with a leader aiming to decrease American freedoms for some and a population just as firm about pushing back against him, I never appreciate what I have as an American more than when I am in a place where that freedom is not taken for granted. But, here, in Taiwan, freedom is the way of life now.
Taiwan is a wonderful place. There’s lots to see in the country and in the city. But what has struck me so, is the benefit a country derives just from being free. It is clear that a flourishing population is advanced more by letting people do what they want than is ever achieved by telling people what to do.
“People wanna be free.”