Saint Lucia-born Caribbean journalist Earl Bousquet was among eight writers from African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries invited to Taiwan for a familiarity tour that coincided with the 2nd anniversary of the advent of the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen, installed on May 20, 2016 after her Democratic People’s Party (DPP) defeated the Nationalist Party KMT (Kuomintang). This is the first in a series of reports on Bousquet’s third visit to Taiwan.
I left Saint Lucia the day before my birthday and landed in Taiwan the day after. It’s actually 19 hours of flying from Hewanorra International Airport (HIA), but with the 12-hour time-zone differences added, it takes 31 hours in all – 26 hours non-stop traveling back-in-time.
I know the log flight drill very well, so I knew I would not see the light of day on my birthday. But quite apart from getting the opportunity to make a fair assessment of the situation two years after the quiet university professor took office, I also wanted, on this trip, to connect with the scores of Saint Lucian scholarship students in Taiwan.
I especially wanted to meet a local policeman who carved his name in gold at Taiwan’s National Police Academy; and a young woman student who ranked in the Top Ten among hundreds of students across Taiwan who topped their university classes in this year’s exams. There was also the lone Saint Lucian student at Taiwan’s oldest and most advanced university of science and technology; and the three studying medicine at the most advanced private medical institution on the island.
I landed at Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport just after 5a.m. on May 20 and booked into the Okura Prestige Taipei an hour later, but only for a three-hour nap.
As always after breakfast on my first day at any hotel in Taiwan, I booked for early copies of the daily English edition of Taipei Times and The New York Times to be delivered to my room.
Bearing in mind the jet-lag effect, the coordinators had left the day free for those of us who had arrived that morning. It was the very day of the administration’s 2nd anniversary and there were the usual military parades and diplomatic gatherings honouring those invited heads of government and their representatives on hand for the occasion.
Among the people we’d meet were from: the Foreign Ministry’s Department of International Information Service, the Mainland Affairs Council of the Executive Yuan, the International Cooperation and Development Fund and the Taiwan Root Medical Peace Corps. Among the places we’d visit: the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park, Taipei 101 Observatory, National Pingtong University of Science and Technology, E-Da Hospital and Royal Hotel and the Fo Guan Shan Buddha Museum.
We’d also be moving from north to central and south Taiwan, departing to Kaoshung City from Taipei’s Main Station aboard the popular High Speed Rail Train.
The brief meeting over, I headed back to my 13th floor room for my required long rest to unwrap by bones from the tied-up body knots that follow sitting in the same place for most of 14-and-a-half hours.
I slept all day, skipping lunch after a heavy combination of small Japanese, Thai and Korean breakfast dishes.
Normally taking no less than 12 hours to unwind, after dinner I hit the king-sized bed once again for another long and straight flight, this time to Dreamland.
Next morning, I opened the door and reached for the pouch of early newspapers and settled down to catch-up with what’s on in Taiwan.
Opening out the front page of the May 21 issue of the broadsheet Taipei Times, right there was a full-colour photograph of Saint Lucia’s former Prime Minister Stephenson King embracing President Tsai, the two sharing the broadest of smiles.
I had learned at the dinner the night before that Saint Lucia’s new Ambassador to Taiwan, Edwin Laurent, was also in Taipei. Both had participated in the previous day’s ceremonial activities and King, here in his capacity as Infrastructure Minister, was representing Prime Minister Allen Chastanet.
I contacted our official guide and requested that apart from the requested interviews with the Saint Lucia students who made Saint Lucia proud in Taiwan, I also wanted to meet the Minister and the ambassador.