Nutritional and Herbal Solutions

Daniel C. Luthi, N.E., C.D.C., Nutritionist & Chinese Herbalist 

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Taichung, Taiwan

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Taiwan Province, China, 2010

It is a drizzly morning in May, 2010, as we are approaching Mao Ze Dong International Airport in Taibei, Taiwan Province, China. As there are no longer international direct-flights into Taiwan, the Airbus 380 that I boarded in San Francisco had to make a stop-over at Shanghai’s Pudong airport. Aside from the extra security on board, and an in-flight check of passengers’ documents, the flight has been uneventful. Due to the often almost empty flights into Taiwan, there are neither snacks nor beverages served and passengers are expected to bring whatever they need to while away the 1.5-hour flight.

It has been four years since the “peaceful” reunification in 2006 which was initiated by several high-ranking officials visiting their birthplaces and worshipping at their ancestors tombs. These gestures ignited a feeling of uncertainty and instability in many Taiwanese people, a feeling of not knowing what their leaders had in mind and not understanding the ramifications of their actions. The PRC leaders on the other hand had used these visits to put pressure on Taiwanese businessmen all over China. By pointing out the so-called desire expressed by the visiting Taiwan opposition leaders to create direct links, reduced tariffs, direct flights, easier application procedures for Mainlanders visiting Taiwan, and stronger economic ties, they were able to convince many wealthy Taiwanese to “invest” in the “Motherland” and promote the movement for a “reunification”.

I am curious to see what has become of my former, much-beloved hometown Taizhong, in the central part of the newest acquisition of the People’s Republic of China. I left the island in early 2007 after trying to adjust to the new “guidelines” and “improved outlook” for a “United Greater China”. The decision to leave was a difficult one after living there for more than six years. I had established myself as a Nutrition Educator as well as a Chinese Herbalist, and many people depended on me to improve their health. These were deep, long-standing relationships that take years to build, and it was very painful to leave them all behind. Selling my house was another ordeal as I was barely able to sell it for a third of what I paid for it in 2004. Real estate prices dropped immediately in response to the tax increases of the “Successful Return to the Motherland Campaign” which prompted millions to liquidate their assets and leave the island.

Exiting the airport, after lengthy questioning by PLA officers, I find myself in a hot, humid, and deserted arrival hall. As I later found out, air-con systems in airports, department stores, banks, and schools have not been in use since the Olympic Games, which brought some of the last visitors to Taiwan province in 2008. At that time, the island was still somewhat “alive” but extensive crack-downs have now created a quiet, ghost-like island.

After the quickly and violently suppressed student demonstrations on February 28, 2009, the province went through some devastating changes. Close to a million former pro-democracy leaders, educators, and businessmen were “relocated” into other formerly troubled provinces throughout China, mainly Tibet and Xinjiang. There they would be able to observe and appreciate the newly found “prosperity and happiness” brought by integration into Greater China. Many did not survive the harsh conditions of their re-education institutions, and many others perished after escaping.

I search for the long-distance bus companies which used to feature the lounge chairs, air-con, and on-board videos but I am firmly directed to the newly established “People’s Travel Bus Company”. The busses remind me of the “Zhong Ba” busses in China with bare plastic seats, open windows and an on-board hostess. She collects the 32 RMB, hands me a bottle of water, and then proceeds to announce the hotels “recommended” for my comfort and safety. After a 2-hour ride on a lonely highway we arrive at Taizhong Main Station where I wait nearly 30 minutes for a taxi to take me to my designated hotel on Wen Xing Road. According to the taxi driver, most of his colleagues left the trade after initial fare charges dropped from 20 RMB to 6 RMB to adjust to post-integration income levels.

I ask the driver to meet me back at the hotel around 7PM for an excursion around town but I’m informed that he is not allowed to transport foreign nationals after 6PM, again for my own safety and comfort. He also mentions that KTVs, Internet Cafes, and discos have been closed down more than 3 years ago, and have been replaced by lecture halls to accommodate mandatory re-education classes for civil servants, Junior High School students, and factory workers.

I take a quick stroll down the once bustling Tai Zhong Gang Road and quickly realize that it is a shadow of its former self. Even the previously vivacious SOGO department store has been converted into dormitories for the workers from the Mainland which were shipped to the island to operate the newly-opened factories. Once again, Taiwan province will be a highly productive area, a golden goose for the leaders in Beijing. Unfortunately, pollution control is not a priority and the water pollution on and around the island, in just a few years, has reached dangerous levels. So high in fact that early this year the EU, the US, and Japan have banned all seafood imported from Taiwan province.

Disappointed and a bit bored, I enter a former Seven-Eleven that is now a clean, efficiently-run store with nearly barren shelves where I buy some peanuts and a bottle of Qing Diao Yellow Wine, the same one served at the People’s Congress in Beijing. Here I am, back in my room, I pour myself a glass of wine and turn on the TV. With cable access limited to high-ranking officials, the only thing worth watching is the news on CCTV. I pop a peanut in my mouth and sit back to learn the truth about China’s newest province, Taiwan.