Saturday, May 08, 2010

699 Dr, Sun Never Sets

699 Dr. Sun Never Sets

(TAIPEI) --Dr. Sun Yat-sen is both the George Washington and Abe Lincoln of the Republic of China. He’s revered as we Americans revere our founders. For us, it is 1776. For the ROC it’s 1912. That’s when the last Ching Dynasty emperor, age six, abdicated and a long struggle ended.

That’s what they call it. Civil war. Not to be confused with the Maoist Revolution across the Strait in what most of the rest of the world calls the People’s Republic of China, the mainland.

Dr. Sun was cut from the philosopher king mode and the Taiwanese say he established the first true democracy in Asia. His memorial site is a seven story pagoda surrounded by gardens and fountains and statues. Two of those statues are live. Like the breathing mannequins who guard Buckingham Palace. White uniformed soldiers who guard a Lincolnesque seated statue, far larger than life. The guards guard the statue. The statue guards the guards.

There are calligraphied wall hangings of his writings. There are photographs. Even a phonograph record of his speeches. The books he wrote, translated into French and Spanish and English and who knows what all else.

As American high schoolers, we read Dr. Sun’s writings but never really knew why. Here’s why: this is one of the places that picked up on a pretty American form of government, de-anglicized it and made “Power to the People” an Asian way of life. At least until 1949 when Mao’s boys took over. Mao had some pretty significant help. The Soviet Union was at the ready with guns and men and money and more. Chang Kai-shek didn’t get a lot of aid, or so say the natives here.

In any event perhaps a visit to the National Palace Museum would have been a better first stop than a second. It is there that we learn of the emperors, especially those of the Ching Dynasty, their love of luxury and the suffering of the common people. With that as a preview, Dr. Sun’s life and purpose would be all the sharper in relief.

The Palace Museum is settled in part of the city from which you can still see mountains and the cell phone towers that top them. It advertises itself as a treasure trove of eight thousand years of history. The audio tour (pick your language) is helpful but a bit overblown and braggart. But the funniest line of the day came with the mention of one emperor’s “Hall of Celestial Purity.” It was situated in the palace of his concubine.

The title of this piece is kind of flip. It might even be offensive, but no more offensive than the Delta Airlines advertising flat screens on the walls of the pagoda.


--We travelers from Pennsylvania are having blonde withdrawal. There are few here as there are many there. And when you see one here, assume Clairol.

--Chinese restaurant food in America is nothing like Chinese food here. Mystery objects abound. And maybe we don’t want those mysteries solved.

--No tipping. Honest. None except where it’s built in.

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