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From Taipei Taiwan

by Peter Howitt

There are a lot of dogs in Tapei, mainly mongrels (mutts). Street dogs everywhere. At night some form packs and roam together, along the streets and alleyways, around the food markets, along the highly polluted concreted rivers and steams (the waterways are worse than Japan easily). The dogs aren't too vicious, even in gangs they won't usually give you any problems, they would rather run away. I think Bangkok is possibly worse for dogs.

20 May 2004

Tonight I was walking home after a few beers, in slight rain, still the weather was very warm and muggy. It was at about the same time I walked home last night. Late at night around 3pm. I am a bit of a night owl. Rows of thousands and thousands of motorscooters line all of Taipei's streets. It is absolutely incredible, must be scooter capital of the world. Walking past shopfronts, convenience stores, Buddhist worship temples, legitimate modern shops, brothels, love hotels. A cute small black slightly frightened puppy ran out from between two scooters. Same place it was last night at the same time, alone as it was tonight. Amazing considering how busy this place is during the day. The puppy had made a small patch, a tentative bit of turf. Ran out and sniffed my legs and feet, maybe remembered my scent from last night. I was kindly, kind of baby talking to it, "hello little fella", made a few baby noises to it, kissing noises etc. Then it started following me, all over me, jumping up on my leg excitedly. I said "no no, go home".. then it occurred to me.. that space between the scooters is it's home.. it already was home. It was desperately trying to bond with me, wanted a mother... I walked for a while and to the dark distance in front of us a deep booming bark of a large dog rang out.. the small black mut recoiled and instantly retreated at the sound. Good, I initially thought, won't follow me anymore.. but my heart was touched. Poor little thing. I may have to do something about it. But I can't adopt it right now.. Can it possibly hope for a better existence? It only wants love. Moral dilemma... don't we all? Isn't there enough to go around? No sharing?

Anyway, to the issue I wanted to address... Taipei's political landscape is more vicious than it's night streets and the large dogs have a bite which sometimes matches their bark..

The Pan Blue (KMT) Party in Taiwan is the party in opposition, for years they held power, (the incumbent government has had 1 term- the last term). The KMT had a monopoply on power and there are widespread and persistent claims of their close affiliation with organised crime in Taiwan. They are the political aristocracy in Taiwan, they were the original rulers post WWII.

Extraordinarly wealthy and extraordinarily corrupt. They were everything- the ruling class, the rich people, they had and controlled almost literally everything. Much like the current ruling party in Japan, who originally got everything- and I mean everything- with the help of the CIA (the body that after WWII wanted to halt the malignant canker of communism) and by the grace of right wing former Japanese military figures/war criminals/organised criminals (Yakuza)- the division remains decidedly blurred- check it out for yourself.

On March 20 2004 Taiwan had a Presidential election. The incumbent Pan Green party was the winner of the election by a razor thin margin. On the eve of the election incumbent President Chen Shui-bian and Vice President Annette Lu were both shot (both suffered minor, non serious wounds) in an apparently bungled assassination attempt while electioneering.

Post election, this drew massive denunciation from the losing Pan Blue (KMT) side, who made extraordinary (and to date unsubstantiated) accusations that the assassination attempt was self inflicted or at the very least set up to reap popular support.

Coincidentally, in the 1980's, incumbent Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian's wife was run down in the street and crippled (and she remains crippled) in a deliberate car attack by an unknown assailant.

An independent ballistics expert has subsequently determined that the shots on the eve of the 2004 election were not self inflicted. But the controversy continues.

A strong criminal gang in Taipei is called the "Bamboo Union".

The former head of their so called "Tiger Division" is a gangster who has attained semi-celebrity status in Taiwan, his name is Chu Chia-hsun. His girlfriend is Kao Mei-fang, former head of the Tiger Division's so called "Phoenix Corps". Kao is currently pregnant with Chu's child.

Both are fervent Pan Blue (KMT) supporters-the original old Taiwanese party, the current opposition party, who in the past thrived with the help of organised crime. Two nights ago (May 18 2004) Kao was rushed to hospital by police who said Chu beat up Kao in their car. Today (May 20 2004) is the day of Chen Shui-bian's Presidential inauguration.

In late March and early April 2004 there were massive and violent demonstrations against the election result by KMT supporters. These demonstrations occurred with the full support of the losing party's upper echelons. Their Chairman (Lien Chan) and his second in command, James Soong (shadow vice president via a coalition), both have doctorates in Political Science from American universities. Both claimed that the violent demonstrations- which occurred under their auspices and with their apparent organisation- were the parties' democratic right.

The Presidential offices were under siege from thousands of organised and violent protesters. They crashed trucks into reinforced barricades and hurled molotov cocktails. Razor ribbon fences were erected, hundreds of armoured police protected the offices, battle lines were drawn. The area around the Presidential offices in central Taipei looked like a warzone- I saw it. There were painful casualties on both sides-police and protesters- and I thought the police were remarkably tolerant.

I visited the area several times, notably for me about 10 days after the election. There was still widespread organised opposition on the streets. News media were being viciously assaulted as they filmed events- the KMT supporters were worried that the filming of their violence by the media could aid their eventual prosecution. They smashed cameras and brutally assaulted journalists. I saw it.

Later, I tried to make sense of it all. There were so many normal looking people milling around, carrying placards, some with their families and children. I thought 'this is crazy-what the hell is going on here'? I talked to people. Those that could speak English told me that the President was a criminal, that he had orchestrated the assassination attempt to grandstand and garner popular support (nb.in reality, the voter turnout which resulted from the shootings probably did win Chen the election),- and that inevitably he would be ousted from office, by violent means if necessary.

They carried numerous placards (well made, nicely printed, uniform placards, obviously from the same source) saying things like "DEMOCRACY IS DEAD" and "Chen Shui-bian deserves an Academy Award". Ubiquitous obscenties aimed at the President were scrawled on surrounding walls.

Then, as I was getting the same line from a slightly plump 30 something placard toting Taiwanese woman who could speak English very well, (she told me her husband was American and that she had lived for a number of years in Arizona) something funny happened.

A superb black late model Mercedes sports saloon with dark tinted windows screeched to a halt in the street near the group of KMT protesters I was talking to. Having lived in Japan, immediately I thought 'Yakuza' (the car was identical to the car of choice of Japanese organised criminals). A gaudily dressed young Taiwanese hood leapt out, hair immaculate, sporting plenty of kitsch jewellery. To my surprise, he opened the boot, which was full of still warm cardboard packaged pre-made meals, and quickly started graciously distributing these to the assembled throng, it seemed he knew some ringleaders who quickly came to his assistance. I enjoyed two dishes- steamed pork dumplings with soy sauce and fried chicken with rice and mixed vegetables, washed down with a pint of bottled mineral water.

Back to the Bamboo Union organised crime couple. The pregnant girlfriend Kao told police that Chu beat her up two nights ago because she mocked him while she was asking him whether he would lead protesters against today's Presidential inauguration.

"You chicken!! You are not patriotic!!" Kao was quoted as saying when her boyfriend declined to protest in the planned May 20 demonstration. Kao had bruises around her right eye but did not file a complaint and police did not press charges. Chu was quoted as saying "I have an NT $300 000 debt so I really can't afford to protest any more. But I did apologise to her . I should not have done what I did to her".

President Chen Shui-bian will be innauguarated for a second term today. The pork dumplings and fried chicken with rice and vegetables were delicious.

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