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Saturday, January 8, 2011

Chinese State Media Sells Cycling Tourism in Taiwan

The state owned broadcaster and English language propaganda outlet, Chinese Radio International, has released an interesting story promoting Bicycle tourism in Taiwan.

After several days on the road in Taiwan, I've came to realize that the charm of this far-flung island lies not only in its landscape and scenery, but also its people.

The opening sentence above immediately frames Taiwan as the exoticized and fetishized object of desire. This island that is supposed to rest snugly in the bosom on the "motherland" is perceived as "far flung". Furthermore, "its people" firmly locates Taiwanese as "other". Had the author followed traditional protocol they would have been "us" or "our compatriots".

I have met many fellow travelers throughout the journey, most of whom are Taiwan locals who try to enjoy themselves away from the hustle and bustle in Taipei. Some of them even settled in the countryside of eastern Taiwan, making a living by managing shops selling coffee, travel souvenirs, and commodities of various kinds.

A Du is one of these self-employed travelers. He sells bicycles in his shop and works as a local guide leading tourists on bicycle tours into the rural country roads in his spare time. A Du has his own theory of discovering the beauty of Taiwan. He suggests his customers see Taiwan from a different perspective, even if it means you have to lie down on the ground and listen to the trucks whooping by.

Despite the ambiguity of the term, "Taiwan locals", the author goes on to fixate on this period of "contact" between "one" and the exoticized "other". In an oddly foreboding tone Taiwanese are described in ways that echo earlier European colonial enterprises that filled volumes on the "strangeness" of the natives.

Wang Yuping, the owner of a lifestyle studio in Hualien, also shares A Du's attitude towards traveling. She operates a café shop where tourists can find an array of local travel information. The former Taipei dweller brings groups of travelers to visit ethnic families in Taiwan so as to offer them an in-depth view of Taiwan's culture.

The term "ethnic families" is used to gloss over the troublesome topic of Taiwan's indigenous population and align them more closely with China's own ethnic construction of minzu, a term borrowed from Japanese nationalism to define human populations in terms of "race". The author sidesteps the thorny issue of who these "ethnic people" are while by proxy maintaining the Chinese nationalist belief that its modernist Han construct is not "ethnic".

Entrepreneurs also have their eye on the expanding travel market in rural Taiwan. Zhang Qinglai spent ten years establishing a holiday resort in Yilan, which invites tourists to experience life on a ranch. He named his ranch "Shangri-La," in dedication to the peaceful and carefree lifestyle he wished the ranch could offer.

I think this is just funny in that it references "Shangri-la", the name for the fictive Himalayan paradise of Tibetan lore.

As Taiwan plans to allow individual mainland tourists to travel to the island this year, backpacking and independent traveling is also becoming a trend within the island. What's more, I believe the bounty of Taiwan's travel resources are in the lesser-known countryside.

The way China officially conceives its relationship with Taiwan and the way that relationship is actually conducted are entirely different things.

Beyond that, I have to wonder who the intended audience is for this article. It is wonderfully written in readable English and I suppose it is intended for "Overseas Chinese" and therefore the foreign audience may affect the content.

Lastly, with China's state media getting into the act it signals the importance tourism plays in China's own goals for Taiwan.

What I do see is more Chinese discovering Taiwan for its particularity and having to come to terms with its differences.

Food for thought.


CENS declares Taiwanese bicycle export value has increased 10%

Corporate Cycling On The Move: Taiwan Circled By Giants

Giant has announced that 10 members of its top brass will embark on a 900km tour of Taiwan in an effort to get out of the office and reconnect with their profession at road level.

Giant CEO Tony Lo will lead 21 Giant executives on the ride, advancing Giant’s mission of promoting the cycling lifestyle globally. The Formosa 900 will also showcase Taiwan cycling culture to Giant GMs from far-reaching corners of the world. The group will tackle tough mountain climbs and long days in the saddle as they circle the island in a counterclockwise route.

I suppose they might find a country that is eager to construct ready-made points of interest in close proximity to Giant retail and rental shops. They might find several kilometers of bike trails to nowhere. They will see trinkets for sale and roast corn.

What they will not see is a bike friendly environment outside the spots allocated by local leadership for cycling tourism.