body{background-attachment: fixed ! important; }

Monday, June 20, 2011

American Military Remembers A Cyclist In Taiwan.

I recently came across an old reprint from Stars & Stripes, the official newspaper of the United States military.

The article, which is a reprint from 1968 details the exploits of Conrad Dube, a Canadian who was stricken by polio at the age of two, and who dedicated himself to cycling around the world to raise awareness and funds for sufferers of polio.

TAIPEI — Conrad Dube, 39-year-old French-Canadian who was crippled by polio at the age of two, has worn out 12 bicycles, 37 sets of tires and pedaled 192,000 miles around the world in 17 years to prove his will is stronger than his physical handicap.

Taiwan is the 67th country he has visited in his travels to every continent. He was recently greeted by Mayor Henry Kao during a stopover in Taipei. The lanky Dube said he plans to wind up his current tour with a bicycle trip through the Philippines, sail from Singapore to Panama and then pedal through Mexico and the United States to Quebec where he plans to work on a book for which he has 1,000 sheets of notes. Mexico and the U.S. will be old hat for him as he already has been through the area.

I find this article interesting in many ways.

For one, Taiwan is still a destination for cyclists who are seeking to raise awareness for their cause, but beyond that this article really highlights how much the world has changed since Conrad passed through our beautiful Island. The most obvious change is the near eradication of polio. This article is full of little revealing details.

I find it interesting that even in 1968 in the darkest days of the Cold War Taiwan is referred to as a "country" without any of the ill fitting Chinese blanket terms various diplomats, statesmen military leaders and propagandists attempted to drape over the island to obscure the obvious.

Moreover this little piece reminds us how deeply the American and Taiwanese experience are intertwined through their respective historical trajectories.

In September of 1968, the United States involvement in Vietnam was at its zenith and Taiwan, under the Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty of 1954, allowed large numbers of US military personnel to be stationed on the island as part of the US effort to "contain Communism". Taiwan also served as a destination where soldiers fighting in the jungles of Vietnam could enjoy a little R&R.

The areas around American military bases catered to the American needs by supplying labor, machine shops, recreation, bars and prostitution. In Taichung the American presence is still evident in several of the street names that run through the middle of the city. Even when I first arrived in 1998, the expat party scene was still focused around Hua-Mei Street/華美街 (Chinese-American Street), which is adjacent to Meitsun Rd./美村路 (American Village Rd,), and Zhong Mei Street/中美街 (another iteration of Chinese-American St.). These areas kept the Americans located in certain areas and made them easier for authorities to watch and also kept them from getting involved in local affairs, which by 1968 had started to become more pronounced with increasing incidents involving political activism and the high profile escape of the pro independence dissident Dr. Peng Min-ming.

The United States withdrew its forces from Taiwan by January 1, 1980 following an earlier pledge to recognize China... as China. Despite the withdrawal, the impact of over 25 years of American involvement in Taiwan left an indelible mark as the United States became the cultural center for Taiwan, having replaced Tokyo in 1945.

The last note I would like to make about this article is the mention of Mayor Henry Kao. Even in the dark days of authoritarian Taiwan, Henry Kao (Kao Yu-shu) was the first elected mayor of Taipei city and repeatedly defeated the Generalissimo's hand picked candidates. Kao, who was an ethnic Taiwanese was also not a KMT party member and later openly advocated Taiwanese independence. Kao's success in Taipei not only frustrated the KMT hardliners for his high levels of support, but his high popularity also highlighted the KMT's dictatorial leanings and emphasized the party's failings.

It was Kao's popularity in Taipei that led the KMT government to transform Taipei and Kaohsiung into "special municipalities" in which the mayor would be appointed by the central government; a process that ended in 1994 and was punctuated by the election of DPP member and former political activist, Chen Shui-bian.

It is interesting how a bike ride, even decades after its completion, can still find salience against the back drop of history and memory.