Caught up in the Chinese New Year

The Reporter's Notebook


Last updated 2/5/2020 at 10:03am

The Chinese New Year kicked off Saturday, Jan. 25.

It’s the year of the rat, which I could suggest was named for a number of people I could name!

The lunar year is divided into 13 categories, all named for an animal.

While traveling to the Far East once, I was caught up in the Chinese New Year by chance.

I had landed in Taipei, Taiwan from Osaka, Japan, on my way to Saigon.

I had a booking at the Grand Hotel, referred by Mary Yang Meeds, wife of Rep. Lloyd Meeds at the time. Lloyd represented Washington’s 2nd District.

The Grand Hotel was owned by Madame Chang, wife of Nationalist ruler Chang Kai-shek.

Mrs. Meeda and Madame Chang were well acquainted and I was hoping, at the time, that I might meet her and interview the latter.

The hotel was truly grand, a brilliant red on the outside and the grounds sprinkled with boxwood carved in the shape of numerous animals.

It was the time of the Chinese New Year in Taipei, with some 3 million inhabitants. The city was a buzz of activity.

It is the custom to pay all your bill before the start of the lunar year, with “funny money” of all things.

I took a taxi to go someplace and was caught in a terrific traffic jam.

I asked the taxi driver if his fare was for distance only, or if time was also used. He said both. I jokingly asked if he would accept “funny money” for the fare, and he replied no.

So I asked directions to return back to the hotel, and took off on foot.

The merriment and resolve was contagious, and everyone was having a lot of fun.

Lloyd Meeds had arranged for a government representative to assist me with transport and answer any questions I might have. One of the things planned was a trip to one of the country’s offshore island of Matsu, which was under dispute with mainland China.

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Later the government rep advised me that the trip to Matsu was on hold because the Chinese communists had been shelling the island and it wasn’t safe.

I asked if we could visit a farm, and I was told that would be OK.

So the next day he picked me up at the Grand and we took off to visit a farm.

Enroute there, we had a steady stream of trucks and pickups facing us. I asked about it and was told that I would see soon.

The trucks and pickups were returning to the city after emptying garbage hauled from the city. It was a huge garbage dump. They would haul garbage out of the city, then go through it and haul what was recyclable back to the city.

We arrived at a small farm. The farmer was working on a concrete slab, tossing wheat in the air with a wooden fork. Very primitive, and I wondered why this farmer was selected for the visit.

I next asked to go to the national museum. I had heard that when the Nationals fled

the mainland they had taken a huge amount of Chinese art objects with them and that many were displayed in a new gallery constructed to house them.

It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

But I was drawn back to the Chinese New Year crowd, and the traffic jam.

I had attended Chinese New Year celebrations in Seattle, but nothing like this.

I was told that the trip to Matsu was still a possibility, and left word how I could be reached.

In Hong Kong, I was messaged that Matsu was off.


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