Postcard from... Taiwan

  • @cliffordcoonan

At the Lily Fruit Shop in the southern Taiwanese city of Tainan they serve delicious almond jelly atop shaved ice stained with molasses. As citizens sit back and enjoy the dessert, they can reflect on a city that is just as bustling as those on mainland China but offers a more relaxed lifestyle.

Efforts to ensure continuing independence are particularly keenly felt here in Tainan, home to the prestigious National Tainan First Senior High School. One of its alumni is pro-independence leader Chen Shui-bian, who was president of Taiwan for 10 years from 2000 to 2008, and Tainan is Chen's stronghold.

A native-born Taiwanese, colloquially referred to as A-Bian, his election in 2000 marked the end of 51 years of continuous rule by the Kuomintang. Chen's period in power was one of tension with China, which considers Taiwan a renegade province and was deeply upset by Chen's hints that the self-ruled island might declare independence.

After Chen was voted out, however, he was convicted with his wife Wu Shu-chen on bribery charges and is currently serving 19 years in Taipei Prison, reduced from life. His supporters say his sentence was revenge by the Kuomintang for his years in power.

His successor Ma Ying-jeou has taken a much softer line on relations with China, and one of the initial stages in thawing cross-Strait relations was to allow more fruit from Taiwan to be exported to the Mainland. They may not have democratic freedom but at least Chinese can now enjoy almond jelly too.