"Pay close attention to that man behind the curtain!"

Monday, March 01, 2004

Hand-in-hand for peace

I may be slow, but CNN didn't have much to say about it (I didn't see it on their broadcast edition at all), and what they did say included the apparently obligatory "renegade province" paragraph. What I've got on them is that I was a participant, and it was big.

Among the many activities occupying me this weekend (blogging obviously not being one of them) was the "228 Hand-in-Hand Rally." At 2:28 PM on Saturday, February 28, 2004, up to 2 million people -- perhaps more -- joined hands forming a 500-kilometer long human chain to protest the 496 Chinese missiles aimed at Taiwan and to urge the world to wake up and take notice of this sovereign country -- which is not a "province of China." Despite the international media's lack of coverage, I am quite proud to have been part of that chain.

There are about 23 million people in Taiwan. The above figure would put the rally's attendance at about 8.6 percent of the entire population! Even the lowest estimates of 1.2 million would put attendance at over 5.2 percent. Shouldn't this fact alone have made it worthy of a little news coverage?

The lady standing beside me was a Taiwanese who had lived in the U.S. for 40 years and had returned to Taiwan specifically to participate in this rally. She recounted to me her firsthand experiences of the infamous "228 Incident" which began on February 28, 1947. She told me that policemen would come to people's homes in the middle of the night and take family members away, many of whom were never to be heard from again.

Saturday's rally was both the largest and the most peaceful demonstration I've ever taken part in. At my location (near Taichung's Chung Yo Department Store), there were so many people we formed 2 parallel chains along the roadside. However, traffic was hardly affected at all, and the few police I saw at the event seemed to be handling that end of the responsibilities. Would total chaos have made it a more newsworthy event?

Standing out in the crowd, I was briefly interviewed by a reporter from a local newspaper asking why I had joined the rally. One of the things I told her was that the media contributes to Taiwan's low stature because it constantly publishes blatant lies and inaccurate information -- all the while crying about "freedom of the press." Of course the next day, the part they published about me contained 2 stupid mistakes. Go figure!

One of the lighter moments of the day occurred when a cart being pulled by 2 oxen came barreling down the road past me. One car whose driver had his bird finger held high out of the window also sped by the crowds blowing its horn. The people around me were stunned. I told them it didn't matter. "We've got him outnumbered." This drew a laugh.

After the crowds had begun to disperse, I hung around for a bit. An old man selling potted plants struck up a conversation with me about the event. He seemed to take a nihilist approach to the situation and inexplicably started complaining to me about "the government" cracking down on street vendors recently. When my wife reminded him that the mayors of both Taichung and Taipei are members of the "Chinese Nationalist Party" (also known as the Kuomintang or KMT), he backed down.

Just as we were about to leave, a man whose lips and teeth were reddened by the betel nut he was chewing accidently sprayed some water on me when he was opening one of the free cups of water which had been distributed to the crowds. At first I thought he had spit some betel nut juice on my back and in my hair. I must've given him a real "Maddog" look (though not purposely), because this guy -- who could easily be mistaken for a gangster (and may well have been one) -- apologized to me over and over. When I had confirmed that it was just water, I told him that everything was cool and not to worry about it.

Then I went home and watched CNN pretend like this wasn't important while the local pro-unification TV news channels tried futilely to minimize an event which proved that their constant lies about the "minority" pro-Taiwan identity population could no longer deceive anyone who has eyes or ears and an IQ above 50.

Did I mention how proud I am about having been a part of the rally?

[Edited due to slight lack of clarity]
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