I am but a simple country band director. Well, sort of…. Oxford, Mississippi is a small town in North Mississippi which just happens to be the home of the University of Mississippi. I direct the marching band at Ole Miss. One day last June, I received a call from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Houston, TX asking if I would agree to fly to Taiwan as part of an International Press Delegation to cover the opening ceremonies of the Chiayi City International Band Festival. Having never been to this exotic and beautiful country, I agreed.
After the thirteen-hour flight, we landed in Taipei and after a brief nap at the hotel, we were spirited off to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, an impressive, sprawling complex not only including memorial, but also the National Theatre and Concert Hall. From there we were treated to a visit to the Longshan Temple, perhaps the most classic example of a Buddhist Temple one can see. We then walked a block to the Huashi Night Market, a bustling sector of the city with vendor tents set up all along the streets and sidewalks, selling just about anything and everything one can imagine. The foods that were sold there were extremely exotic by US standards, and some not for the faint of heart!
The next day we were treated to a visit to one of the tallest structures on Earth- Taipei 101. When I looked at the itinerary, I thought this was going to be an instructional course, but of course I was mistaken. When we reached the viewing level (thanks to the world’s fastest elevator) we were greeted with a bird’s eye view of the sprawling city of Taipei, truly a breathtaking sight!
We then departed the hotel and boarded the so-called “bullet train” to travel to the city of Chiayi where the festival was held. Having heard about these high-speed trains but never seen one, I was impressed at the smooth ride at such high speeds and admired the countryside as we zipped through.
The next day was the opening ceremonies of the festival, which was held in conjunction with the WASBE (World Association of Symphonic Bands and Ensembles) International Band Festival. The city of Chiayi went all out to promote this event. They completely shut down the larger downtown area and had erected a huge stage. There were television cameras everywhere and the streets were standing-room only. I was impressed with the number and variety of bands from all over Asia and even one from Russia! Chiayi City knows how to throw a party!
The next day, after visiting a pottery and musical instrument museum, we departed up a narrow mountain road to the Alishan National Park, a stunningly beautiful, heavily wooded mountainous area. The trip itself was somewhat frightening, as whole sections of the mountain road had been washed away by a Tsunami which hit the island a year earlier and were under repair. But when we arrived at our destination it was well worth it. The Alishan area is one of the most beautiful places on earth.
The itinerary for the next day stated we were to watch the sun rise in nearby Jushan. I asked our guide, Yu-Shun, if this was optional. I was disappointed when he informed me it was not. I had wanted to sleep in at our beautiful mountain hotel resort, the Alishan House. However the next morning I realized why this was mandatory. We were treated to a breathtaking spectacle of the sun peeking over a majestic mountain range with the foggy valley below illuminated from above, a truly amazing sight. Our Taiwanese guide, who had never seen this himself; could not contain his enthusiasm. “I cannot believe how beautiful my country is!” he exclaimed repeatedly.
After our sunrise religious experience, we traveled down the mountain to an aboriginal Taiwanese village and tea farm run by a tribe of people known as the Tsou. This was most remarkable to me since their dress, artwork, pottery and dance were almost identical to that of Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest. Our guide at the village informed me that several years ago they were visited by a researcher who took blood samples and compared the DNA strands of the Tsou to that of Native Americans and found them to be almost identical! He then told me the only thing they couldn’t figure out is which group was where first. I made sure I didn’t leave without buying some of that tea!
The next day we visited the National Museum and got a fascinating glimpse into the history, art and culture of this rich nation.
My visit to Taiwan was a truly amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience. I regret that the trip did not include a visit to coastal areas on the Eastern side of the island, which include beautiful beach areas that are very popular. I look forward to the day I can return to this stunningly beautiful and culturally rich nation.