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JIM ‘PAPPY’ MOORE: Taiwan the Beautiful Island

By Jim “Pappy” Moore

I served in Taipei, Taiwan nineteen months in 1970-1971 while in the United States Air Force. I lived among the people much of that time, although I worked exclusively with other American service personnel.  I will pass on to you some of the things I know about the island country a hundred miles off the coast of China.

The island of Taiwan is about 245 miles long and 95 miles wide at its widest point. It would fit with ease between Tyler and Galveston, with a width no larger than from Houston to Beaumont. It has 970 miles of ocean coastline and over 200 mountains that rise from sea level to over 10,000 feet high. For a comparison, Pikes Peak rises 8,000 feet above the Colorado plains where neighboring Colorado, Springs is 6000 feet above sea level. The tallest mountain in Texas is Guadalupe Peak, which rises to 8750 feet above sea level.


The southern part of the island is tropical, and the mid/northern parts semi-tropical. Annual rainfall in Taiwan is over 100 inches, more than twice the annual rainfall in East Texas. Getting caught outside for even a few minutes during monsoon season means being pelted with heavy rain. It is a lush, green island with wonderful vegetation and many, many hills and mountains.


You may have heard Taiwan called Formosa. When the Portuguese ruled the island for a period of time hundreds of years ago, they called it “Isla Formosa,” meaning “Beautiful Island.” 


Taiwan means “terraced bay” in Mandarin. Hills and mountains have long been terraced there for agriculture purposes. The terraces create a stair-like effect as one drives the countryside or rides a train through it. Crops are turned frequently, with several growing seasons. 


Traveling the island by railroad from the north end to the south end means going through many long tunnels running through mountains. The sights from such train rides are compelling and astonishing. Being the lone American on such a train trip, decked out in Texas cowboy boots, is a “trip” itself. A little boy asked his mother if my feet were shaped like that!


Taiwan is one of the best allies the United States has in the world, and especially in Southeast Asia, where it sits a hundred miles off the eastern shores of China. Contrary to claims by China under the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan has never been under their control, and was under Japan’s rule from 1895 to 1945. After 1945, Taiwan essentially operated with a degree of autonomy and in 1949 became the home of the fleeing Kuomintang party led by the former Chinese leader Chiang Kai Shek. Taiwan has been a state independent of mainland China since 1949. It has never had communist rule, and that is why it is a thriving economy where freedom endures.


The Taiwanese people are a varied group. Most consider themselves Taiwanese. About ten percent would call themselves Chinese. There are aboriginal people who are indigenous to the island and whose history goes back many hundreds of years or more. They make up about two percent of the population. There are some Taiwanese who are descended from other eras when outside rule existed, including that by Portuguese and Japanese. Mandarin is the predominant language, but English is spoken by many who interact with Americans.  


Religious structures exist all over the island. There are outstanding temples, such as The Temple of a Thousand steps south of Taipei on the northern end of the island. Confucianism is an influence. You can see people practicing Tai Chi in parks. The family unit is strong in Taiwan. 


Taipei is a modern, teeming city about the size and reach of Houston, Texas. The island itself has about 23 million residents, about 75% as many as the entire State of Texas. Taiwan is 450 miles from Okinawa, most famous for its role in World War II, when it became Japan’s last stand in the Pacific before falling back to Japan for its final defense. Taiwan is 1000 miles from Vietnam. 


If you want to venture to Asia and be in a beautiful, island country with mountains and coastal regions, Taiwan is a place where Americans are well-received. Its place in my heart endures.


Copyright 2023, Jim “Pappy” Moore. All rights reserved.


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