National Geographic : 1993 Nov
manufacturer told me it took 12 payoffs to move his product, which I promised not to name, from the mainland factory to markets overseas. A tiny two-bedroom condo in a hill side development called Mountain Phoenix Village listed for $73,440; a four-bedroom house with a yard for $455,000. A telephone hookup? Five hundred dollars under the table. In a small storefront gallery selling mail order art, I met the proprietor, an affable 39 year-old Taiwan businessman I'll call Yang. Three years ago rising labor costs had forced him to move his sunglasses factory out of Tai wan to Xiamen. Yang showed us through the three-story plant, where 300 young women hunched over tiny machines producing glasses that cost a dollar a pair to make but sold for about $35 in the U. S. I was impressed. The plant was clean and filled with light. The workers seemed earnest and quick to smile. We had seen other factories in Xiamen that weren't so nice-dingy places with filthy toilets and polluted air. I asked Yang why he seemed to care about his workers more than other Taiwan entrepreneurs in the city. "I want to help," he replied. "We're all Chinese people." Yang also owned part of a bottled-water company that sold 3,000 bottles a day through out China and was an agent for a bottled-tea company. To bring his various enterprises under one roof, Yang had recently purchased the gallery building, but it wasn't easy. "I paid a $100,000 bribe to government offi cials over and above the cost of the property," he said. "It's the cost of doing business. Here in China, everything is crazy. The only thing the government doesn't control is the air." ETURNING TO TAIWAN was a pleasure - to stroll its narrow lanes, to visit its temples, to discover once again that in spite of the pollution much of it still lives up to its old Portuguese name, Ilha Formosa-"beautiful island." I drove the 120-mile East-West Cross Island Highway that belts Taiwan's mountain spine from the rugged east to the western coastal plain, snaking through Taroko Gorge, where waterfalls tumble like angel hair and dark green jungles are spangled with wild orchids, black-and-yellow butterflies, and darting, swooping birds. Thrill seekers ride high on a rooftop amusement park in Kaohsiung, where the price of ground-level lots is prohibitive. Preoccupied for decades with building business districts, the Taiwanese have now begun to preserve their past. In the town ofLukang, where a perfect smile advertises a dentist's office, a restored historic district embraces centuries-old shops, homes, and temples.
1993 Nov 30