Taiwan and the New Boat

Captain’s Log July 18 to July 28, 2011

Visit to Ta Shing Shipyard and Taiwan

July 18: We left Detroit Metro Airport around 17:30 on a flight to San Francisco where we had planned a 24 hour layover on our way to Taiwan.  We wanted to spend time with our nephew, Ben Stupka, and we were lucky that he had a little time free.  He picked us up at noon and we drove down to Palo Alto for a quick look at the Stanford Campus and lunch downtown.   We got back to the hotel around 15:30 and rested for our 16 hour trip to Kaohsiung Airport via Taipei.   We left SF at 0130 Sunday morning.  The primary purpose of our trip was to meet with the builders of our new yacht to work out design details.

July 19 – Arrival in Taiwan and Visit to Ta Shing Shipyard:   We arrived on Monday morning in Kaohsiung, Taiwan at about 0730 and then proceeded to our hotel in Tainan City, about an hour away.  We were met at the airport by officials of the Ta Shing Shipyard, Lillian (Deputy Manager) and Steve (Engineer in charge of our boat).  Steve graduated from Ohio State and NYU in engineering.  As we discovered, many of the company’s engineers, including the owner, Tim Juan, were educated in the U.S.

 Kaohsiung is located on the southwestern tip of the island and is its second largest harbor.  I visited Kaohsiung twice while in the Navy 46 years ago (WOW! am I getting old).  Of course the place has changed beyond anything one could imagine.  At that time it had been less than twenty years since the end of WWII and the nationalists escaped to Taiwan after being defeated by the Communists.   Taiwan was a poor agricultural backwater.  There was no global trade as we know it today, but the U.S. opened the trade door and we became the biggest customer of the Republic of China.  The industry and ambition of the Taiwanese people is evident in their tremendous growth and in the development of their country.

Taiwan is an island located about 800 miles south of Japan, 200 mile east of China, and 200 miles north of The Philippines.  It is about 250 miles long and 50 miles wide, and has a population of 23 million.  The eastern two-thirds of the island is very mountainous, but the western coast is flat and fertile and is home to most of the population.  Most of the Taiwanese are of Chinese extraction, but they have 14 aboriginal tribes comprising 80 thousand people that live mostly in the mountains and are happily integrated into the general population.  This time of year is typhoon season; it is very hot and humid on the island, with frequent rain showers and almost no breeze.  The area is tropical and verdant.

Driving from the airport to Tainan reminded me in some ways of the Detroit Area before we allowed so many of our manufacturing jobs to be shipped overseas.  Large trucks carrying rolls of steel labored down the expressway.  Large factories, steel mills, paper mills, and semiconductor plants…you name it and it is probably here.  Small manufacturing businesses are everywhere and it looks a lot like Warren or Livonia or Fraser of my childhood when people started businesses and it wasn’t at all neat or tidy.  Between the large plants are small plots of land planted with crops like rice, bananas, or melons.   Many plots have been turned into fish farms.  Land is at a premium.  Apartment houses are clustered everywhere and built next to the roads.  The first floors are generally occupied by small businesses, with the owners living upstairs.  Between the apartment houses are small machine shops, welders, scooter companies, restaurants, nail-shops…anything needed by the thousands of people living nearby.    It is clear when looking around that this place is all about making things.  Looking out over the landscape one sees thousands of high voltage towers with their wires strung everywhere.

After we turned off the freeway we started to notice some interesting cultural differences from what we have seen elsewhere.  First of all, Taiwan has a separate traffic lane for motor scooters.  In a country of 23 million people there are 11 million motor scooters.  As you drive along you see people of all ages buzz by like hornets, many of them carrying all sorts of things like their dogs, kids, boxes, babies, or groceries on their scooters.  In the city proper, scooters are as thick as flies, but they seem like a very good solution to the problem of traffic congestion.  The roads here are not crowded because so many people prefer to travel by scooter.   It is cheap, fast, parking is easy, and scooters are economical.  The Taiwanese have special lanes and turning boxes marked on the pavement to make using scooters easy and relatively safe.  We also noticed that drivers were orderly and patient, and we never heard a horn blow in 6 days of driving around a city with 1.8 million people.  The second surprise was the abundance of 7-Eleven stores; there is one on almost every corner, 7,000 altogether, and one for every 4,000 people.  These stores are a little bigger than ours, and they act as mini supermarkets.

Tainan City is the oldest city on Taiwan and home to the largest number of historic Buddhist Temples.  The city was originally built as a fort by the Dutch in 1620.  For the most part, the buildings of the city are five stories or less in stature, although the newer buildings have elevators and are much taller.  Our hotel was a lovely granite structure over 20 stories.  Next to it was a new shopping center which was about 10 stories of glass and granite and was simply gorgeous.  After we showered and changed clothes we met James Leishman (our PAE representative) and Coolie of Ta Shing in the lobby for lunch and our first trip to the Ta Shing Yard.  We had lunch at a favorite restaurant not far from the yard: about ten courses of delicious Chinese food.  Pacific Asian Enterprises (PAE) is the designer and owner of the Nordhavn brand of yachts and Ta Shing builds four of their larger models.  PAE sells the boat and sets the specifications with the customer.  They order many of the parts in the U.S. and ship them to Ta Shing for assembly.  Ta Shing puts the whole thing together as well as fabricating the interior, the fiberglass, and stainless steel fittings.  Ta Shing is known worldwide as one of the best shipbuilders in the world.

We were very excited to see Ta Shing and our new yacht.  Driving down the street to the yard, one sees store fronts and small manufacturing businesses.  All of a sudden, in the middle of the city the car turned into a driveway, a gate opened and there they were: huge, massive boats up on supports, perhaps 50 feet in height.   We first went into the three story office building and met many of the people who were building our boat.   After a few minutes we went aboard and met the artisans who were actually making it.  These men are the most talented craftsmen I have ever seen.  The interior was just beginning to take shape.  The first thing they did was to make the door heights higher and alter several spaces to make it more comfortable for me to walk about; a tailor made boat.  We spent the next five days working through details as well as shopping for granite and floor tiles.  I put quite a few pictures on the www.tischtravels.com  which will tell the story of our boat and Ta Shing.

That night Tim Juan, President, and B.K. Kao, V.P., took us all to dinner at a fabulous seafood restaurant near the fishing boat harbor.  All kinds of seafood fresh from the ocean were on display in plastic tubs.  Tim must have ordered twenty dishes, because the large table could hardly hold it all.  It was a real treat. 

July 20 – Peking Duck:  Our day was filled primarily with design details, but it was interesting to see how much progress the carpenters accomplish in just one day.  One of the things we did was to alter the height of the seat backs and length of the seat cushions to make the boat a little more comfortable.  We also changed the layout of the salon so as to accommodate the size furniture we need.  This exercise took quite a bit of time.

Tim asked me what we would like to have for dinner that evening.  I mentioned that I love Peking Duck, so Lillian picked us up around 6 PM so that we could go with her to pick up a duck and watch them prepare it.  She drove us to a street vendor a few blocks from our hotel.  On the corner were a large smoking oven and a young woman who was slicing ducks a mile a minute.  She would pull a duck out of the smoker, put it on a chopping block, slice small strips from the breast and thigh and put them neatly on a paper plate, and then she chopped what was left into small pieces.  These she gave to an older man who threw them in a wok with some greens and a liquid.   She put the whole thing in a plastic bag and handed it to the waiting customer.  When our turn came, we grabbed our duck and drove to a restaurant where the others were waiting, and they served the duck along with an additional ten or twelve delicacies that Tim selected.   Once again, it was a five star event!  The entire interior of the restaurant was made of brown marble.  Pictures are on www.tischtravels.com .

July 21 – Fabricating our new boat and a visit to a giant food court:  One of the most interesting things that Ta Shing does is to buy large teak logs from Burma and have them turned into teak veneer for the boats they build.   B.K., Ta Shing’s V.P., told me that it takes real expertise to select quality logs, as they could be rotted or cracked even though on the outside that may appear of high quality.  Each log cost $7,000 or more. 

Logs are taken to a specialized company that spins the logs on a lath to produce very thin layers of wood that are glued to a backing that is applied over the wooden interior being constructed on the boat.  After the interior is finished, it will look like a fine piece of furniture.

That evening we had dinner in the food court of the department store next door.  While the food wasn’t particularly good, it was an interesting experience.  The court is very large, perhaps 5 acres in size with every sort of food available from McDonalds to Tai Pad. 

July 22 – Opera and seeing our new boat coming to life: Ta Shing fabricates the shell of the yacht using huge fiberglass molds.  The molds themselves were made of fiberglass fabricated by applying FG over wooden forms created in great detail according to original PAE designs.  Each mold originally costs over $1 million.  The molds are obviously larger than the yacht itself, and therefore take up a lot of floor space.  In making the boat, workers layup fiberglass by hand one layer at a time until the hull is the desired thickness.  The bottom of the hull is about 6 or 7 inches thick, while topside structures are much lighter.   It takes a few months just to build the fiberglass components.  Once out of the mold, the hull is put on a huge steel frame that will hold the boat until it is taken off a ship in the U.S.  After that the carpenters begin to build the interior structure and the yacht begins to come to life.

That evening Lillian took us to dinner and the Chinese Opera.  We dined at the 100 year old noodle factory; I do not know if that is an official name or just a description, but it was fantastic.  The restaurant was a real traditional Chinese place in a Ch’ing Dynasty era building.  The interior was classic and old.  The roof line was a classical arch with red tiles, the interior ceiling was made of timbers that were blacked by years of cooking fires, the walls in the room that we sat in were painted red that had acquired a patina from years of use that made it especially beautiful.  The room next to us was painted a lite green and it had a window from which hung a red Chinese lantern and a door that sagged on its hinges.  All together it presented a rich milieu for the senses, and the food was the best we had yet experienced.  Tim surprised us by joining us for dinner and once again he picked about ten dishes for us to enjoy.  A couple of memorable dishes were the Tainan BBQ sausage, noodles in special sauce; shrimp coated in a sort of honey glaze, and of course several vegetable courses that were prepared perfectly.   It was all just great.

After dinner we went to the opera, which was held in a square a block or so from the restaurant.  To the western ear a Chinese Opera sounds a bit like cats fighting to the accompaniment of clanging symbals and screeching violins, but the beauty of the costumes and the elegant movements of the actors is something to behold.   It is a feast for the senses.   After a few minutes your ear gets into it and you can tell that the opera is a parody of life set in a very dramatic venue.  It was really a treat to see.  The audience of perhaps five thousand people sat mesmerized.  We have posted several pictures on the web for your enjoyment on www.tischtravels.com.   Meanwhile, across the street was another entertainment venue, a karaoke performance put on in the yard of an historical site, the Chih-Kan Tower.  The Chihkan Tower, which was originally named Fort Provintia, was built in 1653 by Dutch colonizers. The Dutch didn’t hang out too long in Taiwan; in 1662 Zheng Chenggong, a Chinese general, recovered Taiwan for the Ming Dynasty.

July 23 – The Wedding:  Friday was a special day in that we finished up the design issues on N6823, our new boat.  The time change of twelve hours was catching up with us so we needed a little time off in the afternoon to nap and prepare for the wedding party that evening.   Tim invited us several days before to the wedding of one of the craftsmen working on our boat, Hanquin.  The wedding was being held during the day, but the reception was that evening at 1900.    In this case the wedding, as we understood it, was accomplished by the bride (Weejen)  walking across the threshold of the groom’s home at a propitious moment  determined by astrologists.   It is important to find a potentially lucky time.  There are other ways to get married in the Chinese tradition, but this apparently is one of them (if I understand it correctly).  The bride rents several gowns including a white traditional wedding gown, which is worn for picture taking purposes.  No formal attire is worn for the actual wedding.  For the reception the bride changes into gowns of other colors such as black, red, yellow, and beige.  The gowns other than the bridal gown are worn during the reception or for picture taking purposes.  The reception can be a very big affair, and this one seemed big to me, although we were told that this wedding of about 300 to 350 was moderate by Chinese standards.  The cost of the reception is supposed to be paid by the guests, and they are expected to bring a red envelope with money inside to pay for their proportionate cost.  Hanquin and Weejen’s (I cannot be sure that I have the English spelling correct, but I have noticed that the English spelling of Chinese words can vary considerably anyway) wedding reception was held in the parking lot of a magnificent Buddhist temple.  A large trailer truck had backed into the lot and parked near the entrance.  The trailer opened like a fan and a large stage complete with a light show unfolded.   We were told that similar portable stages can be rented that include striptease and pole dancing, an attraction that is sometimes seen at weddings and funerals.  Between the stage and the temple was a tented area covering about 40 tables, each capable of seating ten people.  Since it was very hot and it often rains in the late afternoon and evening, the tented roof provided protection and little fans hanging from the supports help keep air moving in the sweltering heat.

At 1900 the festivities began as Tim, Hanquin’s employer, walked to the stage to give a speech to honor the families.  When he came back to our table, he told me that Rebecca and I were considered highly honored guests and that it was expected that I would go onstage and also deliver brief remarks.   Then began the wedding feast: first, four or five dishes including sea snake (a favorite of Rebecca’s), fish stomach, fish, and a dish that even our Taiwanese friends couldn’t identify.  The next course was baked sizzling cod, then came sushi.  Next came a fruit dish (Washington State Cherries on ice), and Tim told us this was the half-way point or seventh inning stretch.  Of course Taiwanese Beer was served (which is very good indeed) as well as red wine and tea.  By this time people were feeling no pain and we were moving around the tables to meet and great people, many of whom we recognized as having been working on our boat.  At this point Tim asked me to come to the stage to give little speech of congratulations, which I did in the sweltering heat.  Basically I said a few words in Chinese that Tim taught me and wished the couple the good fortune in marriage that we have had.  Then, back to the table for more food.  Next came scallops, then scampi, then a baked mushroom delight, a BBQ chicken, and then the waiters brought the coup de grace:  a table stove was produced, pot of water, a plate of vegetables and lobster, all to put in the pot and brew into a delicious lobster soup over the next half hour . 

During the meal family members were invited on stage to perform their favorite songs in karaoke style.  The bride’s sister and her boyfriend acted as masters of ceremony.  The whole event was very entertaining and well done.  Lastly the waiters served a pudding as dessert.  At this point everything stopped–it just stopped suddenly.  People put down their drinks, the music stopped and everyone started leaving.  I looked at Tim: he explained that when the dessert is finished that is the end of the party and it is time to go home, and they did!  As I was shoveling the last spoonful of pudding into my mouth, the workers were taking the tent apart above my head and the stage was coming down.   When it’s over, it’s over!  We had a good laugh at this cultural peculiarity.   

July 24 – Touring Tainan and enjoying both vegetarian and mango treats:  The next morning, our last in Tainan, Tim, Ifeng, and Jessica took us on a tour of the city.  There are four big cities in Taiwan each having a population over one million people: Taipei, Taichung, Kaohsiung, and Tainan.  Tainan is the oldest and richest in historical treasures and dates from its founding by the Dutch as a fort in 1620.  The Dutch lasted only about 50 years until the Chinese general Koxnigna took the fort in a brief battle and reclaimed Taiwan as a Chinese province (which it remained until the Japanese took it in the late 1800’s).  We toured the fort, the old part of the city nearby as well as two old and beautiful Buddhist Temples.   We stopped for lunch at the best vegetarian restaurant that Rebecca and I have ever experienced.  Tim once again ordered a lucky number of courses, and they were absolutely the best yet.  It was a wonderful treat.  Too bad no one in the U.S. that we have found has discovered the secrets of this chef.  One of the things that we enjoyed  in Taiwan was the quality of their tofu, which is much better than anything we have.  They also use mushrooms in wonderful ways.  After lunch we drove about the city seeing the newer apartments, the City Hall, and other sites including the fishing harbor.   As the sun was setting, Tim took us to the night market, a huge open air market where vendors sell new goods at low prices.  It was absolutely wall-to-wall people.   The sights and smells were a great experience as people crammed the narrow aisles under the stars in stifling heat, looking for a deal, a snack, or stopping for a game along the way.  We left after about a half hour, and we all decided that we really didn’t need a dinner stop.  Tim suggested a fruit dessert stop.  It seemed a little bizarre to me, but hey, he hadn’t been wrong yet.  After a few minutes of driving Tim turned and parked in front of a tiny storefront shop.  In front in the dim light were some small tables and chairs crowded by people eating huge bowls of mangoes and ice cream.  The bowls were the nearly the size of bowling balls.   Tim asked if we wanted one…Rebecca and I shared one.  It turned out to be one of those special moments when you know you have found something unlikely to be duplicated in one’s experience again.  We have never had mangoes like these, and they are grown in the south of Taiwan only a few miles away.  A sort of heaven on earth!

We reluctantly said good-bye to our friends Tim, Jessica and Ifeng.  It had been a wonderful visit to Ta Shing and Tainan.  All the people that we met were so kind, hospitable, thoughtful and generous.    Honestly, the expenses of having us visit the company and all the meals Tim purchased on our behalf was beyond anything that we expected. 

July 25 – Alishan Forest:  We were picked up at our hotel at 0900 by our driver and guide for the next four days.  We drove northeast about one-third of the way up the island and then turned east and began to ascend the Alishan Mountains.  The Alishan Mountains are amazingly steep, like no mountains I had seen before.   Jade Mountain, the highest mountain in the chain, rises over 12,000 feet above the ocean, which is within view.  These mountains, like the Nevada Sierras and other coastal mountains, appear to be an upwelling of the ocean floor, packed mud and rock. They also seemed to be unstable, subject to frequent earthquakes and torrential seasonal rain.  Driving through the mountains, there is plenty of evidence of terrific landslides that have removed huge sections of the mountains.   As we ascended we could see the different climatological areas as the fauna changed from palms and bamboo, to tea plantations, pines, and finally cedars.  On the way we stopped at the Taos indigenous peoples’ tea plantation and cultural village for lunch.   It was an interesting place, and had the strangest 8 foot statue if an erect penis right in the middle of everything, the biggest I had ever seen.  Our trip ended that day at a 100 year old Alishan Park Hotel in the center of a huge national park.  It was quite beautiful as huge cedars, once among the largest trees on the planet before the Japanese harvested them during the early twentieth century, flourished in the cloud forest. 

July 26 – Sun-Moon Lake and Taichung City:  Sun-Moon Lake is a reservoir for Taichung City.  Despite its small size, the lake is a popular recreation area with its hotels and lake cruises.  Unfortunately, Taiwan has very limited recreational facilities or opportunities as the island has only a few beaches and all the land we saw was being cultivated or used for industry or residential purposes.  We drove several hours down the mountain to Taichung City, Taiwan’ s second largest.  On the way we saw several very large river channels that reflected the size and strength of the runoff from the torrential rains that sweep the island every summer.  We approached Taichung by way of an elevated highway that crossed one of many river beds in the area.  The freeways are very impressive both in their size and complexity of construction.  When we first saw Taichung from the highway we were astonished by its size and architectural sophistication.  It looked like New York City in many ways, but as we left the freeway and began driving on city streets the similarity ended: Taichung was new with large and beautiful buildings, wide tree lined streets, and very modest levels of traffic.  Of course we were in the New Taichung City, and older, more congested areas are still in place.  Several million people live here.  We stayed in a new 50 story hotel in the downtown area.  Taichung has recently built a new, stunningly beautiful city hall, a picture of which I have posted. 

July 27 – Lukang and Taipei City:  From Taichung we drove to Taipei City via Lukang, a small city with several historic treasures.  The most important site was a 350 year old Buddhist Temple built during the Ming Dynasty.  It was a beautiful place and I have put several pictures on www.tischtravels.com.  Lukang also has an historic district of Ch’ing Dynasty (circa 1840) era buildings.  It was very similar to the old cities we visited a few years ago when we traveled up the Yangtze River.  These old neighborhoods are human scale and very comfortable and interesting, unlike many modern era neighborhoods. After tea at a small street restaurant, we moved on to Taipei City, capital of Taiwan.  It was a three hour drive, but there was never an open area of countryside; like Southern California, it is all built up or used for agriculture.  When we got within a half hour of the city center we saw a huge construction project; a duplicate freeway of about eight lanes in each direction was being built overhead on each side of the freeway.  It is a massive project unlike anything I have seen before.  As we approached the city proper, the Taipei 101 Building came into view.  We got off the freeway and drove to our hotel in the middle of town next to Taipei 101.  Many of the buildings were new and very sheik architecturally.    We stayed at the Hyatt, which was a new and lovely hotel.   That evening we dined on the 86th floor restaurant of Taipei 101, which is attached to their World Trade and Convention Center.  It provided a memorable and delightful experience.  The next day we toured the city and saw the center of government, the Chang Kai-shek Memorial and the SunYat-sun Memorial.    We also visited the Palace Museum, which has a fabulous collection of Chinese art and historical treasures.

That evening we reluctantly left Taiwan for home.  We departed at 2310 on the July 27th, arrived in San Francisco at 2200 on the 27th, 3 hours earlier, and reached Detroit at 0630 on July 28th!  The time difference on the clock is 12 hours; when it is 6 PM here, it is 6 AM there. 

Our overall observation of Taiwan is of a people who are very disciplined, kind and hard working.  In all the time we spent driving around we never heard a horn or saw a discourteous gesture while driving.  All the people that we talked with want Taiwan to remain independent.  They do not want to become part of a mainland China.  Public investment is apparent.  Many of the professional people we met have been educated in the U.S.  The government is clearly in the process of rebuilding their cities and infrastructure.  Public spaces are more important to Taiwan society since they seem to invest less in private housing then we do, although everyone we spoke with aspires to a private home rather than an apartment.  Family relationships are very strong in the Taiwanese society.

In the “it’s a small world”  category, we learned while at Ta Shing that Tim’s  (Ta Shings’s president)  brother lives in Ann Arbor, got his PhD at the University of Michigan, now works at Ford, and that his children were patients of Rebecca when she was in practice. 

Our new boat is now about one-third complete and will probably be shipped to Florida in early January.  It should be in Florida by mid-February and available to us in early April.  At that point we will embark on a shakedown cruise over the summer to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, and then we will probably head south to round Cape Horn in 2013 or 2014. 

Thank you for your interest in our little adventure. 

 

 

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