I was asked to help translate a pamphlet regarding a camp-in protest against the Big Hotel on Shan Yuan Beach (known, perversely, as Mei Li Wan). The protest is called ‘The Fence’. Not being able to read Chinese, I spoke to an Amis woman called Pitek, who talked about the contents of the pamphlet and other things. She has been involved with the protest from the beginning. Rather than go for a direct word for word translation, I am just giving the general gist of some of the stuff she told me, and weighing in a bit myself while I’m at it.
Where: Shan Yuan Beach on the beach side of the hotel (about 20 minutes nth from Tai Dong train station - km mark: 153)
When: June 10 - July10. A continuous presence will be maintained there throughout that time. It’s bloody hot before 4 o’clock, so after then and into the evening is probably the best time to do your continuous presence-ing. There was some talk at the meeting tonight of extending past July 10. It’ll depend on the support.
Beach Party: Fri, July 1, 9pm. BYO drinks (and take home your empties) Dulan style of mixed performances. If you can do something (pretty well), you’d be welcome to contribute.
What: The camp-in has been organized by a local Dulan artists’ collective, and the camp is a work of art already, but everyone is welcome to join in whether you have an artistic bone in your body or not. The main point is to hang out, create a presence there, share a meal, maybe a cold one, a chat, and someone always seems to have a guitar around in Dulan, so probably a bit of beach party stuff on the weekends as well.
One of the beauties of this area is that there is a strong community vibe, and there has been a long history of protest against this kind of BOT development (not sure what that stands for but it basically means privatizing development of government lands). Before this, there were plans to develop Dulan Beach. A local artist, Chen Ming-Tsai, committed suicide as a protest against the development by walking into the sea. The development was stopped. His was a sad, desperate statement, but out of that lonely despair, a spirit of community concern for the unique environment of Tai Dong has grown, and The Fence is part of this.
The camp has been set up in front of the huge, ugly tin fence erected on the beach by the hotel. As an artistic kind of juxtaposition, the campers have built their own ‘fence’ out of driftwood, which anyone can walk through. Not only does it look a lot better, but it brings into focus the hotel’s purely money driven goal of privatizing one of Taiwan’s most beautiful and safe family beaches and excluding the general public from it. A rough equivalent would be building a massive, ugly assed hotel right on, not just near, Bondi beach (for example) and then fencing the whole place off and telling people they needed to pay to go onto it.
Sounds outrageous, right? But wait there’s more. The hotel was built without first undergoing an obligatory environmental impact statement –and Pitek says that it didn’t even have a building permit! You’ve heard of the illegal rooftop apartment, well this is the same thing but a thousand times the size built right on the beach. Pretty hard to miss if you were a building inspector.
However, as Pidek says, it was noticed by a lot of other people, especially the people who were living in the village next door to it, and a protest movement began with the aim of stopping it in the building stage. It was challenged on the grounds that it hadn’t done an obligatory environmental impact statement for a building of that size. The case went to the high court which said, ‘no, you clearly haven’t done an environmental impact statement, building needs to stop, and you need to get one done’. The environmental impact statement was done and, not surprisingly, considering it’s a massive, polluting monstrosity right on a beautiful, public beach, they failed.
And you would think that would have been the end of the matter and the only problem left would be to get them to tear it down.
But sadly not. I am not an expert on Taiwan’s division of powers, but as it was explained to me by Pitek, and other people may know more about this as well, ultimate power in relation to government lands in Tai Dong resides with the Tai Dong county government. As they (led by Mayor Shyu) had signed a contract with the hotel conglomerates, Mei Li Hwa, and Naruwan for fifty years (at a ridiculously low rent of NT$10 000 per month for 7 acres of pristine beach!), they are now in a position where they would be liable for an enormous pay out (costs plus 50 years of profits) if they broke the contract (any legal experts out there?). There have been two further mayors since then (Kwan and now Huang) and the original Hotel Chain, Mei Li Hwa, has sold most of their share to their partners in crime, Naruwan. (I could use another source on this – as someone said, it’s hard to know where one company ends and another begins.) Pitek describes it as a ‘hot potato’. But still it goes on, and they are planning to open in time for summer vacation.
But the protest is still very much alive as well and it would be great if anyone out there in Forumosa Land could help bolster it and keep it going, whether that be by getting some media coverage for the cause, accessing some legal clout, writing a letter to Ma-Ing Jiu (or a Tai Dong councillor), just generally spreading the word, or if you are coming down this way, then definitely camp a night down at the beach. Why wouldn’t you? It’s free, it’s a beautiful tropical beach, and it could be the last time you’ll get to enjoy it the way it was meant to be enjoyed.