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Monday, January 20, 2014

Look Up When Walking the Sidewalks in Taiwan

Gregory K.Taylor                                                

February 17th, 1937, twelve construction workers fell to their deaths while attempting to remove scaffolding from underneath a platform on the Golden Gate Bridge. On the 26th of September, 2001, a 2 1/2-ton plywood-and-steel panel built to protect motorists from Bay Bridge retrofit work collapsed into the eastbound traffic, crushing a pickup truck and killing its driver. April 1st, 2002, cranes and scaffolding at a high-rise building crashed to the ground after an earthquake jolted Taiwan--killing five construction workers. These accidents illustrate the inherent risk in construction work involving large structures. There is usually a price to be paid in human terms for these awe-inspiring improvements

Case in point, approximately ten years ago during one of my visits to Taiwan a corner construction site for a high-rise condominium complex had started to go up. Well, not exactly going up, but more of a dredging and excavation of an area where the foundation was to be poured. This was a plodding methodical churning of mud coupled with a sustained flush of a subterranean sewer until the surface area had clotted resulting in a hardened mass of goo just right for paving. This operation appeared to be taking forever and a day because each time I returned to Taiwan over the next couple of years the construction site seemed to be in the same condition as it was the last time I was there.

Press Johnny on the Spot
Cai Liao Station 采料站
My next trip had a more lengthy in between time--I hadn't been to Taiwan for nearly eight years. This trip revealed a marked improvement in the pace of construction, and for icing on the cake a new subway station had been added right next to the now fully developed high rise building. During these final phases of construction (mainly internal), a metal canopy had been constructed along with a large blue tarp enveloping most of the building's lower floors to protect the pedestrian traffic below from inadvertent falling objects. When in Taiwan I am always mindful when walking by high rise buildings to look up. For whatever reason, I've always been on guard for a falling wrench or hammer or piece of scaffolding or even, God forbid, a falling body. Wincing with regret when I've forgotten to either look up or simply forgetting to use the overhanging roof of a building over a walkway.

There came a day when I was exiting the subway at the new station only to encounter a yellow taped off area and a transit cop directing me to an exit that would be taking me across the street. Hmm...what was this all about? As I made my way up the stairs and onto the street facing directly in front of the high rise building, I could see scaffolding that had fallen to the ground and more scaffolding perilously dangling from the building's edifice. What I always feared had happened. The winds aloft swirled around this building breaking scaffolding loose from its moorings. I suspect the construction crew hadn't anticipated this possible mishap (although I don't understand why they wouldn't) and somewhere someone hadn't securely latched down the scaffolds.

Having seen my fears realized, I think I'll take to wearing a hard hat as I traverse the sidewalks of Taiwan.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Vietnam 2013--Khe Sanh, Part Two

By Gregory K. Taylor

To avoid an international incident, my driver and guide finished their lunch and we resumed our trip. Up to that point, no one had ever said anything negative to me about the American War—the Vietnamese name for the Vietnam War. Ironically, Most want to move on and prosper economically with the aid of the American economy. In fact, one is hard-pressed to find anyone of the war generation willing to discuss the conflict openly without government approval, and those who do request that I not mention their name or reproduce their likeness in print or video.
This inebriated individual appeared to be too young to remember anything about the war other than what he gleaned from history books; so, his reaction to my presence was a bit puzzling. I must have had “I'm an American war veteran” stenciled on my forehead.

American Hardware Captured or Abandoned on Display
The fog and mist began settling on the tarmac as we continued to drive obscuring our vision of the school children, some walking, some riding bicycles, all wearing matching uniforms climbing the elevated slope of the mountain. Such a trek to get an education speaks reverently about the precepts found in the Analects of Confucianism which explains the Asian culture's propensity for higher education. Stunning hues of green, shades of dark, shades of light--everywhere!  Beauty that belies centuries of violent invasions from the Chinese, the French, and the Americans. 
Khe Sanh War Monument

Khe Sanh! We have arrived at the town monument commemorating the battle by the same name etched in NVA filigree. These hieroglyphic pictograms tell the stories of victorious battles against the Americans. Captured American soldiers with raised hands being marched away at gunpoint is one such illustration adorning the monument. To the victor goes the history and the Vietnamese monuments and museums all tell a story of Victory against the "Imperialist Bourgeoisie."

Foggy Road to Khe Sanh Firebase

We first drive ten to fifteen miles in the opposite direction from the Khe Sanh Firebase over to the Lang Vei Special Forces Camp which was a forward observation post in 1968 that was overrun in the February attacks. This attack facilitated the siege of Khe Sanh eliminating a troublesome obstacle for the NVA. We're here! We're here? We've passed it? What? Lang Vei Camp has completely vanished after some 45 years. All that's left is one road with high vegetation on either side and a tank or personnel carrier atop a hill near the entrance. Nothing to see here, so we head back to the war monument and turn left up a foggy road toward Khe Sanh Museum. 

After some early missteps and lost revenue, the Vietnamese government has learned to capitalize on American war nostalgia. So, in its best capitalistic
Inside the Khe Sanh Firebase Museum
practice there is a negligible cover and bathroom charge to enter the grounds and the museum. What one will find in many Vietnam war museums, indoors or outdoors, is a liberal stash of American hardware on display. War equipment from airplanes to helicopters to tanks to munitions that were abandoned, dropped, or captured.

Longer View of the FireBase

Due to the dearth of people today, and a cool mist coupled with light falling rain, and a vast mountainous terrain, it all offers up an eerie quiet with the exception of a distant echo. Sound carries far here, even a whisper. Alas, interrupting this reflective moment is a lone peddler hobbled with a leg injury carrying a tray of American war artifacts--bullets, dog tags, and medals which he insists I buy. No amount of “No Thank you” can deter his singular purpose.  As for my guide and driver, after a few photos, they appear to have abandoned me to my own devices venturing into the museum and then into the taxi, all in an attempt to avoid the elements.

The siege of Khe Sanh is so well documented that I stutter to add anything new. All I can do is walk the area and envisage the scene of exploding ammo dumps, raining (perimeter) B 52 bombs, rockets, mortar fire, and hunkered down Marines. The siege lasted approximately three months and ended in a whimper without the long anticipated NVA ground assault. Historians have concluded the entire siege was a diversionary tactic in order to conceal the North Vietnamese government's real intention—Tet. The importance of Khe Sanh deals more with President Johnson's fear of another Dien Bien Phu disaster and his
President Johnson Obsessing Over Khe Sanh Mock Up
preoccupation, even to the extent of maintaining a mockup model in the White House, with defending it at all costs. This was going to be a last stand battle that America was not going to lose.

After leaving Khe Sanh, I concluded that it was not feasible to head over to Hamburger Hill with the time I had left. I would have to stop in Aluoi and get a special permit and guide from town officials. I suspect the reason for this precaution is the continued danger presented by unexploded ordinance as a result of this tumultuous battle. One would be foolhardy to try and go there alone.

NVA = North Vietnamese Regular Army