Painting over the cracks

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 July, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 July, 2004, 12:00am

Four months after the presidential election, Kuomintang supporters are still waving large flags at the passing traffic close to the party's resplendent Taipei headquarters. Anxious to understand how they felt, I approached one person last week and asked him what his motives were. There had been a recount, I said, and a special investigation had been promised into the election-eve assassination attempt. What, then, did he and his fellow protesters hope to achieve?

The man, who was about 60, took off his glasses and looked me in the eye. 'Do you love your country?' he said.

I replied that I considered myself an internationalist, and was equally well-disposed to all people.

'Do you love your family?' he asked next.

'Yes, those who seem to me to be honest and well-intentioned,' I replied.

Somewhat non-plussed, the man posed a third and final question: 'Do you love God?'

I explained that this was hard for me to answer. The existence, or otherwise, of God had been debated in the west for centuries, I told him, and I was afraid that the prevailing opinion currently was probably...

And that was as far as I got. 'Don't worry,' the man said, putting his glasses back on and preparing to start waving his flag again. 'When you're older, you'll understand.'

Walking away, I considered how this trilogy of loyalties - to country, family and religion - extended worldwide, and logical nit-pickers like myself were deemed not quite up to the mark. Emotions like those shown by this man guide the hands of many, in democracies and older forms of society alike.

A couple of hundred metres farther on I was pleased to see that the government had closed off the triumphal arch leading to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Plaza, and was preparing to give the structure a fresh coat of paint. The site had been occupied by a determined band of loyalists after the big post-election rallies were over. They sang songs, and someone had painted truly shocking anti-government slogans (shocking, at least, in their English versions) on the walls of the archway. The government, it seemed, had displayed considerable patience in letting this state of affairs run its course. Now, happily, they were cleaning up the site - in many ways the island's political and ceremonial heart.

Not far away, the Presidential Office itself is shrouded in plastic sheets, with the whir of stone-cleaning machinery audible. It, too, is getting a facelift. Does all this activity mean that things are at last getting back to normal? Inquiries suggest a large majority sincerely hope so.