Sixteen years ago, a heartbroken college graduate left South Africa, crossing three time zones to arrive in Taiwan. He came to Taitung where he took root and began thriving. This opened a new chapter in his life.
With ease, Mark recalled the events of 2003 which left a deep impact on his life. “I left my wife of four years and was really sad. Having just graduated from university I didn’t have anything tying me to a life in South Africa. So, I just decided to leave.” But the world is so big, so why choose Taiwan? Mark smiled and said at that time Taiwan was about to develop nuclear energy and had a close relationship with South Africa, which produced cheap nuclear materials. His father was a nuclear scientist and often traveled between Taiwan and South Africa. In addition, his sister was working in Taiwan. He was inundated with praise about Taiwan which left his imagination filled with positive thoughts out it.
Taiwan was the first place to pop into his head during his struggling to get back on his feet. Things have changed dramatically since he arrived in Taitung.
“When I first arrived in Taiwan, I went to Tainan to meet up with one of my friends. He gave me a rickety motorcycle and encouraged take a trip around the island. He emphasized that I should definitely check out Taitung!” Mark’s eyes lit up. That was the first time he had heard about Taitung. He couldn’t constrain himself to want to know about what a special place Taitung is. Mark was on his solo road trip heading for Kenting but lost his way near Pingtung. “The local police looked out for me for about two hours and escorted me back to the main road. After all the help, they finally felt relieved enough to let me go on my way!” This experience left him with a deep impression of the enthusiasm and warmth of Taiwanese. “Taiwan is a great country!” Mark said.
Gradually, the emotional damage from his separation no longer plagued him. Not long after getting his feet wet in Taitung, he unexpectedly ran into Thomas, one of his university classmates, at a Mexican restaurant downtown. They were super excited about having met up with each other. Not thinking too much about it, Thomas immediately took Mark to the beach. Speeding along Provincial Highway 11 between Fugang and Xiaoyeliu he recalled, “There were towering coconut trees on both sides of the street. Dulan Mountain rose in the distance against the backdrop of the coastal mountain range. It was completely breathtaking. I thought it looked just like Hawaii! South Africa has a similar landscape with an amazing coastline. It’s really beautiful.”
At that time, Mark knew that Taitung was where he wanted to stay forever.
I found the residents of Taitung were incredibly interesting. There are Han Chinese, Indigenous people, and some foreigners like me. The weather is always sunny and the pace of life is slow. It not a busy place and it’s really safe. I have a daughter who is attending her first year at the junior high school in Dulan and I don’t need to worry about her walking home alone. He opened a restaurant kitty-corner to the Dulan Sugar factor called WaGaLiGong. He also setup some surfing courses. He has lived a happy life over the past decade. These characteristics are some of the factors that initially made him fascinated with Taitung.
“But…” Mark wholeheartedly retorted: “The only problem I see is the deterioration of the pristine and unpolluted environment in Taitung which is becoming more and more obvious – unlike when I first arrived.” He said that in recent years, when he takes foreign friends to the beach, that it is not a clean beach but has been replaced by a massive amount of garbage. Seeing this change has filled Mark with an infinitude of emotion. He hopes that no matter if it’s officially or privately sanctioned, that a balance can be found between the natural environment and the development of the tourism industry in order to protect the precious natural resources of Taitung. “If you love this place, you should care about it. I want to live here forever, so I hope that Taitung will get better and better!”
Mark suggested that more beach cleanup activities and fish conservation areas should be set up. “The Fushan Fish Recovery Area is doing some good work with restoration.” Stating an example, he said, “Permaculture is an increasingly popular concept in Western countries. The idea behind permaculture is coexisting peacefully with nature and an aspect that we can learn more about and promote.” Because he really loves Taitung, he has high expectations for it. The goal of an eco-friendly city and county can be marketed internationally as a form of eco-tourism. “Foreigners like this concept very much. This is also a world trend. The environment is never far away and it is an imperative topic for discussion.” Mark insisted that all residents living in Taitung should work together to protect the natural environment of Taitung so that it is still pure and beautiful even after 10, 20 or even thousands of years.