I headed off to the Chiang Kai Shek mausoleum with and American guy and an American girl. They had good cameras and the guy turned out to have a good Sony sound recording system.
We walked from the backpackers. About half way we saw a squad of riot police marching two by two behind an armored truck. I remember a few things. The truck had a big roll of barbed wire on the front. The police had all, the normal trappings: shields, helmets, truncheons but, unexpectedly, they also had fold-up stools.
The three of us looked at each other. We didn’t say a word. But clearly the riot police were much more interesting than the mausoleum. Also, the mausoleum would still be there tomorrow. So, we followed the riot police.
They marched quite quickly to the entrance of the national parliament. They rolled out their barbed wire across the road leading to the parliament deployed their stools and sat in a very neat straight line behind the barbed wire.
A protest came down another road. There must have been several thousand protesters. I am not good at estimating crowd sizes. They had a flat backed semi trailer set up as a stage and a few other support trucks. We watched the play on the trailer. I remember most a man dressed in a skeleton suit representing death and another in a red devil suit.
They symbolically poured a 44 gallon drum of red paint onto the road, I guess to simulate blood and signify suffering and death.
Being the only three foreigners at the protest and with my colleagues taking photos and recording the sound, the organizers came over to us. I was acting as assistant holding their bags handing out swaps of lenses to change as they took photos and holding the sound gear. They had documents and photos. They wanted to know if we were journalists They explained that the protest was about nuclear waste. Apparently when they had refurbished or extended a reactor, a contractor had been contracted to remove some radioactive scrap metal. But instead of disposing of it, they put it back into the recycling system. No one knew of it.
One day a man who ran a dentistry in a residential building had his machines checked by the authorities. They found excessive levels of radioactivity. It was traced to radioactive steel used as reinforcing in the building. They said that the building was one that caused sickness. The authorities traced the origin of the steel to the dodgy contractor.
The protest was trying to convince the government to check other buildings as they protesters felt that other buildings should be checked as no one knew how far the tainted steel had been distributed.
I must admit I was surprised by the whole show. For that is what it was, a carefully choreographed show. The riot police were silent, and impersonal but strangely non-threatening, sitting behind their barbed wire. The protesters were passionate about the importance of their protest, but well behaved and organized. There was never any indication of any threat of violence. There was no provocation.
The next day the three of us set out again and went to Chiang Kai Shek’s Mausoleum. While I think Chiang Kai Shek’s Mausoleum is on the must see list for Taipei, it was a bit plain and disappointing even though it was a large and grand monument. I give it 2 out of 5 stars.