When Chinese officials trying to decide whether to build a solar cell assembly plant in Payson showed up to look around, they were impressed to find Payson Recreation and Tourism Director Cameron Davis eager to conduct the tour — in Mandarin.
Last week, the people who attend the monthly meeting of the Rim Country Foreign Policy Forum discovered how he managed that surprising feat as Davis presented a lecture based on his two years spent on a mission in Taiwan, the island off the coast of China where the Chinese opponents of the communist revolution on the mainland took refuge.
Davis grew up in a rural ranching family in northern Arizona, but learned to speak fluent Chinese, a remarkably difficult task. He wanted to better communicate with the people in Taiwan. He and some 400 other Latter-day Saints missionaries explored the back country farming areas of the island to bring news of LDS teaching to the mostly Buddhist and Taoist people there.
Taiwan is one of the most densely populated lands on Earth. The island has about the same area as the states of Maryland and Delaware combined. But where these two states have a total of 6.6 million inhabitants, more than 23 million people live in Taiwan. This population must contend with a mountainous island that squeezed the population into less than half of the total surface area.
In the space of a single lifetime, the Taiwanese people pulled themselves from a poverty level of $170 per capita per year in 1950 to $37,000 per capita today. And these remarkable people study with a single-minded ferocity that is shocking to we more relaxed Americans.
Davis painted a verbal portrait of the tightly packed but beautiful island and its people.
His stint took up all of 1991 and 1992, the years of his young adulthood. He was only 19 when he arrived.
His time there was made easier and more pleasant because of the warmth, friendliness and generosity of the people. He told of very poor people sharing their pittance of food with him.
Taiwan is a modern nation that we might find familiar, but there are naturally cultural differences. Yes, there is a Pizza Hut, but not many of us have squid on our pizza.
Rim Country Foreign Policy Forum founding sponsor John Wakelin noted that we are particularly blessed to live in Rim Country with so many well informed people willing to share their information. Who would have thought that a young man from an Arizona cattle ranch would speak fluent Chinese?
The Rim Country Foreign Policy Forum next month will feature a presentation by Lt. Col. Mike Clark on training for the Guatemalan and Honduran army in the time of the Sandinista war. All are invited.