Sat, Jan 13, 2001 - Page 11 News List

Country club with betel nut

Saddle up at the Hannover Equestrian Club on the outskirts of Taipei

By David Frazier  /  STAFF REPORTER


To be honest, the Hannover Equestrian Club (漢諾威馬術俱樂部) doesn't smell much like horse dung. The stables are brand new, as is the soccer field-size covered riding arena, as is the country club style restaurant with its shabu shabu counter and teppanyaki bar. The riding grounds for the show jumping are very nearly, but not quite, perfect, surrounded as they are by hedges and a white post fence. On closer inspection, these last turn out to be made of plastic.

It's a puzzling place, and the odd details remind one less of imperfection and more that this place is very, very far from either the ambling greens of Kentucky or the heaths of the British countryside. This Hannover is located in the rice paddies off the northern end of Chengteh Road (承德路), behind a roadside strip of auto dealerships and furniture stores.

The club boasts a stable of 33 horses and a full-time staff nearly as large. After the addition of several beautiful new facilities in mid-1999, it can claim to be Taiwan's premier riding grounds. But that is not the only reason it's so remarkable.

The men responsible for this ornament to the equestrian arts are a most singular segment of the Taiwanese elite. They wear white jodhpurs and breeches, velvet covered riding helmets, black coup saumur Aigle boots and even red jackets. They also chew betel nut, smoke incessantly, banter in Taiwanese and toast shots of whiskey over lunch. They are a very Taiwanese brand of the new rich.

At their head is Hsu An-chin (許安進), the club's president, a man who might as well just be named "laoban." For everyone, that is, except his celebrated new bride, former pop singing idol Jin Ruei-yao (金瑞瑤). Two months ago, their widely publicized marriage produced what may be Taiwan's most formidable tandem of media moguls.

Hsu, a man of Napoleonic stature and intensity, has controlling interests in the Sun TV cable channel (太陽衛星電視台), film and video production companies and other programming content providers. Formerly, he also had a stake in Taiwan Playboy. Jin, who's singing days are more than a decade behind her, now heads up Shock Records (俠客), which currently produces David Tao (陶吉吉) among other heartthrobs. Together, they comprise something like a modern Taiwan version of Tom and Daisy Buchanan.

Last Sunday, Hsu and Hannover hosted the Yu-hwang Cup (玉湟洋酒盃), a competition of show jumping and dressage involving around 50 riders of different skill levels. Apparently, cost was no object, as the NT$70,000 sponsorship from Berio Olive Oil and Martell Cognac didn't even come close to covering the NT$114,000 in prize money. Then again, it was rumored that club members' side bets exceeded the sponsorship funds as well.

The dressage, a competition of tightly controlled horsemanship in which all the moves bear French names, like pirouette, piaffe, and levade, began early at 8am. "We know that for spectators, it's kind of hard to understand," said Chen Hui-ming (陳輝銘), Hannover's head trainer and one of only several men with over 30 years riding experience in Taiwan.

Another such old hand is Huang Cheng-hsuing (黃正雄), a member of several riding associations in Taiwan and Hannover's chairman. The only one at the competition dressed in a cowboy hat, leather vest, boots and spurs, he glanced at the hunt coated crowd saying, "You have to get your dress right when you go riding. Sometimes I go Western style. Sometimes I go like them."

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