Interesting facts about Belgium


Wed, Nov 20, 2002 - Page 7

Someone said that "In people, in culture, in art, in history, in cuisine Belgium is a masterpiece." Hereunder a number of interesting and not very well known facts about Belgium and its inhabitants past and present.

Did you know that: The Belgian Capital Brussels holds annually the Queen Elisabeth of Belgium International Music Contest one of the greatest musical contests in the world.

Created in 1951 it brings world fame to its laureates. Yehudi Menuhin and Vladimir Ashkenazi are amongst its famous laureates. The first Taiwanese ever to win the Queen Elisabeth International Violin Competition was born in Tainan and was educated and perfected his musical training in the Kuang-Ren middle school in Panchiao founded more than 40 years ago by Belgian Scheut fathers.

In Belgium music education is very popular and supported by the state. The annual registration cost in a municipal music academy cost no more than three private violins lesson in Taiwan. This is why Belgium produced so many musicians such as Cesar Franck, Peter Benoit, Henri Vieuxtemps, Eugene Ysaye, and that every Belgian village has its own band. Many Taiwanese students study music in Belgium and have brilliant international careers afterwards.

The first time the Flanders Region of Belgium was mentioned in the history of Taiwan was in the letters exchanged in 1622 between Gonzales Portales the Spanish governor of the Fortress Santissima Trinidad in Tamsui and the attacking Dutch governor Julius Tradenius, asking the Spanish to surrender. The former argued that his great experience in the Battle of Flanders against the rebelling Flemisch had allowed gaining great experience and his honor would not allow him to surrender.

The cannons, exhibited in the Chi-Mei museum in Tainan, were built for emperor Kang-Hsi by a Belgian astronomer and Jesuit Ferdinand Verbiest. His Chinese name was Nan Huai-ren. As a reputed astronomer he was close to the emperor of China who named him adviser to court for his knowledge of astronomy. He also built the first celestial globe a copy of which is still visible today. Missionary and astronomer, he was born in Belgium in 1623. He died in Peking in 1688.

In 1668 the young emperor Kang Hsi commissioned him to calculate in advance the length of the shadow of a given height at noon of a certain day as well as the absolute and relative positions of the sun and the planets on a given date and finally the lunar eclipse. He passed the test and Verbiest was immediately placed at the head of the Bureau of Mathematics.

Kang-Hsi made used the Belgian Jesuit talent's Belgian Jesuit in various other ways, such as for the transportation of enormous blocks of stone, the construction of an aqueduct, and the casting of canons of which 132 were cast. Two of these are to been seen in Tainan.

In his memory a Ferdinand Verbiest Foundation was set up in Belgium to study the past and historical activities of Belgian cultural and missionary activities in China and Taiwan while continuing to conduct intellectual and scholarly exchanges between Europe and the Chinese world. The institute celebrated on November 15 its 20th anniversary and is today directed by Jerome Heyndrickx, a well reputed Belgian expert on past and present day China.

It is no secret that Belgian racing pigeons are winning the majority of pigeon races in Taiwan where more than five million pigeons are participating regularly to pigeon races. Every fancier, no matter where, knows that Belgium is the cradle of pigeon racing and that Belgian pigeons are the most wanted in the world for over 100 years In Belgium and the surrounding countries pigeon racing is also immensely popular. There are 96,000 pigeon fanciers in Belgium. There is even a world pigeon Center in the small village of Hoesselt in northern Belgium set up in March 2000 with the help of Taiwanese investors.

In this World Pigeon Center pigeon fanciers from all over the world can house their own pigeons and can have their pigeons enter Belgian and international contests to play their own pigeons with those of their world-famous counterparts.

The Belgian cartoonist Herge invented Tintin, whose adventures were published in 22 albums sold more than 120 million volumes translated in 52 languages. It was already translated four times in Chinese both in Taiwan and in China. The adventures of Tintin in Shanghai, under the title "The Blue Lotus" were inspired by a Chinese art Student Studying in Brussels in 1935, Tchang Chong-ren, whose work are presently exhibited in the History Museum in Taipei. He was also inspired by Lou Tseng-tsiang, former minister of foreign affairs of the Republic of China and signed the treaty of Versailles on behalf of China in 1918. He became a Benedictine monk in Bruges after the decease of his Belgian wife. The former statesman and diplomat spent the rest of his live in the abbey of Saint Andrew.

Thanks to these two sources the Belgian cartoonist Herge depicts in "The Blue Lotus" the Chinese reality in Shanghai of the 1930s. It becomes obvious that some details in the story are not as accidental or innocuous as they seem to be at first sight.

In one of the wall posters in Shanghai in the background of a picture is a call for the boycott of Japanese goods and the Chinese characters on the wall poster behind them read "Down with imperialism." It caused the Japanese embassy to introduce an official protest to the Belgian government after the publication of what became a masterwork of European cartoon literature. The adventures of Tintin albums were recently published for the first time in China in 2001.

Belgium has had and still has some long serving compatriots in Taiwan. The first consul and representative of Belgium in Taiwan, Edgar Roux was the longest serving diplomat in Taipei from 1953 to 1987. Father Pierre Mertens celebrated 50 years of duty in Taiwan from 1952 to 2002.

In lieu of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees he helped among others to assist the Vietnamese boatpeople who arrived in Taiwan to be relocated to Europe or the United States.

Also is Father Georges Massin from the city of Verviers in the south of Belgium who came to Taiwan in 1955 and built the first hospital for prematurely born babies in Huwei in central Taiwan.

The Begonia is to Belgium what the Tulip is to Holland, and Belgium is the world's largest producer of Azaleas. Since the end of the 19th century the region of Ghent (Belgium) became Europe most important center of ornamental production of Azalea and Begonia flower.

The Azalea flower is actually originating from China but Belgium became the most important producer of azaleas in Western Europe, with a production of more than 40 million pieces and also remained the most important exporter of these flowers including to Taiwan, where you can find them on the Sunday flower market of Jiang Kuo Boulevard in Taipei.

Adolph Sax (1814-1894), a Belgian from the city of Dinant in the South of Belgium developed many new music instruments the most famous of which was the Saxophone in 1846. This is why President Clinton, when on official visit in Belgium, called on the native city of Mr. Sax.

The greatest of the typically Belgian painter, Pieter Breughel, painted panoramic and encyclopedic paintings, with hundreds of figures illustrating in proverbs the follies, afflictions, passions and pastimes of human beings of all ages. In one of his most famous painting he depicted more than 100 proverbs of his time. One other of Belgium's masters of the baroque style painter Peter Paul Rubens was also a scholar and a diplomat.

Brussels is with Prague in the Czech republic the European capital of Art Nouveau also called Modern Style was pioneered by Belgian architects in the thirties. It was very popular and was greatly inspired by the Chinese and Japanese arts forms drawn from a keen observation of nature. Art nouveau is still also very popular in Taiwan especially in glass works such as the Tiffany lamps.

Belgium is a gourmet paradise and has the highest density of Michelin star-rated restaurants in Europe. It produces more than 600 different beers with the strongest brewed by monks in the monasteries such as Orval and Chimay, more than one can taste. Already more than 50 of these brands are imported in Taiwan to the great joy of the culinary diversity of Taiwanese consumers.

The tradition goes that every village of Belgium had its own brewery. Belgian Beer is not only made with the traditional ingredients such as grain, yeasts and hops but also such unusual ingredients as raspberries, peaches and black currents. There are even beers made with the in Taiwan popular coriander spice or even such other spices as ginger and cumin. When Belgian beer with Taiwanese pinlang?

Georges Simenon, creator of inspector Maigret, world-famous author of mystery novels. At the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his books, nine of his famous inspector Maigret spy novels will be translated by a Taiwanese publishing house into Chinese in 2003, following the Chinese translation in 2000 of the Belgian Amelie Nothomb world success book "Stupeur et Tremblement" where she tells her experiences in corporate Japan.

The city of Spa in the southern part of Belgium was and is still famous for its hot and mineral springs where royalty and spring lovers spend time to repair their health. Its name became a worldwide symbol of therapeutic bathing. In Taiwan it became synonymous of spring water healthcare.

The spring waters in the city of Spa were already discovered by the Romans and became so well known that in many parts of the world any town or place with or offering natural springs is called a "Spa." At the end of last century it was the in place for Europe royalty to bath in great elegance. In the 21st century the city of Spa became a cultural capital with music, opera, theater and movie festivals.

Founded in 1425, it bears the honor of being the oldest Catholic university in the world still in existence and the oldest university in the Low Countries. Its rich past of almost six hundred years has provided the University of Leuven through the centuries with its own, dynamic international dimension.

Each year around 600 international Erasmus students spend part of their study program in Leuven, while about 500 of our students share the same European experience at a foreign university.

Besides these exchange programs, the university has set up a number of international academic programs aimed both at Belgian and international students. The international academic programs are taught in English.

Most of these programs confer graduate degrees. It has around 26,000 students 8.2 percent of whom are international students from 102 nations with 4,663 members of academic staff.

From Taiwan more than 200 students graduated already from the Belgian University of Leuven. From September 3 to 9, 2002, a first Belgium-Taiwan Workshop on semiconductor manufacturing technology, was organized at the University of Leuven by the National Science Council of Taiwan and the Association for Scientific research of Belgium.

Belgium had too small a market to have developed its own car brand but it assembles more cars per capita than any country in the world with more than 1.2 million units for a population of 10 million. Most of them are exported as Belgium derives two thirds of the gross domestic product from trade. With 10 million inhabitants it occupies the 12th trading place in the world.

That's why Antwerp, Belgium's second largest city with the largest warehousing facilities in Europe is the world's fourth largest port. It is also the shipping gateway for Taiwan's Yang Ming and Evergreen shipping lines.

Another famous export from Belgium is diamonds. Taiwan jewelry lovers are buying more than ten percent of all diamond exported from Belgium. Indeed 9 out of every 10 rough diamonds in the world are traded in Antwerp the diamond capital of the world.

Indeed 50 percent of all polished diamonds of the world pass through Antwerp. In 2001, the Antwerp achieved a diamond trade turnover of US$23.7 billion or 510.7 million carats accounting for 6.8 percent of all Belgian exports and 30,000 people in approximately 700 diamond trading and polishing companies.