"I left there when I turned 18 and came to attend college in Taiwan," she said. "Back then, people in Kinmen were nice and simple. Even though the place I grew up was divided into four administrative townships, we knew each other so well that I felt like I lived in one big town."
So when Hsieh heard that the government was planning to amend the Offshore Islands Development Law (離島建設條例) in order to allow casinos to operate on some of the nation's surrounding islets, she immediately disapproved.
"The type of visitor going to Kinmen would become so different," she said.
"Gambling could bring along other things, such as prostitution," Chen said. "My friends and I talked about this and we all agreed that we welcome tourists, but not betting enthusiasts."
Wang Shu-chin (王樹欽), a hostel owner on Matsu (馬祖), said most people are ambivalent about this issue.
"Casinos will help increase revenue for the local government," he said. "But some people are afraid of the negative influences it will bring."
The polarized public opinion on whether casinos should operate on Matsu, Kinmen, Penghu and the other islets surrounding the country was also evident in a poll conducted by Eastern Television in 2001 among residents in Penghu (澎湖) County.
Penghu has been aggressively campaigning for legal casinos for over 20 years.
Among the 728 valid questionnaires the poll collected, close to 41 percent of respondents were for the establishment of casinos in Penghu, whereas about 40 percent were against the proposal.
While nearly 57 percent believed having casinos in Penghu would boost the local economy, approximately 60 percent also felt the measure would lead to a rise in crime.
On the other hand, another poll conducted by the Executive Yuan in 2003 among residents in Taiwan and the outlying islands of Kinmen, Matsu and Penghu, found that the proposed Gambling Law enjoyed an approval rate of 51 percent.
Twenty-three percent said they did not support the legislation.
That same year, a referendum on the issue was also held in Penghu County. With a low turnout of 21 percent, supporters of the casinos only slightly outnumbered opponents by 7,830 votes to 5,984.
The billions of dollars at stake and the number of potential business interests involved explain why the Gambling Law (博奕條款) has been debated at the legislature for over a decade and has still not been approved.
Meeting with lawmakers and local representatives in Penghu last week, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) said the nation has to consider the gambling issue with an "open-mind," since countries like Singapore have already begun to embrace it rather than avoid it.
And since Penghu County had been pushing the government on this for years, the first legal operational licence for gambling should be given to Penghu, he said.
The Council of Economic Planning and Development (CEPD), on the other hand, has proposed giving the first operational licences to regions with a depressed economy.
"The investment strategy should not just be the casino per se," CEPD Vice Chairman Chang Chin-sen (張景森) said. "The entire package must also include other entertainment facilities, such as hotels. Only an investment of this magnitude will be placed on the priority list."
The council has estimated that a more detailed plan could be delivered within six months.
Besides Penghu, other counties in the country are also looking forward to being able to offer casinos.
County legislators in Kaohsiung, for example, suggested last month that casinos could be built in Renwu (仁武) Township.
Yeh Chi-kuei (葉智魁), associate professor at the sports and leisure studies department of National Dong Hwa University, challenged the conventional wisdom that the development of a gambling industry would naturally generate additional revenue for local government.
"Except in some rare cases, most studies have indicated that two effects will generally occur once the gambling industry penetrates towns and cities -- either they take over from existing industries or they `cannibalize' other local industries," he said in a 1998 article on the impact of casinos on Taiwan's surrounding islets.
Chang Shou-hua (張壽華), an official at the construction bureau of the Lienchiang County Government, also questioned if the proposal would prove to be viable in Matsu.
"Chinese people by nature like to gamble," he said. "Should a casino be opened in Matsu, the negative impacts will outweigh the positive ones because we as a nation are relatively immature in the area of regulating and overseeing a gambling industry."
Chang also doubted if any investors would look at Matsu, given that the islet is so small and lacks a suitable infrastructure. Matsu airport, for example, is often closed due to unpredictable weather conditions.
Chen Mei-hsiu (陳美秀), technical division chief of the Tourism Bureau, said she had not received any further instructions from the CEPD as to how it should coordinate on the proposed casinos.
"Gambling must first be decriminalized," she said. "The policy must also clearly state whether the casinos are intended merely to spur local economic growth or become an attraction for overseas tourists, like in Macau."
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