Tue, Nov 04, 2008 - Page 4 News List

COMMUNITY COMPASS: INTERVIEW: ‘Lonely Planet Taiwan’ author loves his subject

Every year, thousands of visitors to Taiwan rely on Lonely Planet to know where to go and what to do. The ‘Taipei Times’ sat down with guidebook co-author Robert Kelly, whose knowledge of the country’s every nook and cranny is as big as his fondness for the place

By J. Michael Cole  /  STAFF REPORTER

Hot springs, trekking and “birding” are a special focus in the latest guide, which Robert and co- author Joshua Samuel Brown felt were needed to “market” the country and distinguish it from other tourist destinations — treasures that most Taiwanese who never leave the city are unaware of themselves, he says.

Asked how writing the guide has changed his perspective on Taiwan, Robert says it has made him appreciate how the country has progressed. In fact, had it not changed, he might have left years ago.

“Studies have proven that as a country gets richer,” he said, its people will start paying more attention to the environment.

With that comes development, recycling and cleaning.

He said he has also noticed that the country has many more people who give up their careers to return to the land to open tea shops or B&Bs. He also noticed that under the Democratic Progressive Party government, many Taiwanese became interested in learning more about where they came from. The two-day weekends, introduced in 2001, also encouraged Taiwanese to discover their country.

Many tourist areas, such as Kenting, have begun to realize that they cannot keep running things the “Taiwanese” way and have sought to learn from traveling abroad, he says. Slowly, people are recognizing that the area surrounding the tourist attractions, such as the beaches in Kenting, must be well-maintained for people to want to visit.

“There are no ugly areas in Taiwan,” he said. “It’s only what people do to the land that makes it ugly.”

Fruit farms and other exploitative businesses that damage the environment infuriate him.

“If only we could pay them off so they would leave,” says Robert, who once had this writer carry a bag of garbage picked up along the way during a river-tracing expedition in Wulai (烏來).

Robert has also co-authored the Lonely Planet guides to Tibet, Hainan and Qinghai, which gave him a greater appreciation for Taiwan.

“There is no real poverty in Taiwan,” he says. In China, “you get six-year-old children begging in the Forbidden City, on the streets of Shanghai.”

As a foreigner in China he felt he was always being “cased for money” and feared for his health and safety. Robert prefers the openness in Taiwan.

Taiwan has tremendous beauty. What it needs is “hype” for the rest of the world to recognize that, he says. With Robert Kelly as author of Lonely Planet Taiwan for the foreseeable future, that hype is in good, loving hands.

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