It’s early Thursday morning and the sprawling Port of Kaohsiung has turned into a military fortification.
Tens of meters of barbed wire barricades, more than 100 uniformed police and no less than five checkpoints stood between Chinese envoy Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) and the rest of the sprawling southern city of 2.7 million.
That was the first greeting Chen received in his trip to southern Taiwan and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) stronghold of Greater Kaohsiung, where Taiwan’s independence movement blossomed during the 1970s and 1980s.
Police were undoubtedly expecting to see more than just the 150 or so protesters that day, most of them elderly men and women.
That was the scene repeated again and again, with police heavily outnumbering protesters, as Chen sped in his 10-car convoy to an export processing zone and a monastery before moving on to Chiayi the next day.
The extensive preparations were, of course, not without its reason. In 2008, a shoving match took place between protesters and a more junior Chinese official in Tainan.
This time around, the unruly crowd at times threw eggs at his passing convoy. More than a few younger protesters were also angrily on the prowl for Chinese media and officials in their midst.
Indeed, several DPP city councilors managed to topple one metal barricade at the Port of Kaohsiung on Thursday, although that move, like many others, was seemingly for the cameras.
It is, admittedly, impossible to predict what might have happened if the barricades were removed or the police presence, numbering at least 100 at times, was reduced.
However, at the same time, as Chiayi residents said yesterday, the measures also prevented Chen from experiencing the warmth and hospitality that southern Taiwan is known for, and that Chen had said he hoped to see.
In fact, his stays in luxurious resorts, cordoned off by barbed wire, barricades and blue walls of police could have antagonized more people than the number of those set to benefit from his trade mission.
Cars and motorcycles heading into E-DA World, the popular outlet mall and hotel complex in rural Greater Kaohsiung, where Chen stayed on Thursday, were subject to multiple checks and holdups.
The complex itself was turned into a hilltop fortress, with SWAT teams standing by in full gear — an odd sight for a location that prides itself on being an international destination.
Tourists from China, Hong Kong and Japan were treated to a full view of dozens of meters of black barbed wire barricades on the sole road leading down from E-DA, as they entered and left in their tour buses.
In Chiayi, police shut down entire roads near the Nice Prince Hotel, Chen’s accommodations yesterday, leaving pedestrians, local residents and the press to climb over barbed wire barricades or deal with lengthy detours.
One local salesperson joined in the protests after being unable to drive out of his house, owing to the lengthy barricades outside the hotel, which left no entrance or exit.
At 1pm, the three dozen police standing behind the line of barbed wire barricades keeping protesters at bay suddenly broke for lunch, after most of the demonstrations had wound down.
Included among the remaining protesters trying to find out whether this meant the barricades would be lifted was a local betel nut chewer, aiming to walk to what he said was his usual betel nut stand just beyond the barbed wire.