Braving high winds and strong rain brought by Typhoon Saola, former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) reminisced about Yunlin, which he calls his “second hometown,” during the end of a three-day trip to the county yesterday.
“Yunlin is my second hometown,” Lee, who was born and grew up in New Taipei City’s (新北市) Sanjhih (三芝), told people at almost every stop during his three-day visit to the central counties of Changhua and Yunlin.
For Lee, 89, the statement was more than just political rhetoric that politicians use to win supporters. Lee spent two years in the county in the early 1960s working as an agricultural economist to assist local farmers with agricultural upgrades.
The former president, who worked as an economist with the Sino-American Joint Commission on Rural Reconstruction, an institution sponsored by the US and aimed at modernizing Taiwan’s agricultural system and implementing land reforms, was sent by the commission to Yunlin.
He was tasked with convincing Yunlin peanut farmers to raise hogs instead, Lee said at a pig farm at Mailiao Township (麥寮) yesterday, because the shift would increase their income and keep them from being hit by imminent imports of salad oil at the time — demanded by the US government.
Lee’s mission was a success and the standard of living and earnings of the local farmers was improved as Yunlin became the largest pig-breeding county in the nation. Today, Yunlin is home to 1.45 million pigs, Yunlin County Commissioner Su Chih-fen (蘇治芬) said.
Lee’s extensive research and field experience in the county is why he proudly calls himself a “pig expert” as well as why he has always held the county in special regard, which he said was one of the poorest in Taiwan. Lee said that back then, Yunlin residents could only eat yams instead of rice because they could not afford it.
The memory of his time there, along with compassion for the people in a region known as feng tou shui wei (風頭水尾), meaning year-round strong winds and scarcity of water, made Yunlin’s coastal region a must-visit for Lee after he retired from politics in 2000. Because of health concerns and scheduling constraints, Lee did not make the trip until Wednesday.
Lee insisted on carrying on with the trip despite Typhoon Saola bringing strong winds and heavy rains around the country, saying that if he canceled the trip, he was not sure when he would be able to visit again.