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The long journey into Taiwan

Scott Tong Mar 21, 2008


Doug Krizner: Tomorrow, Taiwan elects a new president. One of the major issues in this campaign is whether there should be closer economic ties with mainland China. That may include direct commercial flights.

Getting across the Taiwan strait these days is a major hassle, even though there’s plenty of business back and forth. Marketplace’s Scott Tong recreates the journey of one American businessman.

Scott Tong: Mark Foreman runs a manufacturing and consulting firm in Taiwan. His factories are in China, so he has to fly there. The odyssey goes like this, as Forman describes by Skype Internet phone:

Forman: For me to get one working day done, I need to basically spend three days to do that.

Four thirty in the morning, airport bus. It’s two hours of iPod time. The bus goes north, and the plane goes south, to Hong Kong. Now remember:

Forman: I want to go to China. I didn’t want to go just to Hong Kong. I actually want to go into southern China.

First, the visa. Forman schlepps his bag through Hong Kong immigration and customs, then hops a train to the visa office. All afternoon, he waits, and wanders. As for his bags?

Forman: I’ve actually gone to hotels that I’ve stayed at previously and see if I can get some nice concierge to take pity on me, and actually check my bag, put it behind the counter.

By dinnertime, Mark Forman has his visa, and he boards another bus — to the China border. Again with the customs and immigration. And by now he’s also changed currency — twice.

Forman: Of course any time you exchange, you’re not getting a straight–up exchange. It’s like you start out with a loaf of bread, and any time it’s handled there’s crumbs falling off, if not chunks.

Inside China:

Forman: Ha, it’s like total chaos. I mean, there’s just masses of people on the other side.

Finally, bus number three — 90 more minutes.

Forman: I’ve left my house probably about 4:30 a.m., and it is now 8:30 p.m. of the same day that I finally get to my destination, which as the crow flies, if there was a direct flight from where I am I’d probably get there in about an hour and a half.

Or think of it this way: Had Mark Forman left Taiwan and gone the other way, he’d be at his Mom’s by now — in Phoenix.

In Shanghai, I’m Scott Tong for Marketplace.

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