Picture this. You're situated in a rural area, about 7 minutes from the nearest village, surrounded by pineapple fields and jagged hills. You venture off away from civilization, toward the hills. As you go the road gets smaller and more rural, till it's nothing more than a small rural farm lane, barely wide enough for two cars to pass (although 3 Taiwanese cars could probably make it). You see snakes, lizards, chickens and shabby little farm "houses" and lots of pineapple. Eventually, mixed with the smell of rurality, you sense the faint aroma of concrete dust and the faint din of commercial construction. Suddenly, as you come around a tight bend, everything changes. You're smack in the middle of a Universal Studios set (having never been to Universal Studios I take great artistic license with this) or perhaps downtown somewhere in Italy with giant Coliseum and Parthenonesque structures looming overhead. And what's that. Upside down rollercoaster and perched on top of the "mega" hotel, a ferris wheel? W.T.H. (the "H" being heck, of course). You've arrived at E-Da World.
What started as a university (E-Da University), presumably named after Mr. E. Da, it has grown into one man's dream of immortalization. The university is fairly large, new and beautiful, despite its isolation. Janice and I often head up there for a coffee at the little "knock off" Starbucks. So, a university, isolated at the top of a mountain is not all that "out of the ordinary." (Think Simon Fraser). But what awaits you surrounding the university is quite astounding. It's called E-Da World and is the brainchild of a rich, Taiwanese businessman who longs to create an empire in southern Taiwan. Apparently he's backed by the princess of Thailand and has poured millions and hundreds of millions into this place and it's quite amazing. While still unfinished, a state in which it may eternally linger, it boasts numerous amusement park rides, giant "godlike" statues, a high end mall, a giant feris wheel with a light show that can be seen from downtown Kaohsiung, 20 km away and 2 five star hotels. Oh, did I mention the only skating rink on the island??
As you drive by the buildings, you seriously think downtown Rome (haven't been there either). Millions of tons of concrete have been hauled up there to further the behemoth construction project. While not beautiful like the University, it could be described as impressive for sure.
Two interesting questions arise after each visit, though. First, who is going to come to it. Kaohsiung is already riddled with mega malls, including one called Mega Mall and even the Dream Mall has a pretty cool amusement park on its roof. All of them, however, are close to civilization, unlike E-Da. It's pegged as a "destination resort" but generally, implicit in this term, is the idea that the resort is at some sort of destination. Not the case with E-Da, unless you happen to be a pineapple farmer returning home to your fields.
The other question is one of completion. Over the Chinese New Year break, they had a "soft" grand opening of the skating rink. While we didn't go, our friends went and picked their way through the dusty construction zone, wishing they'd brought hardhats, across boardwalks to a patch of ice that seemed to be the main feature in an unfinished carpark. I know someone else who visited the "open" hotel, to find a mostly plastic tarped lobby awaiting them. Fortunately, the electricity had just been hooked up in the room so they could see enough in the bathroom to wipe the construction dust off the bathroom counters. Even last night, Isaac and I went to an "almost midnight" showing of Robin Hood at the Mega Theatre, which has been open for several weeks. We walked through the ground floor entrance (having parked in the construction worker parking lot), across the masking taped and paper covered floor, through the parkade (on a carpeted walkway) up to the theatre. As we waited to buy our tickets, we gazed over the balcony and looked down on 5 or 6 floors of under construction mall, months away from having stores. I don't think I've ever seen such an example of jumping the gun, but it seems to be the Taiwanese way, because may building projects are abandoned before they are completed, so better do something with the real estate before that.
That's not so say that there aren't many nice, completely finished and functional establishments in Taiwan. I'll tell you about the amazing buffet we went to at the Grand Hai Lai hotel for our staff appreciation dinner, but I wont' tell you now. Parkades too....there's a story to tell.....later.