Thursday, June 12, 2008

ECCT 20th Anniversary Dinner

Dr. Ma Ying-Jeou, President of the Republic of China, addresses the 2008 Europe Day dinner in celebration of the European Chamber of Commerce Taipei's 20th anniversary. (For more on President Ma's address and the other speeches, click here and scroll down)

In yesterday's posting I referred to a "mystery dinner" I was going to attend in Taipei, and now I have returned home to Kaohsiung where I am eager to explain a little of its significance to me. The European Chamber of Commerce Taipei (ECCT), an organization that represents European business interests in Taiwan, was celebrating its 20th anniversary, and I was very lucky to receive an invitation to it. I really want to thank Guy who invited me. It was a very kind gesture. In our fast-paced world, it is easy to be forgotten - but I wasn't.

Security was tight, for obvious reasons.

My involvement with ECCT dates back to 1988, the year in which their office had just been set up after a year or two of planning by the European businessmen who spearheaded the whole thing, many of whom became my close friends as we worked really hard together to advance the newly-found Chamber's interests. At first I just helped write feature articles for the new bi-monthly magazine "Euroview" that they were launching. I was working at the time for a (Taiwan) government-funded economics research institute where I was able to combine my previous interests in economics (my major in university) with my near fluency in Chinese. However, I was young and ambitious and wanted a challenge. ECCT certainly appeared to be able to provide that, and in 1989 I was offered a full-time position.

"European integration" was a buzzword at that time, and to me this meant that Europeans would do a lot more things together. While some European countries, most notably my own, had certain reservations (like we still use pounds sterling in the UK, while several of our neighbors just use the Euro), for me personally I was very excited about being a pan-European. You see, while I grew up in the UK and was in many respects like any other British person, my mother grew up in Belgium, and her mother grew up in Switzerland but later lived in Belgium. My grandmother spoke four European languages fluently, but that is not surprising given where she was raised and lived. So there was something in me that really wanted to see integration among Europeans.

I worked with ECCT for four years until the summer of 1993 and I still consider those years to be the most fulfilling years of my working life, although they were also probably quite stressful, to a large extent because of my own choosing. I had so many opportunities to use and sharpen skills that I previously had (particularly writing and administrative skills) and I really enjoyed the work and the many great activities that the ECCT organized, with the result that I became a very busy person. I did not see a lot of our two small children in those days. I was beginning to feel a bit torn in two directions. I really wanted to focus wholeheartedly on my job, but I knew I needed to do more with the family, especially as the boys would soon be starting school. I was starting to reach a crossroads in my life and my wife started to talk about attending a three-month course in Hawai'i so we could do something as a family together. Well, Hawai'i did have a big influence on me and on our family life in general, but it also meant that I eventually had to part ways with ECCT, which was a bitterly disappointing experience. However, maybe the timing was right, since about one year later I started to become quite ill and was diagnosed with something quite serious, for which I decided to return to the UK for several weeks of treatment. The job with ECCT was not really something someone else could cover for, at least the way I worked. You had to be there, or a lot of things would not get done. Besides, the organization was growing rapidly. In my time, we managed with a full-time staff of three. Today, there are more than a dozen full-time staff. Often the job grows with the organization as it expands and its vision is enlarged, but we cannot necessarily grow with the job. We are actually constantly recreating and redefining our job, but the needs of the organization also have their ways of defining what a job should consist of.

In the 20 years or so since I first met President Ma, I have always known him to be a keen and disciplined runner. In recent years, he has become an accomplished swimmer and biker. I don't know if he has ever done a full-length Ironman. He certainly has the capability, but whether or not his entourage can keep up with him is another story. Maybe we can ask him to build more bike lanes like they have on the Queen K. highway (in Hawai'i where the Ironman is held)!

As I look back over the years, it was never the office staff who did everything, for so many of the ECCT members were volunteering their expertise in different areas, whether in their own business field such as banking, or in organizing a dinner like yesterday's with 700 people attending. Years ago a group of us spent many weeks planning an event for 300 people, so I have a good idea of the huge amount of work that went into yesterday's huge and very successful event. Great job!

This is a picture of the "old" Bruce (or is it the "new" Bruce?) surrounded by the very friendly ECCT members I was with for the meal yesterday evening. This is how I dressed when I worked at ECCT in the past. It is not how I ever dressed in Hawai'i, or in Kaohsiung, except for my engagement ceremony a long, long time ago.

So I took the bullet train to Taipei yesterday afternoon, changed into my business suit in the Taipei 101 (world's tallest building?) opposite the hotel where the event was held, met relatively few people I had known many years back (the expatriate community tends to change pretty rapidly), enjoyed listening to and watching the presentations so I could catch up with where things are at now, and after a drink or two and some very cordial conversations, made my way back to the station and caught an overnight bus back home. It was an unforgettable experience, and will certainly help me refocus my current goals and aspirations. Twenty years has passed since I was asked to write a feature article for the inaugural issue of the Chamber's magazine. The ECCT continues to grow by leaps and bounds and because of the increasingly strong business links with Europe, I believe a bright and prosperous future awaits Taiwan which, for all intents and purposes, is my adopted home. Thank you ECCT!
Photo of our table (taken with a different camera!)

1 comment:

BreeWee said...

Bruce, I am so happy you posted a photo of you! I miss you so much man! Everyone here does! It is funny the little things I remember most about you, like how we had the same bike for a while and mango races and YWAM stuff (I think Kainoa might start pre school there actually)

Glad you have found happiness so far away... following God certainly makes life an adventure huh?!