Friday, April 1, 2011

A passion to serve (Taiwan Review)

Not many people would take a job if there was a serious risk of being caught in a landslide. Even fewer would go back to such a job after being hit by rocks, especially if they were not getting paid to do so. But such is the dedication of Pauline Cheng, a volunteer tour guide at Taroko National Park in eastern Taiwan, that she has done so more than once.

“Twice when leading groups I’ve been hit by falling rocks,” Cheng recalls. “The first time I was hit on my leg and it wasn’t too serious. The second time I was hit on my hands, and because of the pain I passed out and had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance.”

After both mishaps, it took Cheng about two months to recover fully from her physical injuries and psychological trauma. Nevertheless, she returned to her duties. When she visits places prone to rock falls these days, Cheng wears a safety helmet like those the park loans out to tourists.

In addition to political leaders from the Republic of China’s (ROC) diplomatic allies, she has guided parliamentarians and Nobel Prize winners at Taroko, usually by speaking in English but occasionally in Japanese.

“On average, I’m asked to show people around three to six times a month,” she says, noting that while some of these tours are as short as three hours, others last an entire day.

According to a report compiled in 2009 by the Construction and Planning Agency under the Ministry of the Interior (CPAMI)—the central government unit that oversees the ROC’s eight national parks—almost 2,000 people serve as volunteers in the parks. Four-fifths of them are interpreters like Cheng. They are on the front lines, dealing with the public, handing out maps and leaflets to tourists and answering questions in service centers...

To read the whole piece, which is in the March issue of Taiwan Review, go here.

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