2008-07-14 01:15:57 GMT 2008-07-14 09:15:57 (Beijing Time) China Daily
TAIPEI: They came; they saw; and they planted seeds of hope for improving mutual understanding across the Taiwan Straits.
More than 400 mainland tourists - part of the 750-member inaugural mainland tour group to Taiwan - ended their 10-day tour Sunday, marking a completely successful start for the historic tourism program.
The rest of the first mainland tour group left Taiwan on Friday after completing their eight-day trip.
It was the first time since 1949 the island had allowed so many mainlanders to visit.
Taiwan tour guide Hsieh Tsung-lung appeared reluctant to part with his mainland customers, hugging every one of them before they left the airport check-in counter.
"Short as the trip was, it seems we have known one another for such a long time and developed lasting friendships," Hsieh said.
"It's a historic start for all people on both sides of the Straits, because we were given the opportunity to better know one another."
After six decades of cross-Straits isolation, both sides felt a sense of curiosity about the other.
Since 1987, only 300,000 mainlanders were allowed to visit the island, due to Taipei's rigid restrictions.
In two landmark agreements signed between Taipei and Beijing last month, the two sides agreed to launch weekend charter flights and allow a daily maximum of 3,000 mainlanders to visit the island.
Previously, mainlanders were only allowed to visit Taiwan for business or to visit relatives.
Zhao Xiurong, a tourist from Beijing, said she and other inaugural mainland tour group members were moved by local residents' warmth and hospitality.
"Although I have traveled a lot outside the mainland, it's the first time for me to feel really at home," said Zhao, who is in her 60s.
"It has drawn us close to one another, because we are of the same origin, and share the same language and culture."
In conversations, the mainland tourists and local residents could discuss the same celebrities, TV dramas and even the same problems with their children's education.
"All of us felt a close connection with people across the Straits, although we have lived apart for such a long time," mainland tourist Wang Xiuyun said. "What we need most is regular exchanges to develop a better mutual understanding of one another."
The mainland tourists received red-carpet treatment during their travels across the island. They were treated to lavish banquets and given so many generous gifts, many of them exceeded luggage-weight limitations on their trips home.
Local tourism agents and governments competed with one another to please mainland tourists and appeal to those at home to make the trip to the island after the cross-Straits tourism scheme was officially adopted on July 18.
Local media said the first batch of mainland tourists spent at least $1.3 million in Taiwan, a helpful contribution to the island's sagging economy. It is estimated that hosting 3,000 mainland visitors daily would bring in 60 billion Taiwan dollars ($1.97 billion) annually.