Anyone of a certain age, becoming a consumer during the 1970s, will recall the phrase "Made In Taiwan" as the first wave of globalization. It was a joke in some ways, the euphemism in a time when U.S. manufacturing industries still ruled globally - for cheap.
But that was a long time ago in both countries, as our small group of American business reporters is discovering on this East-West Center tour nearing its end.
Today, the U.S. remains embroiled in a devastating financial meltdown, and Taiwan has quickly bounced back with an enviable V-shaped recovery. Unemployment on this island of 23 million people off the China coast is 5.6 percent. The economy is expected to grow by almost 5 percent this year.
Officials say they were scared half to death in late 2008 when the financial crisis began spreading from the U.S. Exports in this exporting nation plunged 40 percent. The first quarter of 2009, the economy contracted by 9 percent as the world stopped buying.
And then....China quickly sidestepped the global crisis. The rising middle class there began buying again and Taiwan rode the wave back to boom times. Gone now is the time when Taiwan existed largely on American consumption. Today, 40 percent of its exports go to China.
It is striking how a small nation - smaller than California - is now filled with construction cranes. Everywhere, I see new residential high-rises, more office buildings. The most notable new piece of skyline is Taipei 101, once the world's tallest new skyscraper. While California argues about high-speed rail alignments and whether we'll ever have the money, Taiwan has a new system in place. It is also expanding its subway system at a time when Californians are witnessing the budgetary destruction of transit systems.
"The people of East Asia, the Oriental people, like to do things and compete," said Cheryl Tseng, director of the nation's overall planning department, the Council for Economic Planning and Development. She can reach the southern end of Taiwan in 90 minutes, have a meeting and be back in her office in the afternoon.
It is easy on a tour like this of a booming Asia to internalize a notion of U.S. decline while we try to dig out of this financial morass. More than once our group of reporters has heard officials make reference to this perception among people.
Yet yesterday, during a sit-down with David Hong, president of the Taiwan Institute of Economic Research (a prominent national think tank) we were told that perhaps we worry TOO much.
"I don't worry as much as you do," said Hong. "It's still the best in the world (U.S. economy) and we have to appreciate that...The foundation is solid. It's solid. It's a market economy."
And so is China's, however. It was amusing just an hour or so later to hear the small country's vice-minister for foreign affairs, David Lin, describe China as "a Communist country without Communism.
"Mainland China," he said, "wants to be identified as a market economy. They all want to get rich. They all want to be successful."
It has, indeed, been a long road since "Made in Taiwan" was a joke and China was a revolutionary socialist mystery awaiting the state visit of Richard Nixon. A few days in Taiwan shows how much the world can change in one small lifetime.
To hear them talk in this part of the world, the biggest changes are yet to come.