The Taiwan I Know -- By Justin Chang

            An island paradise, a growing economic power, a place of cultural re-emergence, a fledgling democracy, and a hotly contested ¡§territory¡¨; these aspect combined make up the unique place called Taiwan.  Yet, many people can only see a few aspects of this tiny nation, such as its economic potential or its first steps towards democracy.  Besides these two aspects, many people have dismissed Taiwan as an insignificant island off the coast of China.  Thus, few people know that Taiwan encompasses the aforementioned descriptions along with many others.  Though this essay, I hope to enlighten the public on some of the not-so-obvious aspects of Taiwan that I have learned during the Tsunah 2002 tour from the Chilin Foundation.

            Prior to my flight to Taiwan, I thought of the last time I had returned to the birthplace of my parents.  It had been over six years since the last time I had gone.  During that time I had learned very little of the country and saw very few of the sights.  Due to this previous trip, I harbored many misconceptions of Taiwan.  Foremost among them was that the predominate language was Mandarin, with few¡Xif any¡Xpeople understanding the ¡§antiquated¡¨ (in my mind) language of Taiwanese.  Among the rest were that the culture of the 11 native groups would be reminiscent of the nearly nonexistent culture of the Native Americans and that there are no major tourist attractions, except for the numerous temples situated in the mountains.  Additionally, I believed that Taiwan had no worthy history, as no textbook in history class had mentioned the island in depth.  With these in my mind I departed for the Tsunah tour with some low expectations and some reluctance.

            On the first night of the tour, a group of us went out to a local night market in I-lan.  My first reaction was, ¡§Why are we going to a flea market?¡¨  Yet, as we began to walk around, I realized that this was an integral part of the culture of Taiwan.  Shortly afterwards, while bargaining with a merchant, I realized that Taiwanese is still used.  This realization began to open my mind and made me reconsider my prejudices against Taiwan.  The following days were filled I with different, exciting, and educational experiences of Taiwan.  The tour taught us the history of Taiwan after Chiang Kai-Shek's arrival to the present.  We visited several tourist spots located in the eastern and southern parts of Taiwan, namely Taroko National Gorge and some hot springs.  However, one of the most exciting parts of the tour was when we met with one of the native tribes, the Paiwan.  Most of the group stayed up talking with Sakino, the next chief of the tribe, along with a few of his friends.  This cultural exchange was very enlightening.  We learned their greeting song and introduction song along with a dance they perform.  I wondered where I had ever gotten the idea that the native tribes of Taiwan had lost their culture.  The tour included a stop at the Presidential mansion in the heart of Taipei.  There we talked with one of the president's closest advisors.  Through this discussion, I learned many more things of the complex political situation in Taiwan.  As with all good things, the Tsunah tour came to an end and I had to depart from Taiwan.  I found that I was reluctant to leave this wonderful place that I was beginning to become acquainted with.

            Returning to America, I realized how close-minded that I had been before the tour.  I also realized that many other people¡Xnamely Taiwanese Americans¡Xare in the situation that I was in.  The Tsunah tour opened my eyes to the other aspects of Taiwan that the newscasts and magazine articles cannot possibly manage to capture.  Taiwan truly is a complex blend of a paradise, a democracy, and a modern society.  Now when people dismiss Taiwan as an insignificant island, I am willing to correct and share what the Tsunah trip has taught me.  Hopefully the world will one day realize that Taiwan is more than just an island, but until then I share what I can of the Taiwan I know.