The Taiwan I know now is a lot different than the Taiwan I knew before. Prior to the Tsunah trip, I had been to Taipei, Taitung, and Tainan but only remembered Taipei. I envisioned Taiwan as a place like its capital, with Western fixtures such as McDonalds, Starbucks, MTV, and American movie billboards. The ˇ§Taiwaneseˇ¨ things I was exposed to were limited to KTV, night markets, crazy cab drivers, David Tao, Hang Ten, Giordano, and the occasional Buddhist temple and museum visit. Prior to the Tsunah trip sponsored by the Chilin Educational Foundation, I was looking forward mostly to shopping and hanging out at popular night spots.
After going on the tour, my view of Taiwan had changed. I had never seen Ilan, Kenting, Hualien, most of Taitung nor Taichung. I saw quickly that many cities outside Taipei were not noisy places brimming with stores, cafes, and nightlife. While in Ilan, we had the privilege of visiting Lin's Memorial and the Taiwan Democratic Movement Museum. It was there that I realized Taiwan had a very rich and unique history filled with much turmoil, suffering, and hope. The governments that had ruled this country help shaped its culture, one that stands apart from other places. It made sense as to why my grandparents spoke Taiwanese and Japanese while my parents spoke Taiwanese and Mandarin. I was also more aware of Taiwan's uniqueness after visiting an aboriginal village and museum, as well as interacting with several local Bunun aborigines. Since their customs, architecture, and food were also very different from those of the ancient Chinese, I realized that China was not the only historical influence on Taiwanese culture. Also hearing an assortment of languages around the island (Mandarin, Taiwanese, Hakka as well as local aboriginal dialects) made me see how diverse the population was and motivated me to want to improve my weaker language (Mandarin).
I also saw that many poorer rural areas still exist on this island, especially in Hualien, Taitung, Kenting and Ilan. Far from the bright lights and skyscrapers, many of these areas subsisted on old trades such as hemp farming (for rope-making), making wooden shoes (Ilan's Bai-Mi Clog Community), and fishing (Kenting). Although it was somewhat sad to see the immense struggle their people go through daily, I was very encouraged to see a passion to keep these dying traditions alive.
I was also honored to attend a tour of the Presidential Palace and talk with one of Taiwan's officials. We also had the privilege of meeting college students at Aletheia University to discuss politics, history, economics, and culture. I left with a glimpse of Taiwan's future, one with much hope and peace.
The Taiwan I know is also a place of religious freedom and ever-growing number of believers. We visited Taitung Christian Hospital and listened to a seminar given by their doctors and nurses. The place's mission is to minister to and heal the sick in the rural areas, especially those too poor to afford healthcare. It was very enlightening to know that half the hospitalˇ¦s staff is Christian and that many activities are made to keep the elderly active.
Taiwan also has the most beautiful parks, lakes, and beaches. The scenery at Taroko National Park was absolutely breathtaking as was Turtle Island. The beaches in Kenting were clean and the water very warm and clear. I will also never forget the lush landscapes the ancient temples, gorges, forts, hot springs and rivers we also visited.
Lastly, Taiwan is a place I want to visit again when I have the chance in the future. Most of my relatives still live there, and seeing them is always a joy. Although I was born and raised in the United States, I always felt I still had roots to my parents' homeland. After knowing more about Taiwan through this past visit, these roots became stronger. While I will always enjoy the city life, I am also looking forward to discovering the other wonderful places and cultural experiences Taiwan has to offer.