The Taiwan I Know -- By Benjamin Huang

                I had several misgivings upon taking up my parents' offer to attend the 2002 Tsunah culture tour. My last visit to Taiwan was nearly six years ago. My memories of previous visits to Taiwan included an excruciating plane ride, humid weather, polluted streets, strange food, and overpriced department stores. Since all of my past visits were in Taipei, I associated these memories to Taiwan as a whole. I felt that this tour would be a good chance for me to experience all of Taiwan.

            Since my last experience, I was now a twenty-two year old college graduate with an open mind. I did not know exactly what to expect from the tour, but I was hoping to learn a lot. Growing up I had not made an effort to learn the Taiwanese language. I retained a small bit through 22 years of hearing it from my parents. I was also uninformed about Taiwanese history and politics despite the fact that my mother's ttwo brothers are well known supporters of the Taiwanese democratic movement.

Growing up, I was just uninterested in all aspects of Taiwanese culture. Many of my cousins had spent their summers attending Taiwanese camps, which I had never done. I had never understood my parents' strong political beliefs and views of the KMT. I was hoping that this tour could help make up for what I had missed out on.

Upon arriving at the Tsunah office in Taipei, I was able to meet with my peers. At first I was a bit apprehensive because I was sure that I was the only non-speaking Taiwanese. I was worried that I would be the most uninformed of the group. Many of the people were from the west coast, where there are much more Taiwanese compared to Florida. However, many of my peers were similar to me, having not experienced or learned very much about Taiwanese culture. For several, this was their first time visiting Taiwan. The group was a melting pot of personalities and backgrounds, which helped keep things interesting. 

            The memories of the tour I would most like to share were our first few days in I-Lan. As I had mentioned, I knew very little about Taiwanese history. I was also unaware of Taiwan's and in particular, Mr. Lin's history with the KMT. The information was a lot for me to handle due to its shocking nature. Walking through the Taiwanese democratic museum and visiting the house where the massacre of the Lin family occurred was extremely moving. It was very powerful to learn about all the hardships that Taiwanese people have faced. It was also very inspiring that they had sacrificed so much for what they believed in.

                On Christmas Eve in I-Lan, my parents had visited me at the Chilin Center. When they arrived, I was eager to show them the Taiwanese Democratic Museum on the third floor. As we walked through looking at the exhibits, my father of course had to give me a second tour of Taiwanˇ¦s history. However, during this walk I came to a gradual understanding of my parents' beliefs. I felt a small step closer to an understanding of where they came from and how they feel about Taiwan. It was a strange but good feeling that was with me for the rest of the trip.

            Other fond memories of the tour included riding bikes through the I-Lan sports park. This was probably the antithesis of what I expected to be doing in Taiwan. As I was riding on my rickety and rusty bike on two nearly flat tires, I was able to gaze at the beautiful scenery and observe the locals. I commented to one of my peers ˇ§Oh my God, we are riding bike in TaiwanˇK..this is so cool!ˇ¨

            As the days progressed and the group became closer, the tour just got better. We were able to experience the rest of the trip collectively. Despite fatigue from the daily  twelve hours of activities and late nights, our excellent and colorful tour guides kept us motivated.

            During our stay in Taipei, I was able to experience the big city, which was once all I knew about Taiwan. I had a wonderful time interacting with all of the people. One of my favorite memories in Taipei was during New Years. This was the last night I had to spend with all my new friends I had made on the tour. As I left the New Years party in the department store, I saw some locals doing a breakdancing performance a few floors down.

I approached one of the performers and unsuccessfully tried to communicate with him in English. My friend who speaks fluent Mandarin served as my translator. My friend suggested that the performer and I do a little demonstration. He declined since he was tired, but after a bit of convincing, he agreed. We both took turns dancing and drew quite a crowd. All the performers were extremely friendly and invited me to practice with them at their dance studio the next week. At the University of Florida there is a breakdancing club, and this is a story I shared with them. It often is a rarity to find such humble and friendly fellow dancers and I am very fortunate to have been able to meet them in Taiwan. 

            As I sat on the long plane ride back to Florida, I could only think about how all I learned has changed me. I have left with an appreciation and better understanding of Taiwanese culture, and my identity. I have new enthusiasm for sharpening my Taiwanese language skills and learning more about the culture. I regret waiting twenty-two years to learn about my heritage, but have promised myself that I will take initiative to continue this learning experience.

I have only been home for a month, and am already planning my next trip to Taiwan in several months. I like many American-born Taiwanese have grown up with their parents emphasizing that they are Taiwanese rather than Chinese. Until now, I have never been more proud to agree with them.