The Taiwan I Know
-- By Doreen Lee

Last year, I decided to take a year off after graduating from college.  I was set with my future plans, but I felt that I needed one year to recuperate and concentrate on other goals that I had in my life besides school.  I also felt very restless, like I was missing something.  So, I decided to do something during that year that would be new, adventurous, and allow me to do some soul-searching in the process. 

Initially, I wanted to spend my year in Taiwan teaching English.  Throughout my whole life, I've had a strong link to my Taiwanese background, despite living in Tennessee¡Xa seemingly Asian-less state.  Growing up, my life was filled with Taiwanese potluck parties, summer camps, and politics, complements of my parents.  My middle name is even ¡§Formosan.¡¨  I was practically branded to be Taiwanese through my name alone.  Nevertheless, despite all this outside influence, there was one element that I realized I lacked by the time I graduated from college¡Xactually visiting there as an adult.  I had visited Taiwan before, but only two or three times, and all these experiences had taken place during my childhood before the age of 12.  This really bothered me because I had always prided myself in my roots and always felt an inner link to Taiwan, yet I hadn't even seen Taiwan in the past 10 years.  I really had no idea of the old or modern Taiwan.  However, in the end, I didn't go to Taiwan to teach, but opted for my next choice of Japan for several reasons.  Though it wasn't Taiwan at all, I figured that it was close enough that I could visit often and still experience Taiwan like I had originally planned.

I had heard about the Tsunah Foundation Tour from friends who had gone on the trip in the past and my mother approached me with the idea several times.  The timing was never right before, but now I had time to go and no excuse.  I signed up, paid, and planned my trip to get the most out of my time in Taiwan.  From the beginning, I decided in my mind that I would use this trip to get to know my parents in the process.  I would visit both their home towns and see my relatives on both sides.  I suppose that this trip was not so much a vacation, but more like a pilgrimage to find out about my family and Taiwan. 

            My time in Taiwan really opened my eyes and affected me in so many ways.  The tour took me throughout Taiwan and gave me a great introduction to the major sites around the island.  I was in awe of the beautiful coast line and mountain scenery, literally blown away at the tip of Taiwan, and amazed at the time spent with the aborigines in Huaren.    I had never known this side of Taiwan before, because previously all my memories had been blurry or consisted of relative's houses.  After the tour, I also explored my father's and mother's hometowns and learned about my parents' lives in Taiwan by speaking to relatives.  It was a very eye-opening experience in the fact that I gained a very honest and raw insight into my parents' lives for the first time. 

            Of almost all the wonders I experienced in Taiwan, I would say one of the best was hearing myself talk in Taiwanese¡Xcommunicating with my father and mother on the phone, as well as talking to my aunt in Taipei.  In the beginning of the trip, I had difficulty talking to my Taipei aunt, but by the end of the tour, I was really relaxed when I spoke Taiwanese and the words were easier to grasp.  My parents even noticed the difference.  My conversations went from all-English to all-Taiwanese and that really amazed them.  I was really proud of myself too.  My whole life, I thought I was pretty inept at speaking Taiwanese, but after coming, I realized that it was there the whole time.  I was just unable to grasp it.  My cousin Yo-Yo said something very significant to me during one of our talks in Taiwan, ¡§If you stayed for six months [in Taiwan], you would become fluent in Taiwanese.¡¨  Hearing this sparked a desire in me to be in Taiwan, to come back and hear the language, talk to the people, see relatives, learn about my parents, and see Taiwan in a raw form.  I know now that this was one of the things that I had been searching for this whole time.  

            When I came back from the tour, I felt very different.  It is difficult to explain, but I went to Taiwan to learn more about my roots and I think that I fulfilled a lot of what I was looking for.  I came to Japan a little lost and coming back from Taiwan, I felt really satiated, as if I was almost ready to go back to the United States.  For such a long time, my restlessness made me feel a little scattered and lost, but now, I felt that a part of me was back in place.  I found faith in the fact that my Taiwanese was always intact and always in me.   

            Overall, the Taiwan I know is a collection of memories with Tsunah friends and amazing experiences.  The most important of all these experiences, however, was my rediscovery of the Taiwanese language and thus, the rediscovery of a part of myself.  Due to this, the Taiwan I know will always be very special to me, but in a different sense than before my trip.  It's no longer a link or the yam-shaped motherland where my parents grew up, but it's now truly a part of me, a part of my identity that makes me feel fulfilled and grounded.  It's the piece that I thought I lost, but actually I had just misplaced.