The Taiwan I Know: Where Tradition Meets Modernism

-- By Frances M. Yang

As I stand on a corner of Taipei City waiting to cross the street, I notice one of the oldest landmarks behind me, known as the Lungshan Temple, where many Taiwanese have marched from to advocate democratic progress and prayed for generations of prosperity.  As I cross the street, I see a large skyscraper that is typical in many parts of Taiwan, representing modernization and economic power.  I realize that I was standing in a country that contained both tradition and modernization, where seemingly contradictory institutions exist in harmony and in hostility with each other.

            Whether it was one's first or "nth" time visiting Taiwan, one can agree that the Tsunah Cultural Tour brings about new discoveries concerning this island on the Pacific Rim.  From the beautiful scenic sites to the smelly squatting toilets with no toilet paper, discovering Taiwan with 30 other Americans is a new experience in itself as we form new traditions in this country of dichotomies.

            One of the most beautiful places in Taiwan was the Taroko Gorge National Park, which was so impressive that one can only wonder what the Creator was thinking and imagining when He carved out the streams, cliffs, and caves in perfect, yet natural, calculation.  Another aspect of Taiwan that visitors are impressed by is the interesting, and often delicious, foods available in restaurants and the street markets.  My favorite was eating the beef noodles with tripe, dumplings, and a thousand year-old egg with tofu in Shi-Men Ting. Of course one of the most unforgettable parts of Taiwan would be the restrooms; which is why I have six words for everyone who visits: toilet paper, toilet paper, toilet paper. 

             The new experiences that I have encountered through Tsunah have really affirmed what I have always thought was the most wonderful and precious part of Taiwan--the people.  The generosity and kindness of Taiwanese people, no matter where they live, have forged deep friendships that overcome language, social, and cultural barriers.  Their sacrifice of time, energy, and money to help others in need or to assist foreigners in Taiwan also inspires one to reciprocate this kindness and do the same for others.   The friends I have met through Tsunah have also enjoyed seeing Taiwan from a new worldview--one that fosters increased democratization, economic progress, social pluralization, universal education, technological advancement, and environmental protection.  As I have finished crossing the street in Taipei, I look around to see the left over campaign posters from the recent elections.  There on the Democratic and Progressive Party (DPP) poster, I see the familiar green flag with the island of Taiwan in the middle of a white cross.  I realize that Taiwan is standing on the crossroads of the old and new ideas, systems, and philosophies.  It is my hope that as the old and new traditions intersect, Taiwan will become strong enough to protect its beauty and bold enough to accept changes for a better future.