The Taiwan I Know -- By Darin Kasai

            Before talking about the Taiwan that I know, it is important for the reader to get an understanding of who I am, from what perspective that I view Taiwan, and some paradigms of experience I have had.  Ethnically and culturally, I'm a second generation Taiwanese-American and a forth generation Japanese-American. Even though I was more familiar with the Taiwanese culture and language than the Japanese culture, I used to identify myself mainly as a Japanese-American due to my Japanese last name and the prevalence of Japanese-American history in the United States.  The first time I visited Taiwan, I was 19 years old and I stayed primarily in Taipei. Before and after my first trip, my connection to Taiwan has been through my limited participation with the Taiwanese community in San Diego.  Seven years later, at 26, I toured Taiwan with the Tsunah Foundation and have had profound experiences that were unexpected.  Through the trip, I've been able to better appreciate my Taiwanese heritage and explain to other what it means to be a Taiwanese-American.

            The Taiwan I know is a struggling democracy that is trying to increase the world's awareness of its autonomy from China. For the most part, Taiwan's population is homogenous, consisting of Taiwanese, Aborigines, and those who originally come from mainland China.  Ethnic diversity, as it exists in the United States, is virtually non-existent.  There is a political dichotomy within the Taiwanese population.  There are those who are loyal to mainland China and believe Taiwan should be under China's control and there are those who have embraced democracy and are passionate about Taiwan's autonomy.  The Taiwan I know has a strong sense of culture and a dedicated following of expatriate citizens who are committed to Taiwan's ideals for democracy.  Taiwan's struggle for independence from China's ¡§long reaching arm¡¨ is a political task that strongly relies on Taiwan's military alliances with other countries, such as the United States. 

            Despite the turmoil and uncertainty of Taiwan¡¦s geopolitical future, Taiwan has accomplished a major social task during the past few years that America is still struggling to achieve.  The Taiwan that I know is a society that believes in the importance of social benefit of universal healthcare.  Even with Taiwan's struggling economy, Taiwan joins nations such as Canada and the United Kingdom as a society that recognizes equity of healthcare for all citizens.  As part of the Tsunah tour, participants were able to visit a rural hospital and learn how healthcare organizations provide care for the Taiwanese and aboriginal population.  The most memorable experience of the tour was being able to interact with the aborigines in an informal setting.  As I said before, the most profound experiences generally happen when they are unexpected.  Late one evening after all the tours for the day were finished, the Tsunah participants spent the night singing traditional aboriginal songs and heard insights from aboriginal leaders. It was a moving experience that would be cherished by those who were there. That evening with the aborigines was a ¡§once in a lifetime¡¨ opportunity which made the trip even more worthwhile.

            The natural beauty of Taiwan was best represented by the numerous National Parks around the island. The Taroko Gorge National Park could take months to explore and the few hours walking through the gorge did not do the national park justice in representing its vastness and magnificence.  A picture of the Gorge is worth a thousand words and a short video clip of its splendor speaks volumes.  Taiwan's hundreds of miles of coastline added to the serenity of the island and our experiences at Ken-ding National Park's windy shores added excitement as the elements worked against us as we hiked the trails.

            The Taipei that I know is a lesson in history. The bright lights of the big city is a fusion of westernize expansion mixed with Asian culture.  The urban mix of modern buildings and temples is a reminder of how pervasive Taiwanese culture is integrated with society. The proliferation of 7-11s and McDonalds still do not detract from the popularity of street vendors that offer traditional foods who have served their communities for decades and local bakeries and restaurants are just as popular as they were forty years ago. 

            The Taiwan that I know is all of the following and more; being with family, bright neon lights, fast taxis, hot springs, temples, scenic parks, cultural shows, night markets, carnival games, imitation Burberry, Sanrio products galore, CD, DVDs, VCDs, bettlenut ¡§vendors¡¨, Asian pop-singers, boba tea, Pocari Sweat, garbage trucks that play ice cream truck music, and most importantly, being with friends old and new.