Through the Forest of Compassion: Thoughts on the Tsunah International Youth Culture Tour to Taiwan 2004

Frances Yang

As I am looking at the word "Tsunah," it does not even begin to capture its true meaning in Taiwanese-the "forest of compassion"-that is found on a small island in the Pacific Ocean, called Taiwan. This past winter, a group of 40 people from the United States traveled for two weeks around Taiwan. We began in the lush northeast area of Taiwan all the way to the southern city of Kaoshuing and back up to the exciting nightlife of Taipei. We were introduced to the geography, history, culture, social issues, and politics of Taiwan. But most importantly we got a glimpse into the lives of the Taiwanese people-their past and present. This tour bridged the gap between space and time, by bringing together people from all over the US and Taiwan, as well as bringing together the older and younger generations of Taiwanese Americans.

The tour started in I-Lan at the Tsunah Foundation headquarters, where we learned about the history of democracy in Taiwan at the Democratic Progress Museum. We learned about the 228 incident, the White Terror, and the Kaoshiung Incident, all of which the Kuomingtung were responsible for taking away the life of children and adults in Taiwan. But most importantly, we learned about the murder of Mr. Lin I-Hsiung's twin daughters and his mother on February 28, 1980-a date all too familiar and filled with the symbolisms of fear and death as consequences for speaking out again an authoritarian government on behalf of innocent people for their human rights. We were able to hear first hand, the experience of Judy Lin, the eldest daughter of Mr. Lin, who was stabbed by the murderer six times in the chest and her amazing testimony of love and forgiveness for her enemies.
Though imprinting upon us an unspoken heaviness and sadness in our hearts while at I-Lan and throughout the trip, we still were able to embrace the hope for the future of Taiwan's democracy as we were enveloped by the beauty of island. From the breathtaking views of Taroko Gorge to absorbing the culture of the indigenous people living in the eastern parts of Taiwan, we were also able to get a taste of the night market in Kaoshiung and met the mayor, Frank Hsieh. Then in Taipei, we visited the Presidential Building on New Year's Eve and excitedly rang in the New Year under the fireworks of Taipei 101, the tallest building in the world.

With 40 people on this tour together sharing meals, bus rides, and conversations for 11 days, I became part of a new family of diverse individuals, one that overcame space, time, language, and culture. During the last dinner on the tour, we spent it with Mr. Lin and his family sharing our thoughts and experiences during our short stay in Taiwan. Through the tragedy of his family, Mr. Lin has been able to bring together thousands of people to overcome the hate and fear in mankind, allowing us to foster new bridges into his "forest of compassion" where we can experience hope, healing, and love for others.