2004 Tsunah Cultural Tour

Leo Chen

I first heard of the Tsunah Cultural Tour in the summer of 2003 from someone I met at a weekend Taiwanese Conference in the South. At the time, I was intrigued and interested by the experiences recounted by my friend, who had gone the year before; yet I didn't make much of the possibility in my going. Taiwan, in the past, impressioned me with terrible experiences due to my severe health-related reactions to its particular humidity, heat, and mosquito population that has come to love me so much. These visits, of course, were always made during its infamous summers. In any case, coincidentally, my parents heard from other sources about the Tsunah trip later, and I was only mildly entertained with attending when they offered the trip to me. However, it wasn't for another 2 years before I was joined with the Tsunah Tour, for the eruption of SARS delayed me. Before I finally left for the trip this year, I was looking forward to it, yet I found a good portion of me not wanting to go at all for some reason. I thought back to the previous visits made nearly a decade ago, and I found myself almost dreading the return. My fears were quickly dispersed.

So much happened on the trip, I really don't know where to start or how to describe all the things I've seen and experienced. But I can safely say that the tour felt like a life changing one for me; I feel as though I am forever touched and will hold to memory those who shared this trip with me closely and fondly. When I first set out to Taiwan, I found myself not wanting to go, not knowing what to expect, and not wishing to leave my friends. That quickly turned around when what I soon encountered was something completely unexpected - I came to realize how much I missed being around other Taiwanese, and I realized how numb I had become to that part of me through time.

I never really knew the struggles, nor the beauty of Taiwan until now. I've learned a lot about Taiwan and have a much better understanding about its history and political situation, and gotten more culture exposure than I believe I've ever gotten in my previous visits through the Tour. As a result, I've gained an educated understanding of my parents' strong political beliefs, and I find that as I learn more, I too, am growing more aware and concerned with the political state of Taiwan. The Taiwan I know compared to the Taiwan I knew is far more complex and diverse.

I believe in large part that the content and experiences of the trip played a crucial role in bringing everyone closer not only to Taiwan, but to the Taiwanese identity they carry within themselves and project to others. There were many beautiful and inspiring places we visited that contributed towards answering the question I asked myself, "What really is Taiwan?" Of my favorites, Taroko Gorge National Park and the 228 Memorial Site sticks out in my mind the most. Both were overwhelmingly stunning, and the short time we spent at both places did not do them justice or allow us the time to explore them fully. Other fond memories include the New Year's Eve celebrations at Taipei 101 and a lounge known as Melrose Place. And, I cannot help but mention the food either. Those new to Taiwan will be delighted to find food easily accessible, fresh, cheap, and delicious. 'Fast Food Chinese' will not hold the same appreciation ever again once authentic Taiwanese food has been tasted.

The Taiwan I know is all of this and much more. In the coming years, I hope to expand my cultural knowledge of Taiwan. But for now, here's to Boba Tea, innocent looking sex shops, Starbucks Beetles, bustling cities, garbage trucks with ice cream truck music, 357 7-11's, arcade crane games, urinals in the ground, decked out buses, real yogurt, betel nut vendors, mosquito attacks, hot springs (and old men in whites in them), paying for grocery bags, beautiful coastlines, vibrant night life, karaoke bars, panda rides, crazy traffic, and life-long friends.