Perspective on Taiwan

Andrew Chen

When young, I went to a country named Taiwan. On the island, I would see the same homogenous face when passing by each person in the streets. All I saw were people who had similar faces like mine: lack of epicanthic eye folds, black hair, and brown irises. I felt that I was among people who were churned out from a factory. Everyone came from China at one point, everyone is now considered Taiwanese, everyone practices Buddhism, everyone eats the same type of food, everyone can speak Mandarin and Taiwanese, and everyone thought the same way as my parents. From my point of view, seeing with a naive mind and closed eyes, Taiwan was boring; it had nothing to offer. One visit would be sufficient to understand it all. At the age of 9 years, I painted my own image of Taiwan in my head. This changed when I grew older.

At the age of 21 I went on the 6th International Youth Culture Tour to Taiwan. This event was sponsored by the Tsunah Foundation. The point of the tour according to the Tsunah organization is to give the tourists an exposure to the culture, life and people of Taiwan. In my opinion, the tour did more than just give an exposure, it opened my eyes.

During the tour of Taiwan, I realized my image of Taiwan's people is very convoluted and narrow. To clarify my epitome, I should start with the major ethnic group, the Han people. I feel that America's population is somewhat analogous to the ethnic composition of Taiwan. In the United States, even though there are many Caucasians and the official language is English, many of the White people are not of English decent. Many come from other European countries such as Austria, Germany, Portugal, Finland and etc. Likewise, I learned that the Han people in Taiwan come from different backgrounds. Many of them are from Guangdong and Fujian. The roots of diversity go deeper within these provinces. For example, in Fujian, there are two notable groups are the Hoklo and the Hakka. The Hakka were nomadic and often moved around. Thus, they brought with them, many practices and cultures absorbed from the outside. The Hoklo were farmers and firmly settled in Fujian. From this comparison, I understood that Taiwan's population is not homogenous, but diverse.

Further proof of my conclusion came from my time in Taitung. When the group arrived in Taitung, we visited a bar run by some of the indigenous people. To my bewilderment, when I entered the establishment, I saw a Caucasian and a Mexican. It was only after hearing their story did I realize that both are actually Ami. It was very shocking to see a female, who had freckles, red hair, large eyes and pale skin, tell us that she's actually an aborigine. Her husband was the complete opposite in terms of appearance. He had dark skin, black hair and a facial bone structure that seemed more of the Mexican. I later learned both persons were of same tribe. The picture I had in mind since I was 9 years of age was torn. I now know better than to think everyone in Taiwan to be of one ethnicity and on a more superficial level, to look the same.

Having seen the diversity of the Taiwanese people, I have a better appreciation for Taiwan. There are different cultures and backgrounds that I look forward to seeing and experiencing. No longer would I walk down the alleys of Taiwan and see faces I've already painted myself, but the true faces of the people of Taiwan.