Writer's Block

The USA is the place I was born. Canada is the place I was raised. Taiwan is the place in my heart.

Monday, December 30, 2002

For some reason I’ve felt much more burdened by the current events and political situation of Taiwan in the latter part of 2002. Much of the news in Taiwan and the world seemed bleak after August- there was D.C. sniper, and repeated terrorist attacks. There seemed to be growing incidences of sensitive information being passed from Taiwan to China. The information being “shared” ranged from national security and military matters to industrial trade secrets. Why are people so willing to trade off Taiwan? How can this be stopped?

Many of the people of Taiwan are very confused about their national identity. Some view unification as inevitable or necessary. Others view themselves as both Chinese and Taiwanese because of confusion between national, ethnic, racial and cultural identity, or because they are in fact the product of a marriage between a parent from China and a parent from Taiwan. Perhaps they see Taiwan’s future as bleak since it is in an economic downturn and are optimistic about China’s promise. My question is: why isn’t Taiwan good enough in its present state? Taiwan has a history of being ruled by many authoritarian regimes throughout its history and the people of Taiwan have been told and taught that they were part of the Japanese Empire, a stepping stone or stopping point in the fight against Communist China.

Only recently has Taiwan gained its democracy and therefore freedom from the shackles of these mirages. Taiwan is not part any great empire, nor is it likely that Taiwan can build an empire. Now the people of Taiwan are lost without any reference point. They do not know who they are. For so long they have been told by invading powers- the Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese who they are. There are so many relics left behind from each of these regimes, especially the Kuomingtang Nationalists. The mere presence of these relics lend a misguided sense of legitimacy/acceptance to the regime. But as times passes, memory fades, even now many who were not even old enough to remember martial law or the black list or those who did not directly experience the white terror of these devices either doubt or question the reality of these terms.

Reading about all of these conflicts of interest and the confusion over historical injustices inflicted on Taiwanese people has really given me cause to worry about the future of Taiwan. A nation can’t exist if its people don’t have enough resolve to protect their nation’s assets or assert their own identity, especially if they don’t know or understand their history. There’s so much negative and biased reporting. And the opposition groups (KMT and PFP)seem to oppose the President's party(DPP)just for the sake of opposing them.

Recently there’s been a lot of corruption i.e. vote buying and bribery unearthed and the ruling DPP party’s image has been called into question. The DPP has shown the public that it is not immune to the lure of corrupt money. No politician is “clean” and it seems that with each new scandal all to often the public and media assume guilty until proven innocent. It’s very unsettling to see Taiwan struggling with such fundamental problems.

So I’ve purposely chosen not to write about such matters. It’s been a great educational experience reading and learning about Taiwan’s various social and political problems. Strangely, I’ve always had much more of an affinity for Taiwan’s politics than the U.S. The problems that Taiwan faces are a complicated maze, a tapestry, layer upon layer caused by oppression, confusion, history, misinformation... My concerns about the future of Taiwan would require an exhaustive explanation and a minimum understanding of Taiwan’s current social political situation, history and the deeply rooted social psychological factors which I don’t wish to elaborate on here, right now.

On a happier note, I made a trip up to Taipei during the last weekend in December to attend J & M’s wedding banquet, which of course was lovely. Ironically, such events are never really about spending time with the bride and groom- who are in a blurry, flurry of what is supposed to be (yet another irony) their most memorable day. It’s much more about the people that you attend the banquet with and the different cross sections of the couples’ friends- from whom you may just learn new things about the bride or groom.

I shared a 30-40 minute car ride to the reception with some friends who are also fellow Taiwanese Americans who now are living and working in Taiwan. It was a very affirming experience to be around other Taiwanese Americans like myself who are now living and working in Taiwan. Hearing them talk about their thoughts on Taiwan was heartening. We share similar levels of understanding regarding the problems facing Taiwan and each had unique, individual reasons for staying in Taiwan. All of us seemed to have some sort of indescribable devotion to Taiwan. It seemed to me that for all of us Taiwan has a special place in our heart. I most definitely feel that I was among a very well informed group of individuals- well informed with respect to Taiwan’s local political situation (due to a fuller perspective and understanding of Taiwan’s history)- which is better gained outside of Taiwan because of the censorship and propaganda education machine of the KMT. Many Taiwanese people were able to get a clearer picture of Taiwan’s history and political situation when they studied or lived abroad. This often happens when people leave their country and read varying opinions, seeing things from the outside.

I was also heartened by all of these Taiwanese Americans who have chosen to stay in Taiwan in a time of such uncertainty- economically (unemployment, concerns over the outflow of capital into China), politically (instability of DPP and Taiwan’s democracy).

Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Another major holiday has practically come and gone. Christmas in Taiwan is simply another guise for mass commercialism. Public spaces are decked in Christmas lights and decorations. Christmas trees and Christmas tree effigies are erected in outdoor spaces and in department stores, hotels and restaurants, any other space unspoken for by Christmas paraphernalia is filled by blaring Christmas music at every turn. You’d think that Christmas was a nationally celebrated holiday, but the Taiwanese don’t even get a day off work for Christmas. The head to toe display of Christmas regalia is just short of having a Santa Claus on every corner. Thankfully the Taiwanese haven’t adopted this as another custom to emulate overzealously.

The Taiwanese seem to have a curious habit of readily adopting foreign customs. Once example clearly imprinted in my mind is how Taiwanese not only celebrate Valentine’s Day, but also “Chinese Valentine’s Day” in August, and then insisted on adopting “White Day”- Japan’s version of Valentine’s Day. It’s things like this that really lead me to wonder if the Taiwanese know who they are.

Back on the topic of the superficial phenomena of Christmas- I suppose that Christianity just hasn’t really infiltrated Taiwan’s mainstream society. Most Taiwanese don’t know the meaning or story of Christmas, nor do they celebrate Christmas. It was extremely difficult to find a restaurant that served a true turkey dinner on Christmas eve, but then again that could just be Kaohsiung, which, in many respects, tends to be many light years away from Taipei. I’m most certainly not criticizing how the Taiwanese “celebrate” or represent Christmas- why should they give a rat’s a—about this foreign custom? Even in Christian, western societies the commercialization of Christmas is rampant.

I did manage to unintentionally combat my family’s lack of celebratory customs in Taiwan. For me Christmas has always had more secular meaning. My family is not Christian and I consider myself agnostic. As children, we (my sister and family peers aka cousins) learned and appreciated the morals behind tales of Santa Claus & A Christmas Carol. Later Christmas came symbolize an annual family gathering when we all went away to college and returned for the holidays.

My friend JC and I organized a "Pre-Christmas Cheer" party this past Saturday. The impetus was JC’s suggestion to organize a gathering to make introductions between our various circles of friends. I’m certain that my friends in New York remember my love of organizing such social gatherings. As JC and I plotted, I realized that Christmas and New Year’s was fast approaching, and that this would be my first Christmas and New Year's spent in Taiwan. I wanted to do something fun and festive for the occasion, so I thought what better thing to do than have a pre-Christmas get together and gift exchange? The whole thing just snowballed into a gathering of 15 people! It made me reminisce about my New York days when I'd love to organize long overdue monthly gatherings with my friends. In New York, there’s such an intensity in life. People just have a way of loosing track of time and people as they go about their lives in their own worlds. It's not unusual for people to get so wrapped up in work, relationships, etc. and not see each other for months on end- even though they may live less than a mile away from each other! On Saturday, one of my friends insightfully remarked that it’s the happiest that she’s seen me in a long time.