Monday, December 4, 2006

Being a Taiwanese American, living in Taiwan for over five years now, has been an invaluable learning experience. I am always happy to share my experiences with others through the sharing and exchange of ideas, thoughts and connections.

So I was very excited to hear about FAPA-YPG's Democracy Action visit to Taiwan, and to later realize that I could contribute to the planning of trip. Through this trip FAPA-YPG wanted its members to not only learn more about Taiwan's political landscape, but to also get different perspectives on life in Taiwan. One such unique perspective that they sought was that of English language bloggers in Taiwan. This active community of bloggers in Taiwan, who blog about Taiwan in English also happen to meet every first Saturday of the month in Taipei. FAPA-YPG had hoped to meet with them but Eva told me that unfortunately, there were some scheduling conflicts in arranging a meeting with the bloggers.

After hearing this and realizing that FAPA-YPG was coming down to Kaohsiung at the beginning of their trip, I told Eva that I could try to organize something in a similar vein for FAPA-YPG in Kaohsiung. One thing for sure, is that between Taipei and Kaohsiung, Kaohsiung always seems to get the short end of the stick. Everyone always focuses on what's going on up in Taipei. I saw this as a unique opportunity to shed some light on Kaohsiung. The other thing is, you just can't compare Kaohsiung and Taipei; they can seem like entirely different worlds, not only in terms of political leanings.

I have lived in both Taipei and Kaohsiung. Living in Taipei was so easy. I had an instant network of like-minded friends and endless socializing options, but ultimately I ended up living in Kaohsiung which is where I have lived for these past few years. Networking and acclimating to Kaohsiung was no easy feat for me. In the past few years, I have been fortunate to have met quite a few amazing long time residents of Kaohsiung- my "big-nosed" foreigner friends- as they are referred to in Taiwanese. What's impressive is not just that they have been living in Taiwan for about the same time I have (some even longer), but it's how they have and are making incredible contributions to Kaohsiung's English speaking community. I am Taiwanese American, being here is about understanding my roots, but I'm humbled to have learned things about Kaohsiung and myself from these individuals.

The photograph above is of FAPA-YPG members and speakers of panel discussion which was held in the morning of Monday, December 4, 2006. The speakers are sitting in the front row from left to right they are : Eric Chang, Pieter Vorster, Sebastian Thomas, Melissa Wriston.

Eric is a Taiwanese American who has been living in Tainan for about 5 years. He has been involved with the Taiwanese American Foundation for several years as a participant and counselor. Currently he teaches at the American Language Center and is obtaining an MBA from Cheng Kung University in Tainan. He has plans to run a youth leadership camp in Taiwan working with both Taiwanese and Taiwanese American kids in a kind of cultural exchange.

Pieter hails from South Africa and has been living in Kaohsiung for over 3 years. He is the editor of FYI South, a bilingual (Chinese and English) magazine that serves as a guide to things to do around town in the south (Kaohsiung, Ping Tung and Tainan).

Sebastian came to Taiwan in 2000 from Australia with the intention of studying martial arts under a master. Ironically, he has ended up teaching martial arts to others in Kaohsiung. Three years later, he, another foreigner and other inspired souls established Mindful Phoenix Performing Arts. MPA offers classes in kung fu, tai qi, yoga, belly dance, salsa and tap dance. Members study drama and also perform in improvised and short performance pieces, as well as full scale dramatic productions.

Melissa has been in Kaohsiung for nearly 5 years. She is from Canada. She runs Access Kaohsiung, a community resource center for the English speaking community. The center has been open for 2 years. Access Kaohsiung was initially started by Bread of Life Church and Melissa. They were asked to manage an information center in cooperation with the Kaohsiung City Government, Bureau of Human Resources. The International Friendship House is Melissa's newest venture; it provides short-term housing for those moving to Kaohsiung or in town just visiting.

One common theme that seemed to emerge from the speakers comments, was the leaps and bounds by which Kaohsiung and Tainan have changed and improved. In Kaohsiung garbage collection has been steadily improving, there's been beautification of the city through the creation of public spaces and parks, road signage has improved, and in Kaohsiung in particular, the Love River is now pretty much stench free and cleaned up, revitalized and reincarnated- couples and friends stroll along the banks of the river in the evening, imbibe and chat at the various cafes, take in various live performances, and on the weekends double decker tour buses teeming with visitors idle alongside the Love River.

And these comments and observations were extended to Taiwan as a whole, which has seen an explosion of growth and change- sometimes sadly at the expense of her environment. If Taiwan, or rather, the people of Taiwan have been able to accomplish so much thus far, we can't even imagine what is yet to come. That is the beauty and excitement of Taiwan.

There were a few "juicy" moments in the discussion, like when Pieter basically said that the Taiwan News was an English publication not worth reading in Taiwan. Eric countered by giving a summary on his thoughts on the three main English dailies published in Taiwan, stating that of the three English language dailies published in Taiwan, the China Post, by virtue of it's name alone, is the most questionable newspaper.

There was some criticism of the choice of speakers on the panel since none of them are actually able to vote, nor did they talk much about their awareness of politics in Taiwan. Or to some it might seem that presumably, these people don't have a very deep understanding of the political situation in Taiwan. Nonetheless I think that the speakers provided an alternative perspective to life in Taiwan. I invite all those who were present at the discussion to give me your honest feedback and comments.

We actually somehow steered clear of political opinions until towards the end when some hot buttons in the audience were pushed. After Eric got into the issue of media bias in Taiwan, Pieter said that he was shocked by all the reports of corruption and that he had once admired President Chen, but with everything that's being reported in the news lately, he's been disappointed. Leave it to Pieter, who always speaks his mind, and I love him for it; it often amuses me, but it also more than often than not leaves an indelible first impression on others.

I can't comment on the "main players" in the English speaking community in Taipei, but I think Kaohsiung is unique in that there are several self-starters focused on giving back to the English speaking community by enriching peoples lives, and committed to assisting others in their transition to life in Kaohsiung. Perhaps it is simply because there is such a need for this kind of support in Kaohsiung, but it's not always easy for newcomers to Kaohsiung to find these resources until they come across the right website or dig deeper into the community and find that one connection that opens it all up.