Erenlai - 按日期過濾項目: 週一, 17 九月 2007
週一, 17 九月 2007 18:43

My First Fifty Years In Taiwan

Almost exactly fifty years ago, just two weeks before my 25th birthday, I stepped off the Danish freighter Nicoline Maersk and set foot in Keelung, Taiwan for the first time. Ten years earlier I had gone with my family and some friends on a launch out into the middle of San Francisco Bay to say goodbye to Albert Klaeser, S.J. who was embarking for the missions in China. He told me at that time “I’ll see you in ten years” so I was arriving in Taiwan right on time.

The Taiwan that greeted me was very different from the Taiwan of today. For one thing I called it Formosa not Taiwan, since in those days it was referred to abroad by its Portuguese name. No one at that time could have imagined that Taipei would become the site of the tallest building in the world, Taiwan would be on the cutting edge of computer and electronic technology, its cities would boast of soaring high rises, its crowded squatter filled alleys would become wide tree lined avenues, streets and roads jammed with private automobiles, underground one of the finest subway systems in the world, dozens of first class universities throughout the island.

What I saw instead were narrow streets and roads, filled mainly with pedestrians or bicycles, school children in ill fitting hand me down clothes walking to school wearing wooden shoes, the heart of the cities filled with caribao drawn carts or wagons pushed or dragged by straining men, whole families going by crammed precariously on bicycles, ladies wearing cone shaped bamboo hats, every inch of their skin covered as protection against sun and dirt, pushing wheelbarrows full of plaster up narrow bamboo scaffolds to the men laying bricks at the top. My first haircut in Taiwan cost NT$ 4. Our Chinese teachers were paid a generous NT$10 and hour. The rate of exchange was 40 NT for 1 US, but it was possible to get more on the black market.

Compared with the life style I had left behind in California, the people were poor, underpaid, and deprived, but it was also evident that they were hardworking, busy and determined to make the best of their situation. It was fortunate for Taiwan that the Western nations poured assistance into the island to keep it strong and safe from the communist menace on the mainland. But that is not the main reason for Taiwan’s success today. It was just the impetus and opportunity the people needed to ignite their hopes and harness their indomitable spirit and capacity for untiring diligence. I won’t be here at the end of the next fifty years, but I am sure that so long as the spirit of the Taiwanese people remains strong, so will the island’s progress and prosperity.

To a superficial eye perhaps, at least to the eye of a foreigner like myself, it might look like Taiwan is turning itself into a clone of some American, European or other “developed” region of the world, but hopefully that will never happen.

A culture should not defined by the structures it builds but by the lives and values of those who live in them. May Taiwan for all its rush into the 21st century always remain Chinese. The rest of the world instead of taking pride in how Western things look here, would do much better to help the Taiwanese to avoid the mistakes they themselves made when they expanded and developed. May the Taiwanese never toss away or sacrifice their cultural diversity for the sake of progress or assimilation.

Read the long version of this article:
Formosa Diary

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