I still remember the first time I stepped foot on this island. Cicadas chirped in the background, the scent of yulan flowers permeated the air, and a sun brighter than my pale skin had ever seen before beamed down on me. I was a wide-eyed, 19-year-old college student who had come to study Chinese at TaiDa University.
Me and Dad at National Taiwan University
Standing next to me was my Taiwanese-born father, serving as the bridge between my American upbringing and Asian heritage. Even though Taiwanese was his first language, he too, had just landed in a foreign country. He and his family had fled Taiwan during the island’s more tumultuous years, and it was the first time in 40 years that he had returned.
Together, we embarked on our maiden voyage around the island, riding the old-fashioned steam train before the days of Taiwan’s High Speed Rail and eating biandang along the way. We toured Taroko National Park, exploring the marble cliffs and remarkable gorge through the Tunnel of Nine Turns trail. We rafted down the Xiuguluan River in Hualien, cutting through a mountain range covered top to bottom with lush vegetation. We visited family in Tainan, where none of Taiwan’s most famous eats could top my great aunt’s home cooking. Sadly, we missed Kaosiung, my father’s birthplace, before he returned home to the States.
Little did my father know that a few language courses would lead to my coming of age in Taiwan, as I decided to stay and spend my early 20’s in his ancestral land, teaching English, clubbing or KTVing through Taipei’s nightlife scene, and escaping to mountainous villages like Wulai when I wanted a break from city living. I came to love stinky tofu and could even tolerate blue jeans during the humid summers. After a few years, I returned to the U.S. to attend law school.
Fast forward to my 30’s, and you will find me in Taiwan once again. After pursuing the “American Dream,” I’ve returned to the motherland, just as wide-eyed as I was when I first got off the plane. Only this time I’ve returned in search of the natural beauty of this country, (I’ve visited Sun Moon Lake, Penghu Island, and of course, Kaosiung) a comfortable pace of life, and the unforgettable kindness of strangers on this island that shaped me into the person I am today.
I’m back. And it only took me 10 years, instead of 40.
Read the full article in Travel in Taiwan.
Me and Dad at Taipei 101. Both our first time!
Me and Dad at Taroko Gorge