The flight to rural regions mirrors a trend that began a decade ago in the US, Australia, and New Zealand. Last year some 157,000 people left Taipei, the island’s biggest city and major job market.
This is is a question I get asked a lot. I really can’t provide a simple answer for this question; I’m going to focus more on the personal growth, because I’ve fallen so in love with the island so much that I’ve developed a strong attachment to the place.
While my answers are simple, I feel like they make up a big chunk of what makes a meaningful life to me.
I really want to get to know the people, the culture, and to be able to comfortably read, write, speak, Chinese so that I can make friends who offer me different perspectives of the world. I want to be able to read and write, as well as translate comfortably, the music/art/design/literature/television/culture of Taiwan so I can share this to the rest of the world. I absolutely missed using Mandarin everyday, and want to continue using it on a day to day basis. To me, language growth is a big criteria of what makes a meaningful life because you learn to challenge your own assumptions about how you see the world through interacting with a different culture.
Taiwan’s snacking culture (and vegetarian culture!) is so amazing. I want to bring some of that back into the US, because I think this really helps contribute to the slow-paced lifestyle: there’s so much to eat and so many places to just sit down, relax, and food is a big part of that.
I’ve heard a lot about how Taiwanese vegetarian food is so amazing (compared to the US). I’ve considered wanting to become vegetarian, but the options here are not so great. Living in Taiwan, if I can eat lots of vegetarian food, I think I will easily be convinced to become vegetarian.
A big part of living a healthy lifestyle for oneself and for the planet is understanding one’s connection to nature. Taiwan is known for it’s beautiful, and easy proximity to nature! Once people have a very strong connection to nature, they will begin to have a greater appreciation of how to manage their natural resources and how to simplify their lives. It’s very refreshing: more cities in the United States need this stronger appreciation of nature.
I’ve bolded some points I will respond to from a New York Times article, Overseas Chinese, Foreigner at Home:
Cities like Beijing and Shanghai are increasingly home to overseas Chinese, as those of us of Chinese descent who are not citizens of China are known. By some estimates, more than 30 percent of the American citizens living in China are of Chinese ethnicity.
For hyphenated Chinese like me, living here presents challenges as well as attractions. The chance to explore our’s roots and discover a country radically different from the one left behind by our parents or grandparents can be as powerful a lure as the job opportunities offered by a rising China.
Yet expectations of some Chinese toward ethnically Chinese foreigners can be disconcerting. There are assumptions that someone who looks Chinese must speak fluent Mandarin and instinctively understand cultural norms that may be peculiar to the contemporary mainland. Both locals and foreigners can be unsure how to categorize us.
To the point of discover your roots as a way of going back to China:
I think this is a very challenging point to convey to a lot of my friends, even fellow Chinese-American friends of mine. My incentive is to really experience and understand a different culture (in this case, Chinese culture) to learn about how different people see the world, especially where my parents came from.
However, I often get challenged and asked a lot of questions: “What is the local salary there?” “What about your own career growth and professional growth, wouldn’t it get hampered by going back to China?” “How will you survive?” “What if you get manipulated, robbed, or attacked by the local culture?”
I believe this sets things in really crazy dichotomies. While salary is considered a factor (and there are definitely opportunity costs to going abroad, I cannot deny that; for example, unless you are working for a brand name, multi-national company, going abroad will have very different career directions than working in your home country), I believe these questions says a lot about ourselves:
We are essentially saying: if it is not related to your career, or it does not have a high monetary value, it is not worth pursuing.
There’s something that’s hard for me to realize, as I am figuring out my future directions abroad.
There’s a lot to be proud of, being from the San Francisco Bay Area.
The very open, liberal feeling you get, in terms of ideas and innovation. Silicon Valley. Multiculturalism. UC Berkeley (I still plan to be connected to my college and my major after college, albeit still trying to figure this out) & Stanford. The amount of start-up culture that’s growing here and technology. The food. The weather. The air quality. The amount of activities that take place here!
It’s going to hit me once I’m abroad, where what was what I was really used to and familiar with, and took for granted in the Bay Area, won’t be with me when I’m abroad.
When people abroad ask me where I’m from, and I tell them the San Francisco Bay Area, they immediately get excited.
In some ways, being abroad makes me realize how much I should value my home, which has so many resources and amenities.
I won’t go too in detail about why I want to go to Taiwan after graduation (it would be a very lengthy post I’ll save for later), but one big reason for me is to really experience a different culture, learn a language, and make friends to really get a different perspective of the world. We tend to forget this alot as a lot of us have this American-centric perspective.
Too many times, from experience (and this is true when I talk to close friends about Taiwan), it is too easy to make assumptions about foreign countries without actually visiting them.
In some ways, when people really admire where I am from and the values/innovative ideas that come out of the Bay Area, I smile. I realize: wow, there is so much at home I’ve taken for granted.
And when I tell others in Taiwan about how much I love the country, they also smile too.
This is what true cultural bridges, cultural exchange should be about.
I want to bring a piece of Taiwan back to the United States the same way many around the world want to experience the innovative culture of The Bay Area.
In some ways, the unpredictability of my life is beautiful. How long will I be in Taiwan? How long will I be in the US? How often will I be between the two countries? etc. etc.