Welcome to the blog Girl Meets Formosa, which recounts my travel adventures as a young American writer spending one year in Taiwan (Formosa) to learn about how my grandfather Thomas Liao (Liao Wen-Yi) changed the face of Taiwanese history. This blog details my unfolding search for information and identity, as I reconstruct the story of my family–from Taiwan to New York and back again–in the book I’m working on called In Search of Formosa.
In the blog, you’ll find posts on the research, fun pictures, and see what it’s like to live in Taipei as an American writer with Taiwanese roots. You can also learn more about my book project in “The Book” page, more about my background as a writer in “The Girl,” and more about Taiwan in “Formosa.” Eventually, this will be the basis of a website for the book In Search of Formosa, and right now, you can read tidbits of the research and adventures in the posts from my year as a 2010-2011 Taiwan Fulbright Research Fellow.
Here’s a brief taste of what brought me to Taiwan:
Nearly 50 years ago, my grandfather Thomas was in political exile, running for his life and campaigning for change in his homeland of Formosa. He was named Chairman of the Taiwan Democratic Independence Party, the primary opposition movement to the Nationalist Party that ruled Taiwan with martial law. At the same time, he was arrested in Tokyo for speaking out against Chiang Kai-Shek, and sentenced to deportation to Taiwan, which meant certain death.
Meanwhile, my grandmother Anna was staying in British Hong Kong, a safe haven from the political turmoil in Taiwan. With four young children and little money, she was powerless to help her husband, return to her husband’s family in southern Taiwan, or stay in Hong Kong indefinitely. Anna had grown up in New York City’s Chinatown, and wanted her children to be American citizens.
With her husband’s life hanging in jeopardy, Anna raised money selling prescription drugs on the black market to bring her kids to America. Meanwhile, Thomas was able to broker a deal for himself: instead of death at the hands of the KMT in Taiwan, Thomas was allowed to remain under house arrest in Japan. There, he continued to rally support for his political cause. When Anna raised enough money, she brought her children to America to be raised as New Yorkers.
And never spoke of her husband or Taiwan again.
30 years later, my father Richard received a plane ticket and an offer to go meet his long lost father in Taipei. Having grown up telling everyone that his father was dead, he approached this long-delayed reunion with trepidation and ambivalence. In Taiwan in 1979, he met Thomas, his father by blood but not by experience, and a host of relatives, who referred to my father, his mother and siblings as the “lost family” who had gone to America. But my father only learned a few sketchy details of his father’s political activities, and of his parents’ adventures in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
In 2007, I began a search to discover the rest of the story. That search has taken me to visit my father’s siblings, hear their recollections of early life in Taiwan during and after World War II, and their memories of my grandmother Anna, a courageous survivor of an orphaned childhood, a war, and a battle for the lives of herself and her children. Now I go Taiwan to learn about the life of my grandfather Thomas, a larger-than life historical figure whose actions directly shaped the lives of my family: the Liaos. My grandmother, father, and I all went in search of Formosa, and my book is a family memoir about what happened to each of us on that journey.