Tag Archives: Taiwanese culture

Finding Silai: A Search Through History

The view of Silai from Yanping Historic Street, a road that runs through the middle of town and showcases preserved and reconstructed traditional Taiwanese architecture.

In May, I went back to my grandfather Thomas Liao’s hometown of Silai, to meet people, conduct oral history interviews, and look for documents about Thomas’s life, family, and political career.

This was my second trip– the first was a somewhat ill-advised round trip scooter ride from Chiayi City that I did in one day and took 5+ hours. But this time, I had made contact with a very kind host, Stella Chen, who introduced me to everyone she knew in the greater Silai area (between Taichung and Chiayi), and everyone I met introduced me to everyone THEY knew, who might know something about the Liao family, or remember a funny anecdote, share a photo, or take me walking around a historical part of the town.

To say the least: it was intense.

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Silai Musical Interlude

To introduce a series of posts about visiting my grandfather’s hometown of Silai (in Mandarin Siluo, Xiluo, 西螺), here’s a sweet song and video slide show, made by the town’s historical society!! It’s called the Luoyang Culture and Education Foundation, or: 螺陽文教基金會.

So I hope you’ll give it a watch if you want to see how the town looks now– in Silai itself, there are some beautiful historically preserved old buildings, collections of old photographs and books at the historical society, and a traditional soy sauce museum and factory. Continue reading

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Taiwan Travel + History: Green Island

Since I’ve begun to talk more about my history research, here’s a story of where travel and history combine: on Green Island.

The other day, I was talking to some friends about cool places to go on vacation in Taiwan, and mentioned that I went to Green Island earlier in the month over a long weekend with some fellow Fulbrighters. I was listing off fun things to do and see there, and came to the infamous Green Island Prison, which now stands in ruins (with one wing fixed up as a museum) and has a Memorial built on the nearby cliffs. My uncle Suho, who currently lives in Taipei, also spent time there, and I found his name on the Memorial–they list all of the prisoners’ names and dates spent there. It was there that I learned that he was imprisoned on Green Island– for his political actions supporting the Taiwan Independence Movement– for 8 years in the 1950s.

I actually can’t imagine doing ANY single thing for 8 years, let alone being in an incredibly brutal, hard labor camp on an island in the middle of the Pacific ocean.

At hearing this, my friend commented, “Man, your family has been everywhere! All of your vacations in Taiwan always have history research component to them!”

This is, actually, primarily true. Continue reading

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Running with Scissors: My First Taiwanese Haircut

This post goes out to Alexandra at Stilisti in Boston, who cut my hair for the last few years, and to whom I promised I'd watch the hair trends in Asia! Here's one, especially Taiwan: wavy hair for women, even perms! Also, I like that this girl is holding either wasabi peas or edamame to her face. A classy touch, always.

The first thing my mother said when she saw my new haircut was, “You must be feeling pretty comfortable in Taiwan, if you chopped off that much of your hair!”  I suppose she was right.  Also, I conducted the entire exchange with my stylist in Chinese, just about.  So I got what I deserved. Continue reading

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Trying to Stay Sane: Watching Movies in Chinese

Click here to see Hakuna Matata in Chinese: it's awesome!!

Greetings, dear GMF readers!  My recent absence has been due to a recent flailing attempt at immersion in Chinese language, a perhaps ill-advised challenge I recently posed here.  It has been one week, and somewhere between losing myself in Chinese grammar, abandoning the experiment all together, and losing my mind, I have come to some conclusions about language pledges:

1. Above all, do no harm. (Like the medical oath this means to myself, to others, to the poor electrodes in my brain. Really, it’s just not worth it!)

2. It’s easier to speak Chinese (or your chosen foreign language) to strangers, classmates, or those who cannot or will not speak English to you.  It is IMMENSELY tricky to speak it to good friends who do speak English, or in any situation where you really need something specific and important.

3. It is also very difficult to speak solely in a foreign language if you lack certain vocabulary, especially such relevant and vitally important words as “need,” “shoes,” “whiskey,” “valium,” and/or “return flight home.” (Just kidding!  And I actually know that last one: 直飛到紐約, I think!)  Looking up several unknown words at a time in a dictionary, in public while people are waiting expectantly, can get frustrating real quick! Continue reading

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I Want to Dream in Chinese!

Image published in the New York Times with book review of "Dreaming in Chinese." Click here to read the review!

So I think I’m hitting a wall with my Chinese: I practice and practice and practice, and yet still, when given the option to speak English, I take it.  And I think that if I keep this up, in time, I will merely be speaking English-with-a-little-Chinese, and not a-lot-of-Chinese-with-some-English-every-now-and-then to keep me sane.

So then this NY Times book review came along (thanks, Kim!), of a book called “Dreaming in Chinese,” by Deborah Fallows.  When I read this book review over the weekend, I was struck by the cultural connotations and expectations implicit in each language.  Also, I definitely want to read the book!  And as I did my grammar homework last night, I began to realize that I was reaching the cliff of literal translation– at a certain point, trying to get a direct translation of this phrase, pattern, or grammatical structure is going to obscure and inhibit the sense that I was trying to make by learning the language at all.  Today, we went over the grammar structures, and they began to feel more natural and smooth in conveying a universal meaning, even if we would choose much different English phrases to say equivalent things.

So I think I’m going to take the language plunge and jump off the cliff: go for immersion and speak only Mandarin for 2 weeks! Continue reading

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Weeks in Review in Photos: The Sacred and the Profane


In the last two weeks I have seen many parts of Taipei– the trappings of daily life and the beautiful natural resources and cultural offerings, such as Yangming Shan and Longshan Temple.

At both places, I was overwhelmed with the sense of being part of something much larger than me– the hundreds of years of spiritual history at Longshan Temple permeated the air as powerfully as the incense, and the vistas at Yangming Shan reminded me that Taiwan is also a country of diverse landscapes and breathtaking beauty, not just the backdrop for Taipei’s bustling cosmopolitan center. Continue reading

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