Note: this is a reconstruction based on notes and memory, rather than exactly what I presented for my oral reflection.
Before I came to Taiwan, I expected to find a microcosm of Chinese culture. Free China, but still part of China. I have certainly learned different - learned of a culture with a long and varied history separate and distinct from that of mainland China. It has an ancient history, starting with the Polynesians spreading out from Taiwan to settle all the Pacific islands. It astounds me that Taiwan has a direct connection with such a vast undertaking.
Another item I wondered about was the speed and acceleration of events in Taiwan. After a couple thousand years of indigenous culture, and then being joined by the Chinese for a couple hundred years, events accelerated when the Japanese took control of the island in the late 19th century. Since then, no two generations have lived remotely the same life. When conquered by the Japanese, the indigenous people lost a significant portion of their lifestyle.
Fast forward a generation, everyone’s learned Japanese. Some Taiwanese have become successful selling green tea to Japan. Fast forward another generation and they’re back in Chinese hands, following the Second World War and about to become nearly the entirety of the ROC. Another generation and Taiwan is the best aircraft carrier in the Pacific for the Americans and under strict martial law. One more and protests are bringing martial law to a close as Taiwan is one of the Asian Tigers economically, developing quickly while becoming sidelined by mainland China. Today, Taiwan is a fledgeling democracy, still defined by its relationship with China and struggling with that identity.
Food has been a primary way I’ve interacted with the native population - I’ve hardly had a choice but to go out into the community in search of sustenance. Through this, I’ve gained valuable experience in interacting without a common language, as well as learned to appreciate the Taiwanese soul. Here, the people are always kind despite my not knowing how to communicate in Mandarin, and willing to try and work with me regardless. Often, they even seem apologetic - as if it was their failure that they didn’t speak my language.
Something something temples are another aspect of Taiwan that have really interested me, as well as religion in general. The Huang family temple is like nothing I know in the West. Religion is much more of a family affair, but it is also very public, with people everywhere giving offerings in front of their businesses and whole communities celebrating holidays at the temples. Even if many Taiwanese would not say they have a religion, religious culture seems very much alive in Taiwan.
And yet for all the differences I see some similarities with my experience with religion back home. I have attended a lutheran camp my whole life in the woods by a lake in New Hampshire. Though Christianity does not have a whole lot of emphasis on nature generally, when we’re in close contact with it I can definitely see the connection with the Daoist temples with their requisite nature surrounding them, even in the city.
Overall, my greatest takeaways will be the ability to function in any country and willingness to explore, even with little grasp of the native tongue, and the ability to make connections in these new and strange locales to concepts from places I am familiar with.