My Treasure Hunt
TAIWAN – it rings a special bell in my heart. A place so familiar, yet so foreign to me, this is where I was born. I’m from a small city in the southern part of Taiwan called Pingtung. However, about twenty years ago, my family and I moved to California and that’s where I spent the majority of my child- and adulthood. I decided to move back to Taiwan this year to step outside of my comfort zone and pursue my own passion. More importantly, this has been my opportunity to reconnect with my roots, which have been a blur to me. Just after returning to Taiwan I learned about this tour organized by the Forestry Bureau with the aim of giving a group of selected foreigners, who all currently live here, the chance to learn and experience local culture and the beauty of Taiwan's natural environment. And I’m so glad I didn’t pass up this opportunity.
The four-day trip's highlights included visits to the Alishan and Kenting national forest recreation areas, and many cultural experiences in between. However, the trip was so much more than just going to see the places and do the things we did. It was the contagious passion and excitement from the tour guides and the many stories they told us, the smiles and the warm welcoming from all the people we met, and the amazing fellow travelers from many different regions of the world I connected with. Not only did I make a bunch of new friends, the trip also helped me find my way back home and made me proud of where I’m from.
I’m a big believer in passion. It’s intangible and hard to comprehend. Sometimes you yourself aren’t even aware that you’re passionate about something. Over these four days, I felt a great sense of passion from the tour guides and coordinators for the beautiful local histories and nature. There were two particular examples that stuck with me. First was the Houwan Community nigiri tofu experience
. During this insightful activity we did learn about the salt and tofu production process, which used to be important local practices over many generations. Throughout this experience, besides the interesting facts and stories that I learned, I was even more impressed by the community’s passion and awareness for environmental protection and sustainability. From the impact of ocean pollution on sea salt quality and the importance of zero-waste from the tofu production process to friendly reminders to use the same bowl for all the tasty foods we were offered in order to minimize water usage, all had the same underlining message. It was heartwarming to see that even a small countryside community in the southern part of Taiwan is doing its part to preserve the world we all live in. It really got me thinking about how much more we can all do.
The second example for passion was a nighttime eco-tour at the Sheding Community
on the Hengchun Peninsula. The tour itself was about exploring the rich ecological environment and seeing animals and insects that are more active at night. Sure, we did see some mesmerizing butterflies, impressive stick insects, snakes, and much more! However, I’m sure everyone on the tour would agree that the highlight was definitely the tour guide himself, aka Mr. Wu. His passion and excitement for local ecology and nature in general was radiating from him and really brightening up our nighttime outing. He wasn’t just verbally educating us about the wildlife, which might sound a bit boring, but he also told his stories in a humorous and passionate way, which kept us engaged and curious to learn more. I’m not really an insect or nighttime-in-the-woods person, but thanks to Mr. Wu, I was impressed by the variety and the preciousness of these wildlife treasures and I learned to appreciate nature more than ever before.
I know saying this sounds cliche, but the biggest highlight for me wasn’t any of the destinations that we went to, but the people that I met through this journey. The Forestry Bureau invited people from Germany, Indonesia, the Philippines, Peru, England, Vietnam, Canada, and the United States, all of them currently living in Taiwan, either working or studying. Although I was the only participant who was born in Taiwan, many of the other participants have lived here for much longer than I have and know Taiwan better than I do, which has encouraged me even more to continue to get back to my roots and reconnect with this beautiful country. I was truly touched by seeing so many foreigners together experiencing and loving many different aspects of Taiwan.
Over these four days, we explored and viewed Taiwan through different lenses and shared different perspectives. I learned, however, that although we’re all from different parts of the world, we have a lot in common as human beings. At different stages of our lives, we all have our aspirations and goals and are working hard on our own paths. Our paths crossed over these four days and the event allowed us to embrace each other and this beautiful part of Asia.
The name of the event was “Hidden Treasure of Asia.” Before attending, I thought that this was obviously just a clever way to say “Taiwan,” but it was more than just that. The treasures we sought and found during this trip were different for everyone – the hospitality of the Forestry Bureau and the coordinators of this tour, the historic-railway ride up to Alishan, the sound of the birds and wind blowing through the forest, the seas of clouds and the majestic sunrise from the Mt. Ogasawara viewing lot, the cultures and traditions of the Houwan Community, the endangered and precious animals and the ecological environment, the amazing local dishes, and the stories and the heartbeats of the trees. For me, my treasure was re-connecting with my country and re-claiming my identity. Even though some would say I’m a “foreigner” as well, but deep down I call Taiwan my home and sharing the beauty of this place to the world gives me great joy and a sense of pride. So while I continue to hunt for m