Tag Archives: Taiwan

film captures taiwan’s past and present

Almost HomeLast year I met Victoria Linchong at the North American Taiwanese Women’s Association (NATWA II) Annual Convention. Victoria is a Taiwanese-American actress, writer, producer and director working in both theater and film. Her feature directorial debut, Almost Home: Taiwanis currently in post-production. Almost Home was inspired by a 2008 family road trip back to Taiwan. Victoria recently held a successful campaign via Indiegogo where she raised over $5,000 to complete the production of the film. She was also featured in Asian Cinevision’s Cinema Spotlight last December where she discussed her film, as well as her journey as an actor, entrepreneur, and filmmaker. Almost Home: Taiwan is a feature-length documentary that examines the legacy of political repression and the emergence of Taiwanese identity and independence through a family union that takes place after 22 years. In the documentary, Victoria returns to Taiwan with her family searching for long-lost connections. She becomes re-acquainted with the unique culture of the island and its beauty. Bridging the deeply personal and globally political, Almost Home clarifies the controversies surrounding Taiwan, while introducing viewers to Taiwanese culture via raucous night markets, aboriginal festivals, saint trees, and kissing fish.

When I attended the NATWA II Convention last year, I had just returned from reuniting with my birthfamily in Taipei. I knew very little of Taiwan’s history. Victoria helped give me a better understanding of Taiwan’s political past, something you don’t learn about in the textbooks! I look forward to seeing the film and understanding more of Taiwan’s political past and how it’s shaped the country it is now. Currently, Victoria is busy with another production, Big Flower Eater, which she also wrote and stars in. Big Flower Eater is a whimsical collage of folktale, ritual, dance, and historical text that explores the untold history of women in Asia through shamanism in three different cultures: Hmong, Korean, and Taiwanese. It premiered February 7th on stage in New York City. Break a leg, Victoria!

For a snippet of Almost Home: Taiwan, please watch the trailer below:

Please stop by and read Victoria’s interview at Cinevision in full at this link. It’s super interesting! Also visit and like the Almost Home: Taiwan facebook page here.

 

a chance encounter

Carmen, her adoptive mom, Me, December 1967

Every once in awhile, I sift through the contents of the box that preserves my adoption papers. Recently, I came across something baffling: the papers of another little girl who was also adopted by a military family. Apparently, my parents knew the family in Okinawa. My father and the little girl’s father were both stationed at Kadena Air Force Base. The little girl’s name was Carmen. I vaguely remember hearing the name growing up, and in the recesses of my memory, recall an Asian girl who was older than me and very pretty. My mom put her school picture in a family photo album. I actually remember looking at her picture as a kid and wishing I looked more like her. Curiosity got the best of me, and soon, I found myself digging through the cramped quarters of our storage closet in search of that old photo album.

As I flipped through the pages of one particular album, two pictures caught my attention. I recognized myself – I couldn’t have been more than 2 years old – but who was the other little Asian girl and the white woman? There was no writing on the back of these photos, but something told me that the other little girl was Carmen and the woman in the picture was her adoptive mom. I speculated that my parents were Carmen’s godparents and that’s how her adoption papers ended up amidst my adoption stuff. Obviously, there was some connection.

Carmen, Scotty, Me. July, 1970.

I did more digging. I googled the name, “Carmen Marie Faulkenburg,” her “American” name. Her name appeared under mylife, which listed her location and age – 49, just a few years older than me. I was disappointed, however, that I couldn’t get any further information. I searched again and found a Scott Faulkenburg. I clicked on the Facebook link hoping to find info leading me to Carmen. What should I find as I scrolled through Scott’s Facebook friends but the name and picture of, “Carmen Faulkenburg Seitz,” Scott’s sister – an Asian woman! I knew it had to be her! I immediately emailed Scott explaining why I was contacting him in hopes he would respond and not think I was crazy. I’m happy to say that Scott contacted me four days ago letting me know that he passed my message on to Carmen!

That same evening, Carmen emailed me. Since then, we’ve talked on the phone twice trying to piece together the connection between our families and adoptions. Carmen has a southern drawl that reminds me so much of growing up in Louisiana. I laughed when Carmen told me that her brother  first announced, “I found your sister!” when initially forwarding my message to her. We may not be blood-relatives, but I certainly feel like I’ve found a long lost sister! I learned from Carmen that she was abandoned as a baby and left beside a set of railroad tracks in Taipei. She was taken in by a group of nuns at a Catholic organization, St. Benedict’s Home for Children, now a Catholic monastery. Carmen actually returned to Taiwan with her husband in 2008 and reconnected with the nun who signed her adoption contract. Carmen’s date of birth is unknown, but was presumed to be around 1962. She was adopted in 1965 by Clarence and Janice Marie Faulkenburg, just a year before my adoption. Carmen found out from her father that he and my father were close friends in Okinawa and made a verbal agreement stipulating my parents as Carmen’s godparents. My speculation was right! Carmen wrote, “from the stories that my dad told me about Colonel Buck, he was a very good man.”

The Faulkenburgs, July 1970

Later, I found an old letter addressed to the Faulkenburg’s from St. Benedict’s Home for Children. Why my parents had the letter, I’m not sure. Intrigued, I took the letter out and read it. It was written by a nun, Sister Glenore, O.S.B. (Order of St. Benedict). She was trying to confirm with the Faulkenburgs that my parents had finally adopted a child. My parents had evidently been on a waiting list of families hoping to adopt from St. Benedict’s, but found me first at The Family Planning Association of China. Sister Glenore thanked the Faulkenburgs, my parents and others who had contributed much needed necessities to the orphanage. After I found the letter, I remembered seeing other photos of an older Carmen in some of our family photo albums. Again, I started searching. Sure enough, I discovered pictures of Carmen, her younger brother, Scott, and her adoptive parents at our home on LaNell Street. Having matched faces with names, I now recognize the Faulkenburgs in an old black and white photo taken after my adoption. They are pictured with my sister, Lynn, my mom and I.

The Faulkenburgs on L, my sister, mom and me

It’s been exciting to connect with Carmen and to discover yet another little piece of my past. We are hoping to meet each other at the end of July when I’ll be traveling to Indiana, just across the border from Kentucky where Carmen lives. In the meantime, she is visiting her father in Indiana this weekend and, perhaps, will learn a little more about our adoptions. I’m thrilled that we have found each other and truly amazed that our paths have crossed once again, 40 something years later!

 

taroko national park

My sisters and I left very early the morning of January 18th to head for Hualien County on the Eastern coast of Taiwan, south of Taipei. My elder sister planned an overnight trip just for the 3 of us. I took a cab from my hotel and met my sisters at the train station. They were awake and perky. I still felt a little groggy, but my sisters bought me a coffee and offered it once I arrived. They’d also bought little snacks to take along the trip-always so organized and prepared for everything! Our train ride was about 3 hours long. Once we arrived, we had a driver, Mr. He, who took us everywhere and was very knowledgeable about the sights in Hualien.

Our first stop was at Taroko National Park. We stopped and ate lunch on the way. Taroko National Park is one of the 7 national parks in Taiwan. It was named after the Taroko Gorge, the landmark gorge of the park. The park spans Taichung City, Nantou County, and Hualien County.

Eternal Springs Shrine above is one of the many beautiful shrines/towers. It was built in memory of the hundreds of workers who died or were injured during the construction of the central highway that runs through the Eastern section of Taroko Gorge. I was amazed at the road system and tunnels that ran through the park obviously built through the mountain rock.

Taroko Gorge and the surrounding area is well known for its supply of marble. Throughout the park, you could see evidence of this in the architecture.

This beautiful statue is made of marble

One of the many lovely views in the park

Bridge of the Kind Mother

My elder sister told me that the drive to the park would be a bit windy, but it wasn’t bad at all and I was fine the whole trip. I have a terrible problem with motion sickness. My sisters said that our mother also struggled with the same thing.

Swallow’s Grotto

Day Peak Tower

Cheung Tak Temple

Shakadang Bridge (Bridge of 100 Lions)

A suspension foot bridge. No way you could get me on that!

We Three!

The visit to the park was beautiful. At the end of the day we headed to an inn where my sister had made reservations. It was a distance away from the park, and by the time we made it there, it was dark out. Although I couldn’t see the ocean, I could hear it. The inn was very quaint, and it was so nice to hit the sack after a full day of sightseeing. I fell asleep to the sound of ocean waves and woke up the next morning to a breathtaking view of the ocean right outside my window!

The beach and ocean just outside the inn

My 2 beautiful sisters

good-bye dear sisters

Last picture together at Taoyuan Airport

Yesterday was a tough day. At the same time, I spent another wonderful afternoon with my sisters before departing Taiwan and heading back to Arizona. I really do hate good-byes, even though I know in this case it won’t be the last time I see my sisters. We’ve talked about future visits and the possibility of them coming to the U.S. in a couple of years. It was hard to say good-bye nevertheless to my dear sisters who embraced and truly took me under their wings as their little sister ( 小妹 ). There was one event in particular that stands out. I got very sick suddenly the morning that we were to visit the pagoda of our mother and father. My two sisters ended up having to take me to the emergency room at Mackay Memorial Hospital in Taipei. About 30 minutes into our trip, I started to feel very dizzy and ill and asked to return to the hotel – I knew I wouldn’t make the hour long drive up the mountain to the pagoda. By the time we arrived at the hotel, I was so sick that I couldn’t stand and felt very close to passing out. The hospital was not far from my hotel, thank goodness. I remember a paramedic lifting me out of the taxi and putting me onto a gurney. I was wheeled around to several different rooms for tests, and I just remember thinking, I wish they’d stop wheeling me around. It made the dizziness even worse. To make a long story short, it turned out that my potassium level was extremely low causing my electrolytes to be way off balance. I received a couple of injections and stayed in ER for a couple of hours. When I felt well enough, my two sisters went out of their way to make sure I was going to be OK. My 2nd sister went to a nearby store and bought porridge for all of us and fresh orange juice. I’m now a diehard porridge addict! My sisters would not let me pay for the emergency visit. I’m just so grateful that they took care of me. After that incident I was, unfortunately, slightly ill for the rest of the trip, and we ended up cancelling some of the sightseeing that I had on my list of must do’s. My sisters and I still spent time together, but I had to slow down some.

My 2nd sister made a home-made meal at her home

Yesterday afternoon, my sisters took me out to lunch at a restaurant where they make the best dumplings. I don’t know the name of it, but the dumplings were amazing. I ate so much the entire time I was in Taiwan! My sisters said that I “eat like a bird,” but on the contrary, I always left each meal feeling overstuffed. The restaurant we went to must be a popular one because shortly after arriving, the whole place was packed.

My beautiful sisters

The restaurant was close to my hotel, so we walked back and had afternoon tea. It was still too early to go to the airport, so my elder sister taught me a little Mandarin. She bought 3 little books on Mandarin symbols, made a CD pronouncing each symbol, and wrote out each symbol very neatly. We decided that we’d Skype each other daily at a certain time so that she could teach me one new Mandarin word, or phrase. That should increase my vocabulary within a year.

Now that I’m back in the States, my trip to Taiwan seems like a dream. Just yesterday I was having lunch with my sisters, and now here I am at home. So much happened in such a short period of time. What I value the most from my trip is getting to know my two older sisters. I know I’ve said this before, but their generosity truly amazed me, as did the generosity of the rest of my birthfamily. I left having mixed feelings about international adoption. I’m very grateful to my adoptive parents who will always be my parents. But, I also felt sadness and compassion for families who decide to give up a child due to poverty and the inability to provide for their child, especially for the birth mother. I learned from my sisters that my biological father relinquished me to adoption without the knowledge of my birth mother, who was not well physically or mentally at the time. My elder sister told me that they would play with me and hold me everyday after school at the babysitter’s who lived nearby until I was no longer there. Both sisters also told me that our mother had sadness in her heart the rest of her life, even though she never talked about me after I was gone.

First day in Taipei

From what my two sisters shared with me, my birthfamily’s situation was challenging when I was born for many reasons. They are happy for me that I was able to go to college and study music and be in a stable home environment. I’m so happy my search for my birthfamily ended in reunion. A lot of people wished for me that I’d find exactly what I was looking for before setting out for Taiwan. I thought that was somewhat odd, because what I was looking for was my sisters. Maybe they were worried that my birthfamily wouldn’t want to meet me; however, such was not the case. Maybe they thought it would bring some kind of closure. On the contrary, meeting my birthfamily is really a beginning. I can’t imagine now not ever knowing them. It just doesn’t make sense to me to have gone through life having never met them; they’re my biological family, maybe not the family I grew up with, but nonetheless, my family. I feel like I’m part of two worlds now, one here with my own family and one far away in Taiwan.

So, I will continue studying Mandarin and may one day apply for Taiwanese citizenship. I vowed to get better at speaking Mandarin, and my 2nd sister vowed to get better at speaking English. My sisters admonished me several times to take better care of my health and not work so hard. That I hope to do. Both my sisters and brother practice Qigong. Their lives are so much less stressed than our lives here in the U.S. I think Qigong contributes to their good health and well-being. I’m hoping to learn Qigong or T’ai Chi Ch’uan, whatever I can find here in Arizona. Maybe the next time we visit one another, we’ll all be able to practice Qigong together, as well as communicate in Mandarin.

letter sent

Tien and I have been exchanging several emails in preparation for our trip to Taiwan. She’s been helping me with a number of different things, which I am extremely grateful for. Most recently, she penned a letter in Mandarin addressed to the registration office in Taipei City explaining that I’m searching for my birth family and asking them for their help in this search. She revised the letter a couple of times and had me send it back to her once I signed it. I have been printing, signing, and scanning the letter with each revision then sending back via email to Tien. After about the third revision, she felt it was just right. In the letter, Tien provided her contact info and asked that, as my translator, they contact her with any information per my permission. Our hope is that my biological sister’s address will be released to me once they see the accompanying documents that prove that I’m related by birth. Yesterday, during my lunch break, a co-worker, Jewel, and I headed to the post office to mail the letter along with copies of my adoption contract and baby passport to prove that I’m a true member of the family Huang. As we walked up to the post office, Jewel mentioned that she hoped there wouldn’t be a long line. It turned out that there was a very long line of people waiting to mail Christmas packages and letters. I began to worry that we wouldn’t have enough time to mail the package. Jewel noticed a self service kiosk when we first walked in and stood in line for me so I could go check it out. Then, I realized that I couldn’t read the address label that Tien sent me because it was in Mandarin. How would I know what the zip code was? Thankfully once I typed in where the package was going, it automatically found the correct city and postage. A postage label was printed out with all the appropriate info in a matter of seconds. The letter is now on its way to Taiwan!

I hope that the letter arrives safely at the right destination and in good time. Most importantly I hope that a reply is sent to Tien with news of my sister’s whereabouts before we arrive in Taiwan. Once there, Tien has arranged for a guide to drive me to the registration office and to meet with my sister if we are able to locate her (and if she wants to meet me). I wonder how this will all turn out. I’ll be in Taiwan for the beginning of the Chinese New Year celebration. 2012 is the year of the Dragon. Maybe it will also be the year that I find one of my biological sisters.

learning chinese mandarin

I walk into Starbuck’s on 46th and Chandler Boulevard. It’s on the other side of town, but I don’t mind. I’m ten minutes early for my second Mandarin lesson, and the place is nearly packed. I hurry over to the only table left and sit down. I lay my notebook on the table and begin studying my lesson from the previous week. Xie xie means thank you. Now how do I pronounce it correctly again? Is it a “sh” sound or “ch” sound…short i sound, or short e sound? More customers walk in and check the place out as they stand in line ready to order their lattes and frappuccinos. They seem to stare at me since I’m siting alone at a table with two empty chairs. No way I’m giving up my table though! I continue studying. Bu ke qi means your welcome and zai jian means goodbye. Of course, the spelling of these words is only a phonetic representation of how they are pronounced. We haven’t yet focused on Mandarin characters, although they are there written next to the phonetic spelling of each word. I try to acquaint myself with the characters, but they don’t quite stick in my mind. I continue to sit and then wonder if I should get something to drink, a hot tea or coffee while I’m waiting. I decide not to; have to save as much as possible for the trip to Taiwan.

My tutor, Shuchen, arrives shortly. Big smile and warm welcome. Shuchen is as petite as petite can be, but really big on enthusiasm. I appreciate her peppy spirit and her obvious interest in why I’m going to Taiwan and helping me learn Mandarin. We focus on learning language that will help me get by in the short amount of time we have before I go on my trip and will later focus more on filling in the gaps. I’m happy with this arrangement and try my best to get the pronunciation down and remember what the heck I’m actually saying in Mandarin. What’s familiar about Mandarin is that it’s a tonal language. I studied Vietnamese for a while, which is another tonal language very similar to Mandarin. This helps and I’m able to hear and pronounce the 4 different tones (really 5) pretty easily. Shuchen is very encouraging and tells me that being a musician also helps in hearing  the inflection of each tone. Right on!

Recently, I got hooked on a Korean drama, “Boys Over Flowers” and watched the episodes online through Hulu. I looked up Taiwanese dramas thinking that it would be helpful in getting Mandarin “in my ear.” There is a Taiwanese version of “Boys Over Flowers” called “Meteor Garden.” It came out in 2001 and appears to have been very popular and apparently stars some of Taiwan’s most popular young actors and actresses. The online streaming was really awful though, so I didn’t watch more than a few minutes of the first episode. Instead, I began watching another Taiwanese drama on Hulu called, “Single Princesses and Blind Dates.” It’s not nearly as good as “Boys Over Flowers” and I can’t say that I’m hooked, but it’s definitely good for listening and trying to learn Mandarin! I wish there was an easier way to learn another language and quickly. As it is, I’ll just keep meeting with Shuchen. I’m glad that I found the right tutor, and am really enjoying learning Mandarin despite the difficulty.

Embracing my cultural roots

Wow, it’s been nearly a month since my last post.  Life has seemed as though in slow motion as I continue to wait to hear news of the search for my biological sister in Taiwan. At the end of September, I received an email from Beatrice at The Child and Juvenile Information Center in Taipei City, the agency that’s leading the search for my sister. Beatrice is always very encouraging and sent word that the household system in Taipei has record of my sister’s address, my second sister to be exact. Wow, second sister! I’m assuming second born daughter to my birth parents; I was the fourth and the only one given up for adoption that I know of.  Just knowing that small fact makes this all seem a little bit more real. She’s alive, she’s living somewhere out there. Will we find her? Beatrice expresses that discovering this information is a big step, and they will try to contact her as soon as possible. More importantly, she also informs me that everyone needs to register in the household system, so everyone will have an address in the system; however, that does not guarantee that the individual registered will live at the address listed. I understand the message: we can’t be certain that my sister still currently lives at this address. My heart sinks a little. I want to be hopeful, but the possibility of finding my sister seems nearly impossible, far away, intangible, like looking for a needle in a haystack. I wish for things to be more certain, that perhaps after all this time, destiny will be on my side.

At the beginning of the month, I email Beatrice asking how the search is going. She expresses that although they sent letters to the address, there has been no reply from anyone. She suggests that it’s possible my sister no longer lives at that address, or that she has rented the house out. I become curious about the address, whether it is listed in Taiwan or in China. The reason behind this is my adoption contract lists my birth family’s address in the province of Guangxi, China. This is confusing to me and makes me wonder if I’m Chinese or Taiwanese? Furthermore, what led my birth family to move from China to Taiwan? Beatrice explains that the address on my adoption contract traces back to my ancestral descent, to my birth father’s family and that my sister’s address is in Taiwan. She assures me that I’m Taiwanese since my family lived in Taiwan.

Beatrice emails soon after noticing that it bothers me somewhat not knowing if I am Chinese or Taiwanese. I explain that my adoptive mom had always told me I was part Japanese and part Vietnamese – my mother was Vietnamese, and my father, Japanese. I have no idea how she got this information, and I certainly never questioned it growing up. When I found my adoption contract in 2010 (after my adoptive mother’s death), I discovered that my birth parents were both Chinese, at least their names were Chinese, not Vietnamese or Japanese. This was shocking to say the least. My whole life, I believed myself to be Vietnamese and Japanese. Finding my adoption contract opened up a whole new mystery about my true birth heritage. Both of my adoptive parents have passed on, and recently I learned that both of my birth parents have also passed on. I’m left to investigate my past on my own. I can only say that now, I’m more curious than ever to discover something of my roots.

Last week, we spent the weekend with some good friends of ours in California. My friend is Korean and her husband, Czechoslavokian. While there, she introduced me to a popular Korean TV series, “Boys Over Flowers“. I can’t say that I was very interested in watching it but to my surprise I got totally hooked, and when we returned home, continued to watch the entire 25 episodes! Watching this series was not only great entertainment, but on a much deeper level, it  helped me to appreciate my Asian roots in a way I’ve never experienced before. I know that may seem completely bizarre. I suddenly felt proud to be Asian. I’m sad to say that for the greater part of my life, I have downplayed any references to my Asian heritage, never fully embracing my cultural roots. I tried for many years to look more “Western,” Americanized. When I look in the mirror now, I’m beginning to appreciate more what I see, the shape of my eyes and nose, the color of my hair and skin. I have a burning desire, whether my sister is found or not, to go to Taiwan and immerse myself in the culture, to even learn Mandarin. I want to explore that part of my identity that I rejected for so long and feel compelled to do so. It’s been difficult to wrap my head around all of the emotions that have crept up on me in the last several weeks.

I know that Beatrice and the agency in Taiwan are doing everything they can to find my sister. It will take time. Whether or not I receive good or bad news, the good news to me is that I’m slowly discovering my cultural roots. I hope that in so doing, I will appreciate who I am and who I’m becoming in a greater way. I realize that my self-identity is still so full of complexities. But things are coming full circle, and in the end, I know that I won’t regret this journey.