Does “national identity” have anything to do with Tainan?
I had not been that aware about “national identity” until when I came to Taiwan. If you are the one who are interested in history and culture, Taiwan itself is an ideal place for you to be exposed to the “national identity”. As I have already mentioned somewhere in my series of posts about Taiwan, “national identity” is among hot topics in Taiwan, a nation that has been governed under different regimes within its 400 years of history. In Taiwan, I met a Switzerland-born Tibetan, an American-born Japanese, a Jamaica-born Chinese (actually her family has settled in Jamaica for two or three generations), a Thai whose mother is Thailand-born Vietnamese, and a French whose ancestor came from Italy. Never have I met so many people coming from such diverse backgrounds before, and nationality is not always the same with ethnicity.
During my days in Tainan, I shared room with two other girls. The first one was a Korean woman, who looked like a Singaporean with flawless English without any Korean accent. Sangmee, the name of the girl, was nearly 40 years old and was not married yet. She seems to be totally different from the Korean I had met before. Actually, I barely knew any Korean girls before. In Vietnam, although I worked with a lot of Korean clients, I met only Korean men. The very first Korean girls I knew were Sanghee, my classmate in NCCU and Jina, my roommate in NCCU. Sangmee was the third Korean woman I knew. Sangmee was a General Director of a Singapore-based company at that time. Previously, she had worked in Vietnam, South Africa and some other countries I did not remember. I have heard before that Korean women, once married, would stay at home and would not go to work anymore. And if a woman was still working at her 30 or 40, she should not be married yet. I did not relate to such fact that much when I first talked to Sangmee. Her confidence made herself already stand out from other Korean women I have known before.
The second girl was even more mysterious. When I first saw her appear at the hostel, I thought that she came from Vietnam. Oliver, the German guest at the hostel at that time, also thought that this girl and I should have been from Vietnam. However, this girl immediately told us that she was Finnish. I then asked her if her parents are of Asian origin, with a slight hope that her parents were Vietnamese. But she told me that she was of Chinese ethnicity and her parents spoke Cantonese and Hakka at home in Finland. In the next morning, when we were on the bus to Anping Street together, I asked her:
– Hey, (at that time I even did not know her name) your parents came to Finland to study or work?
– They are immigrants. – She stopped for a while, saying – Actually, they are refugees.
– Refugees from China? – I was a little bit curious.
– No, from Vietnam.
Her sharing kept me silent for a while. I tried to connect all of my sporadic and limited knowledge related to Vietnamese history and then found out that she was actually born in a Chinese-ethnic Vietnamese family, which was forced to leave Vietnam in the 1970s. She said that her parents still resented Vietnamese government for such incident.
It was a little bit awkward silent moment between us. We, however, continued to visit many places in Tainan together like there was no conversation related to the above topic between us. It, however, took another two hours, when we shared a bowl of sweet soup in a small food stall of Anping Old Street, to know her name.
“My name is Binh. B-I-N-H. My full name is Lam Quang Binh.”
It was such a confusing experience I have been through in my life when someone who looked quite Vietnamese said that she was Chinese-origin Finnish and had a typical Vietnamese name. Three months in Taiwan made me highly aware that I should prepare myself to learn to not trust in everything that I have been taught before in our history textbook. However, I still cannot help being confused when facing such a case.
Regardless of the above awkward conversation, we still enjoyed our trip to Anping Old Street. Anping Old Street (安平老街) or Yanping Old Street was the oldest street among the old streets in Tainan and it is even believed to be the oldest resident place in Taiwan.
Isn’t it interesting to see that people keep such a tree growing in a house and then turn it into a place to visit?
It was a sunny and dry day in Tainan. Confused as I was at the beginning of the day, I still enjoyed my walk through the old buildings under the big old trees of Anping Old Street Area a lot.
If you are interested in visiting Tainan some day, you may refer to the below map of this must-visit place to plan for your trip in advance.