Our Trip to TAIWAN …
May 20, 2006, found us aboard a 747 flying 18 hours over the Pacific Ocean to Taiwan.
For those who are not familiar with the Geography and Culture of this country, Taiwan is a densely populated island located just off the coast of Mainland China. With a population of 22 million squeezed into a space roughly 1/3 the size of Ohio, they also must fit into only 1/3 of this space, since the rest is uninhabitable and unsuitable for farming. They seem to manage it quite successfully, even with room to spare. So much for “overpopulation”! The capital city of Taipei has 2.6 million of the Taiwanese population and is about as populated as New York City--with approximately 3,794 people per square mile or 9,626 people per square km (3 times the density of Los Angeles). While Taiwan is physically and technically separate from Mainland China, Mainland China still considers Taiwan to be a part of China, and Taiwan has named itself "Taiwan R.O.C." (Republic of China). While Taiwan does not have a communist government, the language, people, culture, climate, history, architecture and even the food are all very “Chinese.”
Our flight immediately immersed us in a culture and language quite different from our own. Out of the 400+ people on board our plane, there were only 5 or 6 Americans. We were very glad for our 6 month study of Mandarin Chinese which is spoken in Taiwan and China (though we still felt very dependant on our Chinese dictionary and electronic translator, which still barely got us by). Because we were flying westward with the sun, and crossing the International Date Line, the sun did not set until near the end of our flight, just about the time we were landing for a one-hour layover in Osaka, Japan. On our way to Japan, we were thrilled to have a cloudless view of Northern Siberia in Russia—with beautiful snow-capped mountains and majestic ice-glaciers! It was definitely lovely from the sky but could be a very brutal place if sentenced there for religious persecution.
When we landed in Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan, no one was there to greet us since we didn’t know anyone in Taiwan personally. At the last minute, we realized we were landing at an airport one hour away from the airport that we thought we would be arriving at. Jackie, knowing that we would be tired after the long flight, and aware of our language limitations, had very carefully chosen a hotel within walking distance from the airport. But alas, we landed at an airport completely off our map and outside of the metro Taipei city. Thereby, we received an immediate immersion into the city, transportation, language and culture of Taiwan at 11 o’clock at night. We figured out how to exchange money, find a bus into the city of Taipei and, more importantly, determine where to get off the bus (contrary to the tour books’ consolation that English was widely spoken, hardly anyone spoke English, and even the Chinese we could speak often times didn’t connect with the people we ran into!). To further complicate things, we didn’t have our hotel name written in Chinese characters, and no one seemed to understand the spoken name of it. So, we ended up getting off the bus several miles from where we needed to be, and we spent the next 2 ½ hours walking the city, with tired, swollen feet, hauling all our luggage along the narrow, filthy streets, in the middle of the night, in the sticky, hot heat … until we finally, gratefully located our hotel. It was about 1:30 in the morning. Good thing we packed “lightly” (see picture). Yet even in the midst of this trial, we found our hearts rejoicing in God and completely at peace. In fact, as we walked along, hymns of thanksgiving began to well up in our hearts that God was our protector and deliverer. Truly, joy is not found in the absence of trial and suffering, but rather it is found in the presence of God. And we were so grateful for His presence to lead, guide and comfort us that night and throughout our three week stay in a very foreign country!
While our primary reason for traveling to Taiwan was a business convention and for Giampaolo to meet with electronic manufacturers (since they are mostly all from Taiwan), we scheduled a week-and-a-half to get familiar with our surroundings and to travel the country. We had also printed 1,000 Chinese Bible tracts to pass out on May 31st at a large Chinese celebration, the Dragon Boat Festival. The tract mostly consists of Acts 17 about how God is not worshipped in temples made by men's hands but that He is near to us and wants us to call out to Him in repentance.
Our week traveling around the country was beautiful, enjoyable, educating … and challenging. Just getting to our next city was a challenge, but before the week was over we had experience traveling by train, bus, subway, taxi, bicycle … and even the ever-so-popular Taiwanese moped! There are said to be 10 million of these motorbikes in Taiwan, and once you have been there, it is not difficult to believe that this figure is true. Motorbikes rule the roads … and the sidewalks … and the markets. They are allowed literally everywhere (including on the subways in Taipei), and they are the main vehicle of transportation in Taiwan. One of our favorite experiences in Taiwan was to rent a moped down on the South of the Island, in Kenting, and to ride throughout the rice fields in the countryside, distributing tracts to all the little villages. Many of these small villages had probably never seen an American, and there was a general era of excitement and curiosity as we politely bowed and offered them the good news of Jesus. What a contrast is this Good News to the worship of ancestors and spirits, the temples and incense and the fear of death which were prevalent in every village—no matter how small or great. Often the people would be living in nothing more than a dirty shack, while the village temple was strikingly clean, beautiful and no-doubt very costly to build and maintain.
We tried an assortment of new foods while we were in Taiwan—including tripe (by mistake). We have pretty broad and varied tastes for food (as compared to many Americans)--Giampaolo likes seafood and we both like spicy Mexican, Mediterranean and Indian Cuisines, but even we found ourselves stretched by some of the Taiwanese delicacies. True Chinese food is very different from what we eat in American Chinese restaurants. They eat a lot of seafood (squid, octopus, raw and cooked fish, snails, etc.), along with lots of pork, pig intestines, pickled vegetables and “stinky tofu” (they actually call it that, and the smell is truly stinky to say the least!). Giampaolo, however, actually enjoyed the octopus, and was sorely disappointed to miss out on the local favorite of “squid on a stick”! The rice, which is served with every meal, became a welcome and familiar staple to our sometimes weary and wary taste buds. We learned to eat it just like the locals—in quantity, and with chopsticks! In spite of the newness of many of the foods, the Lord blessed us and was merciful to us, and we did not lose one day to indigestion or stomach upset. Praise the Lord!
What Taiwan sometimes lacked in good-tasting food, however, was completely made up for in the beauty of its landscape! Although a small island, it boasts quite a varied landscape: rice fields, tropical rain forests, palm trees and sandy beaches with aqua blue ocean water as a backdrop and, perhaps most beautiful of all, Taroko Gorge with its marble cliffs and mountains, low-lying clouds, waterfalls and dense and striking greenery. This is one of the places that the story-book-like paintings in the Chinese restaurants originate from. Truly God is known by the things He has made so that no man is without excuse for seeking Him as the creator. And all who seek Him will be found by Him, because He is not far from any one of us. He does not try to hide Himself, but to reveal Himself and the truth of His Son, Jesus, who is Lord of all.
Throughout our time in Taiwan, we were easily able to distribute all of the Chinese Gospel tracts that we had brought along. In fact, we could have easily distributed twice as much. It was not that the people were exceptionally open (though certainly the country people were more so), it was just that there were so MANY people. We passed out 700 tracts at the Dragon Boat Festival in a couple of hours! The people are held in fear of death and mostly hold to the Buddhist religion, which lacks true power to save and deliver them from sin. May the seed that we were able to sow, sprout and bring forth fruit springing up to eternal life!
All in all, we had a wonderful three weeks and we were very thankful to know that the Lord had gone before us. What a privilege it is to follow Him, even to the uttermost parts of the world!