Archives for category: family history

My Dad Jiunn Yu and I enjoyed a great celebration event for Fulbright Taiwan’s 60th anniversary!

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Thank you Fulbright Taiwan for the amazing gala last Friday: and for all your support!!

In 1957 Taiwan was reeling from the effects of World War II and the White Terror.  Dad was 19 years old, having weathered starvation, disease, and the sight of his neighbors and friends being dragged away for execution by a military regime. His own father barely escaped with his life. And yet, Senator Fulbright’s vision of scholarly exchange for mutual understanding was about to come true here, against so many odds…

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Senator J. William Fulbright wished to bring “a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion into world affairs…”

They say Taiwan has experienced three miracles since that time: the industrial miracle of modernization, the miracle of an Asian tiger economy, and the miracle of nationalized, successful health care.

The silly selfie of Dad and me is a symbol of the fourth miracle: a resilient, free, and open democracy where people can enjoy their lives, and where scholars can come and learn about Taiwan and its evolving role in the world.  Thank you Fulbright Taiwan for support of my amazing experience here!

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The patron goddess of Taiwan is Mazu, 媽祖, who watches over all those who are imperiled by the sea but especially fisherfolk. The Taiwanese have a vivid and loving relationship with the food of the sea, as shown by these lovely shots at the fish market just west of Taichung.

One of my earliest memories is of Dad and Mom feeding me octopus tentacles with chopsticks. We lived with my infant sister in Columbus, where Dad had a teaching job at Ohio State University. To my child’s mind and palate, octopus tentacles and stinky tofu (of which more later) were in the same league as hot dogs; salty, savory, satisfying.

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Fried crabs in the shell, left; tentacles of large squid. They may be the ferocious Humboldt squid, caught by Taiwanese fishermen off the Peruvian coast far away.

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Much tinier squid on a plate in a humble eatery near the fish market. They are served plain, a rarity in Taiwanese cuisine.

Taiwan is a mongrel place, rich and savory and complex. A little family history: my father was born in 1936 in Dadu (大肚) Village just outside of Taichung on the west central side of the island. Dadu means Big Belly in Mandarin Chinese, a symbol of prosperity in Chinese culture. According to a Wickipedia entry, Dadu was also the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Middag, a tribal alliance between the aboriginal Taiwanese groups of Papora, Babuza, Pazeh, and Hoanya. The Han Chinese eventually drove these indigenous communities away from the flat coastal plain in the 1700s, planted rice and built buildings, and the huge cities of Taiwan’s west coast were born.

Dad tells me that his great grandfather on this father’s side immigrated by boat from Fujian Province in the middle 1860s, at the age of four. That side of the family has origins in the Northwestern part of what is now China: legend has it they were Turkic Silk Road traders who moved east, then south, and finally hopped across the Taiwan Strait. My grandmother’s side of the family has origins in central part of China near Xi’an, the famous site of many dynastic capitals and most notably of Emperor Qin’s terra cotta army and death complex. They immigrated to Taiwan in the 1880s.

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Xi’an, China in 2006: Dancers play the role of haughty Qin Dynasty courtly beauties at the foot of the huge death mound of Emperor Qin. My grandmother’s family come from this area of China.

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Inner Mongolia, 2006. My grandfather’s Turkic or Uighur ancestors likely crossed vast stretches of the Xinjiang Desert on camels or tough little ponies like these during Silk Route trading trips.