Archive for the ‘Fulbright’ Category

“The sacrifice wasn’t in going… the sacrifice was in leaving.”


To love a place. To hold it so dearly that one aches at the memory of it. Are we not most fortunate?

Both quotes come from Bo Caldwell’s A City of Tranquil Light: A Novel


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The Fulbright U.S. Student Program

Applications are due on October 15, 2013, but your educational institute may have its own internal deadlines first.

·Description: These fellowships provide support for 8-12 months abroad for those with a well-formed international research projects and/or study plans. The program aims to facilitates cultural exchange through direct interaction on an individual basis in the classroom, field, home, and in routine tasks, allowing the grantee to gain an appreciation of others’ viewpoints and beliefs, the way they do things, and the way they think.

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·Eligibility: (1) Must be a U.S. citizen; (2) Open to all disciplines; (3) Other eligibility criteria varies widely – research the profile of your prospective host country to determine if you meet the minimum requirements.

For quick reference, here’s the website for Fulbright Taiwan, my host commission.

·Award: Monthly stipend based on cost-of-living, round-trip transportation, accident and sickness health coverage, and occasionally additional benefits such as tuition fees and dependent allowances.

·Website: http://us.fulbrightonline.org/

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Remember this? A question on national identity

It’s up on Youtube now!

Skip ahead to 32:15 for my question.

Over the past few days we’ve heard a variety of definitions about Taiwanese national identity. What does being Taiwanese mean to you? Thank you.

This is the section from the response I’ve been trying to remember since he said it:

Twenty, thirty years ago, when you ask this question, it could be very difficult to answer. But today, you could say you are a Taiwanese, you are a Chinese, you have both. It’s free to say that. And, when you ask me, are you president of Taiwan or president of Republic of China, I will tell you, “I am president of Republic of China. But, Republic of China is also commonly known as Taiwan.” There is no need, really, to distinction one against each other. And I find an interesting analogy in Holland. When you ask a person who are from Holland, in the past, usually they would say, “I am from the Netherlands.” So what does Holland mean? Holland actually is the north, no, I’m sorry, it’s south eastern, south western part of the Netherlands, encompassing the city of Amsterdam, the Hauge and Rotterdam. So a lot of people use Holland for the Netherlands. So, it’s a common name. And so by doing that, we somewhat really dilute the temperature of the two different identities. So I don’t believe that is a vital difference anymore. …. And I consider myself a Taiwanese, but I am also a national of the Republic of China. Culturally, in terms of history, in terms of ethnic background, of course we are Chinese. And we have so many Chinese cultural traits. So there is no reason that we couldn’t really share that with each other. So, it is still a problem only in the minds of an increasingly fewer and fewer people. And I don’t worry too much about that anymore.

Still a problem in my mind, President Ma. And in the minds of plenty of people I know.

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Last week, Gene and I had a long conversation via Skype with our friends back in Chicago, Jan & Sara. It was wonderful to catch up with them. The 13 or 14 hour time difference has not made keeping in close contact easy and it’s a relief to see that when we do manage to connect, our friendships have remained strong in the interim.

One thing that became clear to me as we talked is that there’s so much about life in Taiwan or East Asia as a whole that I don’t think to write about on this blog. What the grocery store is like. What kind of meals we eat. What language people usually speak.

Here’s where you come in!

I just added a new page up top called “Have a Question?” where you may leave a comment and, if I’m able to answer it, I’ll write a post on the subject. Or before this post gets buried under new ones, feel free to leave questions attached here as well.

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This has been a particularly busy month. How so?

Conference 1: January 3-4 – Trials and Sufferings: Dialogue between Chinese Religion and Literature at Institute of Chinese Literature and Philosophy, Academia Sinica, Taipei

Conference 2: January 9-11 – 2013 International and Interdisciplinary Conference, ‘Self, Culture and Justice: East and West’ at Foguang University, Ilan.


Conference 3: January 16-18 – Fulbright Midyear Conference at Great Roots Forestry Spa Resort in San-hsia.

I presented at 2 & 3, the 30 minute presentation at #2 going much better than the 15 minutes I had for the one at #3. I’ve become what I always feared – someone so tied up in the knots of my dissertation research that I don’t know how to talk about it succinctly or coherently. Paring it down into a simple 1-2 paragraph explanation is one of the tasks ahead of me this week.

Throw in an afternoon at the Museum of World Religions looking at baojuan originals, a long conversation with a professor from Tunghai University about his work, a political protest, and then some social gatherings. One ends up with barely a free day for recollecting and reorganizing one’s thoughts.


There are a lot of things I’ll come back and cover soon.

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Yes, I am actually here in Taiwan to do work, not just to drink tea and move furniture.

I’m at this stage in my dissertation where there’s so much to do (seeing as I have yet to put words to screen) that it’s difficult to figure out what to work on first. I’ve spent a couple days already just working on organizing files on my computer, finding documents and photos I didn’t realize I had and trying to make sure I won’t lose them again.

Hu Siao-chen, my Taiwanese advisor at Academia Sinica, recommended I start by working on my chapter about a baojuan first published in 1855. Pan Gong Baojuan 潘公寶卷, presents Pan Zengyi, a philanthropist from the Jiangnan region who lived from 1792-1853, as a powerful deity. He appears in dreams after his death and warns residents of Nanjing of the disaster that awaits them in the imminent attack by Taiping armies.

The baojuan is divided into three books. In the first, Pan Gong appears to a virtuous man in a dream and lectures him on the lessons he must teach others upon waking. Pan promises that if people scrupulously follow the moral framework he outlines, they will avert disaster. The second book describes in lyrical detail the destruction wrought by the Taipings in their March 1853 takeover of Nanjing and then describes how disasters are heaven’s way of paying back evil behaviors. In the last book, Pan Gong visits an idyllic village and preaches his moral message to the assembled peasants. By adhering to his advice, they no longer suffer from droughts, disasters or war.

The morals aren’t exciting ones. They’re things like “don’t kill,” “don’t take advantage of the weak,” “don’t eat chickens and frogs (and other meat),” “don’t disrespect food by wasting it,” “don’t disrespect learning by throwing away paper with writing on it,” etc. What fascinates me is this baojuan‘s timing – in two ways.

First, Pan Gong died in 1853. The baojuan was published in 1855. Published so soon after his death, it suggests that he was already a highly revered figure, primed to become a deity capable of continuing to offer people saving assistance. His good reputation while alive gave him the power to continue defending people and morally instructing them even after his death.

Secondly and more significantly, let’s get back to that Taiping takeover of Nanjing in March 1853, also two years before the publication of the baojuan. Admittedly, up until I realized I wanted to use this baojuan for a chapter of my dissertation, everything I knew about the Taipings came from Rebels of the Heavenly Kingdom, a YA novel by Katherine Paterson that my mom bought for me sometime in elementary school. I’ve done a lot of catching up since then!

The Taiping Movement was led by Hong Xiuquan, a Hakka man from south China who realized, through dreams, that he was the younger brother of Jesus Christ, meant to bring a new Christian revelation to the Chinese. His armies of converts were to take over China, kick out the devil Manchus (the Qing emperor, etc), and establish God’s kingdom on earth. Over twenty million Chinese died in the civil war that lasted from 1850-1864. The region I study, Jiangnan, was devastated after years of armies advancing and retreating across its landscape. Society was shattered.

And in the midst of these war years, an anonymous writer made Pan Gong a mouthpiece for traditional moral messages he believed would bring an end to Heaven’s vengeance.

“Once the war was over,” writes historian Tobie Meyer-Fong, “it was of necessity narrated through the lens of official interpretation inflected by local circumstances.”

When people told each other stories about Pan Gong appearing in their dreams, when they donated money for the printing and reprinting of this baojuan, the conclusion had not yet been written to the war – there was no guarantee that the Qing would regain control. There was no lens of official interpretation, but there was religion.

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At orientation early this month, Dr. Vocke spoke about culture shock and how it sneaks up on you over time, the culmination of repeated annoyances at differing cultural approaches and behaviours. The example he used was how being cut off or passed by very closely while walking down the street is irksome because of different notions of personal space between here and America.

I don’t have that particular problem. Now that I’m paying attention to it, I notice that I maneuver around and cut people off with the best of them. I can’t predict how culture shock is going to manifest itself for me. Is it going to be something different than the frustration I’ve felt with the dirtiness of this apartment or the annoyance I have with trying to find vegetarian food? Ask me again in a couple months.

There is one aspect of living here that never fails to bother me, right from the start. When I wrote my personal statement for the Fulbright grant application, I focused on telling stories as the defining part of my life.

When I began preschool, one blonde among all the dark heads of hair, my teacher stood me up in front of the school after the morning singing of the Republic of China national anthem and flag raising. She addressed the stares and giggling that my presence had already caused, announcing, “Tianen is our new friend from America. She looks different, but she is here to be our friend.” My story told, I returned to my place in the line of the littlest ones, and we marched to our classroom to hear stories and draw pictures we had not yet the words to explain.
My identity is bound up in this story I tell about myself, one which always begins with being an American in Taiwan.

Though we lived in Taiwan’s second largest city, there were still few foreigners there at the time. Wherever we went, people wanted to know the story of how we came to be there. We replied in Taiwanese and Mandarin, joining the foreign to the familiar in a way that sought to bridge the gap between our separate homelands.

I have no problem telling curious people about how I’m actually from Taiwan. I’ll happily answer questions about how I managed to learn English or whether or not I can read and write Chinese characters. I even laughingly point at my few blonde hairs when people ask me if I’m half Taiwanese and ask, “Does this look mixed to you?” drawing attention to the fact that, yes, I really do look different.

What bothers me is when, instead of being allowed to be a person, I’m made into an exoticized other. Stares and second glances I’m used to, that’s fine. I get it, I look different. I’d do the same if someone with pink hair or some unique clothing walked past me.

But walk past me four times at the grocery store giggling and talking about me in not-so-hushed whispers? Stop cold and stare slack jawed at me while I’m discussing something with a clerk at Ikea?

I don’t think it’s culture shock to be irked at this. It’s a reality of life here that I lived with for two decades and will continue to experience. And it serves to make me very thankful for the majority of people who accept me as a person and start from there to get to know me. Or don’t even bother pointing out how foreign I am, but just converse with me as if it’s a non issue. And, truly, interactions such as those make up 95% of my days.

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