When I returned home to Toronto after a couple of years living abroad, my friends and family couldn’t seem to recall where I’d been.
“How was Thailand,” they would ask.
I’d tell them that while I enjoyed many trips to Thailand, I’d actually spent the last two years living and teaching English in Taiwan.
“Oh Taiwan,” they would say thoughtfully, “Were you there for the tsunami?”
I had that conversation, or one like it, many times, and eventually I stopped correcting people. It’s not that my friends and family are ignorant buffoons that failed high school geography. Save for a
select loveable few, the people in my life are well-learned and cosmopolitan city folk. I can’t blame them for knowing little about Taiwan.
The island doesn’t boast the unbeatable beaches of neighboring Thailand, it’s certainly not a media hog like it’s big brother China, and doesn’t wield the pop-culture prowess of Japan. With so much to
see and do in that small corner of the globe, Taiwan is easily overlooked.
Nevertheless, for those lucky enough to have spent substantial time there, that wee island in the South China Sea reveals itself in surprising ways.
That’s why every year at the end of the summer I head down to Toronto’s Harbourfront to attend Taiwanfest.
Launched in 2008, the three-day event promotes Taiwanese Arts and Culture in Canada through live performances, attractions, and pavilions provides a snapshot of traditional culture, and modern life
The thing I miss most about Taiwan is the food, and each year I beeline for the food pavilion. While there is nowhere near the selection of delectable eats available throughout the streets of Taichung, the food fair does a fair job of recreating the staples and serves the finest oyster omelet this side of Tainan.
This year the event highlighted the philanthropic work of The Tszu Chi Foundation., a volunteer–run Buddhist group whose many charitable projects include up-cycling landfill bound plastic bottles into
synthetic fabric used to produce blankets donated to disaster relief projects around the world.
Along side traditional music concerts, the ubiquitous puppet show, this years event showcased the diverse pop music emerging from Taiwan, and a line up of bands plucked from headlining slots at Spring Scream.
Apahsia, an instrumental heavy metal band, Go Chic an all girl electro-pop band , and 1976, the Brit-poppers that won accolades when it was tapped to open for Oasis in Taipei, proved once and for all
that musically speaking, Taiwan has more to offer than Karaoke.
On the side stage, Toronto boy and long-time Taichung resident Nick Fothergill offered up some local flavour and confused passersby by introducing his original country ballads in flawless Mandarin.
Each summer, literally hundreds of street festivals overrun Toronto. Compared to massive events such as Carribana, a two-week party celebrating Caribbean culture, and Pride Week, the world’s second
largest gay pride event, which attract scores of tourists, Tawianfest ranks with the country it celebrates: easily overlooked.
Still, each year I see others like myself milling about the festival grounds. Like a veteran recognizing a comrade in arms, I can easily pick out former English teachers in the crowd. They are the ones
sitting in groups under the watchful eye of the CN Tower wistfully sipping bubble tea and reminiscing about barely sober scooter rides and sticky ball games.
It’s funny, how time smooths rough edges. In my memory, it’s always sunny at People’s Park, those tin cans of Taiwan beer are always cold and refreshing, and that megaphone equipped blue truck that was
permanently parked outside my window announcing god knows what for hours at a time is more charming than irritating.
Despite its many imperfections, Taiwan retains a hold on me. More and more as I find myself chained to my office cubicle, I wonder why I left paradise to return to the ‘real’ job in the ‘real’ world.
Taiwan is a half-a-world away, and with so many places yet to discover, I realize, I’ll probably never return. It’s sad, but this little festival on the shores of Lake Ontario, is perhaps as close as I’ll come to finding my way home to Formosa.