Lumping together Thailand, Korea and Taiwan is a typically western idea. There is absolutely nothing in the culture or nature of industry to draw this conclusion.

50 years from founding the city of Taipei we (by we I mean all Taiwanese people, be they 1949 Mainlanders, native Taiwanese, or immigrants). We founded the Republic of China fifty years ago and now this tiny island the size of Massachusetts is the 9th biggest trading nation in the world. This country came into existance within the lifetime of my parents, and now it is rich beyond belief in culture, power, and in economy. We recently joined the WTO, and are a major trading power in the world. We, the exiles, the immigrants, did this.

Let me tell you a story.

This is where my story starts-- Flash back 500 years; there is a story passed down about my family and in my family about the Manchurians storming the gate-- involving a scholar (my ancestor), a ruler of a city, a concubine, and a general, and the capture of the wall and beginning of power. This is where it all started, in the grand cycle of dynasties and emperors, influence on the scale of ancient Rome or Athens.

Fast forward to 1949 with the overthrow of the government, the advent of Communism and the flight of Chang Kai Shek to an obscure fishing island nation called Taiwan.

Before the displaced Nationalists there was a society and government of the native Taiwanese and aborigines. Both sets of grandparents were exiled to Taiwan upon threat of execution. Both of my parents grew up in the city of Taipei, and were sent to their respective colleges in the States because of political unrest in Taipei.

From an American standpoint, it's hard to understand just what it means to be from a place like Taiwan, it's hard to understand the force and importance of identity attached to a country, especially in the face of America's emigré huddled-masses philosophy to forget where you're from and embrace a new life.

To digress a bit: Referring to China as a culture, people think of 'China' as an entity. They have one idea of a pan-China that represents its people and ideas. China is a contradiction. The typical western image of a Chinese person is somebody who is Han Chinese-- with a small stature, flat face and small features. When westerners tell me that I 'don't look Chinese', I get rather insulted. I'm Manchurian, a northerner; relatively tall, with large eyes, high cheekbones and distinct features. In Asia, we regard the southerners as being 'less Chinese' because they have traditionally mixed with aboriginal Southeast Asian people, resulting in this difference in physical appearance. (The Han might feel differently, this is just to illustrate the huge rifts in opinion in different subcultures of China)

Anyway, our familial identity and much of our tradition, fortune, and ancestors were strongly based in the old Chinese Empire, and I can only imagine the sense of loss of my grandparents upon being exiled, with Communism being instituted on their exit. Think 'Gone With the Wind' squared.

In Taipei the exiles started a new life, founding a new government with the KMT and nationalist power. My parents often took me to my grandparents house in Taipei, where I, as a small child, was completely unaware about the political and cultural significance of the events taking place. I still don't know much-- they don't like to talk about it. My cousin was kidnapped when I was very small, but I was kept ignorant of the details. My grandparents loved to travel-- my grandfather studied at Cambridge University before WW2, and didn't stop wandering the world until he died. They would take me on these trips with them; Tokyo to Vladivostok and then Trans-Siberia to Moscow then Vienna. However, some of the best times of my childhood were in Taipei. The food was sublime, and everything was so rich.

There's nothing like having an identity-- people knew who we were. It's really hard to describe in the context of the relative anonymity of American life. It wasn't fame, in the recognition-on-the-street sense, it was a legacy. It was a very stratified society. It was the new center of Chinese tradition combined with industrial and financial power.

Soon, during the 80's, the power of the old party, the KMT, began to decline as the native Taiwanese began to revolt against Nationalist Oppression. It was then that our influence and the 'old Taiwan' started to disappear. My favorite Hong Kong tailor who made all of my dresses for concerts, who made the dress for the opening of the LA opera season in 1997. He made the perfect trousers and an equestrian-style jacket that I still have, all by hand. When my mother went to see him 2 weeks ago, he had a computer with a database containing of the measurements of each customer. Everything changes, the important and the superficial.

However, sometimes it's the superficial bits that make a place feel like home.

My mother's parents are in the process of moving to Manhattan (cheaper than Taipei). My mother and I are going at the end of the summer to close on the last apartment they still hold there, to sell my Vespa, and close out all bank accounts. Of course, I've been living in the United States for most of my life, sent to school here, and college here. But I wonder sometimes about the fate of my children who will always be Americans, who will always be primarily Americans and tourists or expats everywhere else.

We are selling our house and the remnants of our legacy of Taiwan, our roots in Taiwan and old China with it.

This is what it means to be made in Taiwan.

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