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[My Travel Log] A Return to the Motherland

Text & Photos: Francesca Chang


I still remember the first time I set foot on this island. Cicadas chirped in the background, the scent of Yulan magnolias permeated the air, and a sun brighter than my pale skin had ever experienced before beamed down on me. I was a wide-eyed, 19-year-old college student who had come to study Chinese at National Taiwan University in Taipei.

Standing next to me was my Taiwan-born father, serving as the bridge between my American upbringing and my Asian heritage. Even though Taiwanese was his first language, he too had just landed in a “foreign” country. He and his family had left Taiwan during the island’s more tumultuous years, and it was the first time in 40 years that he had returned.

Together, we embarked on a memorable voyage around the island, riding in old-fashioned trains that looked nothing like today’s high-speed trains, and eating railway biandang (boxed lunches) along the way. We toured Taroko National Park, exploring its marble-laced cliffs and the remarkable Tunnel of Nine Turns. We rafted down the Xiuguluan River in Hualien County, cutting through the Coastal Mountain Range, mountainsides covered with lush vegetation. We visited family in Tainan in the south; none of Taiwan’s most famous eats can top my great aunt’s home cooking. Sadly, we couldn’t make it to Kaohsiung, my father’s birthplace, before he had to return home to the States.

Little did my father know that a few language courses would lead to my coming of age in Taiwan, as I decided to stay and spend my early 20s in his ancestral land, teaching English, clubbing and KTVing through Taipei’s nightlife scene, and sometimes escaping to mountain villages like nearby Wulai whenever I wanted a break from life in the city. I came to love stinky tofu and could even tolerate blue jeans during the humid summers. After a few years I returned to the U.S. to attend law school.

Fast forward to my 30s, and you find me in Taiwan once again. After pursuing the “American Dream” for a time, I’ve returned to the “motherland,” just as wide-eyed as I was when I got off the plane here for the first time. Only this time I’ve returned in search of the natural beauty of this country (so far I’ve visited Sun Moon Lake, the Penghu archipelago, and of course Kaohsiung), a comfortable pace of life, and the unforgettable kindness of strangers on this island that has helped shape me into the person I am today.

I’m back. And it only took me 10 years, instead of 40!

At Taroko Gorge
At the Taroko Gorge


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