Trip to Taiwan shows culture full of kindness

Kaohsiung, TAIWAN – In Kaohsiung, the second-largest city on the island nation of Taiwan, the people seem to be as warm as the weather.

For five East Central Illinois locals spending March in southern Taiwan on a trip sponsored by the Rotary Foundation, depending on – and receiving – the kindness of people in the Kaohsiung area has become a way of life.

Shanae Hinkle, vice president of the Danville Rotary Club and director of business and finance for the Danville school district, is leading the Illinois group's trip.

"I am continually overwhelmed by the generosity of the Taiwanese people," Hinkle said, praising "the intangible gifts of their hearts, time and culture."

She said she looked forward to sharing her experiences with people back in Illinois.

When wandering the outdoor markets, that generosity often extends to random people offering to translate a purchase or give directions. More frequently for the Illinoisans, that kindness comes from Rotary club members in the 70-some clubs around the Kaohsiung area.

They show the Illinois group – which has members from Champaign, Urbana, Danville, Clinton and Decatur – the sights of the city, as well as share culture, conversation, and lots of food.

While cuisine and predominant religions differ, visits to workplaces, such as schools, stock brokerages, factories and government offices, show the many similarities between Taiwanese culture and American culture: hours, methods, even machinery.

In Taiwan, much like in the United States, the Rotary clubs serve as social groups, networking opportunities and outlets for community service. For A. Song Lin, a 20-year Rotary member, the club is a way to meet with friends and contribute to his community.

In Rotary clubs in Taiwan, everyone goes by nicknames. Lin is called "Steel," for his occupation before retirement. Wander around the table of a Rotary club and you may spot a "Teeth," a "Pure-water" or a "Pipe."

Lin said he was glad to show the Illinois group around Kaohsiung, where he has lived for about 40 years. Though his favorite activity is golf (he's got an 11 handicap), he and several other Rotary members showed the Illinoisans around Lotus Lake on Thursday morning. The lake is ringed by several brightly painted temples, and jogging around it is another of Lin's favorite Kaohsiung activities.

He also joined the group in a quick jaunt on Taiwan's high-speed train, which makes a trip of about 60 miles in 15 minutes.

Lin said he hoped the group learns a lot about education and other occupations in Taiwan, and that they also teach about their work experiences. He also hopes that people will start to give more consideration to his country, once called "Formosa" or "beautiful island," rather than thinking only of neighboring China.

Chung-Hsien Yang, who goes by "Jacky," belongs to Rotaract, a branch of Rotary for young people. A member for eight years, he said he joined to make friends from around Kaohsiung and as a way to do volunteer work.

One of Yang's favorite places to go in Kaohsiung is the Love River. Though the river was dirty and unsightly a few years ago, he said, it has been cleaned up and now the pathways along its shore are a great place to go for a walk or to relax and drink coffee.

He said that Taiwan's nightlife, like its all-night outdoor markets, help set it apart from other countries.

Another purpose of the Rotary clubs is to serve as a catalyst for international interaction. At weekly meetings, generally held over many-course meals in Kaohsiung hotels, Rotary members listen and learn from presentations about both their community and their world. One recent meeting had an architect discussing the trends in ecological building design.

Another meeting hosted Tracy K. Thiele, branch chief of the American Institute in Taiwan, who spoke on the importance of stopping human trafficking and copyright infringement. Thiele said that Taiwan and the U.S. had forged a strong relationship, with Taiwan the U.S.'s eighth-largest trade partner, and the U.S. the third-largest trading partner of Taiwan.

Yang will experience the U.S.-Taiwan relationship from both sides of the world.

Shortly after the American group returns to Illinois, he and a small group from Kaohsiung will brave the long plane ride to visit Rotary District 6490, which encompasses most of East Central Illinois.

Yang, who works in sales for a safe company and is studying at night for a degree in business administration, said he's interested in learning about the culture and history, visiting a university and improving his English.

"I have never been to (the) U.S.A., so I think everything will be interesting," he said. "I hope I could take back the full memories and learn a lot of new ideas."

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