I was told the drive from Taoyuan International Airport to Yunlin County would take over two hours. But after just over one hour, the taxi driver pulled over near an intersection. I could see buildings across the highway. Billboards and signs were all in Chinese characters. I was in the heart of middle Taiwan.
The driver got off the car, opened the trunk and then opened my side of the door. “You come down now. Here. Come down now please,” he said.
“What? This is my stop?” I asked.
I would be left alone in the middle of a highway with my two big luggage?! I had no idea where I was. Hardly anyone spoke English and the only Chinese I knew was “Ni hao.” I was a stranger in a strange land. How was I to cross the Formosa Highway to the town on the other side with my two luggage in the middle of Taiwan winter?
The driver, who must have noticed the horror in my face, smiled and said, “Another taxi come. He take you Huwei.”
Phew! He stayed with me for about five minutes and sure enough, another taxi came along, picked me up and I was on my way to my home away from home that school year.
Teaching in Taiwan was a game-changing time in my life. The Taiwanese are kind, friendly, honest, happy and sincere. Which is why I was so excited to hear that Guam is pursuing tourism from Taiwan.
Nobody asked me but here are some suggestions on how we can attract the Taiwanese tourists based on my experience teaching there.
Education tourism. Learning English is a priority of the Taiwanese government and among Taiwanese parents. I taught under the Yunlin County’s Department of Education English Resource Center at Dongren Junior High twice a week, and went to three other elementary schools in the rural areas the rest of the week. I worked with five other teachers from England. There are also after-school places called “bushibans,” where parents enroll their children to learn English.
The lady who served spring rolls in one of my favorite food stalls near my apartment hired me to teach her two teenage daughters, who were learning English. The girls had travelled to Australia partly as vacation and partly to practice their English.
My suggestion is to arrange for education tours, where families can have a vacation here and immerse in speaking English with their peers. The Taiwanese are very friendly and hospitable people but I believe part of my charm and popularity there came from me saying “Wǒ shì měiguó rén.” (“I am an American.”) In all my encounters local folks were always eager to practice their English with me.
Hiking, biking and running tourism. I was invited to several hiking treks by local friends. Once I went with a group of families several hours from downtown Huwei to hike the Zhukeng River mountain trail, which dates back to the Qing dynasty. After several stops (including an elaborate lunch), we arrived at a beautiful mountain lodge. We hunted for fireflies that night. Along the way the guide talked to us about the different local flora, especially the kinds of tea planted in the area. Next day we hiked for hours through the mountains. I was surprised to see the mountain trails very well marked, with maps suggesting different trails to take. The trails had well defined steps and log rails meant for the safety of hikers of all ages.
Taiwanese people love nature. On my morning bicycle rides from my apartment to Dongren Junior High I passed by a bus stop with elderly folks gathered as a group about twice a week, waiting for their bus that will take them somewhere outside town for a hike.
There is also a vibrant biking community in Taiwan. A Baptist church in Huwei invited me to a two-day outing to Tainan, further south from Huwei. Our bus had to make quite dizzying and labyrinthine turns. Among the many amazing sights that stick in my mind (beside a stop at a monkey refuge) was the bikers traveling the steep roads alongside our bus. Some of them were quite elderly.
Cultural performers. Indigenous Taiwanese such as the Hakka are very proud of their culture. I had seen a group perform here during one of our liberation carnivals. We can have an exchange or a cultural festival of indigenous music and dances.
Children’s camps. The Taiwanese are very family oriented. They love to have fun and they love games. My classes were sometimes cancelled for robotics or when a puppet theatre came to perform an elaborate show.
Music is an integral part of their curriculum. Everyone learned to use a recorder, a small plastic wind instrument that looks like a flute.
I was fascinated by Chinese yo-yo or diablo, which involved two sticks tossing a yoyo from a string. I watched my students play with this many times and I still could not figure out how it worked. Pingpong, badminton, shuttlecocks and my childhood favorite, Chinese jump rope, are traditional games.
Japanese Taiko drum competitions were very big in the schools I served. I watched my students practice for these competitions, with the children making twists and turns, exchanging places as they played the drums. I hope we invite these Taiko drum teams from Taiwan and Japan to perform here.
No thrill chill holidays. The Taiwanese are some of the most hardworking people I know. They drive their children hard to excel in all they do. A vacation can be pitched to the need for rest and relaxation, for renewal and reflection. Filial piety is a big deal in their Confucian heritage, so a family vacation that involves three generations may appeal to them.
There you go, my unsolicited advice to attract tourism from Taiwan.
Jeni Ann Flores is an educator, blogger, and freelance writer. You may read more of her writing at https://teacherseditionflores.blogspot.com/. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org