Sun, Mar 07, 2004 - Page 17 News List

Return to the election fray

Thousands of overseas Taiwanese have returned to donate their time and energy to the election campaigns of the DPP and the KMT-PFP candidates

By Max Woodworth  /  STAFF REPORTER

Linda Wang, of Chicago, volunteers at the KMT-PFP campaign headquarters in Taipei.

PHOTO: MAX WOODWORTH, TAIPEI TIMES

Sheayi Chang (張雪玉) lives and works in the Taiwanese enclave of Flushing, New York, where she settled after completing a master's degree at Manhattan's Fashion Institute of Technology in the mid-1970s. In her 28 years since moving to the States, she became a US citizen, started a law firm with her husband, raised two daughters and returned to Taiwan only a handful of times. But for the past two months she's called Tainan's DPP campaign headquarters home, logging 12-hour work days answering phones, greeting visitors and training elderly ladies dance routines that are performed at rallies.

"I feel a tremendous sense of mission by coming back to volunteer for the campaign," she said, taking a short break between shifts earlier this week.

In Taipei, at the KMT-PFP campaign headquarters, Linda Wang feels the same way. Like Chang, Wang went to the US about three decades ago for higher education and decided to stay and make a new life there. Now she's back, throwing her time, money and energy into Lien Chan's (連戰) election bid out of a similarly urgent sense of mission.

Without knowing it, the two women have followed almost parallel trajectories that have now crossed in the current tooth-and-nail struggle for the presidency.

Coming home

Chang and Wang are only two foot soldiers in each political camp's battalions of overseas Taiwanese campaign volunteers that have returned from every corner of the globe to take part in the presidential campaign. Over half are retirees with time and money to spare, but a large portion are lawyers, professors, entrepreneurs, doctors, engineers, tech-industry employees -- basically a sampling of highly educated and well-heeled Taiwanese emigres.

As campaign volunteers, they are a unique blend of well-intentioned outsiders and fervid party supporters, the majority of whom volunteered in the 2000 election as well. And they've come back with a single purpose: to get their man elected in what all view for differing reasons as a crucial presidential election.

The DPP currently has four groups of overseas Taiwanese volunteers dispersed around the country, one of which is traveling by tour bus, making whistle stops at small and large towns calling for people's votes.

When the Taipei Times caught up with the bus in Tainan it was stopping for just half an hour to hear a strictly Taiwanese-language speech by the city's DPP mayor Hsu Tian-cai (許添財) before motoring on to Chiayi. Each member of the 34-person group, who hail from the US, Canada and New Zealand, had paid US$2,000 of their own money to travel up and down the island several times stumping for Chen in the month leading up to the March 20 election.

The average age of the volunteers appeared to be about 65, but, as one volunteer named Echo Lew (劉順吉) confided, "We take this very seriously and are still very young!" The charged carnival atmosphere on the bus would seem to confirm that.

Hundreds of other volunteers, like Chang, made their own arrangements from abroad to serve at local campaign offices for periods lasting from a couple weeks to three months. Though the number fluctuates as volunteers come and go, Simon Lin (林榮松), vice board chairman of the United Taiwanese Foundation of Southern California and the spirited coordinator of the DPP's overseas Taiwanese campaign support group, said there are about 2,000 overseas Taiwanese returning to volunteer for Chen's campaign.

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