Tue, Sep 09, 2008 - Page 4 News List

Community Compass: PROFILE:Janet Hsieh finds fun and unexpected opportunities

DONE IT ALLFrom pre-med student at MIT to the host of Discovery travel shows, Janet is happy to have found something that she wasn’t looking for when she arrived

By Jenny W. Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

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From diving with oyster farmers to visiting cargo-loading docks in Kaohsiung to playing baseball with the world famous Red Leaf little leaguers in Taitung, 28-year old former pre-med student Janet Hsieh (謝怡芬) has done it all.

“I never imagined that I would be a travel show host, but now I am hooked,” said Janet Hsieh, a Taiwanese-American who has been called one of the fastest rising It-girls in the domestic entertainment industry.

Her travel shows Fun Taiwan (瘋台灣) and Fun Asia (瘋亞洲) have become two of the most-watched programs on the Discovery Channel in the region.

Like Madonna or Cher, Janet is known by one name. The Houston, Texas, native who describes herself as “100 percent Taiwanese” has captivated the hearts of her Taiwanese audience with her long black hair, genuine smile and, above all, her near dare-devil courage to try anything at least once.

But Janet didn’t always aspire to be a travel show hostess. She thought she would end up donning a white lab coat and a stethoscope.

“When I was 16, that’s when I decided that I really wanted to be a doctor,” she said, recalling her experience as a young medical volunteer in the remote villages in Ecuador during high school. “People looked to me for health advice and I thought, wow, what more could I do if I were a doctor.”

Her Ecuador excursion not only solidified her dream of becoming a physician, it also ignited a passion for traveling. After enrolling at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Janet divided her time between Spanish and biology classes with one dream in mind: to join Doctors Without Borders.

To increase her international experience, Janet traveled to Taiwan in September 2001 for the first time in her life for an internship as an emergency medical technician (EMT) at Taipei Veterans General Hospital.

Having mastered only a few Mandarin phrases, she was lumped with a group of firefighters at a local fire department to work as an EMT for six months.

With luck on her side, the tall, sporty-looking taekwondo black belt soon landed a side job as a lingerie model.

“At first I had some conflicting feelings about whether or not to accept the job ... but I thought: I want to live a life without regrets, so I said yes.”

The commercial, much to her surprise, drew lots of positive feedback. Soon, Janet’s name was on speed dial for many commercial producers. And just when Janet was getting ready to pack her bags and bid farewell to Taiwan to start medical school at the University of Texas in Austin, an unexpected opportunity proved to be in store.

While saying goodbye to a friend, Janet learned of an opening for a travel show host on a new Discovery Channel program that features things to see and do in Taiwan.

The position was already closed, but the producer decided to give Janet a chance and let her audition.

Hosting Fun Taiwan has given her numerous opportunities to discover the beauty of Taiwan and its people, Janet said.

“I begin to really appreciate the simple things in life. Each time I eat an oyster omelet, I think that each one of those little oysters was hand-dug by a farmer who had to dive under water.”

One of the best things about the show, she said, is that it introduces amazing spots in Taiwan that are relatively easy to visit.

Janet has become such a dedicated travel host that during her interview with the Taipei Times, she stopped to give directions to tourists on how to get to the nearest night market when she overheard them talking about it.

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