Sun, Feb 13, 2005 - Page 2 News List

Lawmakers recall holidays spent overseas

MIXED MEMORIES Reminiscing about times spent abroad, some legislators spoke of homesickness, while others remembered bizarre events caused by cultural differences

By Debby Wu  /  STAFF REPORTER

For people in Taiwan, Lunar New Year involves a set of familiar routines: families have a big feast together on New Year's eve, and people go visit and offer goodwill to their relatives during this time.

But for those who spend New Year abroad, these familiar routines may not be possible and when some lawmakers reminisced about holidays spent abroad, many mixed feelings came up.

Newly elected Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Kung Wen-chi (孔文吉) recalled a New Year when he experienced major cultural differences and learned to compromise.

Kung is an Aborigine and received his doctoral degree from Loughborough University in the UK in 1997, on an aboriginal scholarship from the government.

During his second year in the UK, he rented a house from a Pakistani man and shared the place with some Chinese students. They also lived with the landlord.

cultural conflicts

Kung said there was one New Year when he and his Chinese housemates invited friends over and dined together. Since Chinese people always prepare pork for the Lunar New Year feast, they got into argument with their Muslim landlord.

"The landlord was unhappy about us cooking pork and he said the smell might cause some conflicts between him and his friends who visit. But at the same time we Chinese are used to eating pork, so it was a dilemma caused by cultural differences," Kung said.

agreement

"Later on, we came to an agreement with the landlord that every time we bought pork, we would cook it right away so that no pork would be stored in the common fridge. We would also try to keep the pork smell to a minimum. The arrangement worked fine and we got on with the landlord from that point," he said.

Kung said that when he brought his family back to the UK last year to travel around, they also returned to the house to visit the Pakistani landlord and his wife.

For others, although the New Year is a time for celebration, there are also sad memories involved.

Newly elected Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Sue Huang (黃淑英), who lived in the US from 1979 to 1992, recalled a time when Lunar New Year gatherings held by overseas Taiwanese were good opportunities for the old KMT administration to monitor "dissidents'" whereabouts.

Martial law era

"Back in the martial law period, the Lunar New Year for many blacklisted Taiwanese was really a time of sadness: they had been abroad for a long time, and the Taiwanese traditional holidays would make them miss and think of Taiwan," Huang said.

Huang said that during the early 1990s, blacklisted "dissidents" started to slip back to Taiwan. There was one year when Stella Chen (陳婉真), a well-known dissident, was rumored to have gone back to Taiwan, and the KMT administration sent out agents to investigate the situation.

"So in the New Year gathering that year, disguised KMT agents circulated around the gathering and asked people about Chen's whereabouts, and even I got questioned," Huang said.

"But I wasn't aware that the agents were fishing for specific information, and I only realized what really had happened afterwards. It was a sad incident," she said.

The most interesting and bizarre incidents lawmakers can recall about their overseas experiences, though, mostly happened in their day-to-day lives.

New Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) caucus whip Lo Chih-ming (羅志明), who studied for his PhD in Iowa from 1988 to 1991, recalled that back then it was very difficult to get a spot in the computer room to do an assignment, since most computers were taken up by local students.

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