Biking in Sweden inspires student

DREAMING OF HOME::Lo Yu’s book recounts his meetings with Taiwanese living in Sweden and their struggle to build a new life in a foreign country

Staff writer, with CNA

Wed, Feb 06, 2013 - Page 5

Lo Yu (羅聿) was a senior student at National Tsing Hua University’s mathematics department when he became an exchange student at Sweden’s Linkoping University in 2011, during which he made a two-month, 3,000km trip around the country. He met 24 elderly Taiwanese expatriates and a number of Swedish citizens who have adopted Taiwanese children.

“The journey was like discovering Taiwan at the ends of the Earth,” said Lo, who is now a graduate student at the university’s Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology.

He recounted his odyssey in a book that was launched on Thursday at the Taipei International Book Exhibition, to an enthusiastic response by visitors to the annual book fair.

It is the first time that Tsing Hua University has published a book written by one of its students.

“This is a new milestone in our school’s 56-year history,” said Chen Sinn-wen (陳信文), the university’s dean of academic affairs. “The book offers local readers a glimpse into Tsing Hua students’ concern for humanity.”

Recounting the inspiration behind the book, Lo said that during his stay in Sweden, he was invited to the home of an elderly Taiwanese expatriate. His host told him stories about how Taiwanese expatriates have struggled and strived to establish themselves in a new country far away from their homeland.

“The encounter inspired me to take a bicycle trip around Sweden to visit as many immigrants from Taiwan as possible ... I felt compelled to visit them and document their stories,” Lo said at the book launch.

He recalled seeing the flag of a Taiwanese soccer team in the office of a stadium in a remote Swedish mountain village and helping a woman who turned out to be the adoptive mother of a Taiwanese orphan.

“Every encounter gave me a different experience and a heartfelt moment,” Lo said.

He said he plans to apply for “alternative diplomatic service” after graduation to help out in other countries.

Lo has experience volunteering in Tanzania and taking a bicycle journey in Tibet, which contributed to the success of his bike tour in Sweden and the Arctic area.

Lo said he began his journey in Sweden with a grant of NT$35,000 (US$1,180) from a Tsing Hua fund to help students pursue their dreams, and NT$5,000 he raised from collecting plastic bottles on and near campus for recycling.

Most of the Taiwanese expatriates he visited were chefs, he said.

“They told me how they missed their hometown back in Taiwan,” Lo said.

“All of them demonstrated their culinary skills and treated me to sumptuous feasts,” he added.

He recalled how he camped in a soccer stadium in a small Swedish mountain town and how shocked the custodian was when he saw Lo the next morning.

“Swedish people tend to be sensitive to intrusion by strangers, but that guy was very friendly and passionate. He treated me to a cup of hot coffee and invited me to tour the stadium’s office where there was a collection of trophies and flags of teams from various countries,” Lo said.

A careful look at the collection revealed the flag of the soccer team from Beimen Senior High School in Greater Tainan, he said.

“I pointed to our national flag logo on my T-shirt and told the custodian that I was from the same place as that soccer team. The Swedish man happily responded: ‘It’s Formosa [Taiwan].’ I was overwhelmed when he spelled out our country’s name,” Lo said.

Lo said he also had less pleasant experiences during his bike tour. He once slept in a cemetery and lost his way in a forest.

“Whenever I felt scared or uneasy, I would think of my family and friends, as well as the Taiwanese expatriates in Sweden who extended their hospitality and warmth to me. All those fond memories gave me the courage to continue my trip in the Arctic cold,” he said.

Describing himself as an adventurous man, Lo said travelers should not just take a passing look at the places they visit.

“Every time I pick up my backpack to start a trip, I feel that someone is waiting for me in a faraway land. I felt at ease in every place I have visited and I want to find something meaningful in each place I visit,” he added.