In 1594 a Portuguese ship sighted the main island of Taiwan and dubbed it “Ilha Formosa,” which means “beautiful island.” Although Taiwan (formerly Formosa) has been part of the Chinese empire for a very long time, the aboriginal inhabitants are not even related to the Chinese, but came from the islands of the Pacific.
The Chinese only arrived in large numbers after 1600, when the Dutch East India Company established trading posts and forts on the island. After they defeated the Dutch in 1662, they gained control over the island and stayed until the end of the 19th century when the Japanese took over. They also left their mark on the island, remaining in control until after World War 2, when they were succeeded by Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang.
How can I begin to write about my trip to Taiwan except to use the Portuguese word “Saudade”? “Saudade” is a word that envelopes so many emotions: nostalgia, longing, yearning, love, friendship, desire, etc. No other language has a word like it. Taiwan was once called “Formosa”, another Portuguese word which means “beautiful.”
I was last in Taiwan when my husband, Richard, served in Vietnam between 1968-1970. Our family was not allowed to go to Vietnam, so I went to Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, with my two young children. We were 180 wives with no husbands.
Since then Taiwan has changed so much that I did not know the place, but all for the better. It is a wealthy and vibrant island with hard working, polite people. They especially stress the importance of a good education for its youth.
I wanted to see my older sister, Amy, because her third son Michael had written to tell me she had been ill. It had been many years since I last saw her, as well as her three sons and their families. I did not want to linger over my decision for fear I might change my mind. I booked my ticket and left four days later. None of my family members could go with me, so I was quite nervous about flying half-way around the world alone. I had never gone anywhere without Dick, even on short trips. I closed my mind and refused to think negative thoughts, especially about the typhoon that was pounding the southern part of the island causing devastation and death.