The last time I lost sleep the night before a trip was in the summer of 1974. Very early the next morning I would travel to Luoyang with my father to visit my grandma. I was 6, had never left Beijing, and had never been on a train. I don’t remember another sleepless night before I embarked later for many places around the world until March 30, 2011. And the next day, I was to fly to Taipei.
Even myself had not realised such deep hidden emotion for a place that I’d never set my feet on, but I should’ve known better. Taiwan must have been the second place after Beijing, which I could point out correctly on a map of China as a small girl. It is “our” beautiful treasure island. I can name all major cities, scenic spots, local specialties, famous writers, political figures and pop stars, and I have performed many times the dance “Girls from Alishan”, yet it was the one place in the whole world that, as a mainland Chinese, I was not allowed to see with my own eyes for many years. It was a mystery, a dream - close yet far, familiar yet strange. On March 31, Taiwan would become a reality and I would be walking on the streets, whose names I’d read about numerous times. How could I not be excited?
The other China, here I come, with an affection that nobody understands. My father told me after teaching in Taiwan for the first time that he felt totally at home there and that Taiwanese were more Chinese than mainland Chinese. I know what he meant. A well-behaved Chinese gentleman is temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. He exemplifies the five virtues of benevolence, righteousness, manners, wisdom and sincerity. I did observe these qualities more in an average Taiwanese than in an average current-day mainlander, at least on surface during my short stay in Taipei. Actually, I was profoundly ashamed of the behaviours of mainland tour groups at the Palace Museum, which turned this precious and peaceful palace of Chinese art and history into a zoo. If I were a Taiwanese, I would fear to be “reunited” with these loud, rude and self-centred people!
In Taipei, I turned 43. I had the wish to celebrate each birthday in a special place, and this one is definitely the most special of all, the one I will treasure dearly in my memory and will come back to again and again.