When Dutch guitarist Robert Bekkers asked what there was to do in Taiwan, in anticipation of his first visit to the island earlier this Spring, I replied that we only had time to eat and see my relatives and friends. In truth, I had always believed that Taiwan was a hotbed of taste explosions, a dense concentration of cuisines from all provinces of China and the best in Asia.
This gastronomical paradise far exceeded any other attraction the island had to offer. [Likewise, my sister and brother would argue over how best to optimise every single meal we had during the two weeks of our family reunion in April 2010. There was simply too much good food to choose from. ] Upon our return to the Netherlands, I had trouble getting used to having to cook or look for the kind of good food that was available 24/7 in Taiwan.
I knew the Dutch had some influence in Taiwan, mainly from the golden age of the 17th century when the VOC (Dutch East India Company) had explored the far reaches of Asia. I had met Taiwanese descendants with Dutch blood. They were considered exotic and attractive by Taiwanese standards. Yet, I knew nearly nothing of the legacy nor the various indigenous tribes on the island.
For me, Taiwan was a place caught between mainland China, where my father had “escaped” with his family during Chiang Kai Shek’s retreat from the communists, and the Hokkien people, who were the majority and who had moved to Taiwan many generations before my mother’s Hakka clan. Being born in a foreign country (Brunei), I “returned” to Taiwan with my parents at the age of 2. But that did not make me a native Taiwanese either, for my father still considered Taiwan a temporary place (to live) until he could return to Shanghai where he was born.
Thus it was both a surprise and a treat to receive the new book “The Real Taiwan and the Dutch” by the Netherlands Representative Menno Goedhart and American travel writer Cheryl Robbins. My friend Josine, a Dutch violinist and journalist based in Taipei, gave me the book in mid-July, and I could hardly put it down.
Published in April 2010 and available in both English and Chinese versions, the 271-page paperback book is packed with high resolution colour photographs of people, scenery, and food. The various cuisines are described with mouth watering finesse.
“The Real Taiwan and the Dutch” is an eye-opener for me and, I’m sure, the many other overseas Chinese who still have relatives in Taiwan. After my sophomore year at university, I joined other college students on the annual Chien Tan overseas Chinese youth summer study tour in Taipei. After a few weeks of intensive Chinese language lessons, we toured the island visiting famous hot spots. I would recommend this book a must-read and include some of the places in the itinerary for these foreign-born Chinese and Taiwanese youths.
Since moving to the Netherlands in 2004, I have befriended many Chinese and Taiwanese wives of Dutch husbands in the Netherlands. They, too, find it fascinating that a Dutch man had explored the Taiwan few of us knew existed.
As the Dutch are famous for preserving their historic monuments, among other specialisations, I find the perspective of this book particularly interesting. Here was a Dutch man (Menno Goedhart) who recorded his notes and conversations with the natives, of legends passed down the generations, of the Dutch who had first come to the island. It’s a personal account of his travels in Taiwan while serving as Representative of the Netherlands Trade and Investment Office in Taipei. What resulted is a personal guide of the Taiwan he loves, so much that he and his wife are retiring in the southern city of Tainan in Taiwan.
The book has also inspired me to consider the possibility of writing a living history of the people and places where we give concerts. This will require a lot of time and stamina. In many ways, the Concertblog serves as a placeholder, an abbreviation for the content that will appear in the future. Photographs of people and places, for example, help us remember and trigger memories of encounters that influenced or changed our paths.