As the decade draws to a close, we’re sharing just 19 of the many things that happened in Taiwan and Taiwanese America in 2019.
PODCASTS & MUSIC
(1) Emily Wu launched Ghost Island Media in Taipei
Ghost Island Media is a podcasting startup based in Taipei that (1) grows the Mandarin podcasting market in Taiwan, and (2) increases the presence of English content coming from Taiwan. Their first show, Waste Not Why Not, is an English-language science show on environmental policies and innovations, using case studies from Taiwan when possible to showcase the country’s many contributions to the sustainability space. They also have an English-language current affairs show titled “The Taiwan Take” (“there are global issues, and this is The Taiwan Take”) for international members who have any sort of stake in Taiwan and Asia. Their Mandarin-language show, called 「大麻煩不煩」, investigates evolving cannabis legislature in Taiwan.
(2) Cynthia Lin launched the Taiwanese Diaspora podcast
The Taiwanese Diaspora podcast explores the stories and heritage of Taiwanese people around the world by interviewing Taiwanese and diasporic Taiwanese entrepreneurs, artists, students, and more. These interviews, conducted in English, Mandarin Chinese, Taiwanese Hokkien, Hakka, and more, help illustrate the rich complexity of Taiwanese heritage and identity.
(3) Phil Lin launched Bite Size Taiwanese
Bite Size Taiwanese is a tiered podcast series designed to introduce listeners to Taiwanese Hokkien. Co-hosts Phil Lin and Alan Chen, with curriculum designer Phín-tsì Kí, share an extraordinary passion for the once-forbidden language, and interweave practical linguistic applications with poignant points about its heritage and history in their show.
(4) Irene and Kevin launched The Thought Spot
Taiwanese Americans Irene and Kevin share their passion for art, humanity, and “damn good conversation” in an introspective podcast series, The Thought Spot, with topics spanning from toxic masculinity to the effects of social media to the Asian American experience.
(5) Peter Lin released New Age, Old Ways
Taiwanese American jazz trombonist Peter Lin released New Age, Old Ways, an eight-track album with original compositions and comic book illustrated by Kelly Lin. Drawing from the inspiration of his personal life experiences, the repertoire serves as a spotlight on Peter Lin’s musical storytelling.
(6) Ching-Shan Chang won the Golden Eye Award
Taiwan-born Ching-Shan Chang, a New York-based multimedia composer, became one of the youngest-ever and the first-ever Taiwanese to receive the prestigious Golden Eye Award at the 8th International Film Music Competition in Zurich, triumphing over 321 composers from 46 countries.
(7) Kathy Cheng (@trickytaipei) debuted Hey, Taipei
Hey, Taipei is a crowdfunded English-language picture book about Taipei. Envisioned by the founder of Tricky Taipei (a blog and digital community covering design, food, and lifestyle in Taipei), Hey Taipei is on its way to becoming the de facto children’s gift for tourists in Taiwan, as well as a special touch for overseas Taiwanese kids who would otherwise rarely find their own stories and histories reflected in children’s books.
(8) Abigail Hing Wen debuted Loveboat, Taipei
Abigail Hing Wen’s debut YA novel has been described as “an intense rush of rebellion and romance” in the lineage of Jenny Han (To All the Boys) and Sarah Dessen (Just Listen). When eighteen-year-old Ever Wong’s parents send her from Ohio to Taiwan to study Mandarin for the summer, she finds herself thrust among the very over-achieving kids her parents have always wanted her to be, including Rick Woo, the Yale-bound prodigy profiled in the Chinese newspapers since they were nine—and her parents’ yardstick for her never-measuring-up life. Unbeknownst to her parents, however, the program is actually an infamous teen meet-market nicknamed Loveboat, where the kids are more into clubbing than calligraphy and drinking snake-blood sake than touring sacred shrines.
(See also: The Love Boat: Taiwan documentary by filmmaker Valerie Soe: 2019 Silicon Valley Asian Pacific Filmfest opening night film, 2019 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival official selection, 2019 Urban Nomad Film Festival closing night film (Taipei, Taiwan), and 2019 CAAMFest spotlight honoree (San Francisco). A great year for Valerie and the Love Boat: Taiwan team.)
(9) Esmé Weijun Wang published The Collected Schizophrenias (Graywolf Press)
Wang’s essay collection, The Collected Schizophrenias, won the 2016 Graywolf Nonfiction Prize and was published in February of this year. The book, an “intimate, moving” chronicle of mental and chronic illness, became a New York Times bestseller.
Other releases in 2019: Sex & Taipei City (Red Hen Press) by Yu-Han Chao, Release: A Bulimia Story (Blue Jaguar Healing Arts) by Stephanie Syd Yang, The Unpassing (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) by Chia-Chia Lin, Our Wayward Fate (Simon Pulse) by Gloria Chao, The Hell Screens (Camphor Press Limited) by Alvin Lu, REBORN (New Degree Press) by Amy Hsuan Chiu
(10) Win Son Bakery made the best breakfast plate in New York
From the makers of Win Son comes Win Son Bakery, a Taiwanese American bakery offering a Brooklyn take on classic Taiwanese breakfast (think guai guai cortados, mochi donuts, pork fan tuans with the correct brand of pork floss).
(11) BuzzFeed’s “Worth It” took on Taiwan
BuzzFeed’s “Worth It” show partnered with the Taiwanese Tourism Bureau for the ultimate Taiwanese food adventure, “trying delicious foods at their famous three different price points: affordable, middle tier, and luxury.” Their episodes investigate different takes on soup, dumplings, and chicken. Says BuzzFeed showrunner Katie LeBlanc: “For this special edition of ‘Worth It,’ we’re excited to expose our audience to Taiwanese culinary culture, working with the Taiwan Tourism Bureau to highlight the best the country has to offer in a fun and truly unique way.”
(12) Nas Daily shared Asia’s “Secret Country”
In a Facebook video that has garnered over 5.6 million views, blogger Nas Daily takes viewers to a not-so-secret (at least for us) country and shares a ton of fast facts about why Taiwan was ranked the #1 country for expats around the world.
POLITICAL & SOCIAL MOVEMENTS
(13) Love Won in Taiwan
Taiwan made history by becoming the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. The decision passed on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia. While this wasn’t a comprehensive or absolute win, many still have hope that Taiwan will set a progressive example for other countries in Asia and around the world. In October, over 200,000 people attended Taiwan’s Pride parade, the largest in Asia.
(14) New York’s Keep Taiwan Free rally shared support for Hong Kongers, Tibetans, and Uighurs
In 2019, the annual “Keep Taiwan Free” rally not only pushed for recognition of Taiwan at the United Nations and other international forums, but emphasized regional solidarity with people suffering under the authoritarian regime of the Chinese government, including those in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and Tibet, as well. Throughout the year, the Keep Taiwan Free team raises awareness about Taiwan’s exclusion from the global community, helping to safeguard human rights and democracy against the Chinese Communist Party’s aggression.
(15) The United States and Taiwan celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act
April 10, 2019 marked the 40th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), one of the most significant documents authorizing US-Taiwan relations built upon shared values of democracy. Congress members passed the TRA as a framework for US-Taiwan cooperation in diplomatic, political, economic, and cultural affairs; because of this, the US has assisted Taiwan in maintaining its defensive military capabilities and established a de facto diplomatic office in Taipei (the American Institute in Taiwan).
I want to wish all of our friends in the US a happy Thanksgiving. We have much to be thankful for in #TRA40: #Taiwan–#US relations are at their best in decades, & they are only growing stronger. pic.twitter.com/Xpw9ydfUFz
— 蔡英文 Tsai Ing-wen (@iingwen) November 28, 2019
(16) Andrew Yang became the first-ever Taiwanese American presidential candidate
As of 12/24, Venture for America founder Andrew Yang has become the fourth-ranked Democratic candidate for United States presidency. Yang’s platform includes universal basic income, or a “freedom dividend” to cushion against the economic impact of automation. But for Taiwanese America, “what Yang represents to fellow Taiwanese Americans is [actually] the limits of representation, and how little the situation of Taiwan and its people might change on the remote chance that one of them is elevated to the highest office in the United States.” (Catherine Chou for Popula)
(17) The Taiwanese American Citizens League launched the 2020 Census “Write in ‘Taiwanese’” campaign
Every 10 years, the United States counts every person living in the United States — citizens and non-citizens. The census shapes public policy and funding towards our communities. Counting everyone ensures fair and equal representation. The campaign calls all who identify as Taiwanese and Taiwanese American to check “Other Asian” and write in “Taiwanese” on the 2020 Census.
(18) Overseas Taiwanese geared up to vote in Taiwan’s upcoming elections
Ed Liu launched “Sea Formosa,” a touching video series on diasporic Taiwanese who would be returning home to vote in the January elections. “Your mission,” reads one message to Taiwanese Americans, “is to keep Taiwan free.”
Before we close off the list with #19, a look at our honorable mentions:
(1) Domino’s Taiwan released a “boba pizza” because of course
But if a Fulbright research fellow endorses it… we might have to try it, too.
It's happening. I'm having the mythical Taiwan exclusive boba pizza from Domino's for dinner. Will report back on the situation later. pic.twitter.com/aYj6uQUxLE
— Lev Nachman (@lnachman32) October 29, 2019
(2) Brian Tseng became Taiwanese America’s favorite comedian
The Economist’s 1843 Magazine called him “Taiwan’s answer to Stephen Colbert,” but comedian Brian is in a spectacular league of his own. Born and partially raised in the United States, Brian skips cheap, easy quips about Asian American pop culture and goes straight for political satire in a country not particularly known for its sense of humor. His favorite subject? Taiwan’s relationship with China.
(3) Netflix released A Taiwanese Tale of Two Cities
Netflix’s original series, A Taiwanese Tale of Two Cities, is a T-drama featuring a Taipei holistic doctor and San Francisco engineer who swap places (okay, there’s a lot more romantic juiciness to that) and confront cultural differences (like within the first 6-ish episodes, there are references to Mazu/temple culture, interracial relationships, the 2008 financial crisis, martial law blacklisting, veganism, stinky tofu). It’s wild.
(4) Taiwanese and Taiwanese Americans stood, and will continue to stand, with Hong Kong
The fates and histories of those in Taiwan and Hong Kong are inextricably linked.
(Read: I’m Taiwanese American. Here’s Why I Stand with Hong Kong)
Law enforcement exists to protect the people & government exists to serve the people. I call on the international community to take action & #StandWithHongKong against these acts of repression. Full statement: pic.twitter.com/Rdh8ggD9NV
— 蔡英文 Tsai Ing-wen (@iingwen) November 13, 2019
(19) Finally, on a personal note, in 2019 I witnessed the extraordinary depth of passion-driven work. So much of diasporic Taiwanese engagement is conducted by volunteers who, in addition to advocating for Taiwan both locally and internationally, culturally and politically, have (mostly) separate careers and livelihoods. The founder of this very site is a pediatrician in his spare time. The director of TACL’s “Write in ‘Taiwanese’” campaign fits national coalition-building into the already-taxing workflow of a Manhattan business manager. Many of the incredible thought leaders on #TaiwanTwitter have academic or professional interests that only intersect with Taiwanese issues by way of great thoughtfulness and navigation. Taiwanese American social organizations, hosted in community centers and churches, are sources of hope and home, sustained only with enormous effort; and most summer camps for diasporic youth are run by adult alumni taking PTO to offer back the same enriching experiences that they had. Hundreds, if not thousands, of overseas Taiwanese will be returning to vote in the upcoming elections. Think of the tremendous career and social expectations already internalized by immigrants and their children: now add onto that the work of community building, of identity formation, of heritage preservation. This is Taiwanese America, these are my people, and I am so honored and so proud to be a part of it all.