We can learn from Taiwan

So, if you are reading this first thing Sunday morning around 6 a.m., I will just be arriving in Taiwan. Wait – I will have been here 12 hours already. I got here 6 a.m. Taiwan time – which was 6 p.m. Saturday back home. So as you read this at 6 a.m. Sunday, I am then ... ???? Lost.

The times are unique to sort, especially on a time-change weekend. (There is funny security video of me somewhere in O’Hare airport as I ran for a plane I was ultimately an hour early for.) I suspect I’ll have to just roll with the time in the week that I am here to forge some new experiences.

Ironically, the times are unique, too, for Taiwan, and they, too, roll with it as they forge their new experiences. That’s the purpose of this trip, as I, along with 20 other journalists from around the globe, converge on the island of 23 million people – bigger than some countries, yet not a country of its own. It’s part of China, but not part of China – a unique parent-child-like relationship I’ve learned just a bit about, but expect will learn a lot more.

It’s murky, but my best China-Taiwan explainer is: After World War II, China engaged in a deep civil war. Free-democracy-based Nationalists were much aligned with the U.S., with their leader, Chiang Kai-shek being one of the Big Four Allied leaders during World War II.

In 1949, they finally lost to the Communists, led by Mao Zedong. The Nationalists fled to the island of Taiwan off the mainland’s southeast border. It’s been an awkward family ever since – as both technically are “China,” neither has signed a peace treaty with the other, and yet they choose to co-exist. Taiwan has grown in global impact and aims to continue so. In recent years, the two Chinas have become more interconnected economically and socially – albeit determined to live apart politically. With mainland China’s global economic and military clout, Western countries such as the U.S. have had to recognize it as the official China. Western countries engage Taiwan, and they are accepted in various global capacities, including the Olympics.

But so as not to offend mainland China, Taiwan always plays a second-seat, “also-there” role. And Taiwan, so as to keep world happiness, admirably accepts that role. That role is the week ahead for me as Taiwan showcases its country to some large global media organizations. And me. Living in Canfield is a fiercely proud daughter of Taiwan, Florence Wang. She’s equally proud, too, of Youngstown – having called this place home for several decades. She’s the reason world-class Taiwanese chefs cooked up a storm here in September as they traveled the U.S. She’s also why Youngstown Councilman Julius Oliver spent last week here with other U.S. young leaders. And I continue her engagement this week. My assignment from Florence: “You’re a storyteller. Tell Youngstown’s story; tell Taiwan’s story. We can be good for each other.” I aim to send in daily bits from the trip. Watch for them across various Vindy digital spaces.

I’ll write again about it here next week. I think with where we are right now as an America, there is a ton to learn from Taiwan. It’s a population that is at one time lost, yet is now thriving.

It’s a country that is polite and strategic in how it engages the world as it lives in a huge shadow.

It shows that people can live together productively and find common space – even as we agree to disagree right to our last blood cell. We had that once.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. Email him at tfranko@vindy.com. Call him at 330-747-1471, ext. 1253.

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