Blue and White Slippers
Yuli Hu (+Video)
Growing up on the island of Taiwan, I found that nothing was more natural to me than stepping into a pair of blue-and-white slippers and hanging around seashores or night markets. The open-toed rubber sandal has a wide blue vamp and a white flat sole. Anyone can buy a pair for just two dollars at any convenience store in Taiwan. Like its name, the blue-and-white slipper is ordinary, simple and straightforward.
Unlike the blue-and-white slipper, I am not very straightforward—not when it comes to one particular question: “Which country do you belong to?”
Whenever the question came up, I hesitated and became confused.
“Are you Chinese?” people asked.
“Well, my parents came from Mainland China in 1949 to escape the civil war, so I was born and grew up in Taiwan.”
“Are you Taiwanese then?” I felt puzzled.
When I was a child, our school textbooks gave detailed knowledge about Mainland China. I learned its geography and how beautiful it was. I knew each province in China and its minerals. I spent hours and hours memorizing which railways connected this province to that province. Most of all, I recognized that the five-thousand-year Chinese history couldn’t be grander and more glorious. Who wouldn’t want to be part of it?
Believe me, it’s complicated.
Taiwan inherited the Chinese culture and tradition, which I deeply admire. But it is not a part of the People’s Republic of China. Taiwan is a sovereign state with freedom and democracy. However, under the threat of force from Mainland China, it has not dared to declare its formal independence. This ambiguity not only twisted the political status of Taiwan but also twisted Taiwanese people’s minds.
In Taiwan, surveys are tracking Taiwanese/Chinese identification trends every year.
People argue about who loves Taiwan the most or who secretly betrays Taiwan to China. I am tired of the dispute.
To give my daughter a Western-style education, I came to Canada and became a Canadian citizen. I thought the confusion in my identity would grow. Fortunately, I was wrong. Canada helped me to understand Taiwan.
Here in Canada, we all have different backgrounds. People remember their roots.
When someone asks, “Are you Chinese?” I look around the numerous Mainland Chinese here. They speak the same language and have the same skin colour as me. However, their mother country is much different from mine.
My mother country, Taiwan, is a small island nation of 23 million people. Whenever an election approaches, a controversy around identity issues is aroused. The Taiwanese complain about the government and blame the president every day without worrying about being arrested.
Like Canada, Taiwan embraces multiculturalism. Even though the struggle for existence and identity is not easy, Taiwan has still become one of the most friendly and tolerant places in the world.
It was when the Shoe Project asked, “Can you find a pair of shoes that represents your home country?” I hesitated again. After being ruled by the Dutch, the Japanese and the Chinese through centuries, does Taiwan have its own culture? What should I identify with?
Walking into the garage on the dusty floor, I glanced at my dirt-cheap, blue-and-white slippers I carried from Taiwan to Canada through thousands of miles. They are what I wear when I collect garbage, clean the driveway, walk across the street for a cup of Tim Hortons’ coffee—nothing could be more simple. They are always there, even though I didn’t pay any attention to them.
Somehow, stepping into them right now, I can smell the sea-wind of my beautiful island.
YULI HU is a journalist from Taiwan and joined The Shoe Project in 2015. She moved to Canada with her 8-year-old daughter in 2007.
Yuli worked for OMNI TV from 2008 to 2015, where she produced Mandarin news programs, hosted the Mandarin Weekend Show and worked as a voiceover for Mandarin television and radio commercials.
Currently, Yuli is the Canada Correspondent of Central News Agency (CNA), a state-owned news agency operated by the Republic of China (Taiwan). She also works as a translator and reporter for World Journal, the largest Chinese language newspaper in the United States.