I recently finished watching the show, “A Taiwanese Tale of Two Cities.” It’s the story of two women, Jo and Nien-nien, who decide to switch cities and living arrangements: Jo, a Taiwanese-American from SF decides to move in with Nien-nien’s family in Taipei, and Nien-nien, a Taiwanese from Taipei, decides to move to SF.
To be honest, it was a little too sentimental, cheesy, and slow for me. But, even as I fast-forwarded through many of the scenes, its accurate portrayals of the Taiwanese-American immigrant experience kept me captive.
The number of uncanny similarities between my upbringing and that of the Taiwanese-American female lead, Jo, leads me to believe that the people behind the show actually did serious research. So here are three ways this show really nailed it.
1. Taiwanese Church | 台灣人的教會
After moving to the U.S., many Taiwanese immigrants joined local churches. In areas with a large Taiwanese population, there were even Taiwanese churches. In my home state of New Jersey, I remember there being at least three Taiwanese churches.
And, as shown in “A Taiwanese Tale,” many of these churches have sermons in Taiwanese (Hokkien)! Attending a worship service in Taiwanese is like attending a college lecture in Taiwanese, where your textbook (the bible and hymn books) are also in Taiwanese.
In a few scenes, Jo prays in Taiwanese, which also brought back many memories for me. Despite not having gone to church in a long time, I can still recite several prayers in Taiwanese, such as the Apostle’s Creed. It’s practically burnt into my memory!You can hear the Taiwanese version here.
「我信上帝，全能的父，創造天地的主宰。我信耶穌基督，上帝的獨生子，咱的主。祂由聖神投胎，由在室 女馬利亞出世；在本丟彼拉多任內受苦，釘十字架，死，埋葬落陰府；第三日由死人中復活，升天，今坐在全能的父上帝的大傍；祂要自彼再來審判活人與死人。我 信聖神。我信聖，公同的教會，聖徒的相通罪的赦免；肉體的復活，永遠的活命。阿們。」（點我聽真人閱讀）
2. Taiwanese Immigrant Gatherings | 台灣同鄉會
Besides the church, Taiwanese immigrants could also meet other immigrants through associations of Taiwanese immigrant. In the show, Jo’s mom hosts some local gatherings, which really brought back memories.
When I was in middle school, we would often go to such gatherings. There were barbecues, sports games, etc… and always people speaking Taiwanese. Recently, there are more young Taiwanese immigrants, who speak in Mandarin amongst themselves.
Also, in the story, Jo’s father was blacklisted by the Taiwanese government for playing a prominent role in social activist movements in the 70s/80s. This meant that the government did not allow him to return to Taiwan. (Back in the day, they needed a visa to re-enter Taiwan.) When I was in middle school, I also heard that there were some uncles in the Taiwanese associations who had been blacklisted and could not return to Taiwan, even to visit their dying relatives. So yeah… that was a real thing, and it’s cool that this aspect of Taiwanese-American history was recognized in the show as well.
3. Immigrants’ Negative Perceptions of their Home Country | 台灣移民對自己故鄉的偏見
In the show, Jo’s mother cannot fathom why her daughter would ever want to live in Taiwan. She is even more exasperated when Jo decides to activate her Taiwanese citizenship. After all, she had a good job in San Francisco; Taiwan is just taking time away from her bright future.
As a Taiwanese-American living in Taiwan now, this could not resonate with me any more. When I told my mother I wanted to stay an extra year to get the Taiwanese ID card, she literally rolled her eyes, sighed, saying, “I really don’t understand why you’re doing this. You’re really just wasting your time.”
身為一位居住台灣且正在辦身分證的移民第二代，這個畫面太 身 歷 其 境 了！當我告知母親大人說我要在台灣多待一年，辦身分證的時候，她也是大翻百眼，唉聲嘆氣地說，「我真的不懂，你這樣只是在浪費時間而已。」
To put things in context, Taiwanese people also wonder why people like us decide to come to Taiwan. “What’s so great about Taiwan?” they think. However, this mindset is even stronger among Taiwanese immigrants who left Taiwan 30-40 years ago. They also can’t come back often, and even when they do, they tend to shuttle back and forth between family members. So they don’t really understand how much Taiwan has changed since they left.
So when their children want to come to Taiwan, they have a heart attack. “We immigrated to the best country in the world and you want to go back?!?!”
That’s a wrap! | 結論
There are many other things I could talk about, but now is probably a good time to sign off.
My only gripe with the actress who plays Jo is that she speaks English with an obvious Taiwanese accent. Jo is supposed to be born and raised in the U.S., so when I watched the first episode and heard her accent, I wondered why they couldn’t find a Taiwanese-American to play her role? Rather than getting a Taiwanese actress and training her to speak Mandarin/Taiwanese with an American accent, they could have gotten a Taiwanese-American actress to play the role. The other Taiwanese-American role, Ryan, is played by a Taiwanese-American, so I don’t quite understand this casting decision.
Finally, I’d like to end by saying that there are many different Taiwanese diaspora experiences. There are Taiwanese families, in which the mother and children move to America, but the father stays in Taiwan, families that go back and forth between Taiwan and the U.S., etc.
So the parts that resonated with me may not be resonate with everyone. But regardless, I’m sure everyone in the diaspora will be able to see a part of themselves in this show.