Wednesday, June 13th
WARNING: Today's journal entry contains material of a more serious nature that may not be suitable for the typical Lovely Fluffy who visits my site looking to be amused... including Iron Chef Mike in Seattle who is going to name his Lacrosse team, "The Lovely Fluffies".
The Loveboat: Defined
So there's this MASSIVE discussion happening at the ORIENTED website about Chinese Americans (okay I started it and the only person being massive is me, oh well. I'm a Puh-TEET person but I have been told on many an occasion that I have a LARGE presence -- ARF!) and several people asked what the LOVEBOAT was.
What started out as a simple answer turned into a thesis paper so I thought I'd post it here since *OBVIOUSLY* it means a lot more to me than I had realized. Man. I scare myself sometimes. Feel free to join in the discussion and correct me where I might have erred.
"You too, can be a Lovely Fluffy."
Please note that the program structure was different each year and that the recent beat on the street is that the budget has been cut substantially because of the -- you guessed it -- DPP. If that is true, the DPP has further shot themselves in the foot. See below.
The "Loveboat" is in fact a KMT-sponsored program that is probably around 30-years-old by now. The size and program structure (as well as satellite campus locations) have varied over the years although always centered around the main campus at the Chien Tan Youth Activity Center. Nevertheless, the objectives have pretty much remained the same.
The summer that I attended (1991) I think was pretty standard in structure. Approximately 1,000 Chinese-Americans and Taiwanese-Americans between the ages of 18-23 from all over the world but mostly from North America were thrown together for six weeks to study, live, and party together, with ~800 students at the Chien-Tan campus and the rest at Tam-Shui.
- Purpose of the Organizers
The R.O.C. government (KMT at the time) was quite smart in this regard and in so many ways. They recognized their very weak position with China and with the rest of the world and created this program (amongst many many others) to reach out and try to win support from the overseas Taiwanese and Chinese communities, including young people like us (okay so my group ain't so young any more, cough cough, but anyway...).
Of course they never come out and admit this publicly and claim to want to "introduce the Chinese culture" to young overseas Chinese, but many of us knew what the purpose was, particularly once we got there and got bombarded with all kinds of propoganda-ish activities. (Then again, I think there were some that came and went and till this day have no idea what the purpose of the program was).
I personally think they even fed into the fears of parents overseas who were afraid that their kids "wouldn't marry Chinese" in order to encourage participation -- and it made for a natural filter because of course the parents that would care about this stuff were more likely than not immigrants (pre-first generation overseas Chinese).
- Purpose of Participants
When you are 18-23 years old, you a) don't have a purpose and b) don't care what other people's purposes are, especially a pseudo-government with a political agenda. (Okay so I'm exaggerating here but bear with me as I dramatize the whole thing, it's more fun this way).
And when you throw *ONE THOUSAND* kids together (regardless of ethnicity) in one location with minimum supervision and yet with money from parents to spend at will, you are going to get some MASSIVE partying and socializing! Thus the rep that it has as the "Loveboat".
People hook up. WHAT MORE COULD YOU ASK FOR I SAY?!
But, there were just as many students on the program that did not partake in the partying and didn't like to crawl over the campus walls to sneak out at nights after bed check to go clubbing at KISS LA BOCA and couldn't be bothered with those that did.
Many were sent there against their will and didn't know anything about the program until much much later (and like I said, some are still clueless). Others took the cultural education quite seriously (like me, I never crawled the walls to go to KISS LA BOCA yeah right!) and made the most of what the program had to offer.
- Purpose of Participants' Parents
Honestly, I think the purpose of all parents that send their kids to Chien Tan is to hook them up with other Chinese kids (though they deny it!) and/or get them to appreciate the culture more or both. And I can tell you that many many people I knew who first got to the program DENIED that they were even Chinese/Taiwanese but did an entire 180 by the time they left. Call it brainwashing if you will but it was quite effective, for what it's worth. (Afterall, look at me!)
- The Application Process
The application process to get in wasn't necessarily OBJECTIVE but for the most part was guided by population representation (i.e. a large number were from the State of California, least number from Europe, South Africa, etc.). Photos were required in the application as well as a list of whom we are related to and whom we know in Taiwan. Yes, selections were as random and "scandalous" as everything you hear about "government relations" in the R.O.C. and yes, many who applied were rejected "without reason" or simply because there were too many applicants in one year.
Other factors in the equation included how "foreign" you were, i.e., if you spent x number of years in Taiwan you can't get in, or if you were not of Chinese decent there was no way in #&*%! you were going to get in, or if you were only HALF Chinese your GUANXI had to have been STELLAR, siblings couldn't attend at the same time etc., with about as many exceptions as there were rules.
But I personally don't think any of that mattered so much as the long-term goals of the program and the real results and long-term effects of the program. All of which I think are formidable.
- Program Structure
- Language Classes
By the time I got there, the organizers had that program down to a science. At the beginning, everyone is tested for their language aptitude and placed in classes accordingly. The placement system was quite sophisticated, i.e., if you wanted to get into the more challenging classes, there was no way you were going to fool them during testing --> I tried.
(I was, am, and always will be a geek.)
Most of the kids were really only there to play for the summer, but the ones that had a stronger command of the language (Mandarin) and who were placed in the top-tier classes were quite serious about studying and were even competitive ("I am NOT sneaking out tonight to go to KISS LA BOCA because I have to study!" That be me yeah right! No seriously, I tested into the 2nd-from the highest class, my bragging rights here...).
- Culture Classes & Performances
Everyone also took culture classes (stick fighting, cooking, Chinese calligraphy, Chinese dance, etc.). The daily schedules were rigorous, with classes that started early in the morning and didn't end until after dinner. Students got demerits if they were absent (or were "troublemakers" elsewhere) and a few were forced to leave the program because of too many demerits.
After dinner there were usually live performances on campus from the best of the best of Taiwan -- martial arts, Chinese opera, reps from the local military academy, Chinese dance troops, etc. It was pretty amazing! And again, demerits were given to those that didn't show up. At least in my year, they were pretty serious about sending people home if we were 'misbehaved'.
As a side note, a lot of students, counselors, and teachers get sick every summer, because the kids would go out and party until dawn and then have to get to class so as to avoid demerits, and thus got other people sick too. With the summer heat and humidity, A/Cs blasting, and little or no sleep, it was common for people to have vicious coughs, doctor's notices to skip class to rest, water bottles in hand and STARFRUIT to eat at the cafeteria. It was a very funny thing, a "ritual" almost.
During "Closing Ceremonies", all of the students had to perform whatever culture class they were signed-up for (zither, stick fighting, etc.) on the main stage of the auditorium. Sometimes the performances were downright SILLY -- such as this one where a group of ABC guys performed Chinese opera with rap A HOO A HOO A HOO HOO HOO -- but the impact (i.e. appreciation) was there when perhaps it wasn't before.
- Sightseeing & Travel
Throughout the program, we got to visit the various attractions around Taipei, with police escorts who cleared traffic for our buses (okay so we were spoiled but hey don't blame us for cryin' out loud! SHEESH!), and then after Closing Ceremonies we were sent in busloads across the entire island for an entire week -- East Coast down to Kenting and back up the West. That is when a lot of the long-term friendships solidified. Anyone who went on the Loveboat during its best years has pretty much seen all of Taiwan.
- The Combined Effect
By the end of the program -- with daily classes taught by sometimes psycho teachers (j/k, though they were serious), performances from the top performers around the island, and rinky dink performances of our own --> THE CULTURE WAS ENGRAINED WITHIN.
Of course there were problems with the program, particularly when you have a lot of young people (some of who did not speak a lick of Mandarin or Taiwanese) running around a foreign land and getting themselves into trouble, etc. Some people do get hurt -- hard to manage that many kids who are sneaking out at night to party amongst Taiwanese and KMT gangstahs -- so you do hear stories every once in awhile of some serious accidents, etc.
I personally did not see the value in the program for the younger groups (18-21 and in particular those that couldn't speak Mandarin) as they tended to treat it more like a big party and weren't mature enough to appreciate all that it had to offer (at no fault of their own of course) and then went off/back to college to party some more. But for those who were nearing the end of their university terms (22-23 year olds) and who were preparing to enter the workforce, the long-term network it created was and still is astounding.
- What matters most -- the end results
By the time it was over, people were very, very sad to leave and yes, many CRIED WAHHHH!!! But the best part of it all -- and the reason why so many ABCs who didn't go on the trip regret not going in their later years -- were the friendships that were made, some of which were to last forever and become a network so much stronger than any top-tier MBA program (at least with respect to the East/West Corridor which HAPPENS to be kind of important right now) in my humble and ignorant opinion since I don't have an MBA.
Of course not everyone who attended will say that, but for people who were outgoing and did a lot of socializing and who recognized and took advantage of this aspect of the program and who have ties and/or interests in Taiwan/Asia, it was an experience of a lifetime. The networks go well beyond our own peers to our siblings and their peers, and to friends of friends who went during year X, and to our cousins' peers, and to our parents' friends' kids who went, etc.
It is not uncommon to meet an ABC and say "Oh did you go on the Loveboat? What year? Oh did you know so-and-so?" and then BOOM, you have an instant friend who is most likely going to be in touch with others.
It is one incredible snowball effect that till this day amazes me with the networking power that it has and that is now spilling into China. Even those who worked and/or studied in Taiwan and have returned to their "homeland" will eventually come back to Greater China but under different (and I would venture, better) circumstances. My guess anyway, if I have any forsight into this "Loveboat" community at all.
- The ultimate positive result
... from the R.O.C. government's point-of-view of course, was the number of people that either stayed to work in Taiwan or who came back later after working for a few years in the U.S. (such as myself and others I know) or who support its efforts from abroad, as well as the things we are doing now (such as building community websites that give a voice to the international... cough cough... or founded Click2As... cough cough...) and whatever it is we might be doing 10, 20 years from now and in more established capacities.
Taiwan is our common denominator.
I wouldn't say that everyone who attended the Loveboat becomes "pro-Taiwan" per se, but they are definitely more *sensitive* to it and the Gov. hopes that us "Hwa-Chows" will keep them on our radar regardless of where we are located and what we are doing years from now. At least they are ON our radar as "Taiwan" and not "Thailand", right? And given the history of this island (and even moreso perhaps - its future), those of us who do take it to heart just may be in a position to make a difference later on.
"Chinese-Americans" vs. "Taiwanese-Americans" continued...
WOW. I think I just relived the program on this bulletin board. I'll shut up now, but before I go... a word about the term "Chinese American" vs. "Taiwanese American". A history lesson of sorts...
- Until this past decade, the Taiwanese culture and language were suppressed after the KMT came into power such that overseas offspring were all referred to as "ABC" or American-born Chinese. The term "Taiwanese-American" was unheard of back then.
To be pro-Taiwanese in the States back then (and in Taiwan of course) meant that your family was "blacklisted", so the term "Taiwanese-American" wasn't nearly as prevalent as it is today -- thus the inception of so many Taiwanese-American social, prof., and political orgs. back in the U.S. during the 1990s (and in Taiwan, the DPP). These days, ABCs are defined into two groups -- ABCs and ABTs. Oh yeah and let's not always forget the Canadians! (j/k) MAN DO I KNOW THIS STUFF OR WHAT.
Now the question I have for myself is --> How do I get these guys ORIENTED?
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