Taiwan's Diverse Families
Finding One's True Self, Alone
Once a high-profile media figure in Taipei, Hsu Lu now enjoys a quiet existence in laid-back Taitung, where she is redefining the concept of "home" and "family" on her own terms.
Finding One's True Self, AloneBy Hsiang-yi Chang
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 566 )
A light breeze blows through Taitung as dusk falls on the city one February day. The Chinese New Year is just around the corner.
Out on the plaza in front of the Tiehua Music Village's Slow Market, thousands of hand-painted hot air balloons hang from the trees, illuminating the area, accenting the music of the laid-back indigenous singer on stage, and highlighting the diverse audience of all ages and backgrounds. Among them, shuttling back and forth, is Hsu Lu, the former chief executive of the Lovely Taiwan Foundation..
Nine years ago, the woman Taitung's aboriginal community affectionately calls "big sister Hsu" was still known as "President Hsu," the respected and feared doyenne of Taipei-based media.
Having held such titles as general manager of The Journalist weekly magazine, director of the Voice of Taipei radio station, and president of Chinese Television System Inc. (CTS), this maverick media force decided while still in her forties and at the height of her career to bid Taipei farewell and head on her own to Taitung to pursue her dreams.
She took up a position as chief executive at venture capitalist giant Wen C. Ko's Lovely Taiwan Foundation, overseeing the restoration of Chialan Village, and actively working with associates to create Tiehua Music Village. She recently stepped down as chief executive, and has stayed on at the foundation as a consultant to concentrate on "being a Taitung local."
For most Taiwanese women, their forties is a "golden decade" when they are at their peak, occupying themselves with both family and career. Yet Hsu Lu bucked convention at that point in her life and relinquished what many thought was an enviable career to get back to the simple life in Taitung. Although Hsu Lu has had a few serious relationships in her life, she has never married.
Ask her why she is such an independent operator, and whether she feels lonely, and Hsu Lu – now over 50 – just laughs and says, "Not at all. Because I've found my true self, and a true home." The following are excerpts of Hsu Lu's story told in her own words in an interview with CommonWealth Magazine.
A lot of people see me as lucky, having accomplished a few things professionally in Taipei by my forties and holding important positions. They call me a "media strong woman" and put me on a pedestal. But looking back on that time, I was actually miserable.
Taipei: One Big Studio Set
Remember the 2004 film Crash? In the movie Sandra Bullock plays the district attorney's wife, always looking immaculate and surrounded by rich and famous friends. But when she sprains her ankle and is in desperate need of help and a sympathetic ear, her husband is nowhere to be found, and those "friends" of hers similarly vanish. I think I remember one of the characters even blowing her off, saying something like, "I'm sure you'll think of something, darling. I'm having my nails done right now."
Hsu Lu (third from right) and her associates at the Lovely Taiwan Foundation have invested long-term efforts in developing Taitung, conceiving and realizing the Tiehua Music Village and Slow Market.
That story is like a snapshot from my life at that time. On the surface you look like you have everything and want for nothing, making people envious, but in reality your life is filled with complicated and disingenuous interpersonal relationships and power games. I once described the professional realm of Taipei as being like a big studio set that is glitzy and impressive on the surface, but largely devoid of genuine things.
I have always had a "country life dream" in the back of my mind. This dream is not only about living a simple life, close to nature; it also has a spiritual aspect.
For me the most important things in life are not material pleasures or the vain ego boosts of fame and fortune, but spiritual tranquility and fulfillment. I need dialogue with myself, space to relax and be myself, and real, sincere human interaction. All of these were hard to come by in Taipei's professional circles.
During a chance visit to Taitung – my first time there in 20 years -- I was so deeply captivated by its expansive beauty, that it was like I was seeing Taitung for the first time.
The golden rice fields and the boundless Pacific Ocean beyond the coastline, instantly freed my pent-up mind and eased my mood.
I also became enamored with the natural ease of people's lives here and their unaffected, sincere interaction.
From the expansiveness of nature to the vastness of human hearts, I have come to feel like this is truly "home" for me.
Taitung – the Home I Don't Want to Leave
For me, "home" has never had to be established on a foundation of blood relations or marriage.
To be honest, I'm already over 50, but other than my mother, who is in her 90s and is always on my mind, I've never had strong emotional connections with other family members compared to those I've had with a handful of my closest friends of many years.
I've been in a few relationships, and never felt like we needed a marriage agreement to keep each other in line, forcing one to compromise with the life one really longs to live.
I truly believe that "home" and "family" are really a spiritual sense of belonging and bonding with others.
Even if you're just quietly thinking, reading, or pursuing your passions, to be able to do something that truly makes you happy, and happily relate to your real self…that's what "home" is to me.
It would be even better to have a few close friends that are caring and authentic with one another, even if they don't see each other often.
Being accustomed to doing what I want since I was little, I don't like being constricted inside a box, preferring instead to be someone who is at home with myself. In Taitung I can be faithful to myself, live freely and easily, and devote my energy from the heart to try and make this a better place.
Perhaps people see me as a loner, but I believe that when a person reaches their "golden middle age" or their "autumn years," something in the back of their mind compels them to start searching for their true self – to find a "home" where they truly feel at peace.
Life is so funny, the way it can take you full circle. For me, living on my own in Taitung, I've found my true self. This is the home I don't want to leave.
Translated from the Chinese by David Toman
The Family in Transition
The number of unmarried people, including people who do not plan to marry, has grown rapidly in Taiwan, and the number of single adults has risen from 389,000 to 908,000 over the past two decades.