The Shoe Project

 

Shoe Story 70: Blue and White Slippers
by Yuli Hui

Blue and white slippers

 

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 blue wide 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 more grand and 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 it also twisted Taiwanese people’s minds.

In Taiwan, there are surveys 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.

In order 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, 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 having been 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 an immigrant from Taiwan who has been a journalist for half of her life, and enjoys writing in Chinese and reading aloud for children.

 

Other Shoe Stories from Session 8, Toronto:

66: Cast-off Shoes

67: Immodest Boots

68: My Student Shoes

69: Double Take

70: Blue and White Slippers

71: My Resilient Shoes

72: Adventure Boots

73: Goodbye Boots

74: Shoes for the Revolution

75: My Refugee Life

 

 


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