TAIWAN

THE SUNFLOWER MOVEMENT

Prior to Taiwan, I had spent a year traveling solely in China, to get to know my roots. I had emerged from that tough, but rough: I had lost much tact and sensibility, becoming arrogant and loud as a natural adaptation to a society broken by the Cultural Revolution.

Taiwan was what made me realize this. It taught me how to speak softly, how to avoid conflict – [it’s] the most effective culture of interpersonal communication I’ve come across.

Being a vibrant democracy is one of the key aspects that makes this island so different from its bigger, darker brother.

Naturally, hearing about the upcoming March 30th protest from my Taiwanese friends, I knew I had to get back.

I arrived in the afternoon on March 30th, met up with friends from my previous trip and around 7:00 pm the big protest ended – [so] I moved on to the Legislative Yuan (LY). The main gate was guarded by the students’ security team. I stepped up to the front gate, stated my intentions, argued my case for half an hour and was eventually shown in.

Because I was stating my half-Chinese origins at all times – testing the ground for nationalist or anti-Chinese sentiment – for the first week many people thought I was a spy. My Chakma clothing (from Bangladesh, where I had just been traveling) wasn’t helping.

I believe that it was in part this extreme climate of suspicion that fractured the movement.

Living inside the LY felt like a two-week psychedelic (often bad) trip. Everyone was extremely stressed, at times fearing police attacks, gangster attacks, future legal problems, each other… It seemed as if each day would be the last. Most people were constantly sleep deprived.

We did, however, have a rotating staff of volunteer doctors, acupuncturists, psychologists, pharmacists, lawyers and whatnot: incredible organization made possible with the help of many NGOs, which of course claimed their share of power in the backroom decision making processes.

My new friends and I tried with all our hearts and minds to convince the core and the extended core group to open up the decision-making process, pitching tools such as Hackpad and Loomio (online debating and voting platforms).

They should act according to the principles they were supposedly fighting for, we reasoned, rather than using the other students as unpaid workers.

It was to no avail. Those inside were too tired, too paranoid and for some, too proud.

I remember one particular scene from the last night, when most were singing and partying. I was looking down on the festive group from the second floor, through a window onto which someone had stuck a sunflower a few weeks prior.

The sunflower had since died – looking past it at the ground floor I could see more than a hundred students singing, sitting and dancing in a circle… Surrounded by journalists and their cameras. It felt like the whole movement had become a PR move.

My friend next to me started crying. I turned away, walked out and never returned.

*Originally published on The Riveter Magazine.