My passport says I'm a citizen of the Republic of China. But the people on this island where I was born and where my passport was issued call themselves "Taiwanese." At least these days, they do.
When I was in primary school in the US and when people asked, "what are you and where are you from," I replied matter of factly, "I'm Chinese, I'm from Taiwan." My parents called themselves "中國人 Chinese." Then after high school, the term (or should I say, "identity") "Taiwanese" became popular and my parents started calling themselves "台灣人 Taiwanese." To them, it was also a way to dissociate themselves from the Chinese businessmen that they were in contact with and had a very difficult time dealing with. So taking after my parents, without any thought, I started calling myself "Taiwanese," and then I added myself "but ethnically Chinese." Although my ancestors have been in Taiwan for many generations, they are not indigenous Taiwanese. They came from Fujian I believe.
So I've been calling myself "Taiwanese" all this time, and my friends and acquaintances accepted it without question, much like how I did. People would rather buy Made in Taiwan products rather than Made in China products. When people come to Taiwan for travel, they buy New Taiwan Dollars to spend, rather than Renminbi. And when businessmen have a choice, they'd much rather deal with Taiwanese businessmen than Chinese businessmen. So to me, it was clear that Taiwan and China were quite separate entities.
So I thought until I came back to Asia after univeristy. After 6 months of studying Chinese, teaching English and interning here and there in Taiwan, I left for Japan to go to graduate school. On the plane to Japan the first time, I filled out a landing form, like you have to do every time. In the "country of origin" box, I wrote "Taiwan." But when I got to immigration, the official crossed it out and wrote "China." I didn't ask. I thought the officer didn't know better or something. But that continued and I learned that in 1979, Japan and Taiwan severed formal diplomatic relations and established formal ties with China.
Then earlier this week, Malawi announced that it was breaking off ties with Taiwan. One would tend not to take notice of such a small fact, but it was a big deal here in Taiwan. With Malawi off the list, there is only 23 left. These 23 nations are made up of mostly small, third-world nations in South America and Africa and in the middle of the ocean. Taiwan's been playing dollar diplomacy to keep these guys "allies," but as soon as China matches the amount of dollars Taiwan puts in, they'll be likely to change their mind.
These days, I am officially Taiwanese only to São Tomé e Príncipe, Swaziland and a few other countries that I've hardly heard of and can whose names I can hardly pronounce. I know Swaziland is in Africa, but São Tomé e Príncipe?
My biggest gain (more like loss!) this week is consciousness of my national identity; an identity that sits in limbo in the world of politics.
Who am I? Where am I from? Maybe my coworkers are right for once - I'm from outer space.
Good thing for Taiwan's robust economy, otherwise it would probably be absorbed by China in the blink of an eye.