Taiwan is My Home

Tang Nu Huong

2018 / March

Lee Shan Wei /photos courtesy of Chuang Kung-ju /tr. by Phil Newell

Vietnam is an ancient land, and its history is inextricably tied to that of China. This includes the essence of Confucianism, which was not only the backbone of Vietnamese statecraft over the ages, but also the main axis of cultural thinking, leaving an ineradicable mark both on popular customs and on etiquette, ethics and morality.

Tang Nu ­Huong grew up in a family of Chinese ancestry that respected Confucian traditions. After marrying into a Taiwanese family, over the past 20 years and more she has not only enjoyed a full and happy family life, but has selflessly looked after her disadvantaged Vietnamese “sisters.” Though constantly busy, she continually seeks to improve her knowledge and works hard at self-realization, setting an example for her fellow immigrants.



“I used to think I would never get married. Little did I expect that the year I turned 39, I would marry into Taiwan.” Tang recalls how she and her husband got to know each other, a story that corroborates the old saying: “Two beings destined to marry, though born a thousand miles apart, can be tied together by a single thread.”

The day of their arranged interview as prospective marriage partners, Tang went to the meeting without any nervousness. While chatting, the man discovered that Tang was a diehard fan of the writer ­Chiung Yao. This topic of conversation immediately closed the distance between them, and like the male and female protagonists in a drama, they each romantically found the love of their life.

Managing a happy family with love

“Since getting married, we have always lived with my mother-in-law.” After coming to Taiwan, Tang has had to bear the responsibilities of a daughter-in-law and show filial respect to her mother-in-law. “A heart for a heart—my mother-in-law has also loved me like a daughter!” As Tang talks about her family life, her face is filled with happiness.

Tang was determined to bear a child for her in-laws, and to this end she really went through a lot. “The doctor said I was ‘super, super, super old’ to have a child.” Although they tried all kinds of methods and failed repeatedly, she always held onto a thread of hope, and was unwilling to give up. Five years after her marriage, at age 44, Tang finally had her wish fulfilled, giving birth to an adorable daughter.

“My mother-in-law really helped during my lying-in month, so now my health is even better than when I was young.” As she talks about her mother-in-law, Tang’s heart is filled with gratitude.

“For two whole months, my mother-in-law forbade me to touch water. She washed the baby every day, and did all the housework single-handedly.” The relationship between Tang and her mother-in-law was closer than between a mother and her own daughter.

“Life is what you make it. If you really want something, you’ll find a way, and if you don’t, you’ll find a way out.” Although Tang is busy with multiple jobs, she has always put the family first. This has been especially the case since 2012, when her mother-in-law suffered a stroke, and Tang cut down on her outside work. Every day there is feeding, washing, physical rehabilitation… she makes taking care of the elderly woman her most important task. Tang explains, “She’s 90 years old, and doesn’t have a lot of time left, so why not grasp the opportunity to do things right?” Tang, a firm believer in Buddhism, has always kept in mind her mother-in-law’s kindness to her, and she feels that having the opportunity to repay that is a karmic reward given to her by Heaven.

Giving is the source of joy

“When I was in Vietnam, I taught Chinese in a foreign language school.” Tang, who had always been a career woman, became a full-time housewife after coming to Taiwan. It was only after her daughter entered kindergarten that she had the chance to reenter the workplace.

At that time the Tai­pei City Department of Health needed translators to help immigrants and migrant workers from Southeast Asia during hospital visits. Seven years after coming to Taiwan, Tang nervously wrote out her first CV. “I never thought they would want me to start working right away.” Having the advantages of being able to read Chinese, as well as speak both Chinese and Taiwanese, Tang was able to get employed immediately.

Although later the funding for translators was cut, she felt that there were still many “sisters” (other Vietnamese immigrant women) out there who needed help, so she decided to stay on at the Ren’ai Branch of Tai­pei City Hospital as a volunteer. “I also hoped that by my example I would be able to change the prejudice that has existed toward Vietnamese people!” After more than ten years of determined perseverance, in 2015 she surpassed 5000 hours of service, and received a silver medal for voluntary service from the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

“It’s really hard when you can’t speak the language.” Tang recalls that when she was serving at the Ren’ai branch hospital a “sister” came to her to lament that the doctor didn’t understand her complaints, and so couldn’t treat her properly. It had gotten so bad that she was planning to go back to Vietnam for medical treatment. Her inability to express herself had caused her to make many wasted trips, and she complained that Taiwan doctors were no good. But Tang built a bridge of communication, and corrected her mistaken perception.

Another Vietnamese woman, who lived in New Tai­pei City’s Tai­shan District, kept putting off going to the doctor because she didn’t speak Chinese. After Tang found out, she met the woman in neighboring Xin­zhuang and brought her to the Ren’ai branch hospital. Throughout her longish treatment, each week Tang accompanied her to the hospital and back, until she had fully recovered. Tang’s way of giving without asking anything in return is something that her Vietnamese sisters find immensely heartwarming.

A beacon for her Vietnamese sisters

Cultural differences are a fountainhead of misunderstandings. Tang looks forward to better public understanding of Vietnamese culture. “I feel a sense of mission, so I have no regrets.” Her greatest joy has been in seeing the big improvement in the living environment for immigrants in recent years.

In 2006, Tang underwent training by the Pearl S. Buck Foundation, and gained her qualification as a judicial interpreter. She then began working as an interpreter in the Taiwan High Court and in district courts, while also serving as an advisor at the Tai­pei City New Immigrants’ Hall, encountering many criminal and civil cases involving Vietnamese immigrants.

“For a lot of things, you can’t only look at the surface. When we criticize Vietnamese brides for running away, who can understand the misery that they feel?” In that period when illegal marriage brokers ran wild, both the Vietnamese brides and the families of the husbands were victims. Perhaps it was the broker who stuffed his pockets with the greater part of the generous betrothal gift offered by the husband’s family.

“Because they didn’t understand the law, a lot of sisters lost out.” In fact they were eligible for ROC citizenship three years after arriving in Taiwan, but a lot of women had been married here for ten years and still hadn’t gotten a Taiwan ID card.

In those days some young girls were deceived into coming to Taiwan and then sold into prostitution. Seeing their tragic situation caused Tang great pain.

But knowledge is power. Tang, who has just graduated from the Department of Law at Toko University, hopes that in the future she can help even more disadvantaged immigrant women, so that they no longer are wronged and persecuted.

Food brings people together

“I was born in the city of Chau Doc, which is very famous for its snacks.” Ever since she became a volunteer at the Ren’ai branch hospital, Tang has often brought along some food she makes herself to give her Vietnamese sisters a taste of home, much to their delight.

In 2010, she got a professional certificate as a lecturer in Southeast-Asian culture from the Trans­Asia Sisters Association, Taiwan, and in 2011 began teaching at ­Yonghe Community College. She broke new ground by using cooking classes to introduce people to Vietnamese culture, and also began teaching the Vietnamese language. Using her own adaptations of traditional recipes, she taught one dish per week for 18 weeks each term. After teaching in ­Yonghe for three years and building her reputation, she transferred over to Xin­zhuang Community College to offer courses there. Besides cuisine, she has also introduced traditional Vietnamese dance into the curriculum.

To further spread Vietnamese culture, Tang teaches classes at Da Li Elementary School in Wan­hua, Zhong­gang Elementary in Xin­zhuang, and Bali Junior High in Bali. Though the journeys are exhausting and the income very small, when she looks into the children’s expectant eyes she can’t give up on them no matter how tired she gets.

She also hosts a program on Taiwan Radio aimed at helping her Vietnamese sisters integrate into life in Taiwan.

Teaching by example

“Never bicker with your mother-in-law. Even if you win, you still lose.” Talking about her secrets for a happy family life, Tang hauls out traditional Confucian thinking on filial piety toward one’s in-laws. “The better we are to our mothers-in-law, the better our husbands will be to us.” Sometimes you lose on the surface, but you win the substance: that’s the wise choice.

Teaching by example beats explaining in words. Because of the meticulous care given to her mother-in-law by Tang and her husband, every day when Tang’s daughter, who her mother-in-law helped so much to raise, gets home from school, she first affectionately plays up to her grandmother, making the elderly woman, who suffers from mild dementia, laugh happily. The child, now in her third year of middle school, has inherited Tang’s diligence and filial piety, and is very interested in Vietnamese language and culture.

“People act, Heaven watches.” Tang Nu ­Huong, who respects Confucian traditions, believes deeply that good deeds will get good returns. “Acceptance is an expression of love; we are all one family,” she says, and as marriage has brought her to Taiwan, she should treasure the relationships that fate has given her. “I am a daughter-in-law of Taiwan; this place is my home.”                           

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