Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Ui-Seng Francois
Traveler Story: 'Going To Taiwan Was Like A Retreat For Me'
For Baltimore resident, Constance Ui-Seng Francois, connecting with her family in Taiwan is something she loves. As a Black woman of Tawainese descent, traveling to the Asian nation is important to her.
This past May, she took a month-long journey to the country to visit family in Changhua, explore new destinations, and connect with more of the culture that is such a big part of her.
“My family in Taiwan started a school near their home,” Ui-Seng told Travel Noire. “They wanted me to come and teach drama classes to the children there and put on a play.”
As a dancer, actress, and martial arts practitioner, she found that this trip was about more than just helping local children put together a play.
“My family knew that I had martial arts training. After being asked so many questions by the students and other adults, I decided to also teach classes.”
What started out as an informal thing, turned into Ui-Seng teaching daily lessons after school to those who were eager to learn. The experience was so impactful that she decided to document it.
“It was such an interesting experience because of the language barrier. I do not speak Mandarin which is the native language in Taiwan. But, it wasn’t an issue since Taekwando is more visual and physical,” Ui-Seng said.
She recalls the students truly enjoying themselves and how she was able to connect with them without words, but through actions alone. After speaking to one of their teachers, who was fluent in English, she learned that many of the students thoroughly enjoyed the classes and took away a lot, especially when it comes to being able to defend themself.
After spending some time in her family’s town, she ventured down south to Taitung’s mountains. She has a friend there who is also a teacher and she wanted to visit her. This area of Taiwan has a large aboriginal population, which are the original people who inhabited Taiwan before the Chinese took over. She spent time there teaching the martial art form as well.
Being a Black woman in Taiwan
Despite her Taiwanese roots, Ui-Seng still stood out among the locals. Just like most Asian nations, she received a few stares and some pretty interesting questions.
“There was one lady that pretty much told me, well at least you’re not that dark.” Despite the somewhat offensive comment, Ui-Seng didn’t feel that there was any malicious intent behind it.
For a lot of locals, it was simply curiosity and luckily Ui-Seng was able to answer the questions and dispel the myths. Many of the teachers that she worked with during her time there, wanted to know the proper ways to refer to Black Americans. Many didn’t know if it was appropriate to say African American versus Black American or Black.
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On the overall experience
“I did feel isolated a lot of the time, mostly because of the language barriers. I spent a lot of my time there just observing.”
After spending her month there, it was time to head back home to Baltimore. Ui-Seng admits to having a bit of reverse culture shock.
“I found a sense of peace there. I felt like I could be there without having to be a certain way. Now that I’m back, I can see how messed up American society is. It was almost like a retreat for me.”
For Ui-Seng it was back to the reality of being Black in America. It was back to maneuvering in all of the dynamics that we have as a country, something that she didn’t have to worry about while in Taiwan. For her, it was just a certain energy and peace that she felt while being there.
To see more of Ui-Seng’s time in Taiwan, you can check out her documentary here. She also contributed to the Faces of Martial Arts blog, where she is also an ambassador. You can read that story here.