A HK Teacher’s Travelogue in Taiwan: Exiled From Home and Exchanging Paintings for Meals

From Nathan Road (in Hong Kong) to Zhongxiao Road East (in Taiwan), VA Wong Sir, a Hong Kong visual arts teacher living in Taiwan, is celebrating his second Christmas and New Year in a foreign country in 2023. Having experienced the “complete makeover” of the social environment in Hong Kong, he was forced to live in exile in Taiwan to continue his pursuit of freedom of speech.Before the next Taiwan elections, he launched his new book “Add One More Pair of Chopsticks,” recording his visits to about 50 families in Taiwan over the past year, an experience he called “exchanging paintings for meals.” Through exchanging stories with his newly found Taiwanese friends at the dinner table, he tasted not just the local food, but also the laughter and tears of leaving home.Wong Sir used to work as a secondary school Liberal Studies (LS) teacher in Hong Kong and was also a cartoonist. In 2020, he was accused by anonymous reporters of drawing cartoons about current affairs, and the school did not renew his contract. The Hong Kong Education Bureau even ruled him to be unethical as a teacher.Under the threat of the Hong Kong National Security Law (NSL), he moved to Taiwan to study for a master’s degree. In 2022, he decided he must get out of his comfort zone, so he launched a new art project on New Year’s Eve. With the theme of “Add One More Pair of Chopsticks,” he visited different Taiwanese families. He left behind beautiful moments with his painting brush, hoping this “paintings for meals” idea could bring a different kind of life experience to each other.However, as the saying goes, “all things good and bad must come to an end,” and for Wong Sir, 2023 is a year of farewell. During the Mid-Autumn Festival, when everyone is supposed to be reunited, he receives the tragic news of his mother’s death. It was undoubtedly heartbreaking that he could not accompany his mother on her last days as he was in a foreign country. “I also hope to commemorate my mother through the publication this time. And indeed, this “Add One More Pair of Chopsticks” project had its origin stemming from missing my family...” Wong Sir had been the guest of different Taiwanese families and felt “home” by being there. He uses his perspective and brush to record all those precious memories.During the Mid-Autumn Festival in 2023, Wong Sir received the tragic news that his mother had passed away. As he was unable to return home, he could only stare at the moon to retrieve all past fond memories. (Courtesy of vawongsir)Understanding Taiwanese Culture by Starting with ‘Food’In the past year and a half, since he moved to Taiwan to study, Wong Sir has gradually integrated into the local community after feeling uncomfortable at the beginning. The launch of his “Add One More Pair of Chopsticks” art project has become a vital part that changed his life and helped him get out of his comfort zone.Related Stories11/22/2023When he first arrived in Taiwan, loneliness and helplessness engulfed his entire inner self. In December 2022, he took, with all his wits, the very first step and posted his plan to start the “paintings for meals” idea on social media. To his surprise, it received an excellent response, and he received numerous invitations from many local Taiwanese families.In the past six months, he has visited about 50 Taiwanese families from Taichung, Tainan, Kaohsiung, Hualien, and Yilan... where he left his footprints and tasted all kinds of food, from which he learned about all the cuisine culture that was never evident while on leisure travel in Taiwan in the past.“For example, people can use many different phrases to express their opinion on whether a food is delicious or not.” Wong Sir created one of the food reviews between Hong Kong and Taiwan, which expresses, in a rather humorous way, how Taiwanese and Hong Kong people evaluate food.From such diverse ways of evaluating the same item, we can also see the different personalities between Hong Kong and Taiwanese people. For example, when expressing one’s view that the food is not tasty, Hong Kong people will comment, quite directly, “not delicious” or “unpalatable.” In contrast, Taiwanese people will express their attitude with “awkward yet polite smiles.”Wong Sir shared that Taiwanese people are much more hospitable than he thought. He did not expect that some families would even arrange food and accommodation for him and even took him to visit their neighborhood communities, which made him feel flattered.He recalled one instance during the Chinese New Year earlier this year (2023) when his Taiwanese friend, Ms. Xiaoyi, invited him to her home in Yilan for dinner on the fourth day of the Lunar New Year. She not only provided him with accommodation, but also took him to visit the Yilan Traditional Art Park to watch customary lion dances and noodle-making and to participate in indigo dyeing workshops, all full of enjoyable activities.The human touch of Taiwanese people goes beyond a meal and a painting. I

A HK Teacher’s Travelogue in Taiwan: Exiled From Home and Exchanging Paintings for Meals

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From Nathan Road (in Hong Kong) to Zhongxiao Road East (in Taiwan), VA Wong Sir, a Hong Kong visual arts teacher living in Taiwan, is celebrating his second Christmas and New Year in a foreign country in 2023. Having experienced the “complete makeover” of the social environment in Hong Kong, he was forced to live in exile in Taiwan to continue his pursuit of freedom of speech.

Before the next Taiwan elections, he launched his new book “Add One More Pair of Chopsticks,” recording his visits to about 50 families in Taiwan over the past year, an experience he called “exchanging paintings for meals.” Through exchanging stories with his newly found Taiwanese friends at the dinner table, he tasted not just the local food, but also the laughter and tears of leaving home.

Wong Sir used to work as a secondary school Liberal Studies (LS) teacher in Hong Kong and was also a cartoonist. In 2020, he was accused by anonymous reporters of drawing cartoons about current affairs, and the school did not renew his contract. The Hong Kong Education Bureau even ruled him to be unethical as a teacher.

Under the threat of the Hong Kong National Security Law (NSL), he moved to Taiwan to study for a master’s degree. In 2022, he decided he must get out of his comfort zone, so he launched a new art project on New Year’s Eve. With the theme of “Add One More Pair of Chopsticks,” he visited different Taiwanese families. He left behind beautiful moments with his painting brush, hoping this “paintings for meals” idea could bring a different kind of life experience to each other.

However, as the saying goes, “all things good and bad must come to an end,” and for Wong Sir, 2023 is a year of farewell. During the Mid-Autumn Festival, when everyone is supposed to be reunited, he receives the tragic news of his mother’s death. It was undoubtedly heartbreaking that he could not accompany his mother on her last days as he was in a foreign country. “I also hope to commemorate my mother through the publication this time. And indeed, this “Add One More Pair of Chopsticks” project had its origin stemming from missing my family...” Wong Sir had been the guest of different Taiwanese families and felt “home” by being there. He uses his perspective and brush to record all those precious memories.

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During the Mid-Autumn Festival in 2023, Wong Sir received the tragic news that his mother had passed away. As he was unable to return home, he could only stare at the moon to retrieve all past fond memories. (Courtesy of vawongsir)
During the Mid-Autumn Festival in 2023, Wong Sir received the tragic news that his mother had passed away. As he was unable to return home, he could only stare at the moon to retrieve all past fond memories. (Courtesy of vawongsir)

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Understanding Taiwanese Culture by Starting with ‘Food’

In the past year and a half, since he moved to Taiwan to study, Wong Sir has gradually integrated into the local community after feeling uncomfortable at the beginning. The launch of his “Add One More Pair of Chopsticks” art project has become a vital part that changed his life and helped him get out of his comfort zone.

When he first arrived in Taiwan, loneliness and helplessness engulfed his entire inner self. In December 2022, he took, with all his wits, the very first step and posted his plan to start the “paintings for meals” idea on social media. To his surprise, it received an excellent response, and he received numerous invitations from many local Taiwanese families.

In the past six months, he has visited about 50 Taiwanese families from Taichung, Tainan, Kaohsiung, Hualien, and Yilan... where he left his footprints and tasted all kinds of food, from which he learned about all the cuisine culture that was never evident while on leisure travel in Taiwan in the past.

“For example, people can use many different phrases to express their opinion on whether a food is delicious or not.” Wong Sir created one of the food reviews between Hong Kong and Taiwan, which expresses, in a rather humorous way, how Taiwanese and Hong Kong people evaluate food.

From such diverse ways of evaluating the same item, we can also see the different personalities between Hong Kong and Taiwanese people. For example, when expressing one’s view that the food is not tasty, Hong Kong people will comment, quite directly, “not delicious” or “unpalatable.” In contrast, Taiwanese people will express their attitude with “awkward yet polite smiles.”

Wong Sir shared that Taiwanese people are much more hospitable than he thought. He did not expect that some families would even arrange food and accommodation for him and even took him to visit their neighborhood communities, which made him feel flattered.

He recalled one instance during the Chinese New Year earlier this year (2023) when his Taiwanese friend, Ms. Xiaoyi, invited him to her home in Yilan for dinner on the fourth day of the Lunar New Year. She not only provided him with accommodation, but also took him to visit the Yilan Traditional Art Park to watch customary lion dances and noodle-making and to participate in indigo dyeing workshops, all full of enjoyable activities.

The human touch of Taiwanese people goes beyond a meal and a painting. In the days that followed, Wong Sir often received greetings and invitations from Taiwanese friends during holidays. For example, during the Mid-Autumn Festival, a friend also invited him to have a barbecue at his home, which made him feel very warm.

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On the fourth day of the Lunar New Year in 2023, Taiwanese friend Ms. Xiaoyi invited Wong Sir to her home in Yilan for dinner and made Wong Sir feel an intense sense of human touch there. (Courtesy of VA Wong Sir)
On the fourth day of the Lunar New Year in 2023, Taiwanese friend Ms. Xiaoyi invited Wong Sir to her home in Yilan for dinner and made Wong Sir feel an intense sense of human touch there. (Courtesy of VA Wong Sir)

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Each family brought different surprises to Wong Sir, and through these, he also learned about the various culinary traditions between Taiwan and Hong Kong. “I was surprised that every family, from the south to the north, has its own “secret recipe” for braised pork rice. There are assorted flavors, diverse ways of cutting the meat, and different grades of meat, too. They all think that what they cook at home is authentic. There are also many, many ways to describe an octopus, which I didn’t know in the past. Now, having learned all these trivia, it’s high time I included all these in the book and shared them with everyone.”

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Sparks of Thought from the Dinner Table

In the process of going along with his “exchange paintings for meals” concept, Wong Sir tasted not only home-cooked dishes from all over the country but also the collision of ideological sparks—the spiritual food so perceived offers even more nutrition for himself.

When Wong Sir visited Ms. Xiaoyi’s family in Yilan, he learned during the chat that her son was also a teacher. Naturally enough, they talked about the issues of the education systems in Hong Kong and Taiwan, as well as learned about the intrusion of mainland culture into both places.

In particular, the infiltration of “Douyin” and “Little Red Book” has created so much fascination among local youngsters that it has become a worrying trend. They also expressed their confusion about Taiwan’s political future, such as dissatisfaction with the current military service system, hardware and software that cannot keep up with international standards, and the like.

Ms. Xiaoyi shared: “The politics of Yilan have once changed in the past, but in recent years, we miss the old friendship, and everyone stays with the status quo. Whether it is good or bad, they all share the responsibility.

Time will tell; the good ones can, of course, stay, and the bad ones need to be driven away with votes–and that is the essence of democracy. Taiwan will see more significant changes in the next ten years, with young people who are able to travel further and see more, which will definitely offer a better future for Taiwan.”

While sharing his own experience, Wong Sir feels that Hong Kong’s education is on the verge of collapse: “In the past, Hong Kong’s schools included liberal studies (LS) in its curriculum, which emphasized critical thinking from multiple perspectives and distinguishing right from wrong.

Now, this subject has been abolished and replaced by a so-called civic education. But everyone can see that this civic education is just one part of “patriotic education.” The largest trade union of educational professionals in Hong Kong, the “Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union,” was also forced to dissolve, and teachers have to understand the NSL and take an exam on Basic Law. How ridiculous all these are!”

Talking about how Hong Kong’s education can continue nowadays, Wong Sir believes that family education plays a key role: “Today, a lot of the parents emigrate to other places along with their children. What I hope dearly is we can continue to defend Cantonese, which is definitely one key component of native Hong Kong culture. At least if we start with Cantonese, we can then tell the kids the story behind Hong Kong, its real history, and its culture. I think parents can and should do a better job in this role.”

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Taiwanese lady Ms. Ru invited Wong Sir to her home for dinner, and he drew this portrait for her family of five. (Courtesy of VA Wong Sir)
Taiwanese lady Ms. Ru invited Wong Sir to her home for dinner, and he drew this portrait for her family of five. (Courtesy of VA Wong Sir)

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There is a Taiwanese family that impressed Wong Sir very much. The person who invited him as a guest was a Taiwanese lady, Ms. Ru, who works in mainland China.

The family of five lives together, and it is also interesting to talk about current affairs freely at home, such as the election that just took place in 2023. During these gatherings, they will always make their stance and argue the points as projected on the TV screen. After that, everyone will express their own opinions and start a big debate. Wong Sir believes that this shows the worth of Taiwan’s democracy - harmony albeit different.

Within this framework, parents do not insist on telling their children what best to listen to, but children also have their own opinions and respect other people’s views. When asked why Ms. Ru wanted to work in the Mainland, she said that she did not like the Mainland government and just wanted to experience the local situation firsthand instead of through hearsay.

By doing so, her personal experience would be more solid, and she could understand the actual situation. Wong Sir admires Ms. Ru’s courage and enjoys understanding the local people’s thoughts with Taiwanese families in a relaxed atmosphere at the dinner table.

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Two young artists bring their unique “Bach’s Coffee” to Wong Sir. (Courtesy of VA Wong Sir)
Two young artists bring their unique “Bach’s Coffee” to Wong Sir. (Courtesy of VA Wong Sir)

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In another case, Wong Sir visited two young artists who co-rent a unit. One of them is a flamenco dancer, and the other is a cello performer. After dinner, they showed off their talents and gave him several distinct kinds of music (music-flavored coffee) to enjoy. During the conversation, they shared what they thought about the support provided by the Taiwan and Hong Kong governments for culture and art. Wong Sir was very envious of Taiwan’s free creative environment.

When communicating with his Taiwanese friends, he will also discuss the issue of “Hong Kong today, Taiwan tomorrow,” hoping that Taiwanese people can recognize the CCP clearly and not give the CCP room to infiltrate: “While I am in Taiwan, I will share in person my experience with Taiwanese people, and will also participate in exhibitions and lectures organized by various non-governmental organizations, which will also allow them to reflect on what is happening in Hong Kong.”

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(Courtesy of VA Wong Sir)
(Courtesy of VA Wong Sir)

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