The Love Boat: Matchmaking, the Ultimate Government Service

Chien T’an Campus – Taipei, Taiwan.

When I first started blogging on 8Asians, I was wondering when I would have a chance to blog about The Love Boat. If you are already asking what does the TV show, then you don’t know what I am talking about! Almost every Taiwanese-American I know has heard or gone on this program (which goes to show how small and connected the Taiwanese-American community is in the United States). Well, in this past week’s New York Times (5/25/08), the newspaper reports on “Matchmaking, the Ultimate Government Service:”

“Next month, Justin Mei, 20, will be on his way to the Love Boat. That’s the nickname for a monthlong cultural tour of Taiwan sponsored and partly subsidized by the Taiwanese government. The program — officially called the Expatriate Youth Summer Formosa Study Tour to Taiwan — has nothing to do with boats and it isn’t supposed to be about love. It is designed to expose young people with Taiwanese roots like Mr. Mei to the motherland through courses in Mandarin, sightseeing and traditional arts. “I want to reconnect with my heritage,” said Mr. Mei, who was born in Dallas and attends the University of Texas there. “I’ve been disconnected.” But the trip has long had a reputation for flirtations, flings and wedding proposals. Hence the nickname. “

The article also goes on to discuss the Israeli government-sponsored Taglit-Birthright Israel, a program that “sends young American Jews on 10-day trips to Israel,” with very much the idea of romance as part of the program.

Well, having attended in the summer of 1993 at the Chien T’an campus after graduating college, I can tell you first hand that Justin Mei is giving the politically correct answer for his parents! But in all honestly, I do think most do attend to make the most of their summer learning, having fun and making new friends (not necessarily new girlfriends or boyfriends, let alone future husbands and wives).

The Love Boat, or the Overseas Chinese Youth Language Training and Study Tour to the Republic of China) as it was known when I went, was a six week program in Taiwan, with the first 4 weeks in Taipei (if you were in the Chien T’an campus, and not Ocean Campus) and 2 weeks traveling throughout the island of Taiwan by bus. I believe the program is open to all Chinese and Taiwanese Americans and Canadians. The Taiwanese government doesn’t really advertise the program since demand is generally higher than the spots available, but basically you get an application via the Taiwanese “consulates” in the U.S. and Canada. Often times, Taiwanese and Chinese parents apply for their kids without their kids knowing.

The Taipei-based Chien T’an campus was divided into 3 different groups, Groups A, B and C, which were by age. The other campus, Ocean campus, I don’t know all that much about except that the facilities were not as good, and was sort of rural. There was only one occasion that both campuses would meet up and have sort of an Olympic games against each other. Group A was for mostly recent high school graduates and those completing their freshman or sophomore year. Group B was for juniors and seniors in college, and Group C was mostly for those who recently graduated from college. Each group, if I recall correctly, had 100 girls and 100 boys. You get the idea why the program is called The Love Boat. Inevitably, there are kids who do find significant others on the trip – whether or not they last once they return is another story.

I am not sure what the Chien T’an campus facilities were used for most of the year, but for us, the campus was packed with over 600 kids and young adults. I had 5 other roommates where we shared 3 bunk beds.

There was a cafeteria that served breakfast, lunch and dinner.

For most of the program, the program was free or very inexpensive (as the program is subsidized by the Taiwanese government). My year (Summer of 1993), the total cost (air travel aside – which everyone pays their own way, was $400 – including room & board). In the mornings, everyone would take Chinese language class

(different levels for different abilities), and also a “culture” class – like cooking (which I took – which was more like eating for me!), traditional folk dancing, traditional Chinese music instrument class, etc…

and in the afternoon or special days, field trips throughout Taipei, to see Chiang Kai-shek Memorial:

National Palace Museum, etc. and at night, there were activities to do, or one could walk down the street to a night market,

many went past “curfew” to go clubbing (that wasn’t really for me), karaoking, etc.

I had heard about the program while growing up from my parents and relatives – someone always knows someone who has attended the program. One of my best friends from college had gone a few years before I had, and had met some good friends. Most people go on the trip because they’ve known someone who had gone (a brother, cousin, friend) and had heard that it was fun. I think very few actually intend to go to find their future husband or wife. Then again, I’ve heard Generation Y / Millennials have quite a “hook up” culture these days. (Damn, I’m sounding old!).

Well, I highly recommend The Love Boat, especially for those Taiwanese-Americans who have never been to Taiwan before. It’s a whole lot of fun, got to see a lot (though having been to Taiwan a few times, I had seen a lot of what was on the trip) and you get to meet a lot of people with similar backgrounds – parents went to National Taiwan University, Taiwan Normal University, or some of the other top universities in Taiwan and emigrated to the United States to study for an advance degree, and stayed. Coming from the East Coast, I felt there was definitely a West Coast clique of those Taiwanese-Americans having grown up on the West Coast and attending UC Berkeley, UCLA, Stanford, etc… and a lot of those folks knowing each other, louder, confident, “cooler” more social and more “mainstream”. (After moving to the San Francisco Bay Area, but theories were confirmed – that Asian Americans are so much more in the mainstream society than the rest of the country.)Then there is sort of the East Coast Ivy League, MIT contingent. And then everyone in between, where Taiwanese-Americans growing up in the South or mid-West due to their families settling down in locales one wouldn’t normally think of where there are many Asians.

For some, it is an odd feeling to be surrounded folks with similar backgrounds – those who have been “back” to Taiwan and have visited relatives, familiar with the sites, sounds, customs, foods, weather, etc. of Taiwan and a general understanding of shared mutual experiences (over-bearing parents with high academic expectations, etc.) For others, there is quite a culture shock. In Group C, from my perspective, there definitely seemed to be an over-representation of “elite” university graduates who were going to medical school, law or graduate school in the fall after the Love Boat, where I was one of the few who was going to be working full-time (and was lucky enough to negotiate my summer off during a recession).

As I had mentioned, the last two weeks or so, you travel throughout the island by buses,

Sleeping on the bus, exhausted

Group bus photo

to see a variety of different sites, like the coastline of Taiwan:

hiking and the beach,

visit temples

and I’ve still kept in touch with quite a few of my “Love Boat” friends and even attended a few of their weddings:

wedding in Southern California, Chien T’an friends

(one friend did meet her husband on the Love Boat, but they were just friends on the trip, and only started dating several years later after they both lived in the same city – unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make that wedding. When I think about it, given our similar backgrounds and the fun I had, it’s not that much of a surprise that many people do keep in touch with their “Love Boat” friends. And as I had mentioned, the Taiwanese-American community in the United States is pretty small… A college alumni friend of mine who went on the Love Boat was friends with this guy Jonathan, and I later found out that Jonathan was the brother of a friend of mine from the Love Boat, though we went different years and to different colleges.

So overall, I think the Taiwan government does instill a positive impression of Taiwan to the overseas generation who did not grow up in Taiwan. It’s really hard not to see people bonding and becoming friends in such a short amount of time, especially the amount of time you spend with each other.

One thing that the New York Times article added into the article was this bit of data and commentary:

“According to a study using the latest Census Bureau figures, the percentage of Asian women born in the United States who marry Asian men has declined to 37 percent from 59 percent since 1994. The proportion of American-born Asian men who marry Asian women has also dropped, to 52 percent from 65 percent. “Foreign-born parents are distraught over the assimilation process for their kids,” said Daniel T. Lichter, a professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell who has long studied marital assimilation and was the lead author of the study. “They want their kids to be closely tied to the religion, the race, the language.””

Given all the “controversy” of Asian women dating/marrying white men vs Asian men dating/marrying white women, I am surprised that the statistical difference is only 15%. From the heated debates, one would think the differences are 10:1. Seeing how the professor was a professor from my alma mater, I decided to ping Professor Lichter and he said he would make available his paper shortly – “Intergenerational Patterns of Union Formation and Marital Quality.” I think an interesting study would be is to see if those who attended the Love Boat were more likely to marry another Taiwanese or Chinese-American. If so, then I think Taiwanese parents would be even more encouraged to send their kids to the Love Boat.

As for me, did I ever find my wife on the Love Boat. Well, that is a whole different story I’m not willing to blog about :-).

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About John

I'm a Taiwanese-American and was born & raised in Western Massachusetts, went to college in upstate New York, worked in Connecticut, went to grad school in North Carolina and then moved out to the Bay Area in 1999 and have been living here ever since - love the weather and almost everything about the area (except the high cost of housing...)
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