As I approached the student center on the campus of National Cheng Kung University in Tainan, Taiwan, on the evening of April 19, 2010, I was taken by surprise by the size of the line of students waiting outside. Janet Hsieh, host of the TV travel series, Fun Taiwan, was scheduled to speak at 7:30 pm, and I arrived at 6:00 pm. Not only did she have fans from her television show, Janet was also a personality in Taiwan well-known for her modeling and television commercial endorsements. The auditorium was filled beyond capacity with people anxious to hear the speaker’s inspiring story-telling.
I had the opportunity to catch some time with Janet back-stage before her presentation. When asked about her draw to Tainan and what she enjoyed about the city that she has visited frequently, she beamed, “The food!” Tainan is famous for its many local delicacies and snacks.
Janet is truly a connoisseur of the foods she discovers on her travels. She also mentioned that she felt Tainan would be a place where she would like to further explore Dutch colonial history in Taiwan, as she felt she had some Dutch in her bloodlines.
When asked what she hoped the college students would come away with during her speech, Janet said that she hoped they would be inspired to try more new things. “People don’t have to travel the world to gain a new perspective about themselves. They can try new things and learn every day wherever they are and from whoever is around them.”
Janet Hsieh captured the audience with stories from her travels. She owed much of her open-mindedness and willingness to push the boundaries of what was possible, to the people who inspired her, especially her grandmother. Her Taiwanese grandmother learned French at the age of 40 and went to work in Africa. At age 16, Miss Hsieh was not willing to let $2000 in travel expenses deter her from earning herself a trip to Ecuador to help children in remote villages. Her ingenuity and creativity solved her financial obstacle, and in return she gained an eye-opening experience that showed her how she could positively impact the world.
Janet shared travel stories, photos and funny anecdotes in Mandarin Chinese, English and Taiwanese. More important than the interesting, and sometimes bizarre, travel experiences, were the lessons she shared with the students.
“Don’t focus on an itinerary. You don’t know what you will miss out on…”
“Learn from your mistakes and move on…”
“Learn from others’ mistakes…”
From the event, the audience learned valuable lessons. They also learned not to tell Janet that she can’t do something because she is a girl, no matter how crazy it sounds. I learned that this TV travel celebrity, who lives a life most people only dream of, didn’t luck into her life. Her success is a result of her curiosity, her willingness to learn, and the choices she makes in a world that offers many perspectives daily.
This annual event was hosted by the Cheng Kung Toastmaster’s Club. Club officers Amy Chen, Tiffany Twu, Kevin Hu, and Christy Chen worked tirelessly to promote the successful event, and show the student body the importance of public speaking and international perspectives. I owe them a special thanks for making the interview possible.