Life after politics

In May I lost a highly publicized party primary election and failed to be nominated to run again in the next parliamentary term. The election itself was vicious, my staff and I witnessed the worst side of politics – money, betrayal, slander, threats… But fortunately, though I have lost an election, my integrity has survived, and I have gained much freedom, a life free of endless constituent demands and political responsibilities.

Going through any fierce battle is gruesome, but I like to remember the better moments, like the hugs from women in the market, the shouts of support from people in passing cars, my loyal and diligent staff (who now seem trained to withstand any kind of hardship), and since this is my English piece, I have to also thank my English-speaking foreign friends, who could not vote for me but were willing to go public with their moral support; three of them happen to be successive former US national security council senior officials, Jim Steinberg – the first to lend me his name and a good quote for my campaign brochure, Torkel Patterson — who never forgets to remind me of his confidence in my abilities, and Michael Green – who came by my office and wasn’t hesitant to speak to the crazy media about my contributions to Taiwan-US relations.

There are still people who think they feel sorry for me, expressing regrets and offering sympathies, but those who really understand what I have been through are actually congratulating me for a new opportunity to reorganize my life, or, to actually HAVE a life outside of politics. One day I’m riding a horse in Mongolia, and the next day I’m snorkeling among tropical fish in southern Taiwan. I’ve relieved myself of the self-imposed curfew of 11pm and now I feel free to have drinks with friends late into the night, forget the paparazzi!

It has been fifteen years since I was an idealistic student faithfully taking on the motto from my Oberlin College admissions handbook, “one person can change the world.” I think that kind of idealism has been dampened by all the shocks and wounds throughout my political career, brief but highly intense. My footsteps and enthusiasm have been slowed down by heavy burdens and responsibilities. But whenever I think of the special moments, like the night of March 18, 2000, when I was most honored to be on the stage in front of tens of thousands of supporters (and millions more in front of the TV), announcing the victory of Chen Shui-bian, it all seems worthwhile. I remember the faces in the crowd, some people had waited their entire life to see the end of the authoritarian age. For all of us, while just a few years back it was a crime to advocate direct elections, this was the first time we were truly empowered to decide our own future by electing a new government, peacefully. That moment was much more memorable than my own elections to the legislature, twice, and it is certainly gratifying to know that I was part of making history.

Like my country Taiwan that has been through trials and tribulations, through colonization and authoritarianism, we ultimately survive the worst of circumstances. And that is the beauty of being part of an immigrant society. The door closes in front of you, but there is always another way around it. An opportunity is deprived, but there are plenty more out there as long as you have the courage to depart and find them. Hearts are crushed and broken, but there are plenty of warm and caring hands.

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Everyone’s asking me what’s next in life. Friends are giving me kind suggestions, and others are even offering me jobs. But the truth is, I’m not even in a hurry to get to the next step. I’m helping out a bit in our next presidential candidate’s campaign as his international affairs director, but on the whole what I really want now is a break and some time to take care of myself, to have extra time to see the baseball games and the sunsets when I travel. As one of my friends said, “Now you can have time to smell the roses.”

This morning I took the new Shinkansen bullet train, racing past the serene rural green of Western Taiwan at 300 kilometers per hour. I was back in Taipei before I could barely get through two speeches in the collection of Vaclav Havel’s “A farewell to politics.” How can life be better?

2007/07/15, Bi-khim Hsiao