Traveling

On May 21 my formal employment obligation with the DPP as international director ended with the transition of the party leadership. This transition will be a good one, I believe, for the party and for me. The election of new party leader Tsai Ying-wen has brought a ray of sunshine into a sea of depressive darkness, and soon she will have my beloved party back on our feet again.

As for me, I have decided that this is a God-sent opportunity for me change gears. I am determined to take at least a one-year slow course to compensate for all those years of campaigning weekends, late-night constituent discussions, and birthdays spent on inter-continental flights… Chairwoman Tsai called a couple times, but no amount of pleading was able convince me to take on certain jobs in the party. Sure I feel sympathetic toward the challenges and burdens on her shoulders, I feel emotionally still very much attached to the DPP, but I MUST take this break, time off for myself. So after a number of Taipei-Germany long-distance calls, we settled on a compromise: I will work on a voluntary basis as the “special assistant to the Chair,” helping the party here and there, but at the same time I would maintain my freedom from work obligations.

The political circumstances that have surround me over the past few years have made me feel like I have one foot in a grave already, and if I do not take a step back for some fresh air, I am going to fall into that grave, permanently. So the struggle for life begins here, with my departure.

Actually it was originally a working trip. I started the trip with a lecture at St. Anthony’s College in Oxford. Then I met up with some colleagues in London and went on to Belfast for the Liberal International Congress. That was followed by conferences and events with the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung fur die Freiheit in Bonn and Berlin, with the final program ending, coincidentally, with the date of my resignation from the party.

I have been attending these LI gatherings for years. For me it has been an opportunity to broaden my horizons, to meet other international political activists and leaders who share a liberal and democratic outlook on the world.

It is also always refreshing for me to see political leaders much more developed in age, still so enthusiastic and passionate about ideas. I told my friend John Alderdice, who was previously involved in the Northern Ireland peace process and had presided over the parliament, how inspiring it was to hear someone who has witnessed so much turmoil, pain and confrontation in politics, to remain so steadfast in his beliefs and positive in his outlook. There have been times when I have been so fed up and on the verge of quitting. But seeing the persistence and enthusiasm of these political leaders, I am on the one hand excited and inspired, but on the other, feeling shame for my own weakness and inability to fight on with the feisty passion I used to have.

Another dear amigo at the conference described a certain type of “cursed freedom fighter.” We are cursed, he said, in the pursuit of our beliefs. There is no escape from it. We can be defeated, but the pursuit will not die. Others concurred. But is there really a threshold after which politics is a path with no return? I thought my candle had burned out already. I used to have the ability to warm the hearts of others, to galvanize enthusiasm in rallies of tens of thousands. But the reality is I have been draining myself of life in the process, especially as I look at the faces in the crowds knowing that we have failed to meet their expectations, knowing that we have disappointed them.

How could a noble cause, that had generated such passion and hope, go wrong? How could the righteousness that carries on the curse end up disappointing so many? Why has the relentless pursuit to bring about happiness to the masses instead created such misery to everyone around me including myself? The struggle between passionate idealism and pragmatism in politics is ongoing, and it is painful. I am the only who can resolve the questions for myself, but I want to do it in a state of mental sanity and physical well-being.

I thought I had made a reservation on-line for a small Mercedes sports car. But the two Hertz guys, who did not speak a word of English, showed up with a HUGE Audi station wagon. Not my idea of German precision, but apparently everything in Germany is supposed to come in large sizes… I decided to accept what fate had arranged for me and drove off in this car so big I had trouble parking it.

The first stop was Dresden. I must apologize to my German friends of Saxony. I had such prejudices about communist East Germany that I never knew what attractions were ahead. I’d call it a transition stop, for I was departing from my political job to start a long holiday, and in this particular city I did some of both. My FDP friends Torsten and Roland gave me the best possible sight-seeing excursion politicians could offer. We had coffee with the Dresden mayoral candidate, who was easy to identify with his face on posters all over town, looking very familiar. In addition to the completely renovated and majestic historic structures in the altstadt, we also got our panoramic schloss-top view. It is actually a very beautiful city, certainly much more attractive than the concrete jungle we call Berlin.

Fate has treated me well, at least for the first few days of my new life. The huge car turned out to be a blessing on the German autobahn. I thought my car in Taipei was OK, but this was quite an amazing experience. Cruising without speed limits, a car so smooth in acceleration, I am starting to feel freedom.

Ping-ya was with me for the first three days, then I met up with Siraya for lunch in Lindau, and in Freiburg a nice German guy Florian took time to show me around. But for the most part of this trip I was traveling solo and enjoying every moment of it. I grew to like the big car, which securely took me speeding on the autobahn but also through winding country roads, past vineyards, apple orchards, meadows blooming with wild flowers, grazing cows, and through the Black Forest. The B31 between Lindau and Freiburg has to be one of the most beautiful roads I have ever taken.

After Dresden Pingya and I went through Bamberg, Wurzburg and Nurnburg to the fairy-tale medieval town of Rothenberg. Once in a while we would run into well-meaning Taiwanese tourists but for the most part I was able to dodge their cameras in my extremely low-key mode. From Rothenburg I took part of what the Germans call the “Romantic Road” down to Lindau, which borders the Bodensee and offers a beautiful view of the forbidding peaks of the Swiss Alps across the lake. In my solo traveling I did not exactly feel romantic, but the new-found freedom was enough to get me excited.

My daily routine would go like this: A nice work-out hike in the forest or up a steep Schloss footpath in the morning, ice cream for lunch, walking around another old town in the afternoon, and ending the day with a big salad and German beer at one of the sunny outdoor cafes you find all over the country. How can unemployment get any better than this?

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Each day I grew more at ease with this relaxing routine, and happier. For over a decade I have been inclined to feel guilty each time an indulging thought came to mind. On the plane I watched a movie about two men who met in the hospital; knowing they were about to die of cancer they decided to explore parts of the world they always wanted to see. Now I am not dying of cancer, at least not that I know of, but I cannot allow myself to drown in guilt and miserable politics. And I know, the Burmese refugees are lacking clean water, the Zimbabwe opposition is being brutalized, and China still has those missiles deployed against Taiwan. But the misery of desiring the kind of change that is beyond my reach, or what I call the conflict between passion and pragmatism, has been too overwhelming to bear. I may be cursed in my inability to escape from political life completely, but at the moment I am no freedom fighter, just a selfish ex-politician trying to find happiness for myself.

2008/05/31, Bi-khim Hsiao

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