A Weekend Trip Exploring History

A Weekend Trip Exploring History

This past May, Professor Adam Webb led a trip of students to

visit Kinmen Islands. The informal weekend trip was meant to explore the island

and its significance. To learn more about the trip, we interviewed two

students—Derek Chuah and Lucas Liu—about their experiences.

What did you do on this trip? Where did you go?

Lucas Liu: Since the trip was relatively informal, we didn’t

have a hard itinerary. On Saturday we started our trip by travelling to the

Taiwanese Coast Guardsmen’s headquarters to talk about their day-to-day work

life and responsibilities and learned more about the tools they use. After

lunch, we toured the island’s various historical structures left behind from

decades of conflict with the mainland. At the end of the day, we treated the

Guardsmen to a delicious dinner of skewers, noodles, and other Kinmen

delicacies, not to mention bottles of eye-watering Kinmen liquor. For me, an

HNC student who spent the better part of the last year in Taiwan and had no

plans to travel to the mainland, it was the closest I had gotten. It was a

surreal experience, and I am glad to have been able to end my year at the HNC

with that trip.

Derek Chuah: Personally, I enjoyed this trip very much. I

learned so much about their history and culture through participating in free

guided tours offered by the Kinmen County Government. I went there earlier than

the rest of the group so I could spend more time to dive deep into Kinmen. I

spent four days there. Places I visited include the Kinmen Military

Headquarters, Jiangong Islet, Little Kinmen, 

Dayue Gun Tower, Mofun Street, Juguang Tower and I also hiked the Mount

Taiwu. On Sunday,

Professor Webb borrowed a coast guard’s personal van and drove us to places in

Kinmen and Little Kinmen, such as to the Kinmen Folk Cultural Village, and to a

site where we could see Xiamen at a close distance.

Why did you participate in this trip to Kinmen Islands?

Chuah: I participated in this trip because I always heard

about Kinmen in some of my previous classes about the geopolitical situations

in the 1950s so by visiting Kinmen, I hoped to hear and to learn about locals’

experiences living in Kinmen during the martial law era and afterwards. My

goals were met because I learned about cross-strait relations, such as that people

in Kinmen could travel to Xiamen by boat and the water in Kinmen also comes

from Fujian. So, there are a lot of economic activities going on between the

two sides.

Liu: I had always wanted to learn more about the

geopolitical significance of Taiwanese islands close to the mainland like

Kinmen and Matsu. I also wanted to experience what life was like on Kinmen and

see what the experience was like for Taiwanese people living so close to the

mainland. As this was my last weekend in Taiwan, I also wanted to spend some

time with my classmates in what would be my last group experience with fellow

HNC students, and in the end, I truly enjoyed my time with them. 

What was something unexpected you experienced or learned on

this trip?

Liu: Before arriving, I was always under the impression that

Kinmen was a hotly-contested piece of land that often brought up a lot of

conflict between the mainland and Taiwan. However, after speaking to the

Guardsmen, I was surprised to learn quite the opposite, at least from their

perspective. In their day-to-day duties and even from the perspectives of many

residents of the island, there was little indication of their worry over

cross-strait conflict. Their job centered on law enforcement, which mainly

dealt with illegal fishing and sand dredging and much less with any small or

larger scale conflict. Furthermore, I was very surprised to hear that many

residents have good opinions of the relationship between the mainland and

Taiwan, and some even travel to Xiamen on occasion. As a result, this trip

really changed my perspective on how disconnected the larger geopolitical

discussions can be from local communities, and I found this to be a very

valuable insight.

Chuah: I didn’t know many people from Kinmen went to

Southeast Asia, and as a result, they brought back many ideas as shown in their

architectural style and food. For example, Cantonese congee with Chinese fried

donut is a common breakfast dish in Kinmen. When Kinmen people went to or came

back from Southeast Asia, they stopped in Canton; as a result, they brought it

back to Kinmen. They also bought back spices such as pepper from Southeast Asia,

so it is common to put a bit of pepper in the congee. Before I went to Kinmen,

I did not know they created so many underground tunnels and Kinmen preserved

some of the best Minnan villages.

What was your favorite part of the trip?

Chuah: My favorite part of the trip was learning about

Kinmen through visiting historical sites and talking with locals and Coast

Guards. I also enjoyed eating the local food. It was nice to visit Kinmen

before I wrapped up my time in Taiwan. Overall, this was one of the best trips

for me. 

Liu: My favorite part of the trip was probably the meal we

shared with the Guardsmen. After a long day touring the island and learning

about both the role of the Taiwanese Coast Guard as well as the history of

Kinmen, it was nice to kick back and relax with our new friends and just chat

about our lives. We also tried many local Kinmen foods, like skewers, rice

porridge, and Kinmen gaoliang liquor, a local favorite. It was an enjoyable

night, and I’m very glad to have had the opportunity to share it with both

local friends and HNC classmates.


It seems that Lucas and Derek had a wonderful time on the island,

exploring the local food and learning a great deal about Kinmen’s perspective

on Strait relations. From reading their answers, you can get a sense of the

hidden gem that is Kinmen Islands. It has definitely inspired me to find

opportunities to visit the island one day.

Lucas Liu is from San Francisco, California and is a Boren

Fellow. Derek Chuah is from New York City, and his concentration is on China

Studies and Security, Strategy, and Statecraft. Both Lucas and Derek are

MAIR+HNC Certificate students who graduated in June 2023.

Written by Betty Thai, MAIR+HNC Certificate 2023