Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) Ambassador to the Philippines, Dr. Gary Song-Huann Lin, is proof that if anyone can dream to be the person he wants to be, all he needs is determination and perseverance to make it a reality.
From a primary school teacher in a rural town of Emei Township in Hsinchu Country, Taiwan Song-Huann Lin strove to become one of his nation’s most important servants. He became a diplomat who rose through the ranks to ultimately fulfill an important role to represent Taiwan in befriending the countries of the world.
Recalling his humble beginnings to The Sunday Times Magazine, Song-Huann Lin described the place where he was born as a little town with flowing waters.
“It was a farm town and we were poor. To be able to get a college degree, I had to apply for a scholarship. Fortunately, I was accepted at Taiwan Provincial Normal [Teachers’] College where I got my School Teacher Certificate major in Education, History and Geography.”
Using his degree to teach and give back to his community, Song-Huann Lin would walk to school for almost two hours a day, carrying his blackboard and other teaching materials.
“I taught about 30 students with different ages back then,” he added.
Still eager to see the world and join the diplomatic service, Song-Huann Lin found a way to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature at Tamkang College, Taipei, Taiwan with the aim of improving his English language skills.
“I knew it would be an advantage in joining the Foreign Service, so I also used to listen to an American radio station and read a lot of English books to master the language,” he chuckled.
Song-Huann Lin determinedly juggled all these things, while teaching devotedly for seven years. He waited patiently for an opportunity toward his goal, and it came in the form of a scholarship to England’s Manchester University, where he pursued Advanced Studies of History as sponsored by the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Scholarship.
With further studies in his credentials, Song Huann Lin joined the Ministry of Education in Taiwan as an official at the Bureau of International Cultural and Educational Relations. In just a year, he was appointed Foreign Service Officer at the Department of European Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) in Taiwan.
Soon enough, his first international posting took him to Pretoria, South Africa as Third Secretary of the Taiwan Embassy. Ever a believer in education, he also pursued and completed his PhD in History during his tenure at the University of Pretoria.
From there, Song-Huann Lin’s career in the Foreign Service continued to flourish. Backed with an outstanding performance in every office he was given, he served as Second Secretary and First Secretary of Taiwan Embassy in Mbabane, Swaziland; Counselor and Charge d’ Affaires in Grenada and St. Lucia, West Indies; Deputy Director-General at the Department of Central and South American Affairs, MOFA, Taiwan; Consul-General in Durban, South Africa; Assistant Representative, Taipei Liaison Office in the Republic of South Africa; Senior Advisor to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New York, USA handling United Nations Affairs; Ambassador to the Republic of the Marshall Islands; Director-General of the Department of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, MOFA, Taiwan; and Representative to Norway.
On September 23, 2014 Song-Huann Lin’s was officially appointed Representative to the Philippines, and following his lengthy and impressive career in the Foreign Service, he still fulfill his duties with the eagerness and passion he had for his earliest post as a young diplomat.
Now 66 years old, Song-Huann Lin’s enjoys the support of his wife Sophia and his three daughters in all his endeavors. According to the ambassador, they have always been and continue to be his inspiration no matter where his duties take him.
“I have three daughters,” said the proud father. “Jane, my eldest who graduated from Columbia University and is now working in New York as an economist in Ernst and Young. My second daughter is Helen, who graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is now also working in the same institute in Boston; while my youngest daughter Tina, who took her Masters from Columbia College is a school teacher in Brooklyn, New York.”
In the following Q&A, The Sunday Times Magazine gets to know more about TECO’s Representative to the Philippines—from his work ethic, his thoughts and goals for the bilateral relations of Taiwan and the Philippines, and the legacy he would like to leave as an outstanding diplomat of his beloved nation.
STM: Since assuming office in September 2014, how have you steered TECO in building stronger ties with the Philippines?
Ambassador Gary Song-Huann Lin: In the area of tourism, Taiwan makes up the ninth largest visitors to the Philippines, while Filipinos are also the ninth largest visitors to Taiwan. There are on the average 200,010 Taiwanese visitors coming to the Philippines every year. In turn, there are 100,000 Filipino workers in Taiwan, and there are more than 7,000 Filipino married to Taiwanese nationals.
In education and culture, Taiwan continuously provides scholarships to young Filipino students for the opportunity to do research and further studies in Taiwan universities.
In terms of economy, Taiwan is investing more in the Philippines today. Among its new investments are the field of electronics, food processing, sports, life insurance, banking and finance.
STM: What are your thoughts on the Filipino people?
GSHL: I’m very impressed with how you take care of each other—not only your family members but also your friends. Every day for example, I witness how my secretary and her friends share their food during break times.
Filipinos are also very courteous and have a great sense of humor. They always show courage and perseverance and they are very compassionate.
We are sincerely thankful for the services of the Filipino caretakers who, over the years, have helped us to shoulder the responsibility to care for our elders in Taiwan. The dedication of the Filipino labor force and its tremendous contributions to Taiwan’s society and economy are widely recognized and deeply appreciated by our people.
STM: Do you see any similarities between the Taiwanese and Filipinos?
GSHL: We share common values and some aspects of culture. This is reflected by the high acclaim Taiwan has won for democracy, and how it exemplified itself as an Asian model for freedom and democracy.
Similarly, the Philippines is also the pioneer of democracy in Asia. As such, both countries are true believers in freedom and democracy, and take pride in free, open and civil societies.
We also share the same values prioritizing the family.
Both our peoples are friendly and compassionate. In addition to sending rescue teams to the Philippines to help the families of victims of recent natural disasters like Super Typhoon Yolanda, Taiwan has donated large amounts of medical supplies, food items, ambulances, fire-engines, etc., to various local governments in the Philippines.
Taiwan also introduced the cash for work system during the rehabilitation of Tacloban so that the victims can maintain dignity in receiving help from other people.
STM: With the priorities of your office, how would you like to be remembered as ambassador to the Philippines when the time comes for you to move on?
GSHL: I want to be remembered as a peacemaker and someone who helped build a genuine relationship between the Philippines and Taiwan. We are geographically near and yet it saddens me when you ask a Filipino about Taiwan, and they know little about our country. In the same way, our young people in Taiwan know little about the Philippines that is why we have a program that brings young people from Taiwan to visit the Philippines. Recently, about 15 students from the Soochow University Volunteer Group in Taiwan came here to know more about the Philippines.
STM: With a country known for high technological advances, may we know if you’re also tech savvy?
GSHL: We are living in a changing world, in an era of digital technology. Everything seems to move so fast. When I was young I never saw any kind of computer or mobile phone. I encountered a mobile phone when I was already a consul general to South Africa. That was the first time I started to use it. And at that time the mobile phone was very big and huge and heavy.
In an era like this, I have to adopt and try to improve myself together with the times. I attended a few courses in computers in 1988, and tried to catch up. Right now, I know the basics. For example, I know how to accept and respond to emails; I know how to type on the computer and send text messages and receive them through a mobile phone.
I also communicate with my children in the US through social media like Skype.
I also try out a few basics just to be able to communicate through a particular gadget. Every day I check my email after I finish work, and before I go to sleep. I will go on my personal computer and check if I have any email from my children, my friends and even official letters I need to answer. I usually spend about an hour on the computer before I go to sleep, which I use for personal time such as reading Taiwan’s news and national news online.
I think in a digital era, it’s important for everybody to have digital education. I’m already 66 years old but I still have a lifelong opportunity to learn about the technology.
We need to overcome the fear of the gadget because if you don’t catch up, it will be very difficult to keep up with everything you need to do and know especially during travels.
For example, most Australian airports are digital now. Nobody waits at a counter anymore; you have to check in online by yourself.
Taiwan is one of the most important suppliers of ICT (information and communications technology) in the international industry chain. Most of the Apple gadgets—70 percent of its components—are supplied by Taiwan’s factories. Without Taiwan’s back up the international industry, ICT will certainly have problems.
This is one of Taiwan’s strengths; that’s why in the digital education back home is quite advanced with lots of young people involved.
We also provide digital education to try to bridge the gap for many neighboring countries including the Philippines. We are helping rural areas in the Philippines and other countries like Latin America, and in the Pacific.
This is part of Taiwan’s projects for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)—digital contribution to make the young generation have better opportunities to catch up with those who are more fortunate. These digital learning centers are called ADOC (APEC Digital Opportunity Center) Mobile e-learning Centers.
In the Philippines alone, we have already trained more than 10,000 young people in the rural areas. We have set up many educational digital centers in rural areas for free. These are for those who have no opportunity to attend digital trainings. We provide some computers and financial funding for these projects.
STM: Had you not been fortunate to realize your dreams of becoming a diplomat, what do you think you’d be doing today?
SHL: I would be a rich farmer with many children because in Emie Township, in Hsinchu Country, the place where I was born, farmers married young.
Seriously, this is also my retirement dream. To go back to the place where I was born and go back to nature—in a place where the water flows.