Exclusive Interviews with the DTAA Recipients:
The Hon. Arnaldo Castillo Figueroa
Friendships generate deep feelings for Taiwan
The Honourable Arnaldo Castillo Figueroa, Minister of Economic Development of the Republic of Honduras, and staunch supporter of Taiwan’s diplomatic relations with his country, graduated from the Republic of China Military Academy (ROCMA). He says that before he arrived on the island to study, he didn’t know anything about Taiwan and could not speak more than a few words of Chinese. Unexpectedly, he stayed for five years, developing fluent spoken Chinese and close feelings toward Taiwan.
In the 1990s, at the age of 18, Arnaldo Castillo Figueroa graduated from the military preparatory school in Honduras, having been selected for his excellent physical condition and good reflexes. On completing his exchange studies at ROCMA, he became one of the few foreign soldiers who have a military diploma from Taiwan.
The minister is a kind, witty and warm-hearted man, who says that in this age of advances in information technology the internet has brought us great convenience, but that in his time the field was underdeveloped; therefore, he didn’t know Taiwan at all before arriving. On arrival, he studied Chinese for a year at National Taiwan Normal University’s Mandarin Training Center. In the mornings, he worked hard at his studies, and later in the day, believing that the flaneur has the best opportunity to fully understand his environment, he tried to learn more about local culture by exploring on foot.
Looking back on his Mandarin Training Center days, he recalls an interesting experience. Once, when he and his classmates had been invited to their teacher’s home and asked to bring signature dishes from their homelands, some of them had begun to prepare cooked red beans to make a savoury dish which is a Honduran staple. Since the beans were still undercooked, they asked the teacher to simmer them for an hour longer. To their great surprise, the teacher turned them into a sweet dessert. The students didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at this missed opportunity to taste the flavour of their homeland.
The Minister said with a smile that life at a Military Academy is different from that at university, and every day is a new experience. He offered two examples of this. First, he had learned everyday Chinese at university, and before enrolling at the academy had not encountered words and phrases such as “squat” and “stand to attention”. His superiors thought he was deliberately misunderstanding them, and he was punished. Despite this, he emphasizes there was nothing unreasonable about the military academy; the training was well honed, he said with a smile and a wink, adding, “I’m still here, not dead!” Second, he believes that Taiwan’s education standards are ahead of those of the Honduras.
In particular, mathematics courses are difficult in Taiwan, and are extremely tough for Latin American students. He recognized that his teacher could not change the teaching just because of him, so he had to rely on classmates for support. When he encountered setbacks he would be especially homesick, but fortunately he had the support of friends who became his emotional sustenance. He knew he couldn’t give in to homesickness, and stressed, “My feelings for Taiwan all come from friends. No matter how beautiful this place is, without friends, such a feeling can’t develop.”
When asked about the benefits of his studies in Taiwan in terms of his career development, he explained that he had worked in Hong Kong, and that the experience of living and working in Asia and of learning Mandarin Chinese had helped him a good deal, making it easier for him to find jobs, especially in the business field. By this time, he said, Taiwan was like a second home to him, and his love for the Chinese New Year Festival led to him always taking a trip back to Taiwan from Hong Kong, particularly in time for New Year’s Eve, the occasion on which Chinese families gather for their annual reunion dinner.
Moving on to encourage the younger generation and current exchange students, the Hon. Arnaldo Castillo Figueroa stressed the importance of grasping all of life’s opportunities. For him, this is the way to do well in the future. Taiwan is a land of many opportunities, he says, and if the young regard it as a foundation, they will develop more easily in other countries.