The Escape

Bruce Lan’s 1977 escape from Beijing, Taiwan to avoid possible Chinese Invasion of Taiwan

essay written by Lee Der Lan

Immigrating from Taiwan to America in 1977, Bruce Lan escaped the harsh political tensions that Taiwan shared with China. Facing many challenges that all immigrants experience, Lan was forced to adopt a new culture with completely different living standards. Confronted with the decision as to where he should raise his family, Lan had to choose between two places: his home, and the American land of opportunity. Content with his final decision, Lan has no regrets and is proud to say that he is one of the few truly successful immigrants.

   “The process of immigration is a punishment for those who were not born in the United States of America.”1 After immigrating to America in 1977, Bruce Lan found himself in a “life-long commitment,” as he would describe it, in a foreign country, adjusting to a different culture, and facing numerous challenges.2 Describing his previous life in Taiwan as “a lot of fun,” Lan unfortunately had to immigrate due to the political instability of Taiwan.3 Over the course of his journey, Lan realized that the best place for him to raise his family would be in the United States. He gives his warning to future immigrants: “Unless you really want to come, do not come.”4

   Bruce Lan was born in Taipei, Taiwan on April 27th, 1954. He lived there until the age of twenty-one. “When I was [young], my childhood [felt] very short [because] I [had] to face tremendous pressures” said Lan.5 He gives a detailed description of the education system in Taiwan: “Starting from when I was [only] in the seventh grade, [it was required for me to] pass exams to get into middle school. Then after the ninth grade… you have to take another exam [to be admitted into high school]. Then after [the] twelfth grade, there is a college entrance [exam]. By the time you reach college, the percentage [of college acceptance] is about thirty percent. Only thirty percent of the high school [students] get into…college. The rest… become workers.”6 Describing the education methods in Taiwan schooling as “utterly ridiculous,” Lan strongly resents the pressures of education in his youth.7

   Although he grew up facing a tough education, Lan generally led a happy young life. “Life was wonderful in Taiwan” Lan said.8 He was a popular student amongst his peers, and his father held a significant position of office in the Taiwanese government. Lan spent the majority of his young life passing the time, as well as chasing an education. Lan developed passionate Chinese pride, and even took his free time to listen to free English radio programs. “I learned from an English-learning Christian radio program” said Lan.9 Lan was on the English-development program for a total of seven years, three hours a day, six days a week. “[The ‘Studio Classroom’ in Taiwan really helped me]” added Lan.10

   Lan immigrated to the United States in 1977 to receive a degree in Accounting, but returned to Taiwan in 1981 after being unable to find a job. After returning in 1981, Lan rose to the executive level of an international business company. When he was only twenty-nine years old, he became the head manager of a sales team of six. Lan became in charge of managing business with Norway, Denmark, and Sweden, as well as eventually Australia and the United States. “[Business] was doing so well in the United States that I dropped [managing Australia and Europe] completely” said Lan.11 He advises to future businessmen that “when you are in charge of a market, you have to come [to that area] very often.”12 Lan spent the majority of his young life in Taiwan striving for an education, and focused solely on conducting business when he returned in 1981. Eventually, Lan discovered that he had spent nine months of a year in the United States and only three months in Taiwan.

   Lan immigrated to America for the first time with an intention to acquire an American education as well as to avoid being drafted into the Taiwanese army. Lan arrived as a foreign student and was accepted by the Universty of Georgia. Lan was initially prompted to chase an American education from his mother. At the age of twenty-one, the appropriate age for the draft in Taiwan, Bruce responded “why not?” to his mother’s suggestion.13 In less than three months, Lan flew over to the United States, and began attending the University of Georgia and graduated in 1981.

   As described earlier, Lan returned to Taiwan after being unable to find a job in the United States, and became a prosperous businessman. After a successful period in his life, Lan decided that he wanted to settle down so he could raise a family. The question of where he wanted to raise his family became a central issue: Taiwan or the United States? Already successful in both Taiwan and America, Lan ultimately decided that he would raise his children in the United States. Lan states that a major reason for this decision was to avoid establishing a family in the midst of Taiwan’s political instability. “[The distance] from Taiwan to China is only a hundred and fifty miles [apart]. Just imagine [if] you had lived in a [violent] neighborhood and your neighbor had [guns and] missiles, over thousands of them, aiming [right] at you” said Lan.14 He described the relationship between Taiwan and China as being in a state of “Cold War,” where a war could start between the two nations at any given time. He felt it would be pointless to work so hard to raise a family, just to lose them to war.

   Lan primarily wanted to avoid raising his family in the middle of a military “hotspot” between Taiwan and China, but also immigrated because he did not want his children facing the same educational pressures he experienced in his youth.15 “Eighty percent of the [children] in Taiwan all wear glasses; you do not want to study [until you become] blind. In my time, the competition was even stronger; I went to school at seven in the morning, and I did not come home until ten at night” said Lan.16 Commenting on the excessive dedication of Taiwanese children to their education, Lan feels that Taiwanese education is not worth the effort: “I do not want [my children] to go through what I went through, I wanted them to have a better education, and hopefully they will have better chances then I did” said Lan.17

   In order to reside in the United States, Lan was required to pass a series of tests. Lan needed to pass the requirements of the education department in Taiwan in order to be “academically adequate.”18 Secondly, Lan was required to pass the “test of English,” a test for all the foreign students in the world.18 After preparing for three months, Lan arrived in America.

   Upon arriving in the United States, Lan recalls “I was so naïve, I was young, I was strong, I was pretty confident”19 Lan remembers that he did not know what to expect when he first arrived, describing himself as naïve to the American Spirit. “I [went] from [being a] waiter, [then a] warehouse manager, to [becoming a] truck driver” said Lan.20 “This is [the] American spirit. This is what I learned; you have to know what you want to do, [then] go after it” added Lan. Initially ignorant of American culture and ideals, Lan eventually integrated American values into his life.

   Recollecting on the whole immigration process, Lan states specifically that he remembers being extremely isolated. “Basically, you are a loner now, your relatives cannot come, they would not want to, and they do not have the opportunity” says Lan.21 Facing the harsh difficulties and realities of his situation, Lan did not have many people to depend on; his family did not understand why he immigrated, he did not have many friends neither. He commented “…the ones you left behind, they do not understand, like your parents, every time you tried to explain to them how harsh or difficult it is, or whatever, they just do not understand, and they do not want to know.” 22 Lan explains further that his parents did not comprehend the difference between Taiwanese and American currency; when he told his parents he made five thousand dollars, his parents would assume he was a millionaire. “After a while you [eventually] stop explaining to them, they do not understand. That is the thing that really changed me, and [it makes] you see things differently” he added.23

   “My first impression of the United States [was] that America is very clean compared to Taiwan” said Lan.24 He added “Taiwan is a polluted country, because of its small size and large population. I thought America was pretty big.”25 Arriving in a foreign country for the first time, Lan felt it was interesting to adapt to a new currency system. He describes his first encounter of American life: “When I [was leaving] Taipei, [my relatives] dumped me with their United States currency; everyone gave me quarters, dimes, [nickels and pennies]… It was midnight in Los Angeles [when I arrived], I got off the plane, [and] I went to a food stand. I picked brownies, and a can of coca-cola, and another hot dog. I did not know how much it cost, so I opened my palms… and let the [street vendor] pick [the coins out of my hand].”26

   Being a foreign student, Lan was not considered an American citizen, and was thus unable to find legal work. The only money he could make was by running errands for local Chinese restaurants in Georgia, where Chinese restaurants were rare.27 Scrapping for whatever money he could earn, Lan struggled desperately just to feed himself, while managing an education at the same time. Universities expected the families of foreign students to support them overseas, but Lan did not have this luxury; his father barely made enough for himself, let alone Bruce in America. Luckily, Lan found random jobs that paid decent money, like driving a truck on the weekends, and made enough money to survive those four years. Lan describes his weekend job: “My friend said ‘down in Chinatown, they need[ed] a truck driver,’ [that would drive] from New York to Ohio, [round trip], every weekend. So I decided to take the job, and they paid me 300 dollars [every] time… so add it [all] up together, [I made] about a thousand dollars a month, just over the weekends.”28

   The necessities of life in America are different from those of Taiwan. “You need a lot of basic things just to survive [in America], in Taiwan you do not need them. You need a car here; without a car, you can not get to work. Then you need insurance, otherwise you can not afford to get sick” said Lan.29 Adjusting to living in a foreign country is a process that every immigrant goes through, especially the process of supporting oneself. Lan noted specifically about the monetary requirements of living in America: “The living is quite expensive here, just to rent a house. From the very beginning, I felt it was very expensive, even when I was paying three hundred and fifty dollars [a month] in New York… My first job in Taipei, I was paid 4000 NT a month, which is about a hundred United States dollars. The first job I got here, they paid me 800 dollars. [Although] I was making more money than my father did… the rent cost[ed] four hundred, and all the cars and [other bills] just added up.”30 Realizing that it cost more to live in the United States than Taiwan, Lan understood that he had to work harder than he previously had in order to maintain himself.

   Immigration was an even harder issue to deal with for Lily Lan, the wife of Bruce Lan. Adjusting to life in America was a life-changing experience for Lily, and it was very hard for her to adapt to American culture. “Basically, it was very harsh for her” said Lan.31 “By the doctor’s definition… [Lily Lan is considered] legally deaf” he added.32 Lily was responsible for taking care of eight children, and she faced extreme difficulties due to her hearing problem. Unable to apply for a job, Lily was unable to support the family financially, and thus was forced to stay at home. She was depressed from being unable to communicate with her own children because Lan’s children were brought up in American culture, and they never received a Taiwanese education, thus they were not fluent in Mandarin. Lily only knew how to speak in Mandarin, and it was virtually impossible for her to learn English because of her hearing. Hardly ever leaving her bedroom, Lily felt completely isolated and lonely during her stay in America; because of this, Bruce decided that he would bring his family to stay in Taiwan for two years. Lily’s depression ended after returning to Taiwan, and was able to communicate with her peers once again. Also, Lan’s children received a formal Taiwanese education.

   When asked how he felt about his children being raised without the influence of Chinese culture, Lan responded “I wish I could [have] give[n] [them] more [of an] influence.”33 Although extremely proud of his Chinese heritage, Lan does not regret his decision of raising his family in the United States. “[I do feel some sort of regret], but this is the price you pay for immigrating” said Lan.34 Lan understands the outcome of raising a child in a different culture other than their native one, and adds a comment: “I know [realistically], you can only adopt one culture… deeply, and if you miss that period of time in your life, you lost it, forever. It is almost impossible [to retain].”35 Feeling little regret, but not completely bothered about his children’s upbringing, Lan was aware of what he would be doing with his decision, and is actually quite content with it; “I think [they] are doing just fine” added Lan.36

   Lan is now self-employed, living in Irvine, California. His two daughters, Li-Yin and Li-I Lan are both attending prestigious universities; University of California, San Diego, and University of California, Berkeley respectively; his oldest son Leeway Lan has a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from California State University, Fullerton; his other son Lee Der Lan is an honors student at Irvine High School. Lan has been successful in raising his family in America. “I moved here because I wanted to give my kids a better education and a better life” said Lan.37 Successful and content with his present life conditions, Lan felt that immigrating was worth his hard work and dedication. Lily is now able to speak to her children after living with them in Taiwan in two years. Also, she has now had an easier time adapting to American life after coming for the second time. Offering his insight, Lan says “you have to work with your own people. When you try to struggle, when you work in such a foreign environment, you are forced to work twice as hard. [Most of the time] you will not get any results, even if you are smarter, or if you work harder, because [employers] do not give you the opportunities that you deserve.”38 Giving his final comments on his experience with immigration, Lan says “I did not realize that it would be so hard, but the thing that really pushed me were the thousand missiles with Taiwan and the [Chinese] communists. The only thing [that really terrified me] was [having] my family being stuck in wartime, [and I would not be able] to save them. We are here in the United States, [America is our] safe-haven, so if something happened [with Taiwan], we would not be there. One day, when [Taiwan is completely safe], hopefully I can go back.”39


1. Lan, Bruce. Personal interview. 24 May 2009, 6.
2. Lan, 24 May 2009, 6.
3. Lan, 24 May 2009, 4.
4. Lan, Bruce. Personal Interview. 25 May 2009, 8.
5. Lan, 25 May 2009, 9.
6. Lan, 25 May 2009, 9.
7. Lan, 24 May 2009, 2.
8. Lan, 24 May 2009, 2.
9. Lan, 24 May 2009, 4.
10. Lan, 24 May 2009, 4.
11. Lan, 24 May 2009, 3.
12. Lan, 24 May 2009, 3.
13. Lan, 24 May 2009, 1.
14. Lan, 24 May 2009, 5.
15. Lan, 24 May 2009, 2.
16. Lan, 24 May 2009, 2.
17. Lan, 24 May 2009, 2.
18. Lan, 24 May 2009, 1.
19. Lan, 25 May 2009, 8.
20. Lan, 25 May 2009, 8.
21. Lan, 25 May 2009, 8.
22. Lan, 25 May 2009, 8.
23. Lan, 24 May 2009, 1.
24. Lan, 25 May 2009, 8.
25. Lan, 25 May 2009, 8.
26. Lan, 24 May 2009, 2.
27. Lan, 24 May 2009, 3.
28. Lan, 25 May 2009, 8.
29. Lan, 24 May 2009, 3.
30. Lan, 24 May 2009, 3.
31. Lan, 24 May 2009, 4.
32. Lan, 24 May 2009, 4.
33. Lan, 24 May 2009, 7.
34. Lan, 24 May 2009, 7.
35. Lan, 24 May 2009, 7.
36. Lan, 24 May 2009, 6.
37. Lan, 25 May 2009, 12.
38. Lan, 25 May 2009, 7.
39. Lan, 25 May 2009, 8.