Michael Jacobson, Deputy Director of Performance and Strategy of King County’s Office of Performance, Strategy and Budget, ventured into indigenous Taiwan with the intention of learning about artisan boats but came back with much more: a greater sense of community 6,000 miles away and right in his own office.
Jacobson gave a presentation about his visit and his learnings at a May 17 Lunch & Learn. Sitting down with Jacobson before the event, he reflects on what he was able to accomplish and his biggest takeaways.
“I went to learn about my boat,” says Jacobson, “but came back with a lasting impression about the people, their generosity, openness, and willingness to invite into their homes and sacred ceremonies. I can honestly say that I came back home with friends in Taiwan.”
As a refresher, Jacobson recently acquired two tatalas, or Taiwanese canoes, that formerly hung as light fixtures in Ivar’s Salmon House on North Lake Union. On a mission to find out more about tatalas and the indigenous people of Orchid Island’s relationship with the sea, Jacobson was awarded a fellowship and spent twelve weeks among the Taiwanese locals. Did he accomplish his quest? Exceedingly so.
Not only did Jacobson learn more about the tatalas and the culture surrounding them, he was able to see one built by hand and work intimately with its builder, attend the canoe’s launching ceremony, and view four out of the six fishing ceremonies on Orchid Island. In a stroke of luck, Jacobson decided to take a 16-mile stroll around Orchid Island and happened upon some villagers. They welcomed him to their group and asked him to stay for a chat. Jacobson took them up on their offer. Before arriving in Taiwan, Jacobson had distantly hoped that he could find where his own tatalas were made, but never though he would be able to find this information. It just so happened that as Jacobson was showing the villagers pictures of his canoes they were able to confirm that his boats originated from their village. What are the chances?
Expanding his original plan of a six-week stay to 12 weeks, Jacobson decided to learn more about the people of Taiwan, both on Orchid Island and the rest of the country. Two things that Jacobson consistently noticed throughout his travels in Taiwan was the unwavering intimacy and hospitality with which he was welcomed, and the balance created between tradition and modernization. Friends of friends of friends would welcome him into their homes and sacred places with open arms, and also add him as a friend on Facebook. Condominiums were side-by-side with traditional huts. “The pace is changing drastically [in Taiwan],” says Jacobson, “Development, modernization, the drive for money, and convenience itself are all factors. The Taiwanese welcome change, but also adhere to some strict traditions.”
Sitting back and reflecting, Jacobson noted how none of his experiences would’ve been possible without the support of his team back in Seattle. The combination of his accommodated leave, donated leave from his co-workers, permission given from his director, and the willingness of his workplace to support employees in growth opportunities is unique to King County. All of his interactions with close-knit communities in Taiwan have made Jacobson realize how grateful he is to be part of King County and the community within his office. A well-traveled individual, Jacobson knows that such generosity is rare. Jacobson will put his newfound knowledge together by supporting both his friends in King County, and his new friends 6,000 miles away.