Archive for February, 2007



My computer and camera seem to have reconciled– so here are shots from tonight:

The 228 Memorial in Taipei this evening.


The scent of the lilies was fragrant and the sound of running water was everywhere– it drips all around the circle enclosing the open pyramid of sorts, and within the pyramid it falls down into a well.

The inside circle of the open pyramid has handprints around the middle– they’re adults, mostly bigger than mine.

The water falling down the center well almost looks solid in this photo.

The water streaming under the edge of the pool.

People of all ages were there. These people were looking at this:

The translated text is at

We had off work today to commemorate the 228 (er er ba) incident, which was the spark that resulted in the deaths of thousands of Taiwanese people at the hands of the Kuomintang (KMT) government, headed by Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek. It was the beginning of martial law, when people would be taken to police stations never to return, and was the sort of incident that is remembered in whispers, for fear of reprisals.

My mother tells me politics in Taiwan was always shunned in conversation, because it was such a dangerous topic. My grandfather (her father) was brought to the police station, and for one tense evening, my family didn’t know if he would become one of those who “disappeared” in those days. He was a surgeon, and a KMT soldier he was trying to save died. There were questions as to whether he had provided adequate care, and thanks to the testimony of other observers, he was released. Reading about the “White Terror” as it seems to be called, when many educated men were rounded up and executed, I feel so very lucky that he was able to watch his children grow up and that I was able to know his voice, the clack of his wooden slippers on the floor, and the feel of his old hand in mine as we walked to the park.

I got my history from tenth grade “World Cultures” with Mr. D. The only mention of Taiwan in the history book was when the KMT fled the mainland and came to Taiwan in 1949. The only knowledge I had of my own family history was that we were “Han people”– from China, so for a while, I had the mistaken idea that my family had come over with the smiling Chiang Kai Shek. (He’s always smiling. On the coins, in most of his statues that I’ve seen, he has a sort of benign grin that belies the order to kill thousands of people. Mao tends to have a grin on his posters, too. Lenin tends to look stern. Hitler always looks scary or deranged. Stalin’s moustache hides his mouth, but he generally looks stern or slightly squinty too. One Google image search of Saddam Hussein and propaganda shows a propaganda poster of him grinning too. The facial expressions worn by tyrants in propaganda to the oppressed and the rest of the world is probably fodder for a blogpost in itself, but I resent that smile. I don’t know what my paternal grandfather looked like when he smiled, but I know what Chiang Kai Shek’s smile looks like– this seems wrong, when my paternal grandfather also was someone who cared for people, while CKS was ordering the deaths of thousands.) This article in the Taipei Times talks about CKS and the fate of some of his smiling statues.

“Kill them all, keep it secret.” was CKS’s reported telegram to the then-governor of Taiwan, when asked what to do about the protests by the native Taiwanese. My family was native Taiwanese. My mother’s side has been in Taiwan for eleven generations (with my cousin’s children, I think), having come over in the 1700s (Check me on this, Mom). My father’s side has been in Taiwan since the 1800s. So in 1945, when the Republic of China regained control of Taiwan from the Japanese, my family actually had been in Taiwan for a very long time already.

“We were Japanese.” My aunt told me. Japan had run Taiwan as a colony for fifty years, building railroads, planning urban areas (some of those plans are still used as guidance for development), and banning spoken Taiwanese in schools. However, my grandparents’ first language was Japanese. My grandfathers and several of my uncles received medical training in Japan. To this day, my dad is more commonly referred to in the family by his Japanese name. My aunt tells me they didn’t have to lock their doors when Japan ruled the island. Japan allowed them to be educated as long as they stayed out of politics (Taiwan had no representation in the Japanese government, in spite of petitioning for it). Taiwanese men were drafted to fight with Japan in WWII and some of their remains are in veterans memorials in Japan. My grandfather was an officer in the Japanese army in Taiwan. Food got short as supplies went to the WWII soldiers in China. My mother tells me that my grandfather refused to eat sweet potato with his rice after those times.  It was the only option since the rice was so scarce.  The sweet potato in the rice was dried in the sun and tasted moldy.  Although I have heard that Japan was also brutal in putting down the resistance to their rule in the early stage of colonization, and resentment that they forbade Taiwanese language in schools, their rule seems to have been indisputably organized and ordered.

The soldiers who came from China in 1945 reportedly dug up the paved roads for latrines and used chamber pots for their rice (this is hearsay, which may or may not be true).

Frustration with the KMT rule bubbled out in protests sparked when KMT soldiers beat a woman for selling contraband cigarettes on February 27th, 1947. The following day, protesters were killed by the KMT. Protests arose all over the country, and many more people died. There is a 228 Museum, close to the memorial, which chronicles all of this. I haven’t been inside yet, but its existence is significant in and of itself.

The KMT ruled Taiwan undisputed until martial ended and democracy came with Lee Teng-Hui in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Until then, 228 was a forbidden topic. Though the KMT is still a very powerful political party, the change to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has opened discussion about the role of the KMT in Taiwanese history and 228 and its White Terror aftermath.

The CKS Memorial is down the street from the 228 Memorial, and tonight it was filled with people and light for the lantern festival, which was kind of incongruous, but uplifting. When I was sitting by the 228 Memorial, I thought about it and all the other memorials and museums there are for the massacres of innocents– the Holocaust, Khmer Rouge’s massacre in Cambodia, and so forth. And these are just government-instituted massacres. The numbers of the dead are often disputed or incomprehensible. Even if they’re not, each number is a person enmeshed in a place, connected to friends and family.

To treat life as if it were worthless, without regret –
those in power are letting this happen.
  from “Zhan Zuo-zhou’s Complete Works” by Zhang Rui-he

After writing these two poems, the elderly doctor was imprisoned for over 90 days in 1950 on falsified charges. After he was released, Dr. Zhan spent most of his leisurely time growing chrysanthemums.

— from the 228 Museum website.

Buckets of chrysanthemums surround the 228 monument. They also happen to be one of my grandmother’s favorite flowers, and her namesake.

Being in Taiwan now, I really miss members of my family that have died and are no longer around to explain a photograph or answer my questions. It’s like a part of the world is missing and now there’s a hole with no one alive to explain what went there in some cases. There’s also possibilities lost– to learn how to cook from my grandmother, or hear about my grandfather’s experience as a soldier, or even know if my paternal grandfather would actually smile off-camera. They all died of natural causes, and I can’t quite imagine the feelings of the survivors of someone murdered by the government, which is theoretically supposed to protect you. I want to see this film, Taiwan’s Love about the survivors and their experiences, though I’ll need to wait for an English subbed version at some point (or the drastic improvement in my Chinese skills).

Anyway, I know it’s just another day off of work, but I share the hope that remembering 228 will somehow help people remember that a peaceful democracy isn’t easy to achieve and maintain. I was so amazed at the amount of involvement in the protests of this past fall against President Chen Shui Bian, but considering the history of protest in Taiwan and the human cost of the democracy he has been honored with the responsibility to guide, it isn’t as surprising.

I hope that Taiwan will be able to keep peace, and I am humbled by those who have suffered and died for that peace.

More on 228, etc.: talks about the museum, and more. talks more about the 228 incident and White Terror.

Formosa Betrayed is the eyewitness account of American about 228.

Island in the Stream: A Quick Case Study of Taiwan’s Complex History by April C.J. Lin and Jerome F. Keating is my quick and dirty start into learning about the book-version of Taiwanese history.


A break from our coverage of Chinese New Year happenings…

Stanley has arrived! Flat Stanley from California is staying with me this week, and today we went to the traditional market. The traditional market is a good reason to get up early. It’s a few blocks from where I live, and has EVERYTHING… well, everything except barrettes without rhinestones or sparkly bling or Hello Kitty (TM). I got tsao tze– a contender for a future Fruit of the Week (which, come to think of it, I may have missed a week or two of…), and dumplings. Can I just say– dumplings from the traditional market are SO much better than the frozen kind– they are the difference between tea from over-used leaves and freshly brewed!? (Okay, maybe I was struggling for an appropriate metaphor there.)

I know I was supposed to lose a bit of the gained Chinese New Year plumpness, but this is an incredible discovery, which jeopardizes that somewhat.

There were live chickens (well, I actually saw one in the process of no longer being a live chicken– which was slightly green-inducing), fish (I feel bad for the oceans when I see them, but hungry and aesthetically pleased at the same time– they’re so pretty!), nuts, dishes, paper money for the gods, clothes, steamed buns, flowers, vegetables, fruits, and cute stray kitties with genetic predispositions to having short tails (half a normal tail).

There would be photographs, but my computer or my camera (it seems to likely be the latter) has decided not to be on sharing terms, so until there is some reconciliation (which I’m not certain how to facilitate…), I’ll be returning to photoblogging the recent happier shared past.


Kaioshung photobloggery

I was sick in Kaioshung, so you get to escape boring blabbling about it and just see pictures! I was generally just coughy, tired, achey, with a cold, while feeling uncomfortably hot in the sun and absolutely no fun at all. My cousin worried, as he mentioned that I was uncharacteristically silent!

Though, if I ever get around to it– I could tell you about my quest for a toilet and finding a temple on a mountainside and feeling as if I was entering a Spirited Away sort of place.

Anyway, we took a ferry to a peninsula with a pretty beach, and then wandered the market, passing by this:

A flowered pedicab.

Along the Love River (Aie Huh) We were going to take a ferry, but after walking the length of the ferry ride and discovering that the wait was several hours long, we decided against it. So, my romantic ferry ride (with my relatives and their friends) down a river through the city will have to wait…
This thing revolved and was kind of the guardian of the river.

Grandma’s house

We went to check out the house my grandmother grew up in, which is in the countryside, where all the windows have a red diamond character above them, and all the doors have red banners above and beside them with good wishes for the new year. My uncle wasn’t sure of the way because the roads have changed since they were all kids riding their bikes out to play.

We didn’t know if the house was still tenanted– so many children have grown and gone, so many elders have passed on. However, when we arrived, we met my Grandmother’s cousin’s widow, who is over ninety. She insists on staying there, though when she entered the family compound as a bride, she told my cousin that she cried and tossed things the night before– afraid of getting married. Her son keeps on trying to entreat her to get a helper, but she insists that she’s perfectly capable on her own. The house is something of a ruin now– some rooms are filled with dust-covered belongings, windows pasted over with the faces of old political candidate posters. However, there are still the painted tiles on the rooftops and a ceramic dragon head at the cornices.

The family shrine has these ancient wonderful painted lanterns, as my maternal ancestors look down from black and white photographs framed on the wall.

The rooms in the back have grass growing in them, the roofs have fallen in, and there is the smell and sound of chickens in the yard next door.

(I was stepping on remains of the brick tile rooftop, cracking beneath my shoes to get these photos!)

Some of the wood doors have the tracings of old paintings on them, and the brick patio is cracked in some places. Old family photographs I’ve seen show old gatherings with all the tables set out on the patio for general feasting, weddings, etc.

I feel sorry for old houses. This one used to be so filled with life– all the children that played there, all the families that lived there– and now it’s mostly storage, mostly forgotten, keeping company with my great aunt.


Chinese New Year

It’s overcast and my feet are cold now that I’m back in Taipei.  I caught a ride down to Tainan with my Uncle’s family– the highways here drift past shadows of mountains, flat mirrors of newly flooded rice paddies, dried rivers that are paths of white pebbles, and industrial wasteland.

We feasted at my aunt’s parent’s traditional home in the countryside.  They have a traditional brick stove!brick stove

There was so much food there that it overflowed from the kitchen into the two rooms nearby.

Kitchen and older generation’s table:

I’ve never seen steamer trays that big outside of a restaurant! They have rice cake in them I think… (Sometimes I don’t ask– just eat!)  I think the brown one has brown sugar in it– and it was fried later on. The cakes in the pink bowls are put where the rice is stored to ensure abundance for the year.

We had two tables of people– the younger generation and the older generations.  My Aunt is the youngest of about six kids (don’t quite remember). All of us girls who were of age had nu-er hong  jo (daughter red wine would be the direct translation).  Traditionally nu-er hong jo is a bottle of wine buried upon the birth of a daughter and then unearthed at her wedding.  We had these tiny porcelain sort of urns on three legs instead of glasses for the 17% alcohol.  It made my face feel a bit warm.

Then, we detoured to a nightmarket where we saw a man who sharpens and sells knives, got sweet roasted hazelnuts and fireworks.  We parked by a dark rice paddy where you could hear the frogs calling each other.

People play bingo at the nightmarket.


The knife-seller’s stand– he had farm implements, swords, scissors, and knives.

Rice paddy.

Then we drove down to Tainan, where the last in a lineage of dogs to bark as soon as you arrive at the gates of my grandfather’s house greeted us.  Whenever I used to visit Taiwan with my family, there was always the barking of Ding Dong– a lovely dalmation whose puppy Shao Bai Zhu (Little White Pig– so named because she was the youngest and had no spots yet when we met her) I used to play with.  This time, there was the barking of Shao Hei (Little Black), who is really an adorable tiny little white fluff of a dog that belongs to my cousin in Taichung.

My grandmother’s jasmine was very fragrant as we walked up to the front door.

My grandfather’s house has undergone a lot of changes over the years.  The last trip to Tainan with my family was while he was still clacking through the halls in his wooden slippers and striped pajamas– over ten years ago.  The house had to be remodeled due to termites, and gradually emptied as the elders have passed away and children have grown and moved on.  The garden has shrunk as the city has encroached upon the old property and the walls have moved in with the creation or widening of streets.  We still had fun laughing over my travesties of language and stories about how all the kids and dogs of the family have fallen into the fish pond at least once.  The fish pond was a murky green soup, which we drained and cleaned while we were there.  We were rewarded with the discovery of a mysterious little turtle.  My mother tells me that they had tried to cultivate turtle eggs there long ago, but had failed.  It was covered with algae (its tail had little green plants as a kind of odd fur).

[There would be a photo here– but I couldn’t get any that focused on the turtle properly… ;( ]

The next day, we had another family feast with all the traditional New Year’s foods at my grandfather’s house.  We had a fish whose name is a homonym for “leftover”, which means that there will be an abundance of food for the year.  We also ate soft soy-sauce pork– the character for “pig” is found within the character for “family.”  There was also chicken, which in Taiwanese– ge is a homonym for “family” (if I recall correctly).  We also had fish eggs (they’re like little orange dense cakes in slices) which are an expensive delicacy– “Well, these don’t have a meaning– they’re just expensive and good!” my uncle explained.  I think we also had duck, green vegetables, and I forget the significance of those, if there was any.  To finish the meal, we ate tang yuen which was water lily seeds with white and pink sweet rice flour balls. It was really sweet, and is supposed to indicate whole perfection (all spheres)– which I think signifies family togetherness.

(Mom, you’re welcome to correct me on any and all of this.)

I’ll tip tap type more later… But in the meantime, Happy Pig Year!

Aren’t they cute?  They were selling them in the market and reassured me that they wouldn’t grow too much bigger than a cat, but my uncle warned me that the honesty of the sellers at the nightmarket isn’t always that reliable… and I could end up with this:

a pig bigger than I am.  We saw this one in Kaioshung.


Shih Nian Kwai Luh!

Getting ready for the New Year…

Oranges are lucky.


By Yuenshan


Decorating the stadium…


In the park…


Free Rice

February 2007
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