Thursday, April 29, 2004

When I first came to Taiwan, I lived in the International House. The most popular American there was Nick, cheerful, handsome, easy going, everybody's friend. After dinner one evening, we were all gathered in the lounge as usual when Nick came in, the first time we saw him wearing shorts. His arrival was greeted with shocked gasps, because he was on crutches, and had only one leg. It turned out that some years before, he had been working in Hawaii. He was helping dislodge a fishing boat (ironically, from Taiwan) that had gotten stuck on a sandbar. A cable snapped and took off his left leg at the knee. Nick got an artificial leg and learned to use it so well that even I House people who went out dancing with him were not aware that he was all plastic from one knee down. This discovery made a stir, and then we forgot about it.

About a year later, after I had moved into an apartment on Hsinsheng with Roger and Jerome, somebody from the I House looked me up at school with the news that Bill's mother had sent him a football from the States so they were having a game on the Shih Ta field, want to come along? I detest spectator sports and competitive sports, but if you have a football and just enjoy playing the game, it's a lot of fun, so I closed my books and headed for the field. The whole I House crew was there, so we managed to put together two teams. We took off our jackets and played in our street clothes, very impromptu. None of us were serious players, so it was fun.

This was in about 1973. Foreigners were very scarce in Taiwan then. Before long we attracted a large crowd of kids who had never seen a dozen Americans together at the same time. Plus, we were running around playing this unintelligible game that to this day is never seen anywhere in Taiwan but on a television screen. The kids were fascinated, especially when they had the chance to go after an out of bounds ball, try to catch it as it bounced, and toss it back to us. Exotic goings-on, to be sure.

Then Doug passed the ball to Nick, who had to reach far for it. Just as he went way off balance and touched the ball, Dan came running up behind him and nudged him, so Nick fell hard. He fell so hard that he bounced and his leg came off and slipped out of his pants. The crowd of children held their breath for a moment, gave an earsplitting shriek of horror, and disappeared as fast as they could run. Within a few seconds, there was not a child to be seen. They were probably all huddling in their closets at home by the time Nick got his leg attached.

But the poor kids. Can you imagine this kid racing home screeching: Ma, Ma, I was watching the big-noses playing a game, and their legs come off!
Nonsense, stop your nonsense!!
No, really, I was at the Shih Ta field, and these foreign devils were playing a game with a pointed ball.
A pointed ball? What's the matter with you? Everybody knows a ball is round!
No, really, Ma, listen to me! They were playing a game with a pointed ball, and one of them fell, and his leg came off, it came right out of his pants, I saw it!
Stop that nonsense!
Ma, it's real!
Oh, heavens, put your jacket back on, I'm taking you to the sorcerer to have your frightened spirit called home. I have no idea what could have put such strange notions in your poor little head.
But Ma!!
Hush, hush, baby, let's go.

Probably caused psychological scars that persist to this day. Sure did put the damper on our game. It just sort of petered out after that, and I haven't played football since.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Earthday is over
今早上坡傳來我最恨的聲音: 鋸樹聲。 聽到木裂聲,往上看,一棵十公尺高的相思樹倒地。 是不是有人盜伐樹,上去看看。Patu拎著鍊鋸爬上一棵更大的相思樹開始鋸,那一棵相思樹很粗,我兩手抱不起來。 我問他為什麼要鋸,原來是鄉公所派他們來,因為這些樹擋路旁櫻的光線,所以砍了。

Silan 搖頭歎息說,”這棵相思樹是我祖父種的,那個時候我爸還小,少說也有六十年。”
Patu說,”沒辦法,鄉公所說遊客要看的是櫻花。”Patu無奈。這項工作很困難,且極危險。Patu 又要開工程車又要鋸樹,一天工資八百元。

很諷刺的是,大樹殞命是在地球日的第二天清晨。難道鄉公所不知道生物多樣性的重要嗎? 只有遊客要看的樹才容許成長,管它生態不生態。




Thursday, April 22, 2004


這個點子的確不錯,但有些不足之處。 第一,美國人嘛,到時候一定會笑,不夠肅穆,我們要的是孝子,不是笑子。 第二,美國人要價高,而且囉嗦,甚麼健保啦、休假啦,我說美國人太麻煩,不如招募東歐人來的實在:白俄、烏克蘭人那一類的。斯拉夫人看起來夠外國(就是這個問題,所以不考慮用泰國人、菲律賓人)。前蘇聯的遺民窮哈哈的,一天發幾個馬鈴薯、幾包香煙、一些零用錢,就感激不已,哪會想到甚麼健保休假?加上、臺灣中南部炎熱的氣候,他們受不了;每一個人量身訂製羊毛黑袍子~像海青~為孝團制服,跟隨靈車扶柩幾步,一個一個地中暑,倒下去口吐白沫,跟家屬朋友解釋為哀慟氣絕,你說效果有多好就有多好,紅包滿天飛。如果喪家加錢的話,孝團裡身材最好的孝女激動到撕裂自己的衣服(撕裂的情形依紅包而斟酌)。 



Sunday, April 11, 2004

阿寶曰: 獨居男子廚房太乾淨,才恐怖。

Sunday, April 04, 2004

A historical note from my mother:
“I remember when Charles Lindbergh flew into Dodge City. Everybody was out where he was going to land and we mistook the first star for his plane, until it was obvious it was a star. The landing field ― no airport ― was a pasture and people lit it with their cars' headlights. We waited and waited and finally, he got there, got out, and was tall and lanky, greeted by the mayor, etc. ― he went away with them after being introduced to & greeted by the crowd and then we all went home, thrilled and exalted.”

That would have been sometime in the late 1920s.

Friday, April 02, 2004

I wrote this about two years ago, about another election.
Yagi Hakaw

Were I running for local office and found my candidacy endorsed by my good friend Yagi Hakaw, I would rush with glistening forehead to thrust gobs of large denomination bills into his stubby hands, beseeching him to root for my rivals. Yagi's support is the kiss of death for a local candidate, a staggering blow, barely to be survived, for a candidate in a larger election.

On the one hand, Yagi has an uncanny ability to pick losers. You want to know who's going to lose the next election, ask Yagi who he's voting for. You want to find out how many votes his candidate got in the last election, look at the bottom of the election results, the very last place.

On the other hand, Yagi's means of showing support practically guarantees opposite results. During the years he was driving a Wulai-Taipei bus, he won votes for all the other parties along the entire 25 kilometer line by his continued, vociferous, forceful support of the Democratic Progressive Party.

Yagi is a wonderful friend, but simply cannot handle a position of the slightest authority. I attribute this to his first job. Freshly graduated from junior high, he was, as were so many Aborigine boys, taken off to sea. This was the first time he had ever left his village in the mountains of Taiwan. He worked a fishing boat for six years, six years on a boat far from the Tribe, far from the mountains, far out at sea on a boat the size of a bus. He isn't sure where his boat was, somewhere in the Pacific, probably stopping in South American ports, because he speaks some Spanish. He was bilked six years of hard labor. He was fed, but every penny of his pay was swindled by various dodges. He escaped wage slavery only by being drafted.

My theory is that the main authority figure, the captain, imprinted on Yagi's soul during these formative years. He handles every position of authority as a tyrannical fishing boat captain, far from shore, would deal with potentially mutinous Aborigines. If ever some passenger, wittingly or not, might drop one coin short in the cash box, Yagi would stop the bus and demand, long and loud, that this thief not try to take advantage of an Aborigine and bilk the bus company, and pay in full. Taiwan may be modern and commercial, but this is still China, and such direct confrontation is frowned upon.

As luck would have it, Yagi's route goes by a government old folks’ home. The old folks, retired civil servants and soldiers, love to ride the bus to the city to buy a head of lettuce, pester doctors, pick up medicine, get a breath of city air, and see the sights. Let some old codger clamber into the bus with less than gymnastic alacrity, and Yagi would immediately begin blistering the paint: “Can't you hurry!? You're going to drive me insane, I don't have a schedule? How long do you want me to wait for you?”

The bus company concocted an excuse to fire him. Perhaps the boss, a DPP backer, also wanted to save some votes for his party.

Loyalties on the edge of tribal and city life are confused. A couple years ago, the government passed legislation requiring all motorcycle riders to wear crash helmets. In Wulai this was taken to imply, 'unless we are riding around the village.' Then one day the Provincial Chief of Police paid a visit to Wulai. He hit the ceiling when he saw a girl driving a motorcycle without a crash helmet. Of course nobody told him that she was a Wulai police officer's little daughter, at nine years old already half way to legal age to get a motorcycle license. To enforce the law, an officer was chosen, an outsider fresh out of police academy. Soon people opened their mail boxes to find fines attached to photos of themselves, from the back, showing license plates and no helmets. Fury! A compromise was reached. The hapless officer was posted far away, but people were asked to remember their helmets, sometimes, and for god's sakes, when the high mucky-mucks come, don't let the grade-schoolers drive motorcycles.

The bus company requires that expired passes be confiscated. The police sent word to the drivers: Yayut lives in the city where her husband works, and she has about thirty rides left on last year's pass, so let it slide. This request provoked several injured responses: I have never punched her ticket before, why would I start with this year's? She is, after all, a Tayal, one of the Tribe, if our boss wants her ticket punched, let him come punch it himself.

Like many Aborigines, Yagi's first loyalty is to Tribe, not Party. Two old men (Han Chinese, flat-landers, not Aborigines)
got on his bus one time before an election, loudly proclaiming in the Minnan dialect that the DPP was sure to win and then the Taiwanese people would stand up, yes sir! Yagi drove silently for about ten minutes, and suddenly bellowed, “Then you 'Taiwanese' can all go back to your goddamned home in the Chinese mainland and leave us Aborigines in peace!!” The old timers slipped off the bus at the next stop.

The unfortunate fact is that Yagi actually has a very sweet side, no matter what people along the route believe. A friend has only to ask, and his help is unstinting. Somebody started peddling an old Aborigine dish, bamboo rice: an instant hit with the tourists who flock to Wulai to enjoy the mountains, the waterfall, and the hot springs. Business boomed. Yagi opened up a stand with his mother and wife, adding banana rice. They produced the best bamboo rice in the Tribe, hands down, no doubt. His rice was so delicious that he was getting all the business. The neighbors complained: you're making all the money, nobody's coming to our stands any more. The accommodating Yagi voluntarily closed down his stand in order not to reduce his neighbors' income.

Now his cousin is running for office. For his election headquarters, the cousin has taken over Yagi's house, downhill from me. This strategic choice shows Yagi's craftsmanship, because we are out on the edge of the village, far enough away that everybody can beg off dropping by the headquarters with the excuse that I wasn't going that way. For his election fight song, he has chosen Naluwan (the word is the Taiwan Aborigine equivalent of Aloha). It consists mostly of a piercing female voice singing one monotonous line over and over
My home is at Naluwaaaaaaaaan~
A song of very high irritation quotient, especially when you hear it repeated all afternoon. He has cranked up the speaker so the people in the village can hear it. They can probably hear it on the moon. Things do not bode well for Yagi's cousin.

Of course not all of Yagi's candidates lose. He backed the winner by default in the last presidential election, Chen Shuibian of the DPP. Yagi celebrated Inauguration Day with the rest of the Tribe's tiny DPP contingent by formally quitting the Party. Then he got roaring drunk. I could hear him howling and crying late into the night.

Postscript: The day after the election, I was shooting the breeze with Abus. To nobody's surprise, Yagi's cousin polled 40 votes out of the thousand votes in Wulai, landing solidly in last place, even behind the Lukai tribesman who for some reason thought he might win some votes. Are you kidding? Running for office in Tayal tribal land all dressed up in a Lukai outfit for your campaign photo?

I laughed that even the Lukai got more votes than Yagi's candidate. Abus, who takes things literally, bristled. “Me? If I ran for office, and Yagi showed up to support me, I'd get my head-hunting knife and chop him up!”

Great minds think alike.