The following is the first chapter of the book "大導演李安的故事" ("The Story of the Great Director Ang Lee"). It was published by 文經社 in 2008. The Chinese was written by 陳愫儀, the English was written by me.
Ang Lee recently won the Academy Award for his "Life of Pi." I don't think this film deserved the award, but Ang Lee has certainly made some great movies. Of all his films, "The Ice Storm" is probably my favorite.
I should add that the "Lee" in "Ang Lee" is the same as the "Li" in his father's name, 李昇. This is the "Li family" that Ang Lee is representing. It's not entirely clear from the text, but Ang Lee's father later took a job as the principal of the Hualien Teacher's University. Thus "Li Sheng" is the same person as "principal Li."
第一章: 展露天賊 Chapter One: Showing His Talent
一九五四年的十月, 屏東縣潮州鄉的天空沒有一絲雲, 空氣中瀰漫著一股熱氣, 一間日式平房裡, 一個母親強忍著痛楚, 在醫生的協助下, 順利的產下了她的第三個孩子, 一個青紫著臉, 安靜的孩子. On September 1954, there was a cloudless sky in Chao Jhou Township, Pingtung County. The air was very hot that day, and in an old, Japanese-style house a mother suffered labor pains. With the assistance of a doctor, she gave birth to her third child, which had a purple, strangled face. This child was very quiet.
"糟了!" 醫生心想, "臍帶繞頸好幾圈!" 他將嬰孩到提過來, 用力拍打嬰孩的屁股; 終於, "哇!" 的一聲, 孩子發出宏亮的哭聲. "Oh no!" thought the doctor, "The umbilical cord was looped around its neck!" He turned the baby over, slapped the baby on its backside, and finally gave out a "Wa!" as the baby began to cry.
"沒事了! 沒事了!" 醫生安撫著嬰孩, 將清洗乾淨的孩子送到等在房門外的父親手上. "It's OK! There's no problem!" said the doctor as he soothed the baby. Afterward the baby was cleaned and brought to its father, who was waiting outside the room.
"太好了! 是個男孩!" 當了第三個孩子爸爸的李昇微笑的抱著嬰孩, 或許是感受到父親的氣息, 懷裡的孩子笑了笑. "This is so great! It's a boy!" laughed Li Sheng, the child's father, as he held the baby in his arms. He was so delighted to learn of his son's birth that he kept laughing.
或許你會認為李昇太重男輕女, 但在當時, 有男孩代表一個家庭的血脈可以傳承下去, 李昇是那個時代的人, 有這樣的想法並不奇怪. 況且, 李昇是在戰亂中從中國江西逃到台灣來的. 原本李昇家在江西是大戶人家, 家裡經商, 自己也擔任崇仁縣縣長, 沒想到戰禍一起, 他孤身一人跟著軍隊到了台灣之後, 留在大陸家鄉的家人幾乎都過世了, 李昇的父親臨終得遺言就是請人轉告李昇, 大陸老家的一切都灰飛煙滅了, 請他在台灣成家立業, 延續李家的香火. 李安的出生, 代表著李昇父親的遺願達成了一小部分, 這怎不讓李昇高興得睡不著? 而在這個時候, 帶著李家所有人的期待來到這個世上的李安, 正安祥的睡在母親的懷抱裡. You might think that such delight in the birth of a boy was perhaps chauvinistic, but given the time [it was not surprising]. A boy represented the continuation of the family line, so for someone of Li Sheng's generation, this way of thinking was not strange.
Moreover, Li Sheng had left Jiang Shi Province, Mainland China during the Chinese Civil War, and had come to Taiwan afterward. Li Sheng's family in Jiang Shi had been very large and had prospered as merchants. He himself had served as the magistrate of Chong Ren County. [Before he left China], he never thought that after the period of unrest he would follow the army alone to Taiwan, and that the family he had left behind in China would almost entirely perish.
Li Sheng's father said as much in his last moments, and had asked others to pass on to Li Sheng the news that his remaining family in China were all dead, and that it was up to Li Sheng to begin a new family in Taiwan, so that he might carry on the Li family's traditions. With the birth of Ang Lee, Li Sheng had achieved something of this ambition, so of course he was so happy he could not sleep. At this moment in time, the hopes of the entire Li family were pinned upon Ang Lee.
李安兩歲時, 因為父親工作的關係, 全家搬到花蓮. 李安從小就害羞, 常常黏著媽媽, 因為李媽媽喜歡看電影; 因此, 看電影就成了母子倆共同的興趣. When Ang Lee was two years old, the entire family moved to Hualien because of his father's work. Ang Lee was very shy from a young age, and kept very close to his mother. Ang Lee's mother enjoyed watching films, and this appreciation for movies was shared between mother and son.
這天, 李媽媽騎著腳踏車帶李安去看電影, 電影演到一半, 觀眾席中忽然傳來哭泣的聲音, 觀眾們紛紛轉頭尋找哭聲的來源, 只見李媽媽對李安說: "別哭了, 電影裡演的是假的啦! 你每次都這樣, 你看, 大家都在看你, 再哭我下次不帶你來囉!" 看著觀眾們全部都望著他, 李安難為情的將頭埋入媽媽的懷裡, 母親愛憐的拍了拍她這個感情豐富的大兒子, "你這樣子, 等會兒別問我這段在演什麼哦!" 一想到會漏看心愛的電影, 李安趕忙擦乾眼淚, 抬起頭, 專注的看著前方的大螢幕. One day, Ang Lee's mother took them by bicycle to see a movie. Halfway through the movie the sound of crying could be heard in the audience, and the audience members slowly turned their heads to locate the source of the sound.
They saw Ang Lee's mother saying to him: "Don't cry, the movie is not real! You do this every time! Look, everyone is staring at you, and if you don't stop crying I will not take you to a movie next time!" All of the audience members continued to stare at him, and Ang Lee was so embarrassed that he buried his head in his mother's arms.
His mother patted her sensitive child. "You always do this! And don't ask me what will happen next!" As he thought about what his mother had said, Ang Lee wiped the tears from his eyes, lifted up his head, and set his eyes upon the screen.
除了看電影, 李安在家中還有另一個好玩的遊戲. Aside from movies, Ang Lee enjoyed another kind of pastime at home.
那一陣子, 花蓮師範學校的校長宿舍內常會傳出陣陣笑聲. During that time, the principal of the Hualien Teacher's University often heard laughter bursting out of the dormitory.
"哇! 真厲害!" "Wa! So terrific!"
"唱得好棒噢!" "Sung so beautifully!"
"很有明星架式欸!" "Performed like a star!"
如果你在現場, 你便會看到被大家團團圍住的李安拿著掃把當吉他, 唱著當時的流行歌曲. If you had been in that place, you would have seen Ang Lee singing the popular songs of that time, holding a broom and pretending to play the guitar. He was surrounded by many people.
在"了不起!" "再來一首!"的讚嘆下, 更精彩的表演出現了. In the midst of compliments such as "Excellent!" and "One more song!", the most wonderful performance began.
"現在, 讓我們歡迎全國最厲害的管家... 老楊...." 做為主持人的弟弟小李崗說完, 李安壓低聲音, 開始學起家中管家老楊說話. "Now let us welcome the greatest housekeeper... Old Yang..." said little brother Shiao Gang, who was playing the announcer. Ang Lee lowered his voice and began to impersonate their housekeeper.
"呵呵, 沒錯, 你們家管家老楊說話就是這個樣子!" 每個人都拍手叫好. 有人撫著肚子大笑, 有人則是笑到眼淚都流出來. "Ah ha! That's right, your housekeeper Old Yang really does talk like that!" Everyone applauded, and some people held their stomachs from laughing so hard. Some laughed so hard they began to cry.
"李校長, 你這大兒子, 長大可以去演戲哦!" 一位賓客開玩笑的說. "Principal Li, your oldest son can be an actor when he grows up!" joked one member of the audience.
李昇笑笑沒答話, 他豈會不知道他的大兒子李安對表演有著極大的興趣與天分,過去只要軍中康樂隊有任何的表演, 不論是平劇, 照興戲, 魔術, 話劇, 李安總是坐在一排, 眼睛直愣愣盯著台前. 只是, 演戲這行業, 總不是個穩當的職業; 況且, 當時社會對於唱歌演戲的人, 總不是太尊敬, 任何一個愛孩子的父母都希望孩子一輩子能夠平平順順, 自己又怎麼可能鼓勵他去學表演藝術呢? Li Sheng laughed but did not reply, since he wasn't aware of his son's great interest and talent with regard to acting. Afterward Ang Lee attended all of the Kang Le Military Group performances, regardless of whether they were Peking Opera, Jhao Shing plays, magic acts, or dramas. He always sat in the first row, with his eyes glued to the stage. The stage, however, offered no secure careers, and the society of that time looked down upon performers in general. Parents who loved their children wished for their child's future prosperity. How could they encourage their children to enter the performing arts?
李安除了常在有客人到訪時唱唱跳跳以娛樂大人, 每個星期六開班會之前的教室, 更是他固定的表演舞台. 有時候, 他會說一段相聲; 有時候, 他會寫一個劇本, 邀同學一同排練演出. 這個星期六, 坐在台下等待李安一群人表演的同學, 左等右等都等不到開幕. Aside from entertaining adults that visited their household with his songs and dances, the Saturdays before his class meetings were Ang Lee's opportunities to perform. Sometimes he would perform a dialog, sometimes he would write a play for classmates to perform. On one particular Saturday, many such classmates were waiting for Ang Lee, eager for the performance to begin.
"怎麼回事?" 老師走到後台去, 卻看到孩子們七嘴八舌不知在爭什麼. "What's going on?" said the teacher after walking behind the stage. The teacher saw many students arguing about something.
"為甚麼我要演老婆婆?" 一個同學拒絕演出. "Why must I be the Old Lady?" one of the students protested.
"沒關係啦, 這樣很好玩阿!" 一個女同學安慰他. "It doesn't matter! This is fun!" one of his female classmates consoled him.
"我才不要, 上次我演豬八戒, 被笑了兩個禮拜, 這次又要演老婆婆." "I still refuse. Last time I played 'Ju Ba Jie' [the pig from "Journey to the West"], and I was laughed at for two weeks. This time he wants me to be the Old Lady."
"反正是演戲嘛!" 另一個同學說. "It's just a play!" another classmate said.
"我不要, 如果你覺得沒關係, 那就跟我交換演!" "I refuse! If you think it's no problem, then I will just switch roles with you!"
"為甚麼我要跟你交換?" "Why do I need to switch with you?"
"哎喲! 你不要鬧彆扭了啦, 你不演, 戲就演不下去了!" 其他同學勸說著."Ah Yo! Don't give up! If you don't perform, the play won't happen!" said another classmate.
"我才不管呢! 反正我就是不想演老婆婆!" 說完, 原本飾演老婆婆的同學, 頭也不回的走回座位, 看起來是吃了秤鉈鐵了心, 不演了. "I don't care! Whatever you say, I don't want to be the Old Lady!" After saying this, the classmate playing the Old Lady walked back to his seat. He was extremely determined and angry, and would not perform.
"怎麼辦? 現在老婆婆誰演?" "What can we do? Who can perform the Old Lady now?"
"我不要哦!" "I refuse!"
花師附小的老師靜靜的站在一邊, 看著這群孩子要如何解決這個突如其來的"缺一角"問題, 窗外的蟬叫得大聲, 教室內的孩子也急得滿頭大汗. 眼看時間一分一秒得過去, 這時候, 李安拿起一條大方巾, 包住頭說: "我來演吧!" The teacher from Hualien's Experimental School stood to one side, watching to see how the students would resolve this "actor shortage" problem. The sound of cicadas filtered through the window, and all the students in the classroom were sweating profusely. Minutes passed, and then Ang Lee took up a large scarf and wrapped it around his head. "I will perform it!" he said.
李安反串老婆婆贏得了滿堂彩. 這次的事件, 讓老師與同學們都見識到了李安對表演藝術的熱情. Ang Lee won much applause through his performance as the Old Lady. This occurrence made both the teacher and students aware of Ang Lee's fondness for the performing arts.
I'm not sure how familiar most English teachers are with the Task-based Teaching approach. It may be that this approach goes by other names in different parts of the world. It may also be that there are other, virtually identical approaches that have been invented and implemented at other times. Education can be a very faddish discipline, and it can be hard to keep track of the competing ideas, approaches, and theories.
I feel obliged to introduce the Task-based Teaching approach because much of what I say about special topics is linked to this approach. While teaching English for its own sake is certainly warranted (and moreover advisable), in many situations the idea of learning English through a secondary topic has a lot to do with my understanding of Task-based Teaching.
The central tenets/guidelines/suggestions of the Task-based Teaching approach are:
"1 - The teacher does not attempt to control learner language.
2 - The success of the procedure is judged on whether or not learners communicate successfully.
3 - At some stages during a meaning-focused cycle of activities learners and teachers will focus on language... Teachers will participate in the interaction by helping learners to shape and clarify what they want to say.
4 - Focus on form comes after focus on meaning. Advocates of a meaning-based approach will spend most of the time in the classroom on activities which promote communicative language use, but will supplement these with activities designed to promote accuracy." (1)
If you agree with the above four statements, then the necessity of teaching secondary subjects through the medium of English should be self-evident. Granted, students at a more elementary level will need an introduction to the basic mechanics of English to understand many subjects, but this does not obviate the usefulness of this approach. No, you're not going to start a lesson on Particle Physics with a group of third graders who haven't yet mastered their alphabet, but you can do a lesson on numbers and other mathematical concepts. From small beginnings, those with the time and interest can go very, very far.
With this in mind I offer a partial list of some of the special topics I have explored in class, and some thoughts on teaching each. My experience with each of these subjects varies, and I have to confess a complete ignorance of how these topics might be applied to high school students. I taught high school for exactly half a day, many years ago.
1. Physical Education
This one should be obvious to anyone who's taught small children. Sports and games offer social interaction, an out-of-classroom context, and an opportunity for kinesthetic learning.
I find that it is better to play games that kids in Taiwan are less familiar with. Dodgeball, for example, becomes Chinese time. American football, however, is less familiar for kids in Taiwan, and requires an understanding of complex rules. In other words, listening to the teacher explain the rules (in English) is essential. I have had particular success teaching American football to junior high students.
Again, a no-brainer for anyone who's taught small children. Art (and PE) works well with students who have trouble concentrating. Art can also be coupled with other subjects such as geography, giving the students a chance to show their understanding of the teacher's subject-specific input through artistic expression. The only problem with art is that it is so time-consuming. A ten minute drawing exercise can easily turn into a thirty minute art project, and dealing with the materials - both the pre-lesson preparation and cleaning them up in class - can be a hassle.
With very young children, I always approach Science through animals. Most children know at least a few animal names in English, and are eager to talk about them. From animals, we can move on to more complex discussions about where animals live, what food they eat, and what kind of environment they prefer.
4. Social Studies/Geography
This one is always a winner for me, partially because I love talking about flags, countries, and tourist destinations. Flags are an easy, colorful way to get into this topic, but maps often work just as well. Social Studies and Geography are just another way of talking about the human animal, and they resemble Science in many respects.
I realize that this sounds BAD. I don't mean to encourage violence, and Lord knows there could be less guns in the world, but young boys are interested in this topic, and I think it is worth exploring. Keep in mind that all boys in Taiwan face an obligatory two years of military service after they turn 18, and that "national defense" is a topic often discussed in public schools throughout Taiwan. I believe that we need to increase the peace, but violence is certainly an aspect of the modern world worth considering.
6. Languages Other Than English
This can be done if you are familiar with another language that the students don't know, or if they are familiar with a language other than Chinese or Taiwanese. Parents usually grow ecstatic when they hear about a teacher doing something like this, even though the language used isn't always meaningful. Letting students know that you, their teacher, are also a language learner is always helpful.
I do a lot of math with kids at the elementary level. Numbers are one of the first things they learn, and from numbers it is easy to move on to addition and other operations. It helps to take a look at their math textbooks before attempting this. Math can be language-poor after a certain level, so I tend to avoid it with more advanced students.
Kids in the lower grades love dancing, and singing songs with movement. Older kids despise it. I tend to do it more with my third graders. With kids past the sixth grade I wouldn't bother.
There are many ways to approach this topic. Students can sing songs, listen to songs, engage in musical performances, attend performances, or just learn about Western/non-Chinese music. Pop music tends to work better. A lot of students in Taiwan are bored by classical music, and tend to associate it with laborious piano and/or violin lessons. Teaching kids a few English songs and then hosting a "KTV party" is a sure fire hit every time.
10. Comic Books
I had a lot of success with this topic a couple of years ago, though I haven't explored it since then. American superheroes are famous worldwide, and kids are often eager to learn about these characters in English. I've shown students American comic books in class but haven't encouraged the reading of them. The English in these comics is quite difficult, and will discourage all but the most proficient students.
(1) This text is quoted from Willis, Dave and Jane Willis. 2007. Doing Task-based Teaching. Oxford; Oxford University Press.
3. Tomb-Sweeping Day 清明節 and Children's Day 兒童節 (March 2013)
We get two extra days off next week. April 4 is Children's Day, and April 5 is Tomb-Sweeping Day.
And while this conjunction of two very different holidays might seem puzzling to some, I must admit that there is a certain logic to it. Tomb-Sweeping Day, the day on which families go to clean the graves of ancestors, celebrates the traditions handed down through generations, and memorializes the debt owed by the living to the dead. Children's Day, on the other hand, memorializes the debt owed by the older generation to the younger.
Tomb-Sweeping Day looks toward the past, and Children's Day looks to the future. Both holidays celebrate the passing of one generation into the next, and the continuation of a culture through time. Considered in these terms, the two holidays compliment one another other nicely.
Wikipedia lists Tomb-Sweeping Day as "Qingming Festival," though the word "festival" is misleading. There aren't any festivities on Tomb-Sweeping Day. Wikipedia does list a few, but I have never seen any kite-flying, singing, or dancing during this supposed "festival" in Taiwan. It is, rather, a more solemn occasion, observed between members of a family. It is very different from larger, community holidays such as Chinese New Year or Dragon Boat Festival.
The holiday follows the Gregorian (solar) calendar, and falls on the same day every year. Another Chinese name for the holiday, 民族掃墓節 ("National Grave/Tomb Sweeping Holiday"), gives a much clearer indication of its purpose.
Children's Day is a much newer holiday. It has only been a public holiday in Taiwan since 2011, though it has a history in Taiwan dating back to the 1930s. It was combined with Women's Day in 1991, though many people have already forgotten about Women's Day 婦女節. I don't think this forgetfulness is evidence of sexism in Taiwan. It is just that many of the holidays were fused together several years ago, and this haphazard fusion of holidays pushed more recent holidays into the background.
Foreigners living in Taiwan will probably feel left out of Tomb-Sweeping Day. I know I do. I'll see people cleaning graves next to the road during (or often a few days before) this holiday, but despite being married to a Taiwanese woman I have never participated in this event. This is primarily because Tomb-Sweeping Day is a very male-oriented activity, and Chinese men, as the ceremonial "heads of the household," are the people with the largest role to play. For someone like me, who has taken his wife "beyond" this aspect of Chinese/Taiwanese culture, there are no familial obligations to fulfill.
Children's Day, however, is something any parent can relate to. I have two daughters, and both of these daughters are happy to have a four-day weekend. During this four-day weekend, we will take our daughters to visit my wife's grandfather in Yunlin 雲林, who is very ill.
This grandfather is a good man - certainly one of the best I have ever known. We try to visit him when we can, though it's not always easy. He takes great delight in his half-Western grandchildren, and our daughters are always glad to see him. We would love to see him more often, but he lives very far from us.
During this holiday weekend it will be easy to remember the debt we owe him, and also the debt we owe two girls who will one day (all too soon) grow up. This, for me, is the true meaning of these two holidays, and the thought of it makes me both happy and sad. With the passing of one generation comes the arrival of the next, and with the joy of each new life there is the sadness of another life ending. We live in the midst of change, we live in the midst of birth and death, and it is as easy to despair as it is to forget. Holidays such as these remind us that there is much to be thankful for, and that there is also much to remember.
4. Taiwanese Food 3: Hot Pot (March 2013)
Most Taiwanese people go INSANE over hot pot. They will travel vast distances for it. They will wait in line for hours. And they will talk for EONS about about a good hot pot, to the point where you wish you had never brought the subject up in the first place.
I like hot pot myself, but I'm not psychotic about it or anything. I favor the spicy kind, and I eat it about once a month. I eat it more in the winter, and I almost always eat it with beer.
I don't know how familiar most Western people are with hot pot. I know of a few hot pot restaurants in Seattle, but most of these restaurants are frequented by Asian people, to the exclusion of almost any other ethnic group.
So for those who don't know, hot pot is just a big pot of soup brought to your table, and along with the soup you are served several dishes of meat and vegetables, which you cook in the soup. The food thus cooked is then dipped into a sauce of your choice.
For many Taiwanese people, hot pot is also a social event. It isn't just about the food, but rather about the gathering around the pot, the conversation which ensues, and the time spent together. Hot pot is sometimes also an excuse for binge drinking, and for every hot pot restaurant full of happy families, there is at least one table full of drunken men.
Hot pot has a several-hundred year history in Chinese culture, and there's nothing specifically Taiwanese about it. What you have in Taiwan is pretty much what you'd have in many other Asian countries, though of course the vegetables and meats offered may differ. I've had hot pot in Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, and the States, and it was always pretty much the same thing.
There are hot pot restaurants EVERYWHERE in Taiwan, so those looking for this food should have no trouble finding it. Be warned, however, that the quality of hot pots differ considerably. I have had hot pot that sent me to the moon, hot pot that sent me straight to the bathroom, and hot pot that should have been sent back to the kitchen. It's best to ask locals which hot pot restaurant they prefer, and avoid hot pot restaurants that are empty at meal times.
5. Growing Up and I'm Fine (April 2013)
It's strange, watching your kids grow up. One day you find yourself in a hospital, holding this tiny screaming thing, and years later - almost before you know it - this tiny screaming thing is arguing with you over chores, or asking to borrow your cell phone, or accidentally deleting all of your files from the computer.
Both of my kids were born in Taiwan, and are - aside from their hair color and slight resemblance to me - as Taiwanese as any other kids. Of course there are certain differences between my kids and other kids, but these differences aren't as fundamental as some people think. Yes, both of my daughters speak English, but their grammar isn't always perfect. Yes, they've been to America, but only for short periods of time. Yes, their father is a foreigner, but he also lives and works in Taiwan.
Of course their "otherness" is the first thing that strangers notice, but with time and familiarity this "otherness" becomes less obvious. They like the same cartoons as any other Taiwanese kid. They do the same homework. They enjoy many of the same hobbies and fascinations.
What is obvious to me about my children is not their "otherness," but rather how much they are changing, and how fast. Every day I notice something new about them. Every day they do something different. Every day they learn something new.
My older daughter was born in 2000 - The Year of the Dragon - in Taichung's Cheng Ching Hospital. I was 25 at the time, and totally unprepared for this new person that demanded my attention. I don't think that anyone is prepared for the birth of their first child, and those who say they are, well... they're the ones in for trouble.
We named her Penelope, but later took to calling her Penny. She was named after a cat my parents once had - the longest-lived cat I have ever known. She was crawling before we had baby-proofed the furniture. She was walking just a few months after that. She was talking by the time we took her to America, and she was speaking English by the time we'd come back.
Penny has lived in the States for a total of three years, so she is a bit more American than her younger sister. Even so, she likes the same movies as her classmates, she speaks Mandarin fluently, and she is looking forward to starting junior high school next year. Transitioning between countries hasn't always been easy for her, but I must say that she's the more portable of our two children. She is always happy to go on a trip - regardless of what the destination is.
My older daughter was born in 2005 - The Year of the Rooster - In Taichung's Veteran's Hospital. She was a more difficult baby, and she is more physically active than her sister. Although she sometimes revels in being babied, she took quite readily to crawling, walking, bicycling, and even swimming. She is more outdoorsy than Penny is, and more outgoing. We named her Helena, but later took to calling her Lulu.
Lulu has only lived in America for a year, though we have visited there three times since her birth. Unlike Penny, she's never attended public school in the States, and her idea of America seems to center around camping, barbecues, and pizza restaurants. Her schooling has been almost entirely in Taiwan, and she tends to see things in Taiwanese terms. I often have to remind her that she is Taiwanese AND American, despite whatever her classmates are saying.
Both of my daughters have had issues with their identity at different times. For Penny, the shock came when we enrolled her in the Seattle School District, and it was decided that she would be placed on the ESL track. It was a long, hard fight to get her taken off that track, and Penny had trouble with other people's attitudes toward her. Many of her classmates talked to her like she was retarded, and her teacher at the time wasn't much better. It was a lot of hard work to get her acclimated to the States, but after a year she was reading and writing English at her grade level.
With Lulu it was the opposite problem. In 2009 we moved back to Taiwan from the States (again), and she had a hard time adjusting to school in Taiwan. Compared to American day care, first grade in Taiwan was A LOT more academic, and it took time for her to master the study skills expected in Taiwan. She's getting the hang of it now, but it wasn't easy at first.
Whatever their problems, my daughters make me very proud, and I feel that I am a better person for knowing them. It's not always easy to watch someone grow up, but seeing them grow, and learn, and develop has been immensely rewarding. I can only guess at what further changes they will undergo, and how these changes will affect me. Penny is already on her way to becoming a young woman, and Lulu, five years younger, will be starting the third grade next year. When I think of the long, long way they have come I am truly amazed, and I feel fortunate to call myself their father.
6. Historic Tainan 台南 2 (April 2013)
Tainan City - if you know your way around - is a good place for walking. It reminds me a lot of Hsinchu 新竹, where I lived years ago. Both cities are pleasant to stroll through, but only if you know where you are going.
The Confucius Temple 孔廟 and the Koxinga Shrine 鄭氏大宗祠 are very close to one another, and both are very historic. The picture below was taken in the Confucius Temple.
Behind the Confucius Temple is a wooden tower, and this is one of two gods that reside within this tower. I was told that many students come here to pray for good scores on exams.
This is the view of the top of the tower, with the Confucius Temple visible through the trees.
And below is the Koxinga Shrine, which isn't nearly as old as the Confucius Temple. The original structure was almost obliterated during the Japanese occupation, and what you see below is the result of a restoration undertaken in the 1980s.
This would be a good place to start any tour of Tainan. Many of the exhibits around the perimeter of this place describe the exploits of Koxinga, and also point the way to other historic attractions around Tainan.
This is the Confucius Temple again. Not sure what this tiger is supposed to represent.
The main shrine within the Confucius Temple. I was so busy taking pictures of it that I forgot to go inside!
Walking towards the exhibits in the back. Many of these exhibits explain religious paraphernalia and traditional Chinese musical instruments.
If you've found the above pictures interesting, I would encourage you to visit these sites. Besides the Koxinga Shrine and the Confucius Temple, there are many other sites of similar interest in and around Tainan City. Anping Fort 安平古堡, Fort Providentia 赤崁樓, Lu Er Men 鹿耳門, and even Koxinga's "tomb" are all worth a look. The Tainan Train Station, the oldest train station in Taiwan, has also been designated a historical site. Of course it isn't as old as any of Koxinga's haunts, but it does date back to 1900.
Just be sure you bring a map, because Tainan is easy to get lost in. Almost none of the roads in Tainan are straight, and the signage is often confusing. A GPS can be helpful, but should be used with caution!
7. Historic Tainan 台南 1 (April 2013)
Tainan is very historic. It's where the Dutch set up a colony in the 1600s. It's where Koxinga 鄭成功 landed with his fleet and his political ambitions. It's where the Japanese built one of the first train stations in Taiwan, already more than a hundred years ago.
Tainan is perhaps the most Taiwanese of places, trying hard to hold on to its traditions, but also trying hard to be part of the modern world. These two goals are not always compatible, as anyone in Tainan will tell you.
|Traffic on the way to Tainan, another Taiwanese tradition!|
I believe my only prior mention of Tainan County was in the "Counties in Taiwan That I Am Ignorant Of" entry, over one year ago. Back then I didn't know a whole lot about this part of Taiwan, though I am getting to know it better.
|Lu Jhu, in Kaohsiung County 高雄縣|
A big reason I am better acquainted with Tainan is the fact that my mother-in-law now lives in Lu Jhu 路竹, which is just across the county line. This gives us easy access to Tainan, which is literally right across the street from her apartment building.
On this particular occasion we stayed in Lu Jhu for two nights, and explored Tainan over three days. From Highway 1, which leads north from her home into Tainan City, we drove about 20 minutes and arrived at a large section of Tainan owned by the Taiwan Sugar Corporation 台灣糖業公司. The TSC has a long history in Taiwan, and remains a powerful force in Taiwan's economy.
|Sunflowers across the street from the Taiwan Sugar Corp. Visitor's Center|
From there we drove through downtown Tainan, and then out of the city. We passed through the Southern Taiwan Science Park 南部科學工業園區, and from there entered the Southwest Coast National Scenic Area 雲嘉南濱海國家風景區. This is a strange, empty place with a long history of fish farming. As we left the Science Park, the traffic dwindled to almost nothing. We were often the only car on the road.
Before long we were in the town of Long Shan 龍山. This town is the last stop for boat tours of the scenic area, and there are many shops selling seafood on the main road. There is also a large temple in Long Shan, and the Taiwan Strait 台灣海峽 is only a short distance away. The fried oysters in the picture below were delicious.
|Fried oysters, fried yams, fried fish!|
I walked around inside the Long Shan temple for quite a while. It was very quiet there. It was the day before Tomb-Sweeping Day 清明節, and many people came inside to perform their devotions.
I'm no expert on temple architecture, so I couldn't tell you what these scenes represent. I like to think that the guys on the temple walls have just finished their fried oysters, and they are looking for a good place to drink beer.
Below is the port, with the the temple in the background. The long blue boat in the back is one of the tour boats, and the roofed area in front of it is where the tour groups barbecue their oysters.
About ten minutes north of Long Shan is the Taiwan Salt Museum 台灣鹽博物館, one the most boring museums you will ever visit. This part of Taiwan also has a long history of salt production, stretching back to the Japanese occupation. Of course the practices of salt production and aquaculture have taken a toll on the environment, and in many places the land is slowly sinking. During typhoons, flooding is a serious problem here.
Below is one of the "salt pools" where they make salt from sea water. Next to this is a huge pile of salt that people actually pay to walk up. I'll be damned if I'm going to pay to walk up any pile of salt, no matter how huge it is.
After the Salt Museum we drove up to Yunlin County 雲林縣 to see my wife's grandfather. It was a long drive through pouring rain, but I was happy about the things we'd seen in Tainan that day. I knew we were coming back on the following day, and I looked forward to exploring more places in Tainan City.
8. Taiwanese 台語 (April 2013)
"Taiwanese" can mean three things: the language (台語), the ethnicity (閩南族的 / 閩南人), and the nationality (台灣的 / 台灣人). I am talking here about the language (台語).
Taiwanese, also known as Minnanese 閩南語, or the "south of the Min River language," is one of Taiwan's two official languages. The other is Mandarin Chinese 國語. Taiwanese is a dialect - another form of Chinese - and it has borrowed many words from both Mandarin and Japanese. Just try having a Taiwanese (non-Mandarin) conversation about electronics, and you'll see what I mean.
Taiwanese has a long history in Taiwan, going back hundreds of years. It was originally the language used in and around Fujian 福建 Province in China, and most people in this province still speak Minnanese today. Of course Minnanese speakers in Taiwan and Minnanese speakers in China have been separated by hundreds of years of geography, politics, and culture, so it's not surprising that the Minnanese spoken on the Mainland and the Minnanese spoken in Taiwan differ considerably.
On the west coast of Taiwan, Taiwanese is spoken by a larger percentage of the total population. Most of these people grow up speaking Taiwanese, and learn Mandarin as part of their schooling. This Mandarin is the legacy of the Kuomintang's 國民黨 arrival in Taiwan after the disastrous Chinese Civil War "concluded" in 1949. The KMT created its own administration in Taiwan, to replace the vacuum left by the Japanese, and the language of this administration was Mandarin.
The descendants of these KMT immigrants still live in Taiwan, though they all grow up surrounded by those whose first language is Taiwanese. Most of them can understand it when it's spoken, but they will be at pains to explain the subtler aspects of their lives in Taiwanese. This is also true of Hakkanese people 客家人 and aboriginal people 原住民. Those who live in Taiwan end up picking up odds and ends of this language, but a true mastery of it resides with those who can describe themselves as Taiwanese in ethnicity 閩南人, not just Taiwanese in nationality 台灣人.
People often ask me if I speak Taiwanese. My answer is usually "Yes, but not much." I can get the gist of it when it's spoken to me, but I am at a loss to express myself in Taiwanese. I speak it much better when I am drunk. Or at least I think I speak it much better when I'm drunk. I'm not really sure.
Some readers of this blog have asked me about studying Taiwanese in a university here. While I am no expert on the subject, I do know of a few such programs in the bigger universities. One of the chief difficulties with this is the fact that the system for writing Taiwanese is only fully understood by a handful of specialists, and is all but inaccessible to someone at the elementary level. It might seem like a more interesting choice for those who style themselves linguists, but I have never met any foreign graduate of any university who could speak Taiwanese well. I suggest instead learning Mandarin intensively for at least two years, and only then beginning a study of Taiwanese from locals. This is, after all, how the locals learned it. This is also how missionaries learn it, and the only foreigners I've met who could REALLY speak Taiwanese were either missionaries or doctors who spent long periods of time living somewhere where they needed to know it.
My school has several teachers of Taiwanese, but they only show up once a week. The four of them teach all of the classes in a single day, and then they depart, leaving little progress in their wake. The students that already know Taiwanese continue to know it, and those who don't haven't learned much. My younger daughter is picking it up, but this is more due to environmental factors than anything else.
The problems of Taiwanese language education parallel those of Hakkanese, and of aboriginal language education. Mandarin is such an overwhelming force in Taiwanese culture, and for those who haven't grown up speaking these languages there is little chance of their ever learning to do so. Mandarin is everywhere in Taiwan: on TV, on the radio, on the Internet, and it can have a subversive effect on those who wish to preserve their identity as Taiwanese speakers. Even those who've grown up speaking Taiwanese often switch into Mandarin in the presence of classmates or coworkers.
Certainly Taiwanese is in no danger of becoming extinct. Not any time soon. Too many people speak it, and too many people identify with it for that to happen. But it is becoming less useful in certain sectors of Taiwanese society, and that's certainly something to think about. Languages are often judged by their utility, and the less useful they become the faster they fade from the collective consciousness. Should Taiwan ever become a truly independent country (in other words, should the government finally stand up and say "Yes, we are a country!"), Taiwanese may well experience a resurgence. On the other hand, an absorption into Mainland China would likely spell trouble for the Taiwanese language, as immigration from the Mainland would make this language even less relevant to daily life in Taiwan.
9. People, Places, and Things (April 2013)
I've been reading a lot of history lately. I've also been thinking about Taiwan's specific history, and how this history is defined by those who participate in it.
Part of the reason I've been thinking about history is my enduring interest in it. I majored in History as an undergraduate, and it can be quite useful for anyone trying to understand the changes undergone by individuals, cultures, and nations over time. It isn't the final word of course, but none of the social sciences are.
As of the last Chinese New Year holiday, I've only been reading books in Chinese, and all of these books have been about history. One of these books was an introduction to Taiwan's "railway culture," and the "train fans" all over the island. Another book was about the growth of a "leisure culture" in Taiwan, and economic changes since the KMT arrived. A third book was about maps and world history. A fourth book - as yet unread - is about a selection of historical artifacts housed in the Smithsonian, and what these artifacts tell us about the development of cultures worldwide.
Naturally, as I'm reading these books I come to think about Taiwan, and about all of the historical, popular, or culturally relevant places I have visited during my 13 years on the island. I think about the passage of time. I think about changes of administration. I think about fads and elections, natural disasters and building projects that are still underway. I think about transformations, and also about the more enduring parts of Taiwan: the people, places, and things that have remained untouched by the upheavals of yesterday.
History (or historicity) is, I think, relative. The completion of the Taipei 101 was less significant for most people than the passing away of their grandmother. The departure of the Japanese after WWII was less significant than the new job they got shortly after. People measure their lives in so many ways, and the units of measurement we use reflect both our personalities and our personal relationships. The "historical moments" only offer a common point of reference, while the smaller events are often more meaningful.
As I watch "history" unfold in Taiwan every day, I often wonder what it is that people will remember of this year, this decade, or even this day. What people will be remembered? What places? What things? Ten years from now, will I remember who was President of Taiwan? Or will I remember a tea shop I used to frequent? Will I remember the new hotel built near my house? Or will I remember a cat that slept on the fence behind my school?
I also don't think it is accurate to say that we are creating one history. We are instead compiling a multitude of histories, and there are as many histories as there are people. These histories cross over one another where and when we come into contact. When something happens only to me its historical value might be relatively small, but when it happens to both of us its historical value is slightly larger.
On a bigger scale, it is also interesting to see where Taiwan's history intersects America's, where Taipei's history intersects Kaohsiung's, and where one community's history intersects another's. The great thing about this phenomenon - to me, anyway - is that no one has the final word on history. Because the communities defining history change over time, future events and future personalities are always redefining how we view the past.
Whatever happens in ten, twenty, or fifty years it will be interesting to look back and remember. We will pick a few moments that we hold in common, and make a story about how the world was. Maybe we both attended Lantern Festival in the same location, and that will be part of our story. Maybe we both voted for the same President, and that will be included. Maybe we both loved a particular brand of ice cream, and this will come to have historical value for us. In the end, the items that we decide contain historical value will define us as members of a shared culture, in turn defined by its own and others' histories.
And on, and on, and on. And then one day we die, and the generations after us define the boundaries of their own history, often ignoring what has come before. Will people in 2435 care about the Ching Dynasty? Will they remember who Wu Bai was? Will they know what an MRT was used for? The answers may well surprise those of us who are cryogenically frozen long enough to see them.
Anyway it's Tuesday, and I am perhaps waxing overly philosophical. The onset of summer heat will do that. I just think it's fun to contemplate, and it is moreover something I think about every time I open the newspaper. Bombings at marathons, blowjobs on the Kaohsiung MRT, women who kill the elderly over money... who is to say which of these stories will survive past this year?
I can only hope that whatever history we are making for ourselves will bring us joy later on. This, to me, is the true function of history - to bring happiness to our present day struggles, to bring wisdom to our decisions, and to ensure harmony in our society. History can be used for so many evil purposes. If it is used to bring joy, well... I think it is used well enough.
10. Foreigners I Have Known (April 2013)
I should probably include a "Taiwanese People I Have Known" entry at some point. I am occasionally bashed for being "against foreigners" - whatever that means.
If these entries are skewed towards negative examples, it is only because the more negative examples were the most memorable.
1. Mr. V
Mr. V was a teacher in the first school I worked at. He was from the Philippines, though he was raised in the States. He seemed like a great guy, and everyone loved him at first, but then we all discovered that he was THE BIGGEST LIAR IN THE WORLD. He lied about everything. He lied about where he was from, he lied about his job history, he even lied about what he ate for lunch that day.
Mr. V, in collusion with the owner of a scooter repair shop, defrauded me of a large sum of money when I was fresh off the plane. I'd like to say that this was the reason he was fired from our school, but the real reason was that he was (secretly) married, and also fucking his Taiwanese co-teacher. Word got around, and he was history.
2. The Secret Priest
I have known a few people like this, but he was the worst. He was educated in England, but he had a lot of family in Germany. We used to get into arguments over his psuedo-fascist views. He thought he was a genius, and he thought he was God's gift to the women of Taiwan.
The shittiest part was that his wife had just given birth to his child, and only a few months later he was out with his usual array of fuck buddies. She'd have tears in her eyes as she pushed the stroller through the door. She'd ask us where he was, and we were all afraid to answer. She knew where he was of course, but she was hoping that one of us would provide him with an excuse.
I have vivid memories of his elementary-level English classes, in which he'd attempt to use the Bible as a means of teaching Taiwanese kids about Western culture. While I won't dispute the fact that the Bible can teach you a lot about Western culture, it was the way he used it to attack many Chinese cultural beliefs that bothered me. One would think that someone so devoted to the Bible might have thoughts about the sanctity of his own marriage vows, but apparently he allowed himself exceptions. I hope his wife found a better man, and his son a better father.
3. The Closet Homosexual?
We had this woman in our office that I first mistook for a man. She had this mustache over her upper lip, and the broadest pair of shoulders I've ever seen. I once saw her kissing another girl from the office.
Later on a guy from Canada showed up at our school, lisping and mincing with the best of them, and we all figured he was as gay as gay can be. In a few months he had married the mustachioed office woman, and they had a kid - much to our collective surprise.
We could never figure out if they were covering for each others' homosexuality, or if their trans-gendered natures were enough to make up the difference in sexual orientations. They have had another kid since then, and seem perfectly happy.
4. Mr. Z
During my fifth year in Taiwan, the school where I worked had another teacher from Seattle, which made me very happy at first. We would sit in the office and talk about going to Green Lake, or bars we used to frequent, or places we used to camp.
But he was a helpless sort of individual, and after a few weeks I was getting tired of receiving his phone calls at three in the morning. "You gotta help me out, man," he would say, "My scooter's been impounded again, and I don't know where to go." During his two-year stay in Taiwan, things went from bad to worse, and by the end of his stay he was not only fired but facing deportation. After he skipped out I had to help clean out his apartment. The syringes all over his floor explained a lot.
5. Mr. R
Mr. R was from the great state of Texas, and kept asking me for advice about where to meet girls. He spent the year frantically texting girls on the other side of Taiwan. At the end of this year, he met a local girl and decided to marry her, and I later watched him have a nervous breakdown in the middle of his own wedding. After they got married he returned to the great state of Texas, where he is probably much happier. He was a strange, desperate sort of man, but I miss his manic energy.
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