Book Review: ‘Sewn Together’ by Lai-chu Hon 韓麗珠的《縫身》書評

12315282_10102256948261369_1284331862_oThis novel is set in a dystopian society where people are encouraged to be sewn together, although it’s a little unclear why exactly this is. There are hints that it’s got to do with some sort of disease which threatens people’s health if they are not joined to others, but it’s never really definitively set down. The changes to infrastructure necessary as a result are said to have stimulated the economy, but this is not why they are being sown together.

Even after resolving to suspend my disbelief by accepting this premise, I still found the novel a little scattered and the protagonist a bit one note – a depressed insomniac who is bereft of any humor Continue reading

Passive Aggressive Notes in Taipei 又來了消極抵抗的紙條!

Given the population density of a place like Taipei, it’s no wonder that tensions very easily arise between neighbours. I’ve always been interested in the way people communicate their complaints in a city famed for its politeness. Parking is a particular problem and people get all sorts of aggressive if you steal their spot (my old flatmate got his car windows smashed in with a brick for parking in a space that someone else felt didn’t belong to him).

I don’t drive, so it doesn’t affect me in any way, but there has been some tension between my neighbours recently over a black car that someone keeps parking in a place where everyone normally parks their scooters. When we came out one morning we saw their car had been keyed all down one side – and they seems to be covert about the times they park (2 or 3 in the morning). Today we noticed this note under the windshield wiper of his car:


It reads:  Continue reading

Penang Hokkien – Zhangzhou with a twist 檳城福建話

Recently when flicking through my Facebook feed I saw this photo taken by my friend Tariel in Penang in Malaysia.


Photo Provided by Tariel Dzharkimbaev

What caught my notice was the speech bubble in the top right corner:


「教你讲(講)福建」- “[I’ll] teach you [to] speak Hokkien” which is romanized as “Kah Lu Kong Hokkien”.

In Taipei one would normally hear this pronounced as “  kóng Hok-kiàn” (Click each word to hear).

What struck me, was the that the 「你」 which I’d always heard pronounced “lí” in Taipei had been romanized as “lu”.

In Penang they mainly speak the Zhangzhou (漳州) dialect, similar to the dialect of Hokkien spoken in the cities of Tainan and Taichung, Yilan and Yuanlin. In this dialect words like 「你、豬」 end in the consonant “i”, whereas in the Xiamen dialect, they can end in Continue reading

Commemorative $NT10 pieces – the 50th anniversary of Taiwan being ceded to the ROC


Geeking out again after discovering another commemorative coin. The front reads 「共同經營大台灣」 (Running Greater Taiwan together) and below that “搏聚休戚與共的生命共同體” (United together through thick and thin as a community of fate). It’s written in seal script, which explains why it’s quite hard to read. I thought 「共」 looked particularly unlike it’s seal script version:


However, you can see the pattern when you compare it with 與, as the bottom of both characters is the same. You can download the seal script font for programs on your computer, including Word, here, although unfortunately you have to type in simplified for it to work (after unzipping drag the TTF file into your Control Panel\All Control Panel Items\Fonts folder).

This coin was issued in 1995 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Taiwan being ceded to the Republic of China by Japan after World War II. This is commonly referred to as 「光復」(guang1fu4) in Chinese, which literally means “to restore the light”.

This term has sparked a certain amount of controversy given its implication that those living in Taiwan under Japanese rule were living in “darkness” until Chiang Kai-shek came to bring them to the light. The government of Taiwan launched a series of campaigns to attempt to “re-sinicize” and the populace of Taiwan, which the Republic of China government felt had been brain-washed or “enslaved” (奴化) by the Japanese in during the 50 years of colonial rule. The local population had been introduced to modernity under Japanese rule, but many artists and writers faced persecution or marginalization under the new Kuomintang government, as they were seen as collaborators by the new regime or never properly got to grips with writing in Chinese. Those who had been formally educated in the Japanese language had to learn Mandarin and this led to much of their work being overlooked until more recently, when it was translated from Japanese.

There is an excellent book on this period by historian Huang Ying-che (黃英哲) called Uprooting Japan; Implanting China: Cultural Reconstruction in Post-War Taiwan 1945-1947 (《「去日本化」「再中國化」戰後台灣文化重建(1945-1947)》): Continue reading

Review of ‘Revisiting the White Bridge’ by Roan Ching-yue 書評:阮慶岳的《重見白橋》


*Contains spoilers*

Roan Ching-yue is an architecture professor in Taiwan and has written several stories featuring gay themes, including ‘The Pretty Boy from Hanoi‘ and ‘The Con Man‘ (click through for my translation), both featured in the short story collection City of Tears (《哭泣哭泣城》), this was his first long-form novel and it was published in 2002.

We meet the protagonist of this novel at a time of crisis. An only child, he meets a man resembling his dad who claims to be his brother by the same mother and father. Despite the questions that surround the man’s sudden appearance in his life, he accepts him as a brother pending further inquiry. It’s at this time that he finds out that his company is moving the majority of its employees to China, so he quits and fails to find another job, so has a larger amount of free time. Over this period he discovers that his “brother” is gay and then we are introduced to the brother’s perspective, with a chronicle of his childhood growing up in Australia and his wild sex life.

The glimpses we get of the brother’s life, show him to be a lot more carefree than the protagonist, however, one of the main stories he recounts involved an attempt to shame him:

[My translation] I was once at a motel in Los Angeles and, bored, so I decided to pleasure myself. I stuffed the cap of a bottle of shaving cream into my ass. As I was unable to get it out again, I had to go three days without moving my bowels. I gradually lost my appetite and my face turned a shade of reddish purple. The doctor at the emergency room knew, of course, what I’d done, but he insisted on forcing me to recount all the gory details of what I’d gotten up to that night in the motel room in front of a group of strangers comprised of interns and nurses. He made me lie squatting on the bed like a dog, while he and his female assistant tried in vain to take it out, threatening that if I didn’t cooperate as best I could, he would have to cut my anus open with a knife. I calmly asked him: How long would the wound take to heal if you cut it open? He said: Maybe a lifetime, maybe you’d never be able to use it again for anything but shitting.

I accepted him shaming me through the entire process and at the moment when he finally retrieved the plastic cap, I sprayed the shit I had accumulated over several days out of my elevated ass all over him and his assistant just as the cap slid out.

This was shame’s parasitic twin, revenge.  [pg. 138]

Continue reading

Overheard Moments – Taiwanese on the streets 街巷台語


I love hearing snippets of people’s conversations on the street and it’s always a good opportunity to learn more of a language. I overheard the below exchange about a wedding invite grudge:

Woman: mài (不要) 等(tán) 七(chhit) 年(), mài(不要) 講(kóng抵好(tú-hó只好)  好() 一(chi̍t) 工(kang, 天) 伊(i他) 可能(khó-lêng) 硬(ngē) 掙(chiⁿ), 伊(i他) 都(to) 掙(chiⁿ) 去({k}hì).

Woman: Don’t wait seven years, then one day… Maybe even if she has to force her way in she will still go. She will still go.

á 阮(góan我) a 姊 (chí) 伊(i他)   (也) 無() 可能(khó-lêng) 去({k}hì), 因為(in-ūi) 伊(i他) koh(又) 食素(chia̍h-sò͘). 人(lâng人家) 都(to) 無() 位(ūi) 褪 (thǹg (讓))  hō͘ (給) 伊(i) 坐(chē), 伊(ibeh(要) 去({k}hì) 創啥 (chhòng-siáⁿ做什麼)?

My sister can’t possibly go, because she is a vegetarian. They aren’t able to give her a place to sit, so why would she go?

Man: 無() 位(ūi) 妳(koh(還/又) beh(要) 去({k}hì)?

Man: If there is nowhere to sit she still wants to go?

Woman: 人(lâng人家) 曾XX (姓名) 干單(kan-nā(只有)) 僎(chhôan(準備)) 一(chi̍t) 桌toh  ??? (anninia). m̄是(m̄-sī不是) 阿強 著是(tio̍h-sī就是) 愛(ài(要)) 坐(chē)  主(chú) 桌toh.

Woman: Zeng XX should at least prepare one table for her. Shouldn’t A Qiang in the most important spot.

Feel free to contact me if I’ve misunderstood the above conversation or if you’ve got any Taiwanese words or phrases you hear and want featured on the blog.


What the hell are you playing at? 變啥魍? pìⁿ siáⁿ báng (搞什麼鬼)


Found this in yesterday’s Liberty Times (《自由時報》), a paper that leans towards the major opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Taiwanese independence. It was a front page story on a housing developer that is accused of misrepresenting the square footage of  a development that they were working on in cooperation with the Taipei city government. In the course of the article it emerges that the city government had previously been informed of the expected difference in square footage, at which point incumbent mayor Ko Wen-je (an independent with DPP leanings who secured a win in the mayoral election with a non-partisan platform), states that he doesn’t understand what the hell the people in the lower ranks of the Taipei City government are playing at:


This is a useful phrase if you want to substitute the phrase 搞什麼鬼 in Mandarin for the Taiwanese phrase 變啥魍 pìⁿ siáⁿ báng (Unfortunately the normal dictionary I use is out of action so you’ll have to click through to get access to the button to play the sound. There is no audio file for 「魍」, however 「蠓」also  “báng” is pronounced identically so I’ve provided the link to that sound file instead.)

As I’ve stated in previous posts, you’ll commonly hear Taiwanese phrases inserted into Mandarin sentences – and this is the best way to start learning Taiwanese if you don’t yet know how to have a whole conversation in Taiwanese.

Feel free to contact me with any cool Taiwanese words or phrases you hear and want featured on the blog.

‘The Con Man’ by Roan Ching-yue 〈騙子〉阮慶岳


He was a con man.

He felt like a cotton-bound paper lantern, panicking that he would be seen through at any moment, giving off, as he was, a glow of affability and affection from every pore, both tantalizing and haughty. After he’d finished a con, he gave his arrogance even freer reign, but he wasn’t normally able to trust his feelings to others. They were his private hoard, a secret love affair, delectable, but not to be shared out loud. Sometimes he felt so stifled that it was as if his insides would rip open in a roar, but then he would use a soothing motherly tone to subdue his organs, bursting as they were with pride-fed excitement, saying, Be good now, I know… but you can’t tell anyone! You can’t tell anyone! You should all be quite aware of that now, shouldn’t you!

The jubilation was like an infant wailing for its mother’s breast, making him feel like a helpless new mother cradling it closer to his chest, rocking it and saying, Don’t cry, don’t cry, come on! Let’s go for a walk to the riverside and see the rainbow. On the street he would be even more cautious, not allowing his arms to fall from his body for even an instant, for fear that the infant inside him would start to wail. Try though he might to contain himself, he wasn’t able to disguise an appearance of self-satisfied mirth and haughtiness, in the drab blur of the crowds, especially with his lantern-like translucent splendor.

His organs would be soothed by the sight of the rainbow and enter into the heavy slumber of sated beasts. However, sometimes the joy he felt was so strong, it would wake him up at night and he would break his taboo by spilling all to his beloved stuffed goose. Like tonight… he couldn’t get images of A out of his head, flowing like restless spirits struggling to emerge from within him, scattered over the countless past months, like colored flags which circle happily in the wind over time, illuminating the lantern case which shrouded him to such an extent that it was as if he would burst into flame any minute.

On nights like this he was left with no other option but to tell the story of A at length to the attentive-looking stuffed goose.

I Lie Because I Love You Continue reading