Book Review: ‘Taipei Dad, New York Mom’ by Mickey Chen 書評:陳俊志的《台北爸爸/紐約媽媽》

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Initially, I was quite excited by this book, as I’d previously watched a documentary by this late director (I reviewed it here). The book starts off with a moving account of the disintegration of the author’s family and the effect of his sister’s death on him and the larger family.

As the book develops, however, the same story is repeated ad nauseum and seemed almost like the author was trying to impose his own moral interpretation of his riches to rags story on the reader. The tone also seemed more appropriate to the essay format, rather than a long-form novel as he seemed to get a bit lost in his own narration after giving the broad strokes of the initial story. There are interesting aspects to the narrative. In the context of the gay marriage referendum, there has been a shift towards conservatism within the gay movement, and this has led to clashes within the movement, between those attempting to be inclusive to the extent of embracing what they call “chem sex culture” and BDSM fans and those in pursuit of (what their opponents would call) heteronormativity. The author seems pulled by these two conflicting strands of the gay community throughout, which may be what drives his switches between the first and third person at points throughout the book.

I’ve never really been a fan of autobiographies and towards the end of the book, it started to grate on my nerves a bit. The author teases the reader a little by suggesting he’s going to reveal the details of his life, but apart from brief references to a few of his relationships, a disjointed scene where we assume he’s having chem sex, the author’s main purpose throughout the novel seems to be to air the dirty laundry of the rest of his family members, while he maintains a Madonna-like status of victimhood throughout. There’s a lot of anger and resentment in the book, and this comes across in passive-aggressive comments and made the book come across as quite monotonous. Whereas in fictional works like Moonlight, there is a layer of separation between the author/director and the anger of the protagonist towards their family, the first person narrative here left us with nowhere to go, as the author doesn’t seem willing to reflect on the larger social context and systematic problems surrounding his family’s downfall in the same way that Moonlight tries to give the protagonist’s mother a human side.

We almost get to a scene comparable to the scene in Moonlight when the author faces his father’s mortality, but it doesn’t have the same impact for me as the film. Reading the book was almost like listening to someone you don’t know gossip about the people in their life, or someone showing you their family photo album. As a reader, I found it hard to care. Maybe due to the author’s familiarity with his family members, we’re never given a complete picture of them, just who they are as they relate to him, and, frequently, how they’ve victimized him. The central theme of the book is the tragedy that occurs in the author’s childhood. The tone flits between brief moments in which the author portrays something genuinely moving, snarky quips, boasting and wallowing in self-pity. While it’s nice that the author broke up the heaviness of the tragic portrayal of his sister’s death and his family’s disintegration, the other bits of the book felt a little posed, and there was a lot of name-dropping. Essentially they are there to show us what a famous, witty and high-performing luvvie the author is despite the loss of his sister and the break-up of his family home initiated by his father.

If I were to take a more cynical view on the change between the first and third person I mentioned above, it could be seen as an attempt to “be literary”. Combined with certain other comments throughout the book like “The small hole in the back of the intricate doll, now looking back, of course, was a massive symbol for leaving my carefree childhood”, just came across as pretentious attempts to sound educated. I felt this came across in a passage in which the author talks about drug-fueled sexual experiences at the Taiwan Youth Park, and he switches from the first to the third person, reflecting perhaps the disassociation that he feels from taking Ketamine:

一直到青年公園成為台灣gay beach才懂得一枚渾圓無瑕的屁眼是如此的人間至樂。沖澡間總有誘人的底迪無邪地以屁眼向你召喚,一起騎了車吃完建中黑糖剉冰就是如奶蜜甜糖的幹底迪床戲。IKEA夏日涼床上好多美麗的男孩永恆停留在他們高潮來前童稚的眉頭微蹙,屁眼戲劇性地陡地縮緊也忍不住要射了的迷離K世界,我想起古典的英國文學史課堂上那些草原芬芳的下午。男孩們滿足的輕喟很快在你身上趴著睡著,包裹著他們青春身體的甜淡香味,穿透裊裊迴繞的Rush餘韻,直撲鼻端讓我跌入底迪歳月曾經那麼無邪的往事如煙。

老去的男人後來綿延璀璨的性史再也沒法像古典時期那麼甜美可人了。隨手翻到一頁,聞了Rush嗑了E用了勾媚兒的性愛體驗,在鐵皮書裡用最複雜的符碼象徵交互指涉,都難以取代陰莖屁眼乳頭霎時的萬般感受。一沙一世界,蔓延展開成花花天地。 屁眼生出花朵,陽具是燦爛的樹。他感到自己的身體變成一本巨大的鐵皮書,鏤刻著感官的年輪和耳語的密碼。在我耳邊輕輕呢喃,身體就是記憶。

It wasn’t until the Taiwan Youth Park became Taiwan’s gay beach that he understood how much earthly pleasure could be derived from a perfectly round asshole. In the shower rooms there were always seductive twinks, beckoning you over brazenly with their assholes, then after riding a motorcycle together and eating shaved ice with brown sugar from the shop beside Jianguo High School, it was time for the even sweeter treat of fucking them. Lots of pretty boys will remain frozen with their brow slightly furrowed in the childish expression that comes just before an orgasm on an IKEA sun lounger, their assholes suddenly tightening dramatically as I can’t stop myself cumming in that blurry world of K, I thought of the fragrant scent of afternoons on the moors from my English Literature classes. The boys would sigh gently in satisfaction and then cuddle against you to sleep, as you hold their youthful bodies, with their faint sweet smell, with the lingering whiffs of the leftover Rush adding to the mix, and as the smell hits the nostrils you fall into the naivete just like that of youth, and the past goes up in smoke.

As men age, the ongoing resplendent sexual history is never as sweet and innocent as the classical era. Perusing to a certain page, sexual experience with the smell of rush, on E and Foxy Methoxy (5-MEO-Dipt), implying each other’s guilt with the most complex of symbols in an iron corrugated book, it’s hard to replace the myriad momentary sensations of the penis, the asshole and the nipple. The world on a grain of sand, spreading out and blossoming everywhere. A flower blossoms from the asshole, the penis is an awesome tree. He felt his entire body had turned into an iron-clad book, with the age rings of sensation and the codes of whispered nothings. Whispering in my ear, the body is memory itself.

I liked the fact that he inserted an apparently random thought into a sexual experience, as it made it ring truer, but everything the author does seems aimed at proving his extensive learning, which is why the random thought is about his English Literature classes.

In another of the brief interludes where we get a glimpse of the author himself and not just his family, he talks about his sexual relationship with one of his long-term partners:

晚上我們總是到純樸的民家洗澡,一鎖門,老羅和我熾熱摸索彼此。滑膩的肥皂泡沫穿過我們的股溝,我們挺直的陰莖。門外的部隊同儕不耐地敲門問詢,春光乍洩的梁朝偉啐了口水,猛烈進入張國榮,沒有KY,沒有保險套。這是我們最初芬芳的乙醚記憶,在意亂情迷的夏夜,穿透了層層記憶而來。

At night we always went to the rustic local showers. As soon as we locked the door Lao Luo and I would start passionately groping at each other. The soap suds flowed between our buttocks and around our erect cocks. Our army mates would knock impatiently on the door as Tony Leung from Happy Together spits as he enters Leslie Cheung, without any KY, without a condom. This was our diethyl ether-scented first memory, entranced with passion on a Summer evening, and it cuts through layer upon layer of memory to emerge again.

Some of the author’s comments on class are a bit over the top, particularly as he’s aware himself that he’s one generation away from a similar level of poverty. He’s constantly emphasizing how educated he is as a way to elevate himself:

那一年,我和老羅都剛退伍,我繼續在補習班教英文,努力存錢準備出國留學。他是油漆工人,下工後愛喝小酒,和朋友打電動玩具和柏青哥。我們沒有共同的朋友,我討厭他的狐群狗黨,他覺得我的朋友都是外星人。我們兩人一旦吵架,沒有緩衝地帶,沒有調停人,只有兩個人硬碰硬對幹。年輕的我們總是不明白,有些時候,再怎麼深刻的愛情是跨不了階級這一關的。

That year, when Lao Luo and I had just gotten out of the army, I continued to teach English at a cram school, working hard to earn money to study abroad. He worked painting houses, and when he got off work he liked to go for a tipple, and play arcade and pachinko games with his friends. We had no friends in common and I hated the pack of scoundrels he hung out with, whereas he thought all my friends were from another planet. As soon as we started to argue, there was no buffer zone, there was noone to mediate, there was just the two of us clashing hard and going after each other. Young as we were, we didn’t understand that sometimes, no matter how deep the love you feel, it can’t cross the class divide.

One interesting aspect of the narrative is how the mainlander/local Taiwanese division functioned beside class divisions. His father’s family is local Taiwanese, which plays a large part in his father’s rags to riches story. The author’s paternal aunt marries a 「不愛講話的外省老芋仔」 (a taciturn mainlander), who is 30 years older than she is. Another of his paternal aunts manages to escape from a 「wife-beater」only to marry a butcher who starts another family on the other side of the Taiwan Strait. When she goes to confront her husband’s wife in China about this, the fight that results makes the local paper in Guangzhou and the author jokingly refers to it as 「為國爭光」(winning glory for one’s country). The author’s father is said to have a consistently patriarchal attitude to everything that befalls his sisters, even though they are often providing him money to provide him investment for his hair-brained get-rich-quick schemes and bail him out of financial trouble.

Overall, it’s worth a read, although it might wear on your nerves a bit. The author, also a director, passed away recently.

 

 

 

 

海邊

Conor他們已經上了客運要從海邊回到城市。雖然曬傷了,不過身體還沒感覺,只是全身疲憊,終於可以坐下來了很舒服。因為整晚都在眾多篝火之間跳舞、玩水,所以除了體味,J跟K兩個人身上還有一股煙味,混著海水留下的那種腥味。客運坐滿了跟他們一樣過完了篝火節要回城市的人,因此,他們不能跟平常一樣坐在前後兩排的雙人座,隔著椅背講話,只能並坐在同一張椅子上。雖然空間有限,J還是照常地把雙腿張開。K感到J的腿輕輕地貼著自已的腿,臉稍微熱了起來。車離開車站的時候,J已經睡著了,但K還沒有睡意,一直看著窗外。海平線那兒,晨光剛開始流過海面,覺得很美。

K不知道他女生朋友L昨晚什麼時候就不見了。她晚上很直接地跟J調情,接下來一起消失了一陣子,令K遍尋不著。K本來以為他們應該是去上床了,但他們回來後氣氛就變的怪怪的,J在K耳邊說了什麼不配,就婉拒了,但細節K不是很清楚。從那之後,L的表情就一直很臭,大概是生氣了,不過K也不知道他們消失的那段時間到底發生了甚麼事情。他問J,J也只是聳了一下肩膀,就不想理她了。接著他伸出手臂,摟住K的肩膀,把他拉到另外一群圍繞著篝火坐的人那邊,他們便又開始喝了,也沒再談到這件事。那夜沒再看到L,K也沒有特別不開心。

車上,J的頭漸漸地往K的肩膀那邊垂落,隨著J睡得越來越沉,他每次把頭收回去的動作就弱了一些,到最後直接貼著K的肩膀,就停在那裡了。引擎的轉動漸漸騷動K的大腿,讓他開始隱隱有了感覺,他不由自主地瞄了J肌肉發達的小腿,腿毛濃密,再往上看就是短褲的界線,隱約露出那條一邊黧黑、一邊白嫩的曬痕。K心虛地往四周看了一下,就把目光移到J裸裎的上身:結實的胸肌線條、粉紅的奶頭、肚子下方那一條繼續往短褲內奔走的毛,短褲內也可以隱隱看見一個輪廓。K感覺到自己的下體也被叫醒似的,還來不及想到別的事情,就有動靜了。假設J現在醒來,他一定會看到,也會看穿K。但K沒有立刻反應,決定要冒這個險,所幸過了一陣子,J還是睡得很熟,K就把依然腫脹的陰莖勉強塞到他短褲的鬆緊帶下面。

一直照著K的太陽應該對J產生了同一個效果。K發現J的下面也微微有了勃動,J醒了一下,K趕緊閉上眼睛裝睡。J從背包裡拿出一件T恤,蓋住下身,繼續入睡。就這樣子他們回了城市,但K的心還在海邊。

《Less》書評:不如他人

62386248_441367870010315_144654923731042304_n我最近在看一本名為《Less》的同志小說。主角Less是一位年近五十的同志小說家,他在二十幾歳的時候曾經跟一位比他大二十歳的大師級詩人在一起,但他四十幾歳的時候則是跟一位比他小二十歳的青年交往。然而,正當Less要邁入生命的後半段時,那位現在已經三十幾歳的情人找到了跟他年紀相近的伙伴,所以與Less分手。

小說中提到Less那一代人和他這兩位情人分屬的兩代,三代之間在意識形態上的矛盾和對立。詩人的那一代同志甚至不認為自己是同志,也沒有什麼同志歸屬感。詩人本身是雙性戀,沒有公開出櫃,也沒有被文學圈歸類為一名「同志」詩人;比他年輕的那位青年Freddy屬於年輕一代,他們公開承認他們同志的身份,他也善於跟「同志」作家圈社交。

Less的小說在這些年輕世代的圈內作家眼裡,是對同志身份太悲觀的風格。Less本身也有點自卑:他知道他不是天才(不過他跟詩人交往的期間身邊都是天才);跟Freddy交往時,則被視為不夠gay,不如年輕一代以同志身份為傲,也不是對同志圈有責任感的同志作家。他的姓也暗示他不如別人(less than)的身份。

他為了婉拒Freddy的婚禮邀請函,決定去國外旅遊。在出發之前他與經紀人見面,才得知他最近寫完的小說剛被出版社退稿,因為跟以往一樣,主角又是一個自覺委屈的中產階級白人同志。有趣的是,故事中Less的小說其實跟這本小說Less有許多相似之處,比方說,主角都是年紀比較大、充滿疑惑的白人同志,他們懷念過去的身世。不過,在現代社會,一個白種同志一般來說並不是很大的問題,多得是更受壓迫的社群。然而,在他出發之前,他沒辦法看到自己世界之外的一切,只是一再重複一樣的故事。

讓我比較產生共鳴的部分,是他在講那些經歷過第一代愛滋病危機的同志,他們活到晚年的感受。在缺乏模範的情況下,那一代的同志不是很清楚要有尊嚴地活到老。更進一步來說,對同志而言,什麼是「有意義」的存在?身為同志,是要效仿異性戀社會的典範,結婚、生下(或領養)小孩嗎?這些問題也牽涉到我上述的「矛盾和對立」。早期的同志運動其實意圖為顛覆以異性戀為正統的關係典範。最近台灣才剛通過婚姻平權法案,但反對這個法案的萌萌竟然無意識地呼應早期的同志運動,也就是性解放的觀點:同性戀者不應該(或不適合)受「正統」異性戀關係的壓迫影響;萌萌口中的「不反同,反同婚」也是套用這個道理。在婚姻平權法案之前,台灣曾有「多元成家」法案,更符合性解放運動的觀點,不過沒有通過。在某方面來說,現有法案比較傳統,同性戀關係也受限於傳統典範;不過,這同時也是一個比較踏實的觀點,同性戀者不因為性取向並而比異性戀者更有智慧,也是繼續複製異性戀社會中的階級與種族不平等。

總之,還沒看完,不過我還是很推薦這本小說。

Go Set a Watchman – Harper Lee: Review

go-set-watchman-book-covers(Contains spoilers) Go Set a Watchman is really a story that completes To Kill a Mockingbird and seems more relevant to the contemporary debate over race relations. The title is a quote from The Prophecy Against Babylon in Isaiah 21:

1 The burden of the desert of the sea. As whirlwinds in the south pass through; so it cometh from the desert, from a terrible land.

2 A grievous vision is declared unto me; the treacherous dealer dealeth treacherously, and the spoiler spoileth. Go up, O Elam: besiege, O Media; all the sighing thereof have I made to cease.

3 Therefore are my loins filled with pain: pangs have taken hold upon me, as the pangs of a woman that travaileth: I was bowed down at the hearing of it; I was dismayed at the seeing of it.

4 My heart panted, fearfulness affrighted me: the night of my pleasure hath he turned into fear unto me.

5 Prepare the table, watch in the watchtower, eat, drink: arise, ye princes, and anoint the shield.

6 For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.

7 And he saw a chariot with a couple of horsemen, a chariot of asses, and a chariot of camels; and he hearkened diligently with much heed:

8 And he cried, A lion: My lord, I stand continually upon the watchtower in the daytime, and I am set in my ward whole nights:

9 And, behold, here cometh a chariot of men, with a couple of horsemen. And he answered and said, Babylon is fallen, is fallen; and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground.

10 O my threshing, and the corn of my floor: that which I have heard of the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, have I declared unto you.

11 The burden of Dumah. He calleth to me out of Seir, Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night?

12 The watchman said, The morning cometh, and also the night: if ye will enquire, enquire ye: return, come.

13 The burden upon Arabia. In the forest in Arabia shall ye lodge, O ye travelling companies of Dedanim.

14 The inhabitants of the land of Tema brought water to him that was thirsty, they prevented with their bread him that fled.

15 For they fled from the swords, from the drawn sword, and from the bent bow, and from the grievousness of war.

16 For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Within a year, according to the years of an hireling, and all the glory of Kedar shall fail:

17 And the residue of the number of archers, the mighty men of the children of Kedar, shall be diminished: for the Lord God of Israel hath spoken it.

Babylon was a grand historic city that had sacked Jerusalem and taken the survivors back to the city where they mistreated them as suggested in Psalms 137. It was thought that the destruction of Babylon was impossible given its size and grandeur. Its eventual destruction signifies liberation and vengeance for the wrongs down against God’s chosen people. In the context of the book, Babylon is presented as the American South and the enslaved citizens of Jerusalem forced into exile, the former black slaves. Jean-Louise’s childhood and her respect for Atticus was to some extent built upon this Babylon too.

The book is set many years after To Kill a Mockingbird, when Jean-Louise returns to Maycomb from New York where she has been living. Other central characters from the first novel are no longer on the scene; Jem has dropped dead and Dale is living overseas. Atticus has taken another of Jean-Louise’s childhood friends, Henry (Hank), under his wing to work as a lawyer. Hank has become somewhat of a love interest for Jean-Louise although she refuses to marry him as this would mean she would have to return to live in the Maycomb that she escaped. She also visits Calpurnia, the housekeeper who essentially raised her and Jem together with Atticus, but she discovers a rift has arisen between her and Calpurnia, who treats her with a polite distance. The central event of the novel is when Jean-Louise spies on Atticus and Hank attending a citizen’s council meeting at which a speaker makes dehumanizing comments about black people. A few incidents have foreshadowed this, with references to the NAACP interfering in what Atticus suggests is a just system. This suggests a different motive lay behind Atticus’s defense of Tom in To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s only after witnessing the citizens’ council meeting that Jean-Louise comes to the realization that they are on different sides of an argument. Although Jean-Louise is opposed to Federal interference in state issues, she thinks that in this case it was the better option. That the Atticus from her childhood who had always been so respectful to black people and who had defended Tom in his trial could take part in a meeting such as this disgusts her. After confronting Hank and Atticus separately about the meeting, she learns that Atticus has beliefs which are diametrically opposed to her own. This shatters her illusions of Atticus as her moral compass and she feels the urge to flee from Maycomb and never contact anyone there again.

Her uncle had tried to prepare her for this shock to her system that he knew was coming and it is her uncle that eventually tries to persuade her to stay in Maycomb and to treat Atticus with respect, even though she might disagree with his views. His suggestion is that her outrage and her decision to flee Maycomb won’t do anything for the community or for the black people she wishes to help. He suggests rather that being a friend to someone you vehemently disagree with is the most productive path forward for the South.

Despite having been written before her first novel, this one seems completely in tune with the contemporary debate around race relations. Atticus, who was hoisted high as an example of a good man in the racist south, turns out to be the propagator of a more insipid kind of racism against black people, in that his inability to see them as his equals is hidden from plain sight by his politeness. Atticus sees them only as a force that will destroy the South, while Jean-Louise is able to see humanity in them.

We can see almost direct parallels between the Black Lives Matter movement and the NAACP in the novel and between the attachment of Atticus and Hank to romanticized notions of Southern society and those who want to “Make America Great Again”.

Jean-Louise’s uncle’s speech could be compared to recent remarks on “patience with others” by George Bush on divisiveness in politics:

 

 

‘Door’ by Chiang Hsun 蔣勳的「門」

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門                                                                  Door

開,或者關                                                   Open, or shut

都可以                                                           It can be both
有時候是阻擋                                                Sometimes it obstructs
有時候是歡迎                                                Sometimes it welcomes

進,或者出                                                   Entry, or exit
都可以                                                           It can be both

它真正的意思                                               It’s real meaning
只是通過                                                       Is just passing through

This is a nice little poem from author and poet Chiang Hsun (蔣勳). He was born in Xi’an in 1947, and moved to Taiwan with his family in the wake of the Chinese Civil War. He had some involvement with the anarchist movement in France while studying abroad there and supported the democracy movement in Taiwan while working as a professor on his return to Taiwan.

‘Rainy Night’ by Hsieh Wu-chang 謝武彰的「下雨的晚上」

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下雨的晚上                             On a rainy night
看不見星星和月亮                  The stars and the moon can’t be seen
他們也跟我們一樣                  Just like us
被媽媽關在屋子裡                 They’ve been shut up in their rooms by their mother
要等雨停了                             And have to wait for the rain to stop
才可以出來玩                         Until they can come out to play

Although this poem is from a children’s poet, which may explain its simplistic language, I have to admit I’m not a fan of talking down to kids and it’s not my favourite.

Hsieh Wu-chang (1950-) is a children’s author and poet. He previously worked in advertising and as an editor.

The Monotony of Poverty: ‘Return to Burma’ Review 《歸來的人》影評

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KTV; Source: Return to Burma

For me this film doesn’t work for completely the opposite reason that another film by this director, Ice Poison, didn’t work. Whereas Ice Poison is centred around the rather hackneyed trope of “young man led astray by damaged young girl”, this film is rather unclear in its voice and direction.

The film is underlaid with a pseudo-neo-colonial gaze, as much of it is pure exposition aimed at a Taiwanese audience, what people earn in relation to wages in Taiwan, what the different smuggled Chinese imports cost etc. This is not an unworthy goal, given that South East Asian workers are reported to have faced substantial discrimination and exploitation when employed in Taiwan and China, but I’m not sure if this makes the film interesting beyond its Taiwanese context. Otherwise the kind of poverty that they suffer, although awful, is rather unexceptional: the struggle to find work and support oneself and one’s family.

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Temple; Source: Return to Burma

Not much happens in the film and I felt that, although the director might be aspiring to capture the fatalistic outlook of the characters in Hou Hsiao-hsien’s films in the face of tragedy, the tragedies seemed too distant from the core of the film to give the impassivity of the protagonist any gravity in contrast. We hear his sister was kidnapped and forced to marry an older Chinese man, but she’s resigned herself to her circumstances and is wealthier than the rest of her family now, with two kids that she loves (interestingly Ice Poison shows us a woman who makes a different choice, in that she runs away from her husband in China and, long story short, she ends up in jail for drug-dealing (moral lesson: stay with your kidnapper?)). While I might criticize that sentiment, it underlines the desperate poverty of many of the people featured in his films. It’s also a common trope in the Chinese anti-modernist tradition, in which writers like Shen Cong-wen suggested that though tradition might seem overly exploitative or repressive of a certain group or class (i.e. women), the discretionary power inherent in traditional social relations tended to mitigate this harshness in everyday practice and that “modernity” could actually be more repressive in its lack of this discretionary power (see his short story 〈蕭蕭〉).

There is no real exploration of the political state of Myanmar (Burma) in the film (it occurs in the run-up to substantial political change) and the regime is largely invisible, other than the rather amusing pro-government songs that play, praising the new congress and a vague reference to strict anti-smuggling measures. This in a way reinforces the neo-colonial idea that the film is aimed solely at creating “Taiwanese guilt” for the way they take advantage of this poverty, which, although it may have some merit, doesn’t do anything to address any of the domestic causes of this poverty. Nor is there any exploration of the ethnic conflicts that have surfaced in the country over the last decades. This means that the telling of this story of poverty is so universal, that it would have had to take a more interesting narrative line or adopted a more interesting technique to keep it from being a rather monotonous retelling of what we’ve all heard before. I almost feel that Ice Poison was an attempt at breaking from this monotony by staging a romance, it’s just a pity that it felt so… staged.

 

 

MRT Prose: ‘You Can’t Drive into Taipei City’ by Hsieh Kai-te 謝凱特的「開車進不了臺北城」

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開車進不了臺北城                                 謝凱特

那一瞬間,我想起父親背著一袋沉重的家私,裡頭裝著電鑽、鐵鎚等數不清叫不出名字的工具,受雇於出錢的資方,看建築師的藍圖,聽工頭的指揮,把臺北蓋出一座城之後,他像那些風雨烈日下吹曬刻虛的鷹架和綠色圍籬一樣,直至功成身退,訕訕退出城外,讓這些光鮮亮麗的符號進駐城中。

是他蓋起這座城,又被城阻擋在外。

You Can’t Drive Into Taipei City    by Hsieh Kai-te

In that instant, I thought of my father carrying a big bag of his things on his back, with his electric drill, his hammer and countless other tools I don’t even know the name of inside. Under contract from the moneyed classes to build the city of Taipei, he consulted the architect’s blueprint and listened to the instructions of the foreman, before, just like the scaffolding and walls of plants from the building site, weathered by the wind and rain then scorched by the sun until hollowed out, he returns to obscurity, sheepishly withdrawing from the city, allowing these symbols of grandeur to establish themselves there.

It was he who built this city, but he who is held beyond its limits.

節錄自《第18屆臺北文學獎得獎作品集》

This kind of prose always repels me to some extent, although I admire the imagery of the scaffolding. One reason for this is because I always think that overtly political art (with the possible exception of newspaper cartoons) generally comes across as preachy and tends to oversimplify nuanced issues. This was also one of the reasons I really didn’t like a lot of the work of theatre director Wang Molin. Another reason is that it echoes a lot of the political rhetoric of trade unionists and implies a sense of unpaid debt to the imaginary working class builders, mechanics and plumbers that pepper the speeches of Conservative politicians when they’re trying to incite anger against immigrants or intellectuals. The subtext to this is an implication that newcomers to the city and non-working class people are being rewarded at the expense of working class people. This kind of notion is often what feeds the xenophobia and inter-class resentment that featured heavily in both the Brexit referendum campaigns and in the recent US election campaign by Donald Trump.

Despite this, I do have sympathy for the chip on the shoulder view of Taipei that many people from central and southern Taiwan have, as I had the same chip on my shoulder when visiting London from Belfast growing up. Lots of people in Taiwan call Taipei the 「天龍國」 and Taipei citizens 「天龍人」. This is a term suggesting that they are elitist and look down on others. It takes its origins in the term “World Nobles” (Japanese: 天竜人 Tenryūbito) from Japanese manga One Piece and literally means “Heavenly Dragon Folk”, snobby arrogant elites who serve as the world government in the manga. 

MRT Poetry: Chen Ke-hua’s ‘Night’ 捷運詩句:陳克華的「夜」

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Another day, another opportunity to lean over someone to take a photo of the poem on the MRT behind them. This one’s by Chen Ke-hua and I thought it was pretty appropriate for this humid summer night.

夜     Night

沸騰之夜,     The Simmering Night,

將她最燙的一塊皮膚     Lays the most scalding piece of its skin

貼在我頰上。     Against my cheek.

我疼出淚來,說:不,     I cry tears of pain and say, “No”,

這不是我最需要溫暖的位置。     This isn’t where I’m most in need of warmth.

Chen was born in 1961 and was born in Hualien in Taiwan, although his family were originally from Wenshang in Shandong. After graduating from Taipei Medical University he started his career in medicine. In 1997 he studied at the Harvard Medical School, returning to Taiwan in 2000. He now works at the Department of Ophthalmology of Taipei Veterans General Hospital and as an assistant professor at the medical school of National Yang Ming University. As well as his medical career, he’s also a poet, an author, a painter and a photographer.

Attempts to Author the Sunflower Student Movement

Was waiting for a friend at a bookshop and was flicking through a few titles when I saw these volumes about the Sunflower Student Movement. The first one I picked up was this:

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The cover looked OK, but my heart sank a little when I saw that the dedication was to Benedict Anderson… and sank even more when the opening sentence featured Marx…

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How very politics student circa 1989. I guess that’s why they called it a student movement. The chapters are each written by different people, but it seems quite dense in style and heavy with academic aspirations as opposed to aiming for readability. That said my friend arrived before I was able to get any kind of measure of it.

There were another two as well, and they seemed a little more aimed at the general reader:

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Anyone had a read of them or would recommend?

I also read a chapter of Luo Yu-chia’s (羅毓嘉) new book You’re my stove light in dark days (天黑的日子你是爐火). It was a little bit too much navel gazing for my taste, discussing his romance with a Hong Kong man. As Luo is a gay rights advocate the Hong Kong man’s unwillingness to adopt a gay identity is challenging for him. The chapter I read showed him attempting to justify the lack of recognition with humour and by insisting that non verbal markers like wanting Luo to be well fed shows affection where words do not. The romance wasn’t very engaging for me, and I didn’t find the Hong Kong guy very likeable as Luo sees him.