‘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.

MRT Poetry: ‘Planting Rice Seedlings’ by Chan Ping 捷運詩句:詹冰的〈插秧〉

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Planting Rice Seedlings

The paddy field is a mirror
Reflecting the blue sky
Reflecting the white clouds
Reflecting the black mountains
Reflecting the green trees

The farmer plants seedlings
Plants them on the green trees
Plants them on the black mountains
Plants them on the white clouds
Plants them on the blue sky

I liked the simplicity of this poem’s words and the reliance on the concept to get its message across. The childlike tone of the poem suggested something like a nursery rhyme, but I also liked the idea of the unreality of the world as seen through an agricultural viewpoint (through the reflection on the paddy field’s surface) and that though humanity might think they exert control over the natural world, this is illusory as a reflection in a mirror. One could read this another way also, as an admiration for the unending toil of a peasant-farmer’s work and the single-minded urge to survive. 

 

Chan Ping (詹冰) was a Hakka poet born in the township of Zhuolan in Miaoli, Taiwan, in 1921 and was a student of Taichung County Taichung Middle School, set up by local elites such as Lin Hsien-tang and Koo Hsien-jung – the only middle school reserved for Taiwanese students during the period of Japanese colonial rule. He went to study pharmacology in Japan in 1942 at the Meiji Pharmaceutical School in Tokyo. He returned to Taiwan after qualifying as a pharmacist. He opened a pharmacy in Zhuolan before being invited to become a science teacher. He wrote poetry in Japanese during his years as a student at the Taichung Middle School and formed a poetry society called the Silver Bell (銀鈴會) with other students, including poet Lin Heng-tai. The society issued a poetry magazine called Green Grass (綠草). After Taiwan was ceded to the Republic of China in 1945 and the Nationalist Retreat to Taiwan in 1949 use of the Japanese language was heavily suppressed and the Silver Bell was forced to dissolve. After a transitional period of around 10 years, Chan started to write in Chinese and in 1964 he formed the Bamboo Rain Hat Poetry Society (笠詩社) along with Lin Heng-tai and other poets and they published a poetry collection called Green Blood Cells in 1965. As well as being a poet, Chan was a novelist, an essayist, a lyricist and a playwright. He died in 2004. 

 

MRT Poetry: ‘City of Faith’ by Tien Huan-chun 捷運之詩:田煥均的〈信仰之城〉

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信仰之城              City of Faith

除了佛祖和耶穌基督
As well as Buddhism and Christianity
有些神明是挖下水道的阿拉
Some gods dig water channels like Allah
有的是公園裡推著輪椅的聖母瑪利亞
Some are the Holy Marys pushing wheelchairs in the park
鬼很多的所在,神明也多
Where ghosts thrive, gods thrive too
如同陰影總是伴隨著光
As shadow follows the light
光照多的地方妳感到心安溫暖
Where light shines strongest you feel secure warmth
但鬼眾出沒也請無所懼怕
But don’t fear the places where ghosts roam
有時城市的地㡳比地上還亮
Sometimes the city’s depths are lighter than its surface
這便是文明的進展
This is the advance of civlization

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: ‘Better a Song’ by Bai Ling 捷運詩:白靈的〈不如歌〉

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This time it’s a reader contribution. My former co-worker snapped this poem on the MRT and sent it to me. The poem was written by Chuang Tsu-huang (莊祖煌 pinyin: Zhuang Zuhuang) who goes under the pen-name Bai Ling (白靈). He was born in Taipei’s Wanhua District in 1951 to a family from Fujian in China. After studying chemistry in Taiwan and teaching for a while, he went to the US to study a master’s at the Stevens Institute of Technology. He is currently a professor at National Taipei University of Technology and at one time took part in a grassroots poetry collective, including a period as the editor of a grassroots poetry publication. He has won a plethora of prizes for his poetry.

不如歌 Better a Song

平靜的無,不如抓狂的有
Better a manic something over a tranquil nothing
坐等升溫的露珠,不如捲熱而逃的淚水
Better a tear bubbled up in heat over a dewdrop awaiting the warmth
猛射亂放的箭矢,不如挺出紅心的箭靶
Better to land the bullseye than to loose an arrow in haste
養鴿子三千,不如擁老鷹一隻
Better a single eagle than to raise three thousand doves
被吻,不如被啄
Better to be pecked, than to be kissed

MRT Poetry: ‘Mental Image’ by Yan Ai-lin 捷運詩句:顏艾琳的「意想圖」

There’s still plenty of nice poetry to be found on the MRT when you’re out and about in the city.

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意想圖

Mental Image

木訥之僧在街口肅立

An unaffected taciturn monk stands solemnly on the corner

他伸出雙手

With both hands outstretched

十指化為一隻缽

His ten fingers forming an alms bowl

化著路行者的隨緣心

Shaping the casual kindness of passersby

Yan Ailin was born in 1968 in Tainan. She graduated in history from Fu Jen Catholic University. She is a poet, a lecturer and an author.

N.B.  Variants of 「缽」 featured in a previous post.

 

 

MRT Poetry: ‘Flower’ by Bi Guo 捷運詩句:碧果的〈花〉

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I found this poem entitled Flower (花) by Taiwanese poet Bi Guo (碧果) on the MRT:

僅差一步

就是

 

脫去衣裳可以走了

 

Flower

Just one more step

Is

 

The

Beyond

One can leave after shedding one’s garb

I also liked the stylized way the author’s name was written on the poster.

Bi Guo was born in 1932 and is the author of several poetry collections, including A Heartbeat AfternoonA Changing and Unchanging Canary, Corporeal Awareness and Poetry Belongs to Eve. He has also published a collection of essays, a novel and a play. You can hear him reading some of his poems in Chinese below in a video by the Culture Bureau of the Taipei City Government:

 

 

‘Collecting Gods’ by Wu I-Wei 吳億偉的〈撿神〉英文翻譯

lord_guangWu I-Wei (吳億偉) has won numerous awards including the United Daily Press Literary Award for Fiction, the China Times Literary Award for Fiction and Essays, the United Literature Monthly Literary Award for Fiction, and the Liberty Times Lin Rungsan Literary Award for Short Essays. He published his new collection of essays, Motorbike Days (《機車生活》), in 2014 and is now a PhD candidate at the Institute of Chinese Studies at the University of Heidelberg in Germany and regularly reports the latest German literature news for Taiwanese magazines and newspapers. View an excerpt of a previous translation of his work here. This story, ‘Collecting Gods’, won the Jury Short Story Prize at the 30th China Times Literary Awards in 2007. A slightly different version of the original Chinese story can be found here.

The outside of the embankment was still a deep green in early autumn, the only exception being the cotton-like gray of the miscanthus ears, spreading out in a continuous unbroken strip of their own, the branches appearing a lot softer when in the wind. Amidst the rustling of the leaves and grass, one could hear a clacking sound, like something was rolling toward the riverside. Pushing aside the undergrowth as she went, an old hunch-backed woman dragged a ragged looking old pram along the ground. The frilly lace on it had already gone black and it was full of plastic bottles and sheets of used paper. She looked hesitantly in all directions as she made her way onward, her body lowered to enable her easier access to the ground. The rickety wheels continued to clack as she made her way along the riverbank searching for anything of value. Behind her ran a line of corrugated iron shacks and across a few loofah trellises, was a small path, cut out among the weeds, leading to a little temple, with a roof of red glazed tiles and mottled yellow walls with several scars, as if marked by lightning. The door was wide enough for a person to pass through with their arms outstretched and the statues of the lords of the three realms – the heavens, the earth and the waters – stood fixed on a platform under the roof, golden crowns on their heads and beards down to their chests, each holding a tablet underlining their divine authority, clothed in official garb of glistening divine gold. Continue reading

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

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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