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

MRT Poetry 2: ‘Poetry’s Funeral’ 捷運詩: 詩的葬禮

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Another little poem on the MRT spotted. Anybody found any others?

詩的葬禮 A Poem’s Funeral
(洛夫著 by Lo Fu)

把一首
I put a
在抽屜裡鎖了三十年的情詩
Love poem locked in a drawer for 30 years
投入火中
Into the fire


The words
被燒得吱吱大叫
Screeched as they burned
而灰爐一言不發
While the furnace was silent
它相信
Believing
總有一天
That one day
那人
That someone
將在風中讀到
Would read it in the wind

 

 

A Review of Li Ang’s ‘Everyone Chews on Sugarcane by the Side of the Road’ 李昂的《路邊甘蔗眾人啃》書評

lubianWarning: there is adult content in this post.

This is Li Ang’s much anticipated follow up to her 1997 book Everybody sticks it in the Beigang Incense Burner (《北港香爐人人插》), which I’ve yet to read. At first glance it is an irreverent look at the misogynistic self-aggrandizement that characterizes the generation of democracy campaigners who rose to fame after being imprisoned in the martial law era in Taiwan, some of whom later formed the Democratic Progressive Party and went into government under former president Chen Shui-bian. The book also deals with the symptomatic nature of the way the February 28 incident and the White Terror continue to manifest themselves in the political arena. Although this might seem a rather obscure or outdated theme, it can give us an insight into the background of the political mindset in today’s Taiwan, particularly in light of the recent Sunflower Movement and the problems in governance that it has highlighted. The attempt to smear the participants of the Sunflower Movement in March and April as violent rioters, for example, is reminiscent of the Kuomintang’s rhetoric against democracy protesters during the 1980s and 1990s that features in the book.

The book centres around the life of Chen Junying (陳俊英) from his youth as a dissident during the Martial Law era, to his slow drift into irrelevance as a retired politician living in the US in his later years. Li Ang goes to great pains in the introduction, stating several times that the character isn’t based on any one person in particular – her protestations are so frequent however that it’s almost as if she’s prompting us to take this denial with a pinch of salt.

Chen feels owed by Taiwanese society and Taiwanese women in particular and he has a mantra that recurs throughout the book which rationalizes his misogynistic behavior:

(My translation) He was forever the one being let down, it wasn’t just the Taiwanese people who owed him, didn’t Taiwanese women owe him too‽ So it was natural for him to sleep with a good number of women when he came out of jail.

The book can be read as a satire up to a point and parts of it are quite funny, recalling the satirical bite of Wang Chen-ho’s Rose, Rose, I Love You /玫瑰玫瑰我愛你》, like the protagonist’s assumption that he will ejaculate more than other men because of the years he spent in prison, and because he thinks so much of his own masculinity:

(My Translation) She discovered that Chen Junying was excessively liberal with toilet paper after making love. When he climaxed, he didn’t leave that much ejaculate in her (his sperm wasn’t particularly greater in volume than other men, nor did it smell fishier), and not much of it would drip out of her vagina after they’d finished, so one or two sheets of toilet paper would have been enough to absorb it all. He would grab a handful of tissue from the box, however, and pass her a pile, watching her as she meticulously wiped herself clean of any trace until all of the tissue was used up.

In the same vein, Chen takes a very chauvinistic attitude during sex, as, despite being reviled as a dissident by many women in his youth, he still finds time to grumble about the only girl who is willing to get together with him, and treats her with scorn, viewing her status as the product of a “mixed marriage” between a mainland soldier and an aborigine as below his – with a lot of his fellow dissidents using the phrase 「無魚蝦也好」 (bô hî, hê mā ho – If there’s no fish, you can make do with shrimp) to  tease him Continue reading

‘The Face Changer’ by Wu I-Wei in Unbraiding the short story

When I was still a student at the Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, an American professor came to visit one of my professors and, as one of the two resident foreigners in the department, I was enlisted to see what it was he wanted over dinner. The professor was Maurice A. Lee (see picture second left) and he was hoping to organize a conference in Taiwan, unfortunately our research institute didn’t have the funds to make it happen, but we had a nice chat.

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Some years later, Taiwanese author Wu I-Wei (吳億偉) asked me to translate a short story for him called ‘The Face Changer’ (〈換照者〉), which it turns out has been published in a new anthology edited by Maurice A. Lee called Unbraiding the Short Story, which includes short stories from all around the world. Looks like an interesting read, here’s a quick sample of Wu’s story:

The face changer had been born without a face. His mother said that he’d wanted it that way. Back when he was in his mother’s womb, she was unable to make him whole, and he had to face the world lacking. The only favor his mother granted him was helping him decide which part of his body to go without. Floating in his mother’s amniotic fluids like a corpse, he saw his arms, his two feet, and his body, he felt reluctant to part with the bits he’d already seen, but that only left his face, the only thing he couldn’t see, after his tacit response to his mother’s question, he cried out, and then came into the world.

 

He scared the doctors and nurses in the room when he was born, each of them guessing as to what the child would look like when he grew up. This would be the reason that he would later change his face so much, but it wasn’t because he wanted to shock everyone, with a face that could never be pinned down, but rather that he wanted all their guesses to come true, to satisfy all of their imaginings. Before his face-changing days, back when he was young, he faced a lot of challenges. His mother was worried that he’d scare people, so she drew a face for him. Lacking in imagination as she was, however, the eyes, nose and mouth she drew were those from your average picture book, his features all curved in shape, with eyes like rainbows, and a mouth like an upturned rainbow. If his mother had remembered, she would have drawn a little dot for his nose too.

 

What a splendid face she had drawn him, it always looked so happy that whenever his teacher saw him, she would pinch his cheeks, asking him why he smiled all day long. He couldn’t open his mouth to say anything, so he could only smile in response. As his expression was dictated beforehand, he became the nice guy in his class, and gave the impression of having a particularly good temper. If people hit or cursed at him, he’d still smile away. Sometimes a teacher would intervene, then seeing that the look on his face hadn’t changed a fraction, they would say how innocent he seemed, like an angel…

 

換照者一生下來就沒有臉。他母親說這是他自己要求的,早在娘胎的時候他母親便無力給他一個完整的身體,他得缺陷的面對這個世界,他母親唯一能幫忙的,就是讓他決定要缺少哪個部份,像個浮屍般漂在母親羊水中的他,看到自己的雙手,看到自己的雙腳,看到自己的身體,這些看得到的他都不想放手,只剩下臉了,他唯一看不到的東西,悄悄回答母親的問題後,哇的一聲,就見到這個世界了。

 

據說剛出生的時候他嚇到在場的醫生護士,大家紛紛猜測這小孩長大之後會長怎樣,這可以說是他日後之所以換照的遠因,但絕對不是因為他想要跌破大家眼鏡,擁有一張他們猜不到的臉,而是他要大家的猜測紛紛成真,滿足每一個人的想像。在這之前他年幼當然也受到了一些挑戰,他母親怕他嚇到大家,幫他畫上了一張臉,只能怪他母親想像力貧瘠,他的眼睛鼻子嘴巴就是那種在一般畫冊中看到的,臉上五官都由弧線所構成,眼睛像彩虹,而嘴巴則是反過來的彩虹,若是他母親記得的話,會在彩虹的中間補上一點,那是鼻子。多麼燦爛的臉啊,看起來永遠那麼快樂,學校老師看到他,總喜歡捏捏他的臉,摸摸他的眼睛,嘴巴,你怎麼一天到晚都在笑,他沒有辦法張口說話,只能微笑以對。由於他的表情使然,成為班上有名的好好先生,沒有脾氣,不管別人怎麼罵他打他,還是笑容滿溢,老師幾次幫他解圍,看到他表情沒有一絲一毫的改變,直呼他真是天真,如天使般……

Wu 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.

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Still working on reviews, not given up on the blog, expect more content soon.