As the first grain of millet bursts out in the field
I hear Ina*’s voice on the phone from my tribal village in the South
The air is rich with the scent of shell ginger flowers
At the next full moon
I’ll go back for Masalu**.
*Ina means “mother” in the Paiwan language
**Masalu means “thanksgiving” in the Paiwan language, here it refers to the harvest festival
Liglav A-wu is from the Paiwan tribe and was born in the tribal village of Pucunug in 1969. She is best known for her essays and reportage on issues concerning aboriginal women and published her first collection in 1996, Who Will Wear The Beautiful Clothes I Wove 《誰來穿我織的美麗衣裳》She was also worked with Walis Nokan on Hunters’ Culture (獵人文化)magazine. She is currently working as a professor at the Taiwanese literature department of Providence University.
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.
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.
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.
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.