Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Embracing People From Outside Taipei
Zhou Fuyi ???
Chinese original appeared in 29 Apr. edition of the China Times (E7 supplement)

Early morning at Taipei Main Station. Many passengers heading for the east coast or the south are passing through the station. I'm one of them--carrying my luggage and waiting for my train which will leave the station in half an hour. I get to the platform, find a seat and take my novel out of my bag. Almost immediately, I hear two old men nearby discussing politics in 'standard Mandarin' [euphemism for a mainlander accent] while they flip through their newspapers.

I don't really want to listen in, but the old guy on my left is speaking so percussively that every sentence drifts my way and I can't focus on my novel. He points at the oversize headline type in his newspaper that reads "Implicated in Corruption," and citing his own experience of having studied in the US as a young man, makes his points about a government procurement scandal. His friend then laments how corrupt the present government is and how the government isn't clean like it was under martial law. And what is causing all this trouble was that shooting case two years ago. He confidently says that anyone who has been a soldier immediately saw that the shooting was staged. How could anyone who had been shot go in to the hospital smiling. And the scars were in the wrong place. And then they took so long to do the recount so that they could stuff the ballot boxes. Back then when those pro-democracy people demanded, a recount, wasn't it just done in three days? When did it ever take so long? That's because now law enforcement and intelligence are all the government's, that's why. All all of this, is just because those people down south have heads full of paste. They just won't wake up. They vote for the wrong people. That's why the country has turned out like this.

Even though I am one of the 'people down south with a head full of sawdust' that the old guy was talking about, I held my temper and didn't say anything. I kept listening to his complaints. He adjusted his APEC baseball cap and went on. He said they should have never reduced the voting age so that college students could vote. College students don't have any economic responsibilities. They don't know how hard it is to make a living. All they do is see who puts on the best show and then they vote for him. Didn't Sun Yat-sen say that soldiers and young people shouldn't be able to vote?

Hearing this, my anger turned to astonished contemplation. Wasn't what he was saying the exact same thing I had read in an article two years ago? A political scientist from overseas had come to Taiwan two years ago at the time of the last election to interview the 'second-generation mainlander' elite in English. A female novelist who was first published when she was still in high school [Zhu Tianxin?], told him that the reason southern Taiwan and northern Taiwan would make very different political choices was because southerners are poorly educated and had trouble getting information. This resulted in them always voting for whomever was in power. And college students always chose [ethnically] Taiwanese parties because they don't have families to support.

At the time, this interview provoked quite a bit of discussion among my friends who like me had come north to study or work. We were all annoyed that our relatives were judged this way and everyone spoke of our experience of having to go back down south to vote because we have left our hometowns and how this fact overturned the novelist's stereotype of how Taiwan's political divisions work [Taiwanese have to vote in the place where their household is registered. This has been long criticized as a rule that effectively disenfranchises large numbers of young people from central and southern Taiwan since they have to make special trips home to vote. Here the author means that many people who live in the north actually vote in the south].

As a southern who was practically discriminated against by those two old men and the novelist, I had a different kind of experience when I was studying in Tainan. Many times in a fast food place or a snack shop, I'd hear people saying [in Taiwanese] "If there is something about us southerners on TV or in the paper, it won't be good." And once the owner snapped off the TV and started complaining sullenly about the Legislature and the media, "How can the government do anything this way?"

Those honest faces kept appearing in my mind. The train announcer kept announcing what train was next. The old guy next to me told his friend with satisfaction that their trip only took a few stops. They could get back to Taipei from Changhua by evening. I looked at the trains heading south and thought about when these old men and a member of the intellectual elite like the novelist would see how "people outside of Taipei" have lived on the margins for so long and why they have grievances. And will there ever be a day when they can meet those southerners, whose heads they wrongly think are filled with paste, get to know them in daily life, and embrace them? I'm hoping and trying.


David said...

Interesting article - are you planning on doing translations like this regularly?

How real do you think this divide is? I'm sure there is a Taipei vs. Rest of Taiwan difference, but I always think that the waisheng-bensheng divide gets overhyped in Taiwanese politics. After all, this article could be viewed as a generational issue: the old-timers "It was better in my day, we had discipline" vs. the young ...

Feiren said...

I'd like to do more translation like this--partly to counter the highly selective translations on political topics that we see over at ESWN and, mre importantly, to try to get some discussion going on the social changes in Taiwan that underpin and contextualize the political 'superstructure' if I may use a very old-fashioned word. I'm also interested in bridging the English/Chinese blogging gap that was highlighted by Rebeccam Mckinnon's visit to Taiwan, the NCKU blogger conference, and posts by Schee and Michael Turton.

Anyway, I have at least one more translation in the pipeine. Cheers.