Life of a Rooster

Memoirs of a psychiatrist, journalist and educator

Memory versus reality

So, I just got the great idea of checking my diary versus what I have written so far. Interesting how those golden years shone in my memory with certain pretty stars, and my diary speaks of other things.

The diary my third aunt gave me in 1970, and that I have kept till today.

The diary my third aunt gave me in 1970, and that I have kept till today.

Yes, we did keep up the habit of writing our journals, though they were more weekly or monthly entries rather than daily ones. When we arrived back in Taiwan, all the relatives gave us gifts. My third or fourth aunt gave me a beautiful little diary book, good for a year, with a hard cover and lined with embossed red velvet and the golden characters Beautiful Life up front. It even had monthly divisions with picturesque photos on one side and little essays on positive character traits on the other.  On top of every page, there was a little quote and a cute drawing. To top the whole, it even had a blue ribbon I could use to keep the page!

My first entry, upon arriving in Taiwan, was about the cockroaches! Yes, my dear little nemeses from Jeddah were here too, with a vengeance! I can tell I still wrote very much in French romantic style then (and in French still):

“August 1, 1970. I arrived in Formosa on July 27. I am really happy to see my family again and my only terror, it is the cockroaches (babarottes) also known as “blattes”, I think. The other night, I was so frightened that I rolled myself well in my bed cover. Result: heart tight with anguish, body dripping with sweat, I managed to fall asleep only in the early hours of the morning. So, last night, I went to sleep in Mama’s room…”

Speaking of cockroaches… They were of the big, huge, black variety. My old flying friend that triggered my cockroach-phobia. I guess they should not have been a surprise, considering the humid and warm climate as well as the open sewers that ran along the sides of all streets and lanes. They loved the kitchen and the bathrooms best, though no room was immune. I thought Papa was quite the hero, for one day, Mama managed to make him mount a campaign to eradicate the ones in the small bathroom  under the stairs. Papa armed himself with a few cans of insecticide, a large tall broom, a brush and pan set, and a pair of slippers. He marched triumphantly off to war with us clapping and cheering him on. He shut himself in the small bathroom and we heard thumping and stomping, spraying and slapping, and finally after what seemed an eternity, he reappeared, victoriously brandishing a trash can filled with hundreds of the filthy little pest. I promptly ran away from the disgusting sight.

lots of cockroaches

One day, I was showering in the bathroom in the evening. Just as we did in Jeddah, I would sit on a little stool in the bathtub, scoop hot water from a plastic bucket with a dipper, and pour it over myself. I picked up the loofah to soap and scrub myself, and to my intense horror, two huge ferocious dark cockroaches crawled out of it. Faster than it is taking me to type this, I threw the loofah on the floor, jumped out of the bathtub, and out of the bathroom, totally regardless of who was in the house at the time… and oh yes, I was screaming too, all the while… Papa and Abdul Kerim chivalrously killed them for me.

And finally, to top it all, I drank cockroach tea one day.  Mama always had a large cup of tea half filled with green tea leaves at the ready. She would brew a new cup every morning and refill it again and again with hot water throughout the day and night. One morning, I was quite thirsty and grabbed the first container of liquid I saw, which was Mama’s tall cup, still partially filled with leaves and cold tea. I gulped it enthusiastically, until, as the liquid drained out and the leaves gradually dried up, I saw a large dark mass dead among them… Well, I’ll spare you the screams, and retching, and spitting that followed… Needless to say, I never ever again picked up an unknown cup of liquid or placed one anywhere near my lips.

Another interesting discovery transpired when I flipped through the 1970 entries in my diary. Now that we are all adults, and not only that, we are all parents, and I am even a grandparent, I suppose it is all right to admit certain things I am not proud of from my childhood. Here is an excerpt from the entry of August 13, 1970. Which, by the way, surprised me a lot, because I always thought I was a very good elder sister, loving and protective toward my younger siblings. Here we go:

My brother, Abdul Kerim, back in 1970

My brother, Abdul Kerim, back in 1970

“… By the way, in his (Abdul Kerim’s) journal, he said that ‘in the past, his second elder sister used to love slapping him, but nowadays, she only did so occasionally, and that it didn’t hurt either.”

Really? I thought it was my brother who one day slapped me and got away with it even though I ran to tell Papa about it. In my memory I never ever slapped him. Well the next comment makes things worse…

“Evidently, since I dare not overdo it. Then in conclusion, he said that he loved me still anyway. That really touched me.”

Dear Brother, if you read this, I want to officially apologize to you for ever raising my hand to you. I’m sorry!

I'm sorry

 

No Comments »

The Famous Suspension Bridge Story

Memories are often a jumble of images, sounds and feelings thrown together in the mists of time. I am not sure whether the trips to Sun Moon Lake and LiShan, another mountain in Central Taiwan, belong in this trip or some other trip. It is possible they are part of family outings, because I seem to remember Mama and my younger siblings being there…

But since I’m on a roll about doing the tourist thing in Taiwan, let me continue.

I believe it must have been a trip with Third Uncle or Fourth Uncle, who lived in the vicinity of Central Taiwan. We went to visit LiShan, or Pear Mountain, yet another famed sightseeing spot. I remember astounding gorges and tunnels dug out of sheer rock, and then that famous suspension bridge. I don’t mean the bridge is famous, I mean my story is famous. Well, for me, at any rate. I don’t really tell it often, because I’m ashamed of how young, reckless, thoughtless and idiotic I used to be.

Suspension bridges in Central Taiwan, just as flimsy and dangerous as I remember it.

Suspension bridges in Central Taiwan, just as flimsy and dangerous as I remember it.

So we started crossing this suspension bridge, which is pretty much a series of parallel wooden boards maybe 3 or 4 feet wide, and thick ropes on either side to hold on. Papa went first, after a challenging order to follow him or to be cowards. I went next, stepping carefully and slowly at first. Saadia followed me. Soon, I realized it was quite easy and safe so long as I did not glance down into the distant and steep valley. So I sped up my pace a little bit. Wow, how fun it was! the bridge was now swinging softly up and down to my step and I nearly started singing. So I increased the force on each step, making the bridge wave up and down even more markedly. Just as I was happily enjoying the wonder of it all, swing, breeze and sunshine, a sudden and blood-curdling scream paralyzed me in my stride. I paused and turned around. Saadia was crouched on all fours some distance behind me, pale and distraught, and screaming for all her life, “Stop it, Faw! Stop it!!!!!”  What was the whole fuss about? I wondered. And just then, I found out why.

As I stood there, the bridge continued swinging up and down, but the hand-rail ropes did not swing in the same wave. So whenever my feet bobbed up a dozen inches, my hands on the railing would go down a dozen inches as well, making me feel that my hands had reached the height of my ankles. Pretty much, one was standing on a few flimsy wooden planks that flew up above the handrails, hundreds of yards above the tiny silver ribbon of a  river at the bottom. Or so it felt. It was my turn to be so paralyzed with fear, I could not even scream.

LiShan hot springs

LiShan hot springs

Well, as the laws of physics are eternal and immovable, waves without new incoming force tend to die out eventually. So the bridge stopped swinging finally and came back to rest in its proper place, below my feet. I managed to walk more or less steadily to the other side. Then I got an earful. Which I rightly deserved.

There were also some famed hot springs in LiShan, but I barely remember any of it. Definitely, the suspension bridge took the prize.

Sun Moon Lake I think was part of a trip organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I think. Not sure. I remember a coach filled with people, a night spent in a sort of hotel, and getting up, yet again, before the sun did, to admire the famed sunrise over Sun Moon Lake, which once again, did not materialize.

The breathtaking view of sunrise over Sun Moon Lake, a photographer's paradise

The breathtaking view of sunrise over Sun Moon Lake, a photographer’s paradise

 

But as usual, sunrise eluded us and we just saw mist everywhere that day.

But as usual, sunrise eluded us and we just saw mist everywhere that day.

It was rather cold, so now I am sure it was not that graduation summer trip. So I grumbled when dragged out of bed to admire the sunrise. And I grumbled more when the sun did not deign to rise for me.

I really want to apologize to Papa now, albeit too late. He tried to show the beauty of Taiwan to his dear daughters, knowing full well that it was highly probable we would not have that chance again for years to come. Yet, all I could think of was to grumble and be grouchy and complain about everything.

 

No Comments »

Pond of the Two Sisters

The trail in the forest on Alishan.

The trail in the forest on Alishan.

The entire touristic range of Alishan was more than the sunrise terrace and the sacred tree. Uncle Chen took us on a hike around the main stops. Saadia and I walked more or less silently while Papa and Uncle Chen continued chatting and squabbling. We stopped by a little pond in the middle of the forest. A sign said this was the Pond of the Two Sisters. Uncle Chen said that the legend goes that a young girl threw herself in the pond because of an unhappy love story. Out of love for her, her sister threw herself into the pond too. Just as I was wondering about why native mountain girls didn’t know how to swim, Papa challenged Uncle Chen on the legend. He replied, “Ah, we just made it up in the department. Got to have something to feed the tourists. In order to have people stop and take pictures of the pond, you need something, like a legend.”

The famed Two Sisters Pond, which ignited the blase tourist in me.

The famed Two Sisters Pond, which ignited the blase tourist in me.

That struck me deep. Really deep inside. In France, all tourist stories were historically true. Here was the bed that Napoleon and Josephine de Beauharnais slept in.  Here was the cottage where so and so kept his mistress.  This was the hall where such and such peace treaty was signed. This is where the Bastille fortress stood before it was destroyed by the revolutionary mobs.  It never occurred to me that tourist departments could sit there making up stories to attract more visitors. Suddenly, everywhere we went, I felt like in a sort of Disneyland. Made up structures and stories for tourists.

E-Luan-Pi, the  southernmost tip of Taiwan, and the lighthouse at the visitors center

E-Luan-Pi, the southernmost tip of Taiwan, and the lighthouse at the visitors center

In southern Taiwan, we went to E-Luan-Pi, the very southern tip of the island, where the Pacific meets the Taiwan Strait. Papa told us of his previous trip there many years ago with a colleague. The colleague asked Papa to take a picture of him standing with his bare feet in the water. He shouted victoriously while Papa was adjusting his lens, “The Pacific Ocean is my foot washbasin!” Just then a huge wave rolled towards him, and the ocean conqueror ran for his life. Papa rolled with laughter, “Ha, Ha, Ha… your foot washbasin nearly drowned you! Hahaha!”

We also visited Ken-Ting National Park, a tropical land and marine nature preserve and the first national park in Taiwan. I don’t remember much of it, except that we took pictures at the entrance. The truth is that by then, I was resenting the heat. Summer in the humid tropics is not fun. And that is when my old friend, my bad health, resurfaced, leaving me weak, exhausted, half dehydrated, and dizzy most of the day. Since I was hitting puberty and acted like a typical pouting and resentful teenager, Papa and Saadia assumed it was my normal disagreeable self, and let me be. The pictures we took attest to my angry look.

Saadia and I, standing on the Nine-Corner-Bridge, on a lake in Kaohsiung. Both of us are very bothered by the heat, and looking like grouchy teenagers.

Saadia and I, standing on the Nine-Corner-Bridge, on a lake in Kaohsiung. Both of us are very bothered by the heat, and looking like grouchy teenagers.

In Kaohsiung, the southern port city, we visited a lake and a pagoda. I tried finding them online and assume it must have been Lotus Pond. But I am very sure those two grotesque sculptures of a dragon and a tiger were not there at the time. I do remember the nine-corner-bridge, as Papa explained something about deflecting evil spirits, and an empty modern pagoda with no purpose except to attract tourists. I felt very scornful of it, imagining a few people at the tourism department sitting around a table dreaming up some new touristic gimmick. We climbed up to the top story, and purposely took a picture next to a sign that expressly forbade it. The whole building was empty, with no purpose except to let us get some exercise and get a good view of the lake and surroundings. Today, if you go on their website, you will find that this pagoda must have made good money, because now there are two of them side by side, with the ridiculous sculptures mentioned above, just so one could name them the Dragon & Tiger Pagodas. There is also a huge statue of Guan Gong in garish colors down by the other side of the lake. Poor Guan Gong. Such a great personage, heroic deeds and chivalrous loyalty, all summed up in a gaudy vulgar toy-like structure. Could they not at least hire a good artist for the project?

The garish monstrosities of Guan Gong, Dragon and Tiger at the colorful Twin Pagodas. Back in 1971, there was just one pagoda and it was yet only whitewashed, and had no attending sculpture of any kind or color. Much better then.

The garish monstrosities of Guan Gong, Dragon and Tiger at the colorful Twin Pagodas. Back in 1971, there was just one pagoda and it was yet only whitewashed, and had no attending sculpture of any kind or color. Much better then.

 

 

No Comments »

Green Shirts and Yellow Shirts

The primary characteristic of Grade 9 was that it was a test year: the year leading to the High School National Entrance Exam. Everyone was stressed out, from teachers to students, to parents. All of the Far Eastern educational systems were pretty much organized on the same mold: spoon feeding style of education, much stress on memorization, strong belief in drills and homework, and testing to get through various stages.

The well-respected emerald green shirts of Taipei First Girls School

The well-respected emerald green shirts of Taipei First Girls School

All Junior High students would sit for the exam in June. On the registration form, they would fill in their top 10 choices for high school. High schools were then still segregated. So the best boys’ high school was Jian Zhong and the best girls’ high school was Bei Yi Nu — short for Tai Bei Di Yi Nu Zhong, or Taipei’s First Girls High School. Everyone filled this in as their top choice, unless you were very sure you had no chance of getting in at all. Bei Yi Nu was known for their emerald green shirts and black skirts, and the students could be spotted from a mile. Everyone in the streets would pretend not to notice the green shirt but automatically would give some respect to students wearing it, since they represented the cream, the elite of our youth.

Then the second best girls high school was Jin Mei, whose students were recognized by their lemon yellow shirts and black skirts. The rumor going round was that Jin Mei girls were more creative and flexible than Bei Yi Nu girls who were more nerdy. But wait! That is not the whole story.

A more recent image of the lemon yellow shirts of the second best girls high school in Taipei. In 1970, only pleated skirts, not pants, were allowed. Hair was uniformly cut at ear lobe length.

A more recent image of the lemon yellow shirts of the second best girls high school in Taipei. In 1970, only pleated skirts, not pants, were allowed. Hair was uniformly cut at ear lobe length.

Because of overpopulation as well as lack of space and resources for an adequate number of schools, all high schools ran two shifts: day school and night school. Night school started around 5 PM and ran into the night, I am not quite sure what time it ended, probably 10 PM. I understand that it taught just the core subjects and cut out things like PE, art and music. Therefore, night school was considered a few steps below the level of the day school.

Saadia and I had been almost a year back in Taiwan by the time the National Exam rolled in. Lucky us, we had returned in July. Therefore, we qualified as “less than one year” returnees, and as such, did not have to take the National Exam. For returnees of 2 and 3 years, they would be given a handicap (extra points) on their National Exams, whether High School or University entrance. If one were unlucky enough to have been back more than three years, then too bad, she or he would have to tough it out like everyone else regardless of whether s/he had caught up with the academics. This actually happened to my little sister Iffat ten years later, when it was her turn to enter high school. In her application form, she filled in only the top three schools, leaving the rest blank. Papa nearly fainted when she came home and reported her choices. Iffat answered that there was no need to fill more blanks since she did not expect to enter any school less than the top three. Papa went ahead and applied on her behalf for overseas scholarships for Chinese Muslims in Muslim countries for her, just in case. Iffat was right, she made it to Jin Mei. And Papa wiped the sweat on his brow, and threw away the scholarships to Libya and Jordan.

Needless to say, Papa opted for Bei Yi Nu for us. But, we still had to sit for a test to determine whether we should attend day or night school. I was quite confident I would make the day school, for, after all, did I not average a 65% by now in Chinese tests? But Papa decided not to leave things to such flimsy chances. He contacted a Muslim Congresswoman (or, LiFaWeiYuan, member of the Legislative Assembly– a Ms. Tung, and asked her to help in this matter. I have always wondered in what way she could possibly have helped. Make a call to the principal? Whatever the case, both Saadia and I made it to the day school. I believe to this day that it was on the strength of my scores, though Papa maintained we should thank Congresswoman Tung for it.

The one interesting point in this whole episode is that little did I know then that one day I would become related by marriage to Congresswoman Tung.

The tomb of Congresswoman Tung and her husband

The tomb of Congresswoman Tung and her husband

 

 

No Comments »

Manga craze

Art as taught according to the syllabus was one thing. Art the way it was practiced among the students in our Taipei middle school was totally another.

Everyone seemed to be able to draw. Our favorite topics were of course, girls and women. Those were the early days — maybe not that early, since it existed already in the pages of Er Tong Le Yuan (Children’s Paradise) magazine back in our Jeddah days —  of Japanese style manga.

Typical manga style girl, found on the "mailbox" page of ErTongLeYuan

Typical manga style girl, found on the “mailbox” page of ErTongLeYuan

Typically, every character is good-looking, including all the evil ones,  has huge oversized eyes, and amazingly beautiful hair. Eyes were big black pools (if done in lead pencil) where a few white highlights would gather in one corner and were fringed with enormous curly eyelashes. Hair could be any color, depending on your color box, but the skill lay in how to position bunches of curls or fringes. The trick to a good hair style or hair “flow” consisted in dividing the total hair into handfuls and drawing those individually.

Back in Paris, in 7eme,  we had to make little angels once for a class project, maybe for Christmas trees. We were given little cones and ping-pong balls, and had to stick the former into the latter, and paint them into angels. I drew my angel’s face Manga style, and admired it proudly. The teacher took one look at it, and asked whether she was wearing sunglasses! What an insult! When I insisted they were eyes, she pityingly explained that those things were too big to be eyes. Then one classmate also came to admire it and said that she liked my “petite bonne femme“! That was adding insult to injury! Or injury to insult! Whatever. Petite bonne femme indeed! It is hard to translate the exact shade of meaning of this term: somewhere between “little woman” with none of the cuteness, to “lowly housemaid with a matronly air”.

typical manga girl, ErTongLeYuan

But here in Taipei, no more ignoramuses. Everyone drew immense eyes in various styles. Before the year was over, I had purchased a notebook and asked the best among our resident class manga artists to draw me a girl. Some wore modern clothing, others ancient Chinese clothing. Some were full body while others were only portraits. One was even drawn with Chinese brush and ink. I highly prized my collection, and kept it for quite some years, until, like many of our belongings, it disappeared sometime along our travels and moves.

Manga was everywhere: not just on children’s magazines, and serialized comic books, but also on anything a child might buy, such as pencil boxes, erasers, pencils, bookmarks, and undersheets (word I just made up to translate dian ban, a hard plastic sheet the size of notebook page, that you place under the paper for easy writing).

manga on pencil box

And I, totally engulfed by the craze, would draw for hours on end, big eyes, multiple highlights, curls and floating tresses, and dreamy dresses. 

I must mention here a new discovery I have just made, as I was looking for images to illustrate this post:  While browsing for Er Tong Le Yuan, the Hong Kong magazine for children, I found that it was published between 1953 and 1993 when it folded. But one of the ex-editors decided in 2013 to upload online all the issues, and now we can simply go to www.childrenparadise.net and browse these defunct issues. I am quite amazed at it. It used to be beautifully illustrated, full-color, and had both short-series and featured comics. Some were in manga style, some others in classical Chinese style, and so on. There was a section that featured Chinese legends, another adapted well-known classics, such as Shakespeare’s King Lear, and other sections turned books such as Dr. Seuss’s, into comics. There was of course, a mailbox section for letters and drawings from readers. Considering all these were then hand-drawn, it is amazing that it was published twice a month, totaling 24 issues a year!

The now defunct Children's magazine from HongKong, Er Tong Le Yuan

The now defunct Children’s magazine from HongKong, Er Tong Le Yuan

Some topics covered general knowledge. Here: Abraham Lincoln

Some topics covered general knowledge. Here: Abraham Lincoln

 

 

 

 

 

Chinese legends were a staple of the magazine. Here: How silk was discovered.

Chinese legends were a staple of the magazine. Here: How silk was discovered.

Famous stories from around the world, such as King Lear, were presented in Er Tong Le Yuan

Famous stories from around the world, such as King Lear, were presented in Er Tong Le Yuan

2 Comments »

Chinese Brush Painting

Not only were PE and Music well planned and taught according to a syllabus, Art was also a wonder.

The book wasn’t thick but I would pore over the pages over and over again. Truth be told, the teacher did not go over all of the material. For instance, there was a chapter on cartooning that I awaited eagerly but was skipped over. Whatever we did cover, I loved it.

charcoal busts

There were a few sessions on charcoal portraiture. The teacher brought a Roman or Greek bust and we all drew it. At the end, she held up three different drawings — and I’m proud to say, mine was one of them — and explained how although they were of different styles, they were all good. The other two were a “slabby” style, where every slope and corner was exaggerated into slabs; and a “soft” style where all shades of black and grey were carefully mixed and smoothed so no sudden changes along the meeting edges.

Another month, we studied Chinese brush painting. Now I discovered how to paint those dreamy landscapes I was trying to duplicate back in Paris. Chinese painting is a bit like Montessori education. Each little part is very specific and must be practiced at length in order for one to master it. Yet the artist is totally free to decide what to do with those parts. The real art and skill are in the design of the entire painting, and in the ability to infuse this painting with “chi/qi” or spirit. One might wonder whether such highly stylized paintings are not like stencilling. No, not at all. Stencil art is very dead looking, no life in it at all. On the other hand, a well-done Chinese painting should burst with vitality.

A stenciled image (left) is unable to convey ardent Qi because each element is pre-drawn. A brush painting (right) can show vital force because it is executed on the spot, with the hand and wrist moving in one direction. Perfection of stroke is secondary to movement.

A stenciled image (left) is unable to convey ardent Qi because each element is pre-drawn. A brush painting (right) can show vital force because it is executed on the spot, with the hand and wrist moving in one direction. Perfection of stroke is secondary to movement.

That year, we were slated to learn landscape elements such as rocks and trees. I was totally enthralled by it. Just by using black ink, and various dilutions of grey, old and gnarled pines would shape up three-dimensionally, and rocks would pop out of the paper. I practiced night and day the different types of pine needle formations, as well as straight trunks, tortured and bent trunks, roots pushing out of the earth, and squirrel holes. I delighted in slowly pulling out leaves of the grass orchid across the paper, in graceful curves thinning into a line where it bent.

The Ancient Palace Museum, in the suburbs of Taipei, exhibits relics from past dynasties saved and carried to Taiwan during the Nationalist Forces' retreat in 1949.

The Ancient Palace Museum, in the suburbs of Taipei, exhibits relics from past dynasties saved and carried to Taiwan during the Nationalist Forces’ retreat in 1949.

how to paint rocks

Maybe that year, or maybe the next, Papa saw a tiny announcement for a lecture at the Ancient Palace Museum in the suburbs of Taipei. “Hey, Fawzia,” he said, “There is a lecture on the comparison of Classical Chinese brush art versus Classical European art. Want to come and listen to it together?” So it was that one fine twilight, the two of us took the bus to the magnificent Ancient Palace Museum. The speaker was a French person whose job I cannot remember. But it had nothing to do with art, more with science or possibly engineering. Nor can I recall his name, so I apologize for not crediting his work properly. But his presentation made a profound impression on me. He had a collection of slides — and this was in the time of real photographic slides, not power point ones. You had to place them in order in a tray that was loaded into a slide projector.  He started with an introduction about how he had become interested in Chinese art and a disclaimer about not being a specialist. Then to the meat of the matter.

He showed a typical Western oil painting of flowers; and another; and another. They were all of cut flowers in vases; some were even cut flowers placed on a table, waiting to die. Then he showed slides of Chinese flowers: orchids, wisterias, chrysanthemums, all vibrant with life and in a natural habitat. Similarly, he went on contrasting Western classical paintings of animals: horses as cavalry, dogs in a hunt, hunted animals, butchered animals, fish on a plate, you get the idea. Then the Chinese animals, wild horses galloping, koi fish and shrimps in a pond, peacocks strutting among rocks, all alive and well, and enjoying their day.

Plants and flowers, Chinese classical style

Plants and flowers, Chinese classical style

flowers, Western style

Flowers, Western classical/impressionist style. They are usually cut flowers, displayed in a vase.

I cannot quote him exactly, and maybe my memory of his exact meaning is fuzzy. But I have often repeated to my students his presentation, or a version of it, now on a power point slide . Man reflects his attitude to life in his paintings. In the Europe of the Classical period, the European man sought to conquer and control his surroundings and other forms of life while the Chinese man tended to observe nature, admire it, preserve it, and learn from it. 

I cannot pinpoint when it started happening, but slowly, very slowly, and very surely, a growing pride in being Chinese germinated in my heart.

Animals, in the Chinese classical style, are alive and well, doing their own thing in a natural habitat.

Animals, in the Chinese classical style, are alive and well, doing their own thing in a natural habitat.

 

Animals, in the Western classical style, are usually, if alive, subjugated to human willpower.

Animals, in the Western classical style, are usually, if alive, subjugated to human willpower.

Chinese horses frolicking vs European horses glorifying humans.

Chinese horses frolicking vs European horses glorifying humans.

2 Comments »

Typhoons & Earthquakes

Physical Education in Taiwan was another study in contrast. To start with, no more teacher of some subject or other doing the PE classes. We had specialized PE teachers.

No more discovering that volley ball was a game played by teams and that there were vague rules about it. Now each month, we had to take different areas of sports, and we also took all the rules about each game, on paper, in the classroom.  There were more rules than I cared to learn or be tested on. No room for guesswork.

The Chinese run a PE class like an army, regardless of whether they are in Taiwan or on the Mainland.

The Chinese run a PE class like a military drill, regardless of whether they are in Taiwan or on the Mainland.

Also, it was very discomfiting to discover that everyone was fit, very fit. Anyone could outrun me, or outdo me in any skill. Thankfully, they did not require us to climb ropes. When I asked my classmates about ropes, they were puzzled. Ropes? Never heard of. We do climb bamboo poles, though. But not this year. It’s not on the syllabus. (Oof!)

The only area I was any good at back in France, was gymnastics, as long as it was indoors. I was flexible enough. But here, everyone was an overachiever even in gymnastics. One day, the PE coach said,”Test today!  Here is how you will be graded: ten sit ups, that’s 60%, pass. After the first 10, one point per sit up. All right?”

In PE as in everything else, there was order. The PE Little Teacher always started class by commanding us to “Line… up!” and we would immediately line in six neat rows of ten students each (except for my row which had 7).  So she commanded us to sit down and we all waited for the students to go up front in pairs, one holding the feet and the other doing her sit-ups. The one holding the feet would count the sit-ups out loud, and the teacher simply recorded them.

I started sweating with dreadful anticipation. I knew I was not able to do a single sit-up. Try as I might, I could only come up halfway, with much panting and redness of face, and my abs in knots. Oh, great. What do I do now? Fail PE? That had happened only once in France, and despite my parents’ lack of reaction to it, I felt very ashamed at having a “red grade” again. My health had improved during my three years in France, with some flesh back on and some pink in my cheeks, and I had not fainted again since that episode in the souk.

Everyone could do ten sit-ups with no problem whatsoever. Some of them would look like a jack in the box, popping up and going down so fast I wondered they did not have a spring built-in somewhere. They would reach 100 points and still keep going.

The bell rang when there were still maybe 12 students left. The PE coach looked disappointed. “All right,” she said, “all the remaining students, I’ll meet you back here after lunch to finish the test. Dismissed!” I did not have a happy lunch. I did not practice because I knew it was pointless. I had tried enough times at home. The twelve of us gathered and returned to the PE yard. The teacher had forgotten, maybe, because we waited very long. She finally appeared. She too seemed fed up with the drudgery. “How many of you just want a 60% instead of trying for more?” I was the first to raise my hand. 

Once again, God had saved me from a failing grade.

So, we learned the “three-step-up-the-basket” in basket ball, then some softball. “What is softball?” I asked my classmates. “Oh, that’s baseball for girls.” Since I did not know much about baseball, that did not help. Our class — Third Year 27th class — included seven members of the school’s handball team. The team captain looked superbly healthy and tanned. Every now and then, the seven of them would be called out to practice, and sometimes, they would skip school to go to tournaments. They would meet other teams from various schools, including boys’ schools. As a result, they would receive love letters which they would share out loud in class, to an audience of giggles and laughter.

Handball is rather like soccer with the hands.

Handball is rather like soccer with the hands.

In 1970, the most famous athlete from Taiwan was Chi Cheng (Ji Zheng), a track-and-field Olympic bronze medalist who had broken three world records within the space of one week, and won the gold medal at the Bangkok Asian Games. She had been dubbed “Iron Girl” by the Taiwanese and “Flying Antelope” by the Japanese. Despite my little knowledge of the world of sports, even I knew of her. She had come to France to compete in an event, and Aunt Lily and Uncle Lung had gone to cheer her. Aunt Lily had returned home full of excitement and hoarse from screaming “Jia you! Jia you!” meaning, “Add oil! Add oil!” which is the Chinese equivalent of “Go!” or “Come on!”

The Flying Antelope, Chi Cheng

The Flying Antelope, Chi Cheng

Her latest achievements were followed enthusiastically by the girls at school. She was Women’s Track & Field’s 1971 World Athlete of the Year, and to this day Asian Athlete of the Century. Alas, it is a sad trait of humans to raise over-achievers to the status of savior then tramp on them as scapegoats should they fail. That year, Chi Cheng sustained an ankle injury in the middle of a race. She fell and was unable to finish the race. The injury was to cause her to stay out of the 1972 Munich Olympics. All 14 million of us Taiwanese were shocked and shattered. One of my classmates banged her fist on her desk. “What? How could she shame us by quitting the race? Even if she had to crawl on all fours, she had to finish the race!”

Chi Cheng,  Women's Track and Field  Athlete of the Year

Chi Cheng, Women’s Track and Field Athlete of the Year

One day, during lunch break, there was a sudden uproar in class. The girls ran to the windows or out the door, screaming hysterically, “Chi Cheng! Chi Cheng!”  Oh my, I thought, Chi Cheng has come to the school for a visit! And I got up too, and tried to get to the windows among the general riot. But before I managed to do so, everything died down, the students stopped running, and meekly returned to their seats. I grabbed my neighbor by the arm, “Where was Chi Cheng?” She looked surprised. “What do you mean?”

“I did not see her. Where was she?” I insisted. My friend pointed at the light bulbs hanging down from the ceiling. “Didn’t you see that?” What? The light bulbs? What would Chi Cheng be doing up on the light bulbs? She looked slightly exasperated, “The light bulbs were swinging during the “di cheng“, didn’t you notice?”

Oh… Now it dawned on me. Di cheng! not Chi Cheng! Di cheng means earthquake, spelled today di zheng according to the Pin Yin system. Lucky me, I just lived through an earthquake and felt nothing! Absolutely nothing! No fun at all!

Although earthquakes are frequent in Taiwan, few are as devastating as the 1999  7.6 earthquake that devastated Taiwan.

Although earthquakes are frequent in Taiwan, few are as devastating as the 1999 7.6 earthquake that devastated Taiwan.

Aunt Lily had told me about the earthquakes in Taiwan. After all, Taiwan was situated on the Pacific rim, the ring of fire. It also happened to be smack in the middle of the tropics. And so it also had a monsoon season during the late summer. In my geography classes back in Paris, we were told that the monsoon occurred mainly in India. Well, I suppose we were close enough to India to also have a monsoon.

I found out that rain can be hot. Parisian rains were always cold, so that was new. That raindrops can be huge; so huge that you could be totally drenched inside out in less than a minute in the hot summer rain. It seemed to rain every single afternoon, a loud flashy affair with much billowing clouds and giant drops that would end in no time at all, bringing back the sun.

Typhoons were a common occurrence in the late summer and early fall. They had foreign women’s names and if strong enough and headed towards us, then we would get a day off. Everyone would get a day off, even Papa. Rain would pour like Taipei was Noah’s ark, but thanks to the open sewer gulleys running on either side of every road, street, alley and lane, flooding never lasted long.

typhoons in taiwan

One day, Papa came off the bus from work (yup, no Cadillac in Taipei, it was back-to-public-transportation) amid the pouring rain. Fearing to damage his new patent leather shoes, he took them off, stuffed his socks in them, rolled up his pants, and ran across the road, holding his shoes in one hand and holding his document bag over his head with the other. A young couple snuggling under an umbrella called out to him, “Little brother! Xiao Di Di!  Come over here, we have an umbrella!”

Papa was delighted. He relayed the story to us, guffawing over the details. “Little brother! Hahaha!” Indeed, Mama had been religiously dyeing his silver strands black every month, so he still looked young.

1 Comment »

Test-based Education

Like it or not, we were now immersed in a totally different type of education.  No essay-type exam any more. Real essays themselves were formulaic. The entire education system was geared towards exams and tests. National exams determined whether a student could move from middle school to high school, and from high school to college or university. They determined which high schools or universities the student was eligible for, and which major the student could enter. Up to 1968, such exams also determined which middle school an elementary school graduate could enter.

Sequestered for 7 days and 7 nights, testers slept in the same cubicle that they tested in.

Sequestered for 7 days and 7 nights, testers slept in the same cubicle that they tested in.

I suppose the root of this exam-based education grew from the ancient Chinese system of civil service qualifying examinations. Starting from as early as the Han dynasty and officially sanctioned by the Tang dynasty, scholars, regardless of the duration of his education or who his teacher had been, could sit for regional, provincial and national exams. Top scorers would then win official government positions. Although the system was supposedly abolished as of 1905, its remnants still infiltrate many aspects of Chinese life and bureaucracy.  My father himself, when he applied for a job at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, had to sit for an entrance exam called the Higher Exams.

Imperial exam in session

Imperial exam in session

As a result of this exam-based system, textbooks were written more in a review or exam preparation format than in an explanatory format. They were lightweight and printed on cheap paper, so students could underline (the highlighter had yet to be invented), circle or make notes in margins. The tests were numerous and easy to grade. There were quizzes, “small tests”, chapter tests, monthly tests, “big tests”, mock tests, and semester tests. Not to mention the dreaded actual National High School Entrance Exam.

As Third Year Junior High students, we were not only learning our curriculum for the year, but also reviewing the material of the last two years, and preparing for the national exam with a series of mock exams. To say that the two of us were overwhelmed would be an understatement. After the initial shock of the  4% in my first Chinese test, I slowly became inured to failing grades. Anything else was better. Slowly, my actual grades (not review tests or mock tests) moved from the tens to the twenties, then the thirties and forties. English came on top since we already had had two years of British English in Paris, moving to American English was only a hop and a skip. Then came History since the syllabus that year was World History, namely Modern European History, which was comparatively familiar. Although I must say, hard-headed teachers played an important role in how slowly we improved our grades.

When asked which two rivers bordered Mesopotamia, Saadia decided to write the answers in English (which the teacher had allowed). In French, these rivers are named Le Tigre and L’Euphrate. Now, translating these into English would be the Tiger and the Euphrate. The teacher could not accept them because the spelling was off. And she added sneeringly in the margin, in big red characters, “This is a river, not a tiger!” We finally looked this up and found that for some reason, the English name was spelled in Latin, Tigris, which, of course, does mean tiger too. But too late, teachers there never went back on their grading, probably because it would open the door to 60 times three or four classes of students asking for grade alterations. And that teacher probably did not know Latin anyway.

map of mesopotamiaAs for me, I tried to answer in Chinese, but had a really hard time with that too. For example the word Italy is transliterated into “Ee-Da-Lee”. Now each syllable sound could be written in a number of different ways, each with a different meaning. I’m not sure who determined which character to use, probably the first journalist or government official who ever had to translate that particular word, way back when.  But basically, History is about learning and understanding facts. A kind merciful teacher should have allowed me to misspell a few words, since I got so few points on my tests already, right? So I wrote the “Ee” of Italy as 義 (honor, integrity), instead of 意 (meaning, intent). Big red cross, minus 4 point. I don’t suppose the Italians ever minded being full of integrity, instead of being full of meaning.WWI, Italy

Math was a real nightmare. My love of algebra sustained me through the onslaught of Chinese math for a while. Whereas in France, we had just landed on the shores of simple algebraic equations with one measly little x sitting in an obvious lonely position, here, we were met with a multitude of them, not to mention their brethren the y’s, z’s, a’s, b’s, c’s, m’s, and n’s. They came in regular sizes and in smaller sizes as part of indices, you know, sitting next to the square or cube sign… And they came as part of decimals and fractions as well. Oh, the fractions! I knew that fraction line as a single bar,  whose importance was to lie on the main line on the notebook, between the two horizontal bars of the equal sign. Here, the fraction line had been elevated to an architectural element. It defined the ground floor from the basement floors and the upper floors. Algebraic fractions were a lot like Sim Tower creations. Entire commercial blocks with multi-floor hotels on top, and several layers of parking floors under. Plus and minus signs, or times and divide signs, were placed strategically like traffic lights between these giant structures. And living in these hotels were those italicized letters and their companions, the digits.

I was unable to find an illustration anywhere close to our algebra homework. No one today relishes anymore constructing those elaborate and ridiculous stacks of fractions within fractions with indices and roots thrown in for good measure...

Sim Tower: This is what our algebra homework reminds me of. I was unable to find an illustration anywhere close to our algebra homework. No one today relishes anymore constructing those elaborate and ridiculous stacks of fractions within fractions with indices and roots thrown in for good measure…

Imagine having to reduce an entire city to an elegant little 2- or 3-piece equation. Not realizing we needed someone to teach us and coach us on the gaps in our Math knowledge, we felt very stupid that others could do what we could not. I started developing a fear of indices and letters lurking in denominators.

During the review tests, we also had to answer questions on geometry, which had been taught some time over the two previous years. Gone were the precision drawing sessions using a triangle square, a compass and a protractor. Now I had to prove that certain angles were equal to others using rules I had never learned. Chinese examiners do not believe in asking students simple straightforward questions. If it is not complicated, it is not worth asking. And so, our geometry proofs, despite the simplified notation, ran for tens of lines. I actually did enjoy them, despite diving through a crash course of Euclidean axioms.

geometry problemOur class also had to take an accounting class, which was my first introduction to such a science. It pretty much consisted of columns of debit and credit numbers that we had to add and balance at the bottom of the page. Having never taken abacus in my life, I could not see the depth and history of Accountancy in China, and wondered why adding and subtracting columns of numbers had to be taught separately from Math.

The best illustration on the difference between French and Chinese education occurred at the end of a school day, on my way out to the front yard, together with a few thousand other students, when I overheard a classmate calling out to another girl from a different class, “Hey, how many kilos of math homework have you got today?” Our homework was usually a stack of handouts that averaged about ten problems per sheet. I dreamily reminisced about the day my class of Cinquieme went on strike when the teacher dared assign THREE problems…

 

1 Comment »

Stranger in my own homeland

The wave of humid heat that hit us in the face when we stepped out of the plane in Taipei was very similar to that in Jeddah, but the smell was different. I welcomed it and embraced it, for, to me, this was home, H-O-M-E!!! All those years of longing to belong to a people that looked like me now finally came to an end, for I was home!

Well, wanting something, however badly, does not make it always come true. And I learned it then. Not all at once, though. I looked around me in the streets, and marveled at how many people there were, that all looked just like me, or so I thought. I held my head a bit higher, and my back a bit straighter. Strangely, they thought I looked different. I looked like a stranger.

It is hard to put one’s finger on what made us look different. Maybe I was on the tall side. Maybe I was fairer in skin tone. Maybe my eyes were more slanted that most. Was my gait and posture different? People still glanced at me the same way they did abroad. I still looked different.

Taipei, 1970, busy shopping district "XiMenDing"

Taipei, 1970, busy shopping district “XiMenDing”

Once I opened my mouth, they knew for sure I was a stranger. I had an ACCENT! Here most people spoke Mandarin with a Taiwanese accent. Mine was a lilting French-flavored Mandarin with a Beijing pronunciation, thanks to Teacher Sui back in Jeddah. You know how one sings slightly up a tone at the end of a question? Well, in Mandarin, you do not do that. You speak each word with its correct tone, just make sure to add whichever interrogative character is required at the end of the sentence to indicate it is actually a question. For example, “hello” is “ni hao” — you good. But to turn this into “how are you?”, you simply add the interrogative word “ma” at the end: “ni hao ma”. But you do not, absolutely not, sing your sentence upward as in English or French.

Despite all, speaking was not our main issue then. Much more urgent was the fact that our reading and writing skills were at Third Grade level three years prior and had probably taken a downward slide since then.

Mama’s first and most pressing concern was to find us a school and get us a tutor for, obviously, this time, it was not going to be easy to catch up. A friend of hers had a daughter who majored in Chinese literature. Perfect! Mama hired her immediately. The first time she came, we all sat at the dining table, Miss Chang, Saadia and me. She pulled out a Chinese textbook for Grade 9 — called here Chu San (third year of Junior High School).

I must explain here that we inadvertently skipped a grade because Chinese elementary schools have six grades, while French ones have five.

My first shock was that the textbook was small and thin!  It was a paperback printed with cheap paper, barely larger than a pocket novel, and maybe a centimeter in thickness. It turned out we needed one textbook each semester. “Aha,” I thought to myself, “this is going to be a piece of cake!”

Not quite. Lesson One. Miss Chang explained that the two short texts on the first page were a short bio of the author, then a short introduction to the text. Why don’t we just copy these down first, and then memorize them. We tried. By the end of our first two-hour lesson, we had managed copying only one sentence of the bio. We sweated over those complicated characters with dozens of strokes each, and could not figure out in which sequence to draw each stroke. Then again, we had no idea how to pronounce them, nor what they meant. Miss Chang picked up our masterpieces, looked at them dejectedly, shook her head involuntarily and sighed a huge sigh.

Sun Yat-Sen's names

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen’s names

I’m not trying to find excuses, but really, there were new obstacles and abysses every step of the way. For example, when she said this is the author’s biography, I thought, OK, I know what that is, piece of cake. Then, she proceeded to read, “Sun Wen, ZI (something), HAO (something), also HAO Yi Xian, and also known as Zhong Shan…” So I asked her, “What does that mean, Zi and Hao?” She replied that every Chinese had a Zi (alias #1) and a Hao (alias #2). Which of course was strange because I certainly did not have them.

“What are those things? –Oh, they are names. — But isn’t Sun Wen the author’s name? — Yes, but you don’t use it. — Why not? — It is rude to call someone by his name. — Huh? Really? — So, you have a Zi and a Hao, so people call you by these nicknames. — So what do we call him then? — Oh, we all call him Sun Zhong Shan Xian Sheng! — Huh? Not the Zi nor the Hao?”  I tell you, the FBI would have had a field day with this guy, a string of different names sounding totally different. It wasn’t that John becomes Johnny, or Robert becomes Bob. No, John becomes Michael and Christopher. And then, everyone proceeds to call him Sir Middle Mountain Sun!

Eventually, after plodding through his names, we got to his place of origin. China is big, I found out. It is divided into provinces, which are divided into “hsien“, which I suppose are departments, which in turn contain cities, towns, villages and hamlets. We were expected to memorize all of these for this one author. The Chinese are identified not just by their names but also by their place of origin, which is why, after reciting all the names, we now had to go through the recital of his place of origin. I challenge you, my readers, to go to Wikipedia and look up Winston Churchill, for example. You will go through the entire five-paragraph summary and still not find out where he was from!

So, after a week we managed to learn to read and write the author’s name and place of origin. (Miss Chang gave up making us memorize them.) Then we came to the meat of the matter: who he was. Ah, now I found out this guy was a medical doctor who ended up becoming our Father of the Country! The very founder of our young republic! He masterminded the movement which eventually overthrew the last Emperor of China. Well, it sounds easier said than done. The revolutionaries actually failed on their first attempt. And their second. And their third. It was on the eve of the tenth attempt, that they set off the revolution by mistake, and actually succeeded! And that happened on the tenth day of the tenth month! Anyone feels like being superstitious here?

The presidential palace, bedecked with flags and the Double Tenth symbol (two crosses) on the National Day.

The presidential palace, bedecked with flags and the Double Tenth symbol (two crosses) on the National Day.

This explains why our National Day is called the Double Tenth. And all those years ago, I had to walk on stage with a lantern hanging down from a dowel, singing, “Let’s celebrate the Double Tenth Festival…” with no idea what that festival was all about. Oh, and by the way, our multi-named Father of the Country is called in English Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, which is none of the above-mentioned names. In fact it is the “also alias #3”, Sun Yi-Xian, but pronounced in Cantonese.

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, the Father of the Country

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, the Father of the Country

By the end of the summer, we had managed to finish copying the bio and intro, and nearly finished studying the main text. To be fair, since we had arrived at the end of July and started taking lessons in early August, we only manage about one month of tutoring. Miss Chang said she was going to give us a test on the material we had covered. She had written by hand two copies of her test. I took one look and asked, “What is this? What am I supposed to do?”

If you remember, the tests in France were usually essay type. Something like, “Discuss the author’s influence on the causes of the Revolution. Illustrate with examples from the text.” But here, there were two pages of numbered questions. Miss Chang read her test: “True or false.” Huh? What? What is true or false? Oh, these statements? She introduced us to the concepts of multiple-choice questions and fill-in-the-blank questions as well. I was fascinated. Wow! Is this the way tests were given here? We finally finished the test and handed it back to her. She happily whipped out a red pen and corrected them. Then she shook her head again dolefully. She seemed on the brink of tears. Later Mama told us she didn’t want to take her pay, saying she had failed to teach us properly and we were still way below level. But Mama managed to force her to accept her pay.

And now, we were ready to face our Goliath: school in Chinese.

 

2 Comments »

Taiwan 1940s and 1950s

Taiwan had been ceded to Japan back in 1895, so Grandpa Chang had been educated in Japanese and had attended university in Japanese. Mama studied in Japanese up to sixth grade before Taiwan was returned to Chinese rule at the end of World War II and the entire education system reverted to Chinese Mandarin.

1945: people welcoming Nationalist troops in Taiwan

1945: people welcoming Nationalist troops in Taiwan

While helping Aunt Lily clean the squid or the chicken for dinner, I would listen to her stories about the war years. There was an electrical plant in the town where they lived. One day, the siren sounded and war planes (I assume they must have been bombers) flew overhead, dropping bomb after bomb, apparently aiming at the electrical plant.  But bombs do not always fall only on their target, and so the entire family dove into the basement which was also the air shelter. Grandpa was away at work, and Grandma hugged the little ones while Mama, the eldest, hugged the others. When finally the rumbling, booming, whistling and crashing stopped, the family crawled back out, only to find the house above ground in total ruins. Grandma told the children that they were going to flee to GuZhang’s banana plantation on the mountain. She carried the baby, Mama strapped First Uncle on her back, and Aunt Lily held Third and Fourth Aunts by the hand. They traveled as fast as they could, half running and half scuttling, finally reaching the hills. When Grandma called a halt in the thick of the banana groves, Mama half collapsed onto the ground, unstrapped First Uncle from her back and put him down. She then sat against the trunk of a banana tree, which is when she started feeling some pain in her foot. She pulled up her foot and found a huge nail stuck in her heel. In the panic of the moment, she had not felt a thing throughout their trek! Grandpa rushed home from work, only to find the entire neighborhood in rubble. He screamed and clawed frantically through the ruins of the house looking for his family, believing them all buried under the debris.

Banana grove, Nantou county, Taiwan

Banana grove, Nantou county, Taiwan

After the end of WWII, China struggled in the throes of civil war. When the Nationalists withdrew to Taiwan in 1949, they brought in their wake over 2 million refugees from mainland China. Mama was fifteen, and Aunt Lily fourteen when one day, a band of soldiers knocked on their front gate. Grandma told the elder girls to jump out through the window (this was on the ground floor) and squat and hide under it among the jars and boxes in the back courtyard. She would face the soldiers herself. “Why?” I asked Aunt Lily. “Because during wartime, you never know what these soldiers might do.”

“War must have been an exciting time, I wish I was there,” I remarked to Aunt Lily, dreaming of the Three Musketeers and d’Artagnan holding a conference in a bastion with bullets flying around them. She scolded me harshly. “Exciting? Exciting? You do not even know the first thing about it.  It is a very frightening time. You children are so fortunate to live in peace time, you do not even know what you are talking about.”  I changed the subject, “So what did those soldiers want?” Aunt Lily replied, “Ah, nothing, just food and stuff. They left after a while.”

It was also Aunt Lily who told me that Papa’s nickname among the girls was “My Darling”, a pun on his name Mai Deh-Lin.  I look at photos of Papa in his twenties and early thirties and can understand how he could have been the crush of the girls around him at the university or in the lumber mill. He was really very handsome: skin quite fair, the look of a classical scholar — a xiu cai. His “phoenix eyes” were very pronounced in his youth and offset by a very serious look accentuated by dark-rimmed glasses. My second son today looks so much like Papa then. History lives on.

Papa and Mama married on October 11, 1955, the day after the Double Tenth celebrations (National Day). However, soon after Saadia’s birth, Mama found she was pregnant with me. They decided to take Saadia back to Taichung and leave her in the care of Grandma Chang until my birth.  Fourth Uncle was then still in elementary school, and all the aunts and uncles had a great time doting on Saadia for a year.  Mama had a hard time with my pregnancy and had at first considered aborting me since I was so close in age with Saadia. Then at one point, she ate too much watermelon and had so much diarrhea afterward she nearly did lose me! Wow, I feel that I escaped twice not being born at all!  When my birth became imminent, Mama returned to her parents’ home. This is how I came to be born in Taichung. Then, when Mama was done with her month’s confinement, she took the two of us back to Taipei. At the train station, as they said their goodbyes, Saadia screamed her lungs out, “Ah Mah! (Grandma) Ah Maaaaaahh!” and grabbed Grandma tightly, not letting go. Poor Grandma was in tears, and Mama felt her heart broken to have abandoned her baby daughter so long that she wouldn’t recognize her as her mother. I wonder whether this guilty feeling lingered on throughout her life, for she forever doted on Saadia, and let her get away with stuff I couldn’t get out of, such as snapping retorts.

 

 

 

 

 

No Comments »