Date: Fri, 28 May 1999 12:31:29 -0400
Sender: H-Net list for Asian History and Culture <H-ASIA@H-NET.MSU.EDU>
From: Leibo, Steven A. <>
Subject: H-ASIA:: Taiwan Diary

Date: Thu, 27 May 1999 19:36:52 -0700 (PDT)
From: Scott Simon <>
Subject: Re: Taiwan Diary

Taiwan Diary #1: A Paiwan Woman

By Scott Simon, 27 May 1999

We left Kaohsiung early Saturday morning, stopping at the McDonald's Drive-thru to pick up Egg McMuffins and coffee. A-san from Meinung was taking me and his friend Jack up into the mountains west of the city. As most Taiwanese now take every other Saturday off from work, the winding mountain road was crowded with cars full of day-trippers. A-san laughed it off, saying that in crowded Taiwan one has to expect traffic jams any place, any time. Occasionally, we pulled off the side of the road to take pictures of ourselves standing in front of gaping crevices or flowering poinsettas.

We drove through a desolate aboriginal village on the way to our destination, a nature preserve at Teng-chih. Long before we reached our destination, we found ourselves waiting at the end of a long line of cars. Finally arriving at the park forty minutes later, we found ourselves stalled amidst a dense crowd of cars, trekkers with backpacks, vendors selling soft drinks, mineral water, stinky tofu, and various food items. A parking lot attendant walked up to our car and told us that the parking places had all been taken. We would have to wait approximately an hour to park before we could enter the preserve.

Never mind, I suggested, why don't we go back down to the aboriginal village? That decided, we headed back. We parked the car on the side of the road, and walked into the village. Constructed on the mountain side, the streets were narrow steps and steep inclines. There was not a car to be seen in the village itself. A Catholic church at the top of the slope dominated the village. In the valley below was an elementary school with a red KMT flag flying in the courtyard. As we walked through the streets, we saw an old woman feeding chickens, a group of old men drinking rice wine in the courtyard of their house, and a pack of dogs, some of which playful ran over to us with wagging tails. There was no 7-11 in this village, only a small village store with soft drinks, candy, preserved fruits and meat, and sundry daily use items. We bought some soft drinks and sat down on the steps outside.

Would you want to live in the mountains like this? asked A-san.

No, I replied. There are no convenience stores, no grocery stores, no bookstores. You would have to drive a long way just to buy food. It would be far too inconvenient. I said the village reminded me of Indian reservations in the United States and noted how unfair it seems that the aboriginals in the mountains are so poor, while the Chinese people in the cities seem so rich. A-san said that's why we only see old people in the village. The young ones have all migrated to the cities in search of work.

An old woman approached us on the steps. Looking at me, she nodded her head and said Konnichi wa in Japanese. I responded in Japanese, which elicited a pleasant smile. She sat down to talk to us. I complimented her on her Japanese. She said she learned it in elementary school during the Japanese period. I asked which aboriginal group she belongs to. Paiwan, she said. She asked me questions about my country and my family. I told her about the mountains, and about the poor situation of Native Americans. She asked me if I would prefer living in the mountains or down in the cities. Honestly, I said I prefer the convenience of the cities.

She smiled and said, Actually the mountains are much better. The air is cleaner, and the people are better. The cities are dangerous and full of bad people. People say we drink all the time, but when we mountain people drink alcohol, we just get happy and sing songs. When those city people drink alcohol, they get angry and do bad things. The young people go down to the cities and work, but they always come back during the holidays. Then we can eat and drink together. Life here is happier and easier. We are all good people here. It is much better than the city.

Nodding good-bye, the woman continued inching her way up the steps. We returned to Kaohsiung by the same mountain road that had brought us up that morning. As we drove through the streets lined with convenience stores, fast food restaurants, car dealerships, betel nut stands and KTV parlors, there was silence in the car. That old woman had said it all.

Scott Simon, Ph.D. (Anthropology)
Assistant Professor
Wen Tzao Junior College
Kaohsiung, Taiwan