Map of Taiwan 台湾地图
The background of the story was set at the Japanese Occupation era around 1935-1945 till right after the WWII. (Japan ruled Taiwan between 1895-1945) The location:
In 1995 Madam Huang Ah Ni wrote the story to pay tribute to her maternal
grandmother who suffered silently most of her lifetime during those difficult
years. Here goes: Tainan, Taiwan
I did not get to see my grandmother (We called her fondly Ah Mah in our Taiwanese dialect. For mother – Ah Bu is the right word) often in my growing up years. Mother was married to
Taipei, the Northern city of Taiwan
some 300 over kilometers from her home town of . We got to meet Ah Mah whenever Mother
visited her once in few years. I could remember that she had never come to Tainan ; she loved us all
the same when we surrounded her upon arrival. Ah Mah was a woman of few words,
she did not talk much. She just kept herself busy cooking, doing the house
chores and carried pales of well water for our baths. I remembered vividly
seeing her small wrinkled hands slicing vegetables and chicken meat before
cooking; she wore black dress all the while.
Her fingers were mostly deformed and bent due to rheumatoid arthritis.
Mother knew well that Ah Mah was in constant pain but she had never uttered a
single word to complain. Taipei
Just like any other city child first ventured into rural villages, I was playful and curious, running about all over the dirt roads and the rice fields, climbing trees to pilfer fruits without inhibition. Now I regretted for not building up a strong bond with my Ah Mah; by the time I was old enough to discover more things regarding Ah Mah’s past, she had since died. Ah Mah had two children, viz. my mother and her brother, our uncle. Mother seldom mentioned about her father but we did know we had a grandfather who stayed nearby Ah Mah’s house in
. Mother managed to recollect that
grandfather carried her once when she was very young to the seaside to see the
sunset, and that was the only time she remembered being cuddled by our
grandfather. She was so sad for unable to visit Ah Mah more often than she
wanted as my father’s family were reluctant and recalcitrant to let her leave
for her own hometown to visit her mother. She softly wept in her bedroom for
There was always a strange feeling when we managed to visit Ah Mah as her rather derelict home was just about 20 meters away from grandfather’s residence. The houses were separated by one tall and large longan fruit tree. My uncle and his children dwelt with Ah Mah and they were friendly and close to my sibling and my mother. Grandfather stayed at his house with his Japanese wife and his other children; the two families did not communicate with one another and were not on good terms. I only realized the intricate relationship of my grandparents when I began my secondary education. My brothers and I would then climb on the Longan tree branches to peep at grandfather’s home, trying to discover how life was going on over there. What we saw was a plain looking and old, ordinary Japanese woman in simple clothing. She tried to speak to us in her broken Taiwanese dialect when she discovered us peeping at her; she showed her friendliness by giving us some sweets and tidbits. Our happiness was short-lived as Mother was furious as she grimaced and confiscated the sweets.
Mainland Chinese tourists flocked to Taiwan to sample life of "the other side". The nation of The Republic of China - 中华民国 is an economically strong state with a 23 million hard-working population. The Taiwanese people are diligent, fun loving, vibrant and distinguished in all academic fields. They used to suffer under the draconian rule of notorious dictators Chiang Kai-Sek and his son Ching-Kuo. Followed by the demise of the two bigoted presidents the citizens were relieved to be able to live in democracy. Now they could curse, criticize, oppose, make a mockery of, and joke about what their incumbent president said or did without fearing of going through the " White Terror "era. It was a time of harsh military rule to silence any dissident critic. When detained, the political prisoner faced grossly inhuman treatment - usually it's going to the death cell in a jail, and waited to be executed.
Eventually I heard an earful of stories from Mother and some relatives that our grandfather married the Japanese lady despite that he was already married to Ah Mah when he went to
to study and work. He hid the fact from both sides and had few children with
the Japanese woman. The secret began to unfold when he returned to Japan with his
newer wife and children as he found it hard to earn a living in Japan during those
warring years in the 1940s. Since then he lived in another wooden house he
built to accommodate his other family and had more children, just a short
distance from Ah Mah’s run-down abode. It was a huge blow to Ah Mah when she
realized all her effort in bringing up children single-handedly when her
husband was away, had gone to emptiness. It was unbearable to see her husband left
her to form a new family right under her nose, leaving her alone stoically to fend
for her two young children. The two woman simultaneously faced the cruel fact
that neither of them was the only wife to my grandfather. Taiwan
Ah Mah was most resentful to discover that the first child borne by the Japanese woman was even older than her son, my uncle. That meant her husband continued to father another child with Ah Mah, when he already had a son borne in
. For that matter, my uncle
was brought up by Ah Mah (together with my mother) as she slogged as a single
parent, and her children were fatherless. Then the worst, unimaginable thing
happened that left Ah Mah in bitter despair. Following the end of WWII and the
dishonorable defeat of Japanese Imperial Army, the Japanese wife of my
grandfather faced the fate of being deported to her own country. Ah Mah was
coaxed and coerced to agree for a divorce, so as to make way for grandfather’s legitimatizing
his marriage with the Japanese woman. Japan
I was told that Ah Mah was a charming pretty lady when she was young; unfortunately she did not attend schools due to her father’s stubborn, traditional male chauvinistic opinion that girls should not be literate and educated. She hailed from a middle class family. By match making, she was arranged to marry grandfather and when they wed, it was the fancy talk of the village. The same fate befallen upon my own mother that when she graduated from her senior secondary school with brilliant results, grandfather cruelly obliterated her chance of studying medicine at the prestigious University of Tokyo despite her being secured a scholarship to further her studies. For that matter Ah Mah and mother wept for a few days.
Children played and ran about on the beach without parental company?
No fear, the father took the picture.
Later we came to know that the Japanese woman had constant quarrels with grandfather and had threatened to commit suicide several times. She was equally dismayed to realize her husband had married in
bringing her over. She had no friends or relatives in the neighborhood, and as Japanese,
she was generally despised and cursed by the village Chinese women folks as a
home wrecker, so she stayed indoor most of the time. She smoked heavily and her
health was going down the hill. There were few nights in the wee hours she was
seen soliloquizing in incomprehensible Japanese, sobbing, smoking and gesturing
in thin air, with her hair let loose, under the pale moonlit night, sitting
under the tall longan trees, casting an eerie, frightening sight. Taiwan
An old lady sat quietly at one corner of the house
to seek solace and recollection of the tough life in the past.
Ah Mah had never talked to the Japanese woman in person, and had never quarrelled with her either. They just did not interact. Ah Mah knew the importance of education and the misery of being illiterate. Therefore she made it certain to have her two children sent to school and they did not disappoint her. There were occasions when my mother woke up in the middle of the night and could not find Ah Mah when she was a little girl. After a frantic search she saw Ah Mah sitting under the longan tree sobbing, and with her hair down, just like the Japanese woman did. One day Ah Mah died suddenly and quietly. She was not that old, just in her 50s. Nobody had any memory of Ah Mah falling sick. She probably left the world due to a lifetime of wretched sadness, a perpetual feeling of injustice and misery, and had always suffered in abject poverty. My mother cried for weeks for the immense loss.
A towering and large longan fruit tree planted
at the back of a residential house.
It's a healthy tree that is yielding abundant longan fruits.
Longan fresh fruit bunch
Eventually we heard that the Japanese woman hanged herself dead from the branch of the longan tree one night. Before that she had gone insane probably due to her constant nostalgic yearning of returning to her homeland. The tall and imposing longan tree was cut down to make way for a village road project, so did the two family houses; they were demolished. Since then we had not heard of grandfather and his other children’s whereabouts; we had never known him, and he had never accepted us. My mother’s anguish and anxiety with regards to the encounter and life of Ah Mah perished together with her to her grave when Mother passed away in her 70s.
A true story translated by
Alan CY Kok