62 Years and 6,500 Miles Between
She Wants to Talk to You
Mommy, What’s Wrong?
Joyful Life Script (English translation of 54 minutes) written by Anita Wen-Shin Chang
Lo-Sheng Sanitorium was built in 1930 in Sinjuang, Taiwan. Authorities used it to forcibly
accommodate Hansen’s disease (leprosy) patients. In 2002, due to subway construction, more
than one-third of the sanitorium buildings were destroyed. Currently, about 300 residents live
in Lo-Sheng Sanitorium. More than half the residents have moved to the newly constructed
hospital nearby. Due to protests by the Self-Help Organization, student and human rights
activists, actions of destruction have slowed down. Being one of the world’s few existing
communities for leprosy patients, Lo-Sheng is on the verge of disappearing.
In collaboration with the residents of Lo-Sheng Sanitorium
Hello, how are you? I am going to Joyful Life Sanitorium…Zhong
Joyful Life Sanatorium, in Sinjuang direction?
Yes, Sinjuang direction.
Are they going to excavate the place?
What do you think?
I think it should stay as a memorial. Why destroy it? And the
people who live there, let them continue to stay. Some people
have lived there for 50 to 60 years. It’s like…how do you say… I
think it’s kind of a homeland. The place has a long history. Why
can’t it be kept as a historical site? It seems the reason to destroy
it is because of the subway construction. Don’t you think it’s a
pity? If your family was a patient who lived there, try to imagine
it. Would you go to protest? Would you want to destroy it? If
you had family living there, would you say something about
destroying the place? It’s as simple as that.
Lo-Sheng patients’ average age is 74. They are older. Their problem now is not acute
treatment for leprosy. The important issue now the remaining aftereffects of leprosy. How can
we help to improve their life quality.
(In Japanese) 86 years old.
When I found out I had to come here, I had no other choice. During Japanese times, we were
forced to come here.
When I came here, I cried to death. Worried about my small kids. I was still breast-feeding
I was told I would stay here for three years. Three years! I complained it was too long. I
never realized that once I arrived here, I would stay until now. During Japanese rule, they told
us to come here and quarantined us in one place. They had no medicine to treat us. During
Japanese times, they said this disease was contagious. But all my children are fine.
First it’s the nerve pain. This left hand had pain for 16 years. After suffering this pain for 16
years, I got ill for 3 years. After the illness, the pain returned, but to my knee. I had this pain
for 6 years. I’ve been suffering pain until… until 40 something years old. All my life is suffering.
Since I had this disease at age 14, the pain was never cured.
Next time I come to see you, you will stand up straight.
That would be too good to be true.
Do you remember? You said after he gave you a massage, the next day you could stand
He kept poking my back. It was hurting me a lot.
This leprosy could have started when I was 9 or 10.
What’s it like?
This arm felt numb. Since it was numb, I didn’t feel pain. It was not a big deal. Then I went
to work. I started to get sick at age 16. I discovered red spots on my thigh. That’s how it
They used a vehicle to gather us first in Kaoshiong county, then they took us to a hospital
in Kaoshiong city. We slept there for one night. The next morning, we took a train from
Kaoshiong to Taipei.
That was the first time I left my hometown. Suddenly, I was captured here. I had no relatives,
and all by myself, so I was terribly homesick. I was afraid of being seen crying. I would cover
myself with a blanket. I was heartsick. I came here alone, and without any relatives.
Truthfully speaking, my family is nothing for me to treasure. They gave me up for adoption.
And my adopted family did not love me. I feel home is not memorable. Since I was little until 20
years old, I worked to death. I didn’t eat well. My family was poor. I feel my adopted family was
How about this family?
Coming here is better. Quite on the contrary, coming here is better. Fellow suffers have mutual
sympathy. You don’t look down upon me. I also don’t look down upon you. Life is easier here. I
don’t feel ashamed here. Isn’t that right? Only I cannot raise my head to society.
I am Tang Shian Ming, I am 73 years old. I was born right here in Sinjuang. At that time, as far
as my father’s position, if Taiwan’s president is equivalent to Japanese governor general, then
he was the lieutenant of the Japanese governor general Kobayashi.
There was a doctor, he didn’t check me for leprosy deliberately. He was doing a random
inspection. He asked me for an inspection, so I went. He first felt behind my ears. Then he felt
my armpits. Any areas where there were lymph nodes. Basically I think the significant symptom
of leprosy for boys, is in the nipple area, which will be examined.
But the next day when I went to school, I discovered that my good friends treated me
strangely. It seemed like they were avoiding me. Back home, my mom asked me: Has anyone
inspected you physically? I said: Yes, doctor Lai Sang-Ho from Taiwan National University. My
mom finally told me: Lai Sang-Ho said you got leprosy. Even my mom said: How could that be
possible? She said: You are my child, I’ve seen your body from top to bottom, and nowhere do
you show symptoms. It is impossible for you to get leprosy.
You see here these square-shaped frames… They were used for holding basins containing
Let me tell you how I came to Lo-Sheng. A policeman and a Lo-Sheng director came with
health department staff to my village. They told the villagers: If you don’t put him in the
hospital, the whole village will be infected. At that time, they were so vicious. When I returned
to Sinjuang, their vehicle was already waiting for me. The right thing to do is talk to me,
and tell me where to get treatment. But it didn’t happen this way. He took out handcuffs.
And they handcuffed me. They forced my hands to my back. Their vehicle was divided into
compartments. I should have been escorted into the vehicle since they wanted me to get
treatment. But this was not the case. I was treated worse than a prisoner. They grabbed my
neck and pushed me down. With their feet, they kicked me and shouted: Get in! As if they were
grabbing pigs. That is how I came to Lo-Sheng.
These two rooms… In the past, there was a pool of antiseptic solution here. This was filled
with antiseptic solution. This side was the doctors’ changing room. The doctors changed here
before doing the treatment. And the nurses changed here. After changing their clothes, they
came here to put on shoes. Since over there is the forbidden area. The patients could not
Uncle Tang, Uncle Tang?
Who is it?
It’s Xin Fei.
Oh, come in, come in. It’s so cold today, yet you come to visit?
How do you feel today?
I feel much better for the past two days—because I get up in the
morning, and followed your advice. I lightly move my head. My
bones are not as tight as they used to be. And the pain is not as
bad as before. I feel more relaxed the past two days.
Do you think the blood vein system has problems?
Yes, past two days I feel better.
Then, I’ll help you relax a little?
Okay. Then I’ll take off my scarf.
No need to, aren’t you cold?
Okay, this is fine.
You said Taiwanese doesn’t understand what leprosy is like? This I do not know. I really don’t
know. Is leprosy really scary?
Leprosy started way back in ancient times, since the Egyptians built the pyramids. It was a
recognized illness. Hansen’s disease is transmitted by bacteria. How does bacteria come
into our body? Mainly through longtime exposure to people people with leprosy. You can
become infected through the respiratory system, or longtime exposure with open sores. Then,
you can become infected. However, we have advanced medicine now. Once new cases are
discovered, patients take medicine for about three days. Afterwards, you take medicine, you
will have no ability to infect others.
Hansen’s disease’s major symptom is obvious skin change. It’s different than other skin
problems. Certain areas on the skin will lose normal feeling. Also, some other parts of the skin
will have unknown red splotches, or other forms of rash.
Some parts of the skin feel numb. You have no feeling toward pain. If you get hurt by a nail or
broken glass, you do not notice the pain. As the wound gets bigger and deeper, and when you
realize it, you will be surprised by so much bleeding. Then you realize it is a deep wound. It is
not easy to heal.
When my children had to go to school, they had to wear uniforms. I could not button their
uniform because my fingers were so soft. Without any strength, what could I do? I was
rushing for school time. I was afraid the children would miss their bus, so I used my daughter’s
eyebrow tweezers to do it. I put the button through the hole, then I would pull it back.
In the past, DDS was heavy medicine. If you eat too much, your lips will turn black. And your
nails turn black too. If you eat more, you will die.
AH TIEM BEI
At that time, the neighbors went to take a look. They saw my mom crying, while facing me.
After awhile, the neighbors asked my mom to go back home. They had to take my mom home.
When I arrived, the first day I arrived here, it was at night. It was already dark. I started to miss
home. I missed my parents. I missed my brothers and sisters. And I started to cry. Then the
hospital gave us two bowls, one pair of chopsticks, and a blanket. Then I started my life in Lo-
Our pain now is like an electric spark that goes so fast. Some people like me have this pain.
Sometimes, you see me sitting here, suddenly my leg will jump up, that is due to pain. Luckily
it’s temporary. But others have chronic pain.
At that time, my pain was so severe that I took a bandage and tied myself tightly until my
fingers turned totally black. I wanted to shout at night but was afrai of disturbing others. When
living in the new dormitory, I would run outside to the shed, and sit there. Nothing could help
the pain, not even medication.
AH TIEM BEI
At this point, we have 300 people remaining. It doesn’t mean they have not suffered. They
have suffered before. After having been through all those hard times, they are stronger in
mind. So these 300 people are getting better. Therefore during this time, there were few who
sought to self-destruct.
Patients who want to commit suicide don’t want anyone to save them. So the patients would
come here to harm themselves because they could not be easily found. In the past, once the
medical staff was off work, these doors would be closed. Outsiders could not see in. The
medical staff could not see them too. So they would commit suicide here…
How did they commit suicide?
Hang themselves with a rope.
AH TIEM BEI
When I first came here, I thought I would return in six months, or one year. But after the 1st
year, the 2nd year, 3rd year, then the 5th year, then the 10th year. I didn’t count the 11th year.
Then the 20th year. I didn’t count the 20s. Then the 30th year. Now it’s already more than 50
Lo-Sheng is good/ Lo-Sheng is good/ Lo-Sheng is a good fortress/ Beautiful scenery, fresh air/
Lots of beautiful trees growing wild/ People come visiting and praising that here is good/ This
place is really a treasure/ Where can you find such beauty?/ treasure like this?/ Where to find
this beauty?/ You can’t find it anywhere in the entire Taiwan island… Isn’t that right?
As for leprosy patients, they are just a group of unfortunate people. In the early days, because
we didn’t understand the illness, some religions thought it was the punishment from God. But
in fact, leprosy patients should not be treated this way. In fact, they are the same as us. They
just happened to get this illness, like us catching a cold.
She is a girl born into a poor family. A farmer’s family. Her father didn’t allow daughters to
go to school. Later on, my mother told us this. She proposed letting the daughters live in our
home, and paid for their way through school. At that time, I’m telling you, how a dream of
marriage was broken.
One day she had a strange feeling. She discovered that I was gone since she couldn’t find me.
Usually on Sundays, everyone met and played together, and she couldn’t fine me. Then she
asked my mother about me, and also asked her own mother. She discovered that something
was very odd. She felt they were not telling the truth. She then threatened her mother, my
sister-in-law, and my mom. She said if they didn’t tell her the truth, tomorrow when she went
to school, she would jump off the Taipei bridge.
One day when she came to visit me at Lo-Sheng, I was half joking and told her that this
disease was very difficult to cure. I told her: you must think more openly. I said to her: Don’t
you have many boys chasing after you? You should pick another boyfriend. Oh! She turned
around and ran out.
Her mother told me. She said: Chong Chong has entered the nunnery. Did you know? Then I
told her mother: How could you people be like this?
Sometimes, I rode my bike wanting to see her. Half way there, I would decide not to see her
and turn around. But I couldn’t help it. I still wanted to go. Once I arrived there, I told myself
not to see her, and would head back. This back and forth movement, I can’t remember how
long it took until I started to become accustomed to it. After that period of time, I hardly went
to see her, since I couldn’t take it anymore.
One time I went to apply for a job, but they discovered I had leprosy. Upon returning, I was
very sad. I made an attempt to kill myself. But I survived. Someone told her, so she wrote me
a letter. One of the last sentences was: No matter how rocky life’s path is, one must finish it to
the end. Another last sentence is: Hope we can be together in the next life. That was the last
sentence. That’s it.
When I was a child at home, I had been dreaming that I was all alone by myself, sitting in a
ship, floating on the wide ocean. I was afraid. And when I was terrified, I saw Pusa standing at
thebow of the ship. At that time, I didn’t know it was Pusa. One figure wearing a white dress
and standing at the ship’s bow. Then I woke up and was not scared anymore. Shortly, after
I arrived at Lo-Sheng, people took me to hear the teachings of Buddhism. They took me to
the temple to worship Buddha. Then I saw the figure in the white dress that I had seen in my
dream. It was very strange. It seems as if my destiny was to come here.
This temple was built by the patients themselves.
I can’t hold a towel, so I sewed a loop. It was sewn like this, so I
can wash my back.
You invented it yourself.
I thought of it myself.
You see normally I pay 150. Going this way is farther. Yes, no
taxi driver has gone this way before.
It’s okay, giving me 150 is fine.
Close to the mountains.
Close to the mountains?
Yes, it’s in the mountains.
Let me ask my friend.
They are going to build the subway, and build right into Lo-
Sheng. This is correct. This road is right.
Let me ask you: Where is Lo-Sheng?
When I came to Lo-Sheng, I saw the iron fence around it. The security guards stood at the
front door. The soldiers who were stationed close to the patients’ area were equipped with
rifles. I realized immediately that Lo-Sheng is a serious place. And this disease is grave. This
place was worse than jail. You don’t have any freedom. You don’t have human rights. What
else could you say to them? Lo-Sheng was completely under quarantine. Messages were
never sent out. To tell the truth, even it it’s the doctor’s fault that you die, you can never get
justice for it. Outsiders would never know.
Mental illness house. Behind this house is “Soul-Searching” jail.
Have you ever been locked up in “Soul-Searching” jail?
Not this jail, but the other one below.
For what reason?
Not this jail, but the other one below.
For what reason?
For trying to escape.
AH TIEM BEI
There used to be two stacks of bricks piled up like this. The burning wood was placed
underneath. Then the dead body was laid on top. Set the fire, and it burns.
At that time when the leprosy patients died here, the body was burned here. The ashes must
stay here. When you got leprosy, and moved here, your household registration outside would
disappear. There’s a period of time when Lo-Sheng patients had no ID numbers.
Look, the weather is so nice. You can go outside to walk around.
Today, I am tired. It is noon, I don’t feel like going out.
Is it so… I have brought some candy for you today. This is very
It is delicious, would you like to try some?
Okay, I will try it in a little bit.
Then, I’m going to take a look up in the hills.
Okay, I’m not going to see you off.
Okay, don’t forget to eat it.
I had the bad fate to get this disease. I was forced to be here by the Japanese government. I
had two little children. I didn’t want to come here, but I had to come here. She was four when
she was abandoned. As a little girl, she was good at talking, very smart. When police were
looking at me, I told her: They want mom to go to Taipei to take care of her hands, and she
won’t be able to come back home to cook for you. She started to cry. Sitting infront of the
doorway crying. She cried so hard. She was only four years old, crying so hard.
Don’t film her. Take it out.
You have been filming for so long, not done yet?
Her daughter doesn’t want to be in the film?
They said they still have grandchildren. She doesn’t want people
to know these details.
Leprosy is not a hereditary illness at all. We have many patients who have children. And they
are as normal as us. More than 90% of the general public have a natural immunity to leprosy.
This illness is 100% curable now. If you find out earlier and treat it earlier, there will be no
problems afterwards. Last year, in 2005, new cases of leprosy in Taiwan were only nine. A
total of nine. And among those nine cases, six were foreign workers, or foreign brides.
I bought this fish myself. If I have time tomorrow, I will ride my scooter to buy fish again. It’s
very cheap. 50NT. 50NT can buy you 4 fishes. I’m going to fry it for Ah Gao-Bei to eat. Ah
When I was in 3rd or 4th grade, my mom was brought to Lo-Sheng by the Japanese. After I
graduated, I went to work as a cook at a Japanese restaurant. At age 18, the war ended. Jia-
Yi city was bombed, and was burned down completely. Then, I came to Lo-Sheng by myself.
How old were you?
23 years old, in 1950.
Oh, this is…
Never mind, give it to your friend to eat.
He doesn’t eat that much. You try it.
This song, about 62 years ago during Japanese times, when those young Japanese pilots
came to our restaurant to hold their party and to drink, they sang this song with tears. The
next day they were going south to attack U.S. aircraft carriers. And once they go, they will not
return. They would think of their mothers in their homeland, their parents at home, and their
tears would fall down. The education we had taught us that we should fight and wish to die for
our nation. That was a lie. Everyone wants their life. Everyone wants to live. Everyone wants
to return to their homeland safely.
In the old days, in the mountains, chasing the rabbits. At the river where I caught little fish.
Even now, I still keep dreaming about them. My unforgettable homeland. I wonder how my
parents are doing in my homeland? The friends who I grew up with. In the stormy days. I
cannot help thinking about my homeland. No matter how hard I try. I still don’t know when I
can return to my homeland. Return to my homeland where mountains are green. Return to my
homeland where the water is clear.
If destroyed what will happen to the residents?
If destroyed there will be a replacement, right?
Otherwise that place… Actually, the air in Hui Long is not that
great. The wind from Taipei blows towards the hill. And that
mountain blocks the wind. It would be best if they moved to
Yangmingshan national park.
Uncle Ah-Gao. This is Uncle Ah-Gao. This fish is for you. This
fish is a bit salty. Eat a little salty food.
I often eat sweetmeats.
I will come to collect the bowl. Leave it here. Tomorrow, I will
come back to get it in the afternoon.
Thank you. Ah-Gao. His last name is also Chang. Our last
names are also Chang. Her last name is also Chang. My last
name is also Chang. His last name is also Chang. Chang Shin-
Wen’s last name is also Chang.
Who is Chang Shin-Wen?
Shin-Wen. She is the secretary of the Self-Help Organization.
Her last name is also Chang.
Did you bathe yet?
Not yet. They said maybe this afternoon.
If you are not going to bathe now, you shouldn’t take your pants
off, or you will catch a cold.
I was going to sleep.
Going to sleep?
I still have this pain.
He has nerve pain. Leg pain. He couldn’t sleep all night because
of this pain.
Can’t be helped.
How long have you known each other?
Very long. 60 years… No, 50 years… How long have you been
He has been here for 58 years. I have been here for 56 years.
We have been here for over 50 years. We are old friends of over
55 years. Oh, already 55 years.
During Japanese times, he was taken away to be a military carrier
on Hainan Island, taken away for military service. He went for 5
years then returned. Can’t be helped. Did they cook rice soup for
I came here secretly. I was afraid that others would know. Afraid that neighbors would be
scared of us if they knew. I heard before I came here, that many people who came to Lo-
Sheng were poisoned to death. There was no medicine for treatment.
After marriage, and after I got this disease, I had complications. After the illness, and with no
medication at that time, when I felt better, I went to listen to Christian sermons. There were
many preachers coming to Lo-Sheng. Such as American preachers. Now we only have one
minister. At that time, we didn’t have food, so many people would come to help us.
Did you have kids?
We were not allowed to have kids then.
Can’t have kids…
We were sterilized.
We used to live in a nice house in the mountains. Then we
moved here. Here is lacking in… But the old house was aged.
The hospital told us whoever wanted to move here could move.
If the old place was repaired, and well-maintained, would you
have stayed there?
Even if it was repaired, the environment was not that good.
What do you mean?
There are dogs and cats all around. There is no cleanliness.
Right, no management. Plus, everyone likes to have their own
I have to shake them a bit. One time there was 50NT missing. I shook it a bit. I came outside
and shook it. Then I realized. Right, that time 50NT was missing.
I came here when I was 21 years old. I was ignorant when I was young. I just came here to
live day by day. After coming here, I went to church services. And I thought of what the priest
said: Those who can, must help those who cannot. I often kept those words in mind. Live one
day at a time. I’m 72 years old now, right? How much longer can I live?
My hometown is Loudong in Yilan. Sometimes, my sisters who live in Banchiao, would be
heading back home, and say to me: Sister, we are going home, we will come get you and bring
you back. I don’t want to go. Everyone is fine. Only I am like this. I’m not used to it. We all
have inferiority complex.
Now we are here, right? We are accustomed to life here. We did not expect change. I never
realized what worrying was like before. Now I start worrying.
The air is good. We have those big trees, right? The big trees provide shade. The new
building is not suitable for us. It is a hospital. It’s livable for one or two weeks, right? It’s not
suitable for us.
Every morning the cicadas are calling. Raise their heads, trees are swaying. Birds are making
sounds in the trees. It is like singing a good song. Listening here and there, very beautiful.
It’s just like light music. Trees are wild and with shade. The roads are wide and we can walk.
The air is so fresh. The wind blows softly and gently. This is helpful to us. We do not ask for
anything else. We only ask to stay where we are.
For you outsiders trying to help, it’s useless. There’s no use in discussing it. If I put it in harsh
terms, they do not have many years to live. And those things you want to keep. How? Is it
really a historical site? It’s not a historical site. It’s just the living environment of those people.
How could you say it’s a historical place? It has no value. It’s reasonable to look after them.
And development is also necessary. You can’t have no development.
This kind of house… Many people from Penghu got leprosy. The Penghu government cared
about these issues, and made donations to Lo-Sheng sanatorium to erect this building.
What’s their intention? So that the building becomes a memorial. There are many similar
buildings like this in Lo-Sheng. For example, 7 Star Hut, Big Village Hall. They were all
donated by people. At that time, Kaoshiong Hall was just like the ones in Kaoshiong county.
AH TIEM BEI
Tainan Hall was where those 3 trees are. I lived in the hall next to that tree. The entire building
is called Tainan Hall. The houses were built entirely by wood. Even after 70 years, only the
window and doorframes were slightly warped. The rest were still very intact. Just slightly
warped. The houses were built during the Japanese times. No termite holes. No mold. And
held up in earthquakes.
At that time, we really moved without thinking. The hospital representatives said that they
have to destroy the area because the land is for MRT subway use. They said: If you insist
on not moving, we will cut your electricity and water. Then, some human rights authorities
said a meeting of explanation should be held. They told us: You are still living in the age of
martial law. Actually you have human rights now. At that time, we were awakened. Because
the patients here, most of them are older, and our life and thoughts are relatively simple.
But Taiwan has a saying: Eat other’s rice, you have to listen to what they say. Since the
government feeds us, when the government tells you what to do, you just have to do whatever
Ah, government, there are personal benefits involved. They talked about the selling of land
property for many years. Since the time we found out, it’s been over 10 years in planning.
Did you see when Five Cloud Hall was being demolished?
Yes, I did.
How did you feel?
When I saw it, it hurt my heart. When the crane grabbed the
bricks, it really hurt me.
It was such a strong house. In just a blink, it was destroyed. It
This side was all destroyed.
Yes, all destroyed. I can’t recognize it now.
AH TIEM BEI
They’ve only built that building. This whole area is not even being used. But all were
destroyed. There is a place close to the central road. It is also part of a big piece of land. It is
a flat piece of land. Even this hill with a slope of 30 degrees and above fits the government’s
subway plan. Why would the subway come to the mountain?
I use hope as the center of this circle. I draw a hopeless fragmented connection around the
orbit. Each like arrowheads. Stabs directly into my heart. I scream violently. Towards this
disheartened century. I commit to draw an ideal circle.
An ideal circle. To enclose this world. To tightly enclose it. This
is his poem. He wrote this poem.
Wow, he is great. He’s educated. I don’t know how.
What do you think?
I don’t know how. I don’t know anything. All I know is how to
close my eyes.
Come, go from here. Yes. Look down from here.
Go down, you will see it. Yes?
Have you ever thought of anything to
Go this way.
There is a stone tablet.
Do you see it?
There is a stone tablet.
Do you see it?
I see it!
You see it.
It’s not easy. Actually it can be shot from here.
(“Grave of Lo-Sheng Patients’ Cremains”)
I have lived her for a long time, so I have feeling for this place.
This land is like my home.
What kind of feeling?
I lived here so long I don’t want to go back. It’s like people who
get along for a while, and develop a feeling for each other. That
bed, I used it when I lived in 7 Star Hut. I slept on that bed for 47
years. I have to sleep here until I die. Even if the president asks
us to move, we are not moving.
During the Japanese times, what did they give you?
They gave us that cup. That chair and table for us to eat on.
This table with the TV on it?
Done filming? This cup was given to us by the Japanese for
drinking tea, and drinking boiled water. This fell to the ground. I
didn’t hold onto it well. So it got all chipped. This is enamel. It’s
called enamel-coated iron.
This stool you have sat on for 66, 67 years.
More than 60 years. I sit on it everyday. I used it in the kitchen
for cooking and eating. And now I use it when I go to the
refrigerator to get food. I must sit on this stool. It helps me to get
These beans are very hard. I can’t eat them. (drops bag and picks it up.) I can only bend with
the help of this. If there’s nothing like this to cling to, I can’t bend down.
AH TIEM BEI
Then we saw Grandma’s footage. It’s not easy to be seen already. Whether it is good-looking,
or bad-looking. They are the little details of life. It’s entirely exposed here. It’s like decades
before and decades after of images that we have missed.
If this documentary could focus on issues such as promoting correct knowledge of leprosy, it
could help the public understand more about this disease. All those who’ve had this disease
can actually go out now. Why do they not go out? Why do they stay at Lo-Sheng until their
That’s right. That will be great.
AH TIEM BEI
Although a little chicken is this small, the droppings it makes has a heat. Having that heat,
and having that smoke, these are the spirit of justice. “Chicken droppings falling on dirt has
three inches of smoke.” It means that when we are bullied by others, oppressed until we can’t
tolerate it anymore, we will get angry. We will use the tiny strength we have, to resist and
compete against you.
January 1986, I visited with Mom and my college roommate. I wrote: “My feelings are deeper than just visiting. I love them all and really care about our future relations together. I’m going to have to learn Chinese well.”
1991, On vacation from my civil rights work visiting with Mom. Met women engaged in underground feminist activities. Cousins discussed the rising crime in Taipei. I wrote, “Near the end of this trip, Mom told me that my cousins kept saying this maybe the last time they’ll see me for a long time, especially if I go to graduate school.”
1995, Visited with Mom. Chen Shui-Bian of the Democratic Progressive Party had just become mayor of Taipei in the first ever popular election for governors and mayors in Taiwan. The energy in the air reminded me of the time I was in Moscow shortly after perestroika was introduced. Ama had just won first prize for an autobiography contest.
You see, upon hearing about her autobiography, in 1995, I set out with a friend’s Hi-8 camera to gather footage on Ama without any solid idea of what to do with the footage. All I knew was she had turned 91, and I wasn’t sure how much longer she had. After all, she was known as “Democratic Ama.” What was so special about my grandmother? What wisdom could she offer?
Ama likes looking pretty, wear pretty clothes. When I was young, I liked to wear pretty clothes. During the Japanese times, I wore the Hakama, and I wore those embroidered wooden slippers. I really liked to wear pretty clothes. And this Anita. She doesn’t like to wear pretty clothes, just plain homey clothing. (laughing in background) They say a young woman’s beauty is three part natural, seven part dress-up.
It was good timing, with the controversial U.S. presidential election, tragedies of 9-11, U.S. bombing of Afghanistan, my surviving a burst appendix, and the impending war in Iraq. For me, there was an overwhelming sense of floating between endings and beginnings.
(On telephone) She use Japanese wrote your name, so I said Anita is coming, coming to see you, and she is happy. You have to answer 6 questions, Anita will pay you money. Oh! Her eyes open up wide. Oh, she likes American dollars.
The Story of My Life. People call me “Democratic Grandma.” My name is Chen Ong Shi-Xia. I was born in 1905, I am only 90 years old. My ancestors were once the government officers, therefore my family had a land more than 200 acres. My father owned a drug store and cared a lot about the children’s education.
Sister went to third rank high school in Taipei, and so when she came home, I was born!
At that time, I had 2 brothers and 2 sisters died before me, so my father treasured me. He said this one cannot die. So my mom took me to Matzu temple to pray: “Please take care of my daughter, until she grows up.” The message given was I had to be a beggar for 3 years. I wore black torn clothes, carried an umbrella, carried a sack and walked in the parade of Matzu’s birthday. For 3 years! And I also had to eat incense ashes. It was a miracle, then I was well. With the doctor I didn’t get better, but with Matzu, yes.
After High School, I was planning to go to Japan and study medicine. Unfortunately, my father lost all the land he had because he did warranty for his friends. So I went to teach, at age 20, I became Dean of student. I paid for my brother’s tuition to finish the medical school at National Taiwan University.
My brother, the older of the twins, had malaria and a high fever. He almost died, so Ama asked the doctor to come take care of him. With no money for the doctor’s fee, she let him touch her breast (laughing in background) That doctor really liked my sister. Did she ever tell you this?
My husband was also born to a wealthy family. His father had three wives. His father’s third wife had full family financial power. Since I lived with my husband’s family, I suffered endless insults and tortures from her. Every time when I washed clothes, she complained they were not clean and threw them back in the sewage ditch.
When I gave birth to my first child, I became very ill with high fever. So she gave me some yellow color liquid to take saying that it was some sort of fine medicine. As soon as I drank it, I threw up right away. My sister-in-law then told me that it was her little brother’s urine.
Finally, my husband could not take his father’s third wife mistreating me, and at age 22, he took me out of this large family. Without taking any penny from his father, he was determined to make a fortune for his own family.
That is why if the girl’s family is not strong, you will be tortured. And my sister-in-law had a bad heart. She definitely wanted to kick me out. And then when I married to that family, they blamed me because I didn’t bring a dowry, and so they tortured me. I had 2 kids. When we were eating they would glare at me. I would have to wash tons of clothes before going to teach. I was so skinny and without any energy. I couldn’t take it anymore. I decided I would definitely leave. I didn’t want him. So, that is why I divorced. It’s very sad, and the 2 kids I left at the house. My brother didn’t want them.
Well, it’s one of the things I find most compelling about coming to an Asian city, where not being able to understand the language or read it, casts me in the role of being a perpetual observer, and so I’m always looking, and I love looking. But, after awhile of course it becomes quite alienating. At the end of the stay, I’m longing to understand without being aware of understanding,
In rural areas, there were many poor families who gave up their daughters for adoption in exchange for money. But when the adopted girls became teenagers, the foster parents would sell them to the House of Prostitution for even bigger cash. Every time my husband and I heard the news of “girl selling”, we rushed without any hesitation to the foster parents and paid the higher price for the girls. Every day, I took time to teach them reading, writing, arithmetic and also using abacus to calculate.
My mom regretted that she didn’t go to school so wanted the daughters to be better. When we were admitted to the schools, she was so happy. Because we didn’t have money for tuition, she asked to borrow money. But everyone would tell her, “Don’t let girls study.” She got so upset and said, “You don’t want them to study, we do!”
I went to Ping Tong High School and for every 300 spots, only 10 are for Taiwanese. The rest is for Japanese because the Japanese discriminated against the Taiwanese. So I tested my ability and my teachers treated me well.
You have to have ability. You cannot assume defeat. Don’t think because you are competing with boys that you will lose. Can’t say that! I will beat you down! Your Ama is that way too. At her high school, she was always #1. She never lost to anyone.
Ok, I’m Chen Fang-Hua, I am a nurse. I used to work at Ren-Ai hospital as a night nurse, and when I got home, I would run my drugstore business. I’m a super woman (laughing). I am Anita’s auntie. Her mother is my oldest sister, by 12 years.
From when I was little, I heard my parents talk about past events, from the Qing dynasty era, Japanese era, and Republic of China era. They always talk about inequalities, or interesting things from the past when they were young. It’s not just Ama, but Agong, and Yi-Ma, and Fugong, my uncle. So, it’s the older relatives who are often chatting, talking about United States’ president, Taiwan’s president, Taiwan’s corruption. Then, my parents would talk about 2-2-8 incident, about how many died — very smart people, college professors, students, doctors, judges, lawyers, entrepreneurs, all gone! This is sad for Taiwan’s society. When they find out that I am on the side listening, Eh! this child is listening here. “We’re telling you, when you go to school you cannot say anything.” I said, “Okay.” “You can’t say these things, father will be taken away.” “Okay.” we said “Okay.”
The first time I heard about the 2-2-8 incident was through a Taiwanese friend in 1996. On February 28, 1947, the new Chinese Nationalist government, the Guo Min Dang, began its violent suppression of island-wide protests, which resulted in 40 years of martial law and the death of as many as 30,000 civilians.
So I thought, hey, if I can remember all this and then write it into a book, then that’s not bad. Since I was little, I had this idea. So one day we were at a protest and someone gave us a flyer: “Soliciting 100 Ama’s Stories for a Writing Contest.” I thought, hey, I could write my mother’s story.
So when I was writing it, Ama did not know. Ama called me, she said, “Did you write a piece of story and send it somewhere?” People called me. She said, “Who told you to write that much?” (laughing) Who told you to write it? I said, “This is your whole life’s story.”
Ama never wrote the autobiography! I didn’t know how to feel. It did make me want to get to know my Xiao Ayi (little aunt) better. I was never really that close to her since she was always busy working.
And then to let people see the progress of being successful, and that being poor is not troublesome at all. You have to depend on your great effort. And with talent and great effort, someday you will be successful.
So then they said the essay received outstanding, and the prize is this painting. Then, there was also award money. Ama said, “Hey, award money?” Ama said, “Ok. Ok.” The award money she wanted. She wants the award money (laughing). So then Ama agreed.
On June 20, 1987, I interviewed Ama. My written notes say: “At 20, she married Grandpa. She had no say in it. She was very upset.” I can’t remember if she told me this in Taiwanese, most of which I can understand, or my cousin Iga helped me to translate it.
So sitting on the train back from Kaoshiong to Ping Tong, my sister was with 4, 5 friends and they were talking all day. Because my sister had motion sickness, she was quiet. The other girls talk forever and she doesn’t speak, so and so your grandpa liked my sister.
When Ama got off the train, Agong followed her, even though his stop had not arrived. After they got off the train, he kept looking at Ama, then Ama was walking over the bridge, and as he kept looking he fell into the ditch. He was screaming and yelling!
In a situation like this, Ama said, “I am going to Japan to study medicine. I really want to go, but I don’t have the money.” But Agong told her if you marry me, I will support you to study in Japan. “Wow!” Ama was so happy so she said, “Ok!” But after she married him, she got pregnant. She couldn’t go.
Before the year of 2-2-8 event, my husband had moved our family from Ping Tong to Taipei city and we resided at section one of Chung-san north road. Across the street of our house was the Provincial Government building which was next to the Executive Yuan. That day, a group of solders shouted loudly, “Any civilians walking on the streets will be killed!”
After awhile, from every window of the Provincial Government building, the machine guns started to fire at the people on the streets. The wooden slippers and shoes were covered with blood and scattered all over the place. So many people were knocking on doors: “Save me…save me!” Only my husband who yelled, “Open the door. Let them in. Hurry!” Hundreds of injured civilians rushed in.
My husband, with help of our sons, moved the desks and tables sideways to block the downstairs windows. And we blocked the upstairs windows with tatami mats. Then, my husband and I quickly tore the bed sheets into strips to wrap the civilians wounds.
After few days, my husband was arrested. For three days, he did not come home. I prepared lots of cash, and one officer after another, I put the Red Packs into their pockets. Finally, they brought my badly wounded husband back home. My eldest son’s professor, Mr. Lin, was also arrested without any reason. And the professor’s students all escaped. My son escaped to a remote area, hiding in the high mountain forest for more than two months.
A whole group strung together, 10, 20, 30 - these were Taiwan’s elite, they took away many, like my oldest brother, like those kind of educated youth. So they drilled the steel rods into their palms. Here – this is the ligament. Through here, all together pushed into the ocean.
Taiwan’s democracy developed with difficulty, because many people would say, “Outside you cannot speak, only in the home. Outside you cannot speak.” But outside, we let the media control us. Whatever the TV says, the radio says, we just listen. We don’t have the ability to be critical.
We used to speak Japanese, but you don’t understand. Then Japan lost so we spoke Mandarin, but I couldn’t speak Mandarin or read the newspaper. I was blind and mute. When I saw others speaking Mandarin I was so frustrated, so slowly I learned on my own.
When I was working at the Guo Min Dang women’s foundation, I would live there and eat there, making clothes, making money, but the money is all for them. It was very suffering. And so I married this current husband who doesn’t belong to any parties, but he is a city official. The Guo Min Dang kicked me out because he was not a Guo Min Dang party member. Kicked out is kicked out! So what, I’m not going to work for you anymore.
I remember my feeling of shock in 1987 when my cousin explained to me how you cannot speak out against the government because you will be questioned, prosecuted or disappear. I asked him to repeat three times thinking perhaps I could not understand his Mandarin so well.
My parents never talked about Taiwanese politics in front of me and my brother. As far as we knew Taiwan was where our parents were born, and where our relatives lived. I had always considered myself to be Chinese.
The Heart that Loves Taiwan. After World War 2, the government took over our transportation company and our postal service company. So we looked for another business and we won the bid for all the lumber of Taiping mountain. The story of Taiping mountain is so sad. We saw that the corrupt government officials were chopping all the trees — big and small, including trees that were over 1,000 years old — and shipping them overseas to sell for profit. And currently, especially in I-lan, every year those areas suffer a lot of flooding. I always pray that the people who govern Taiwan can really love Taiwan and treat Taiwan as their own home.
At that time, I went to Taizhong Buddhist training. It was very rigorous. I had to get up at 4am to meditate and eat vegetarian meals. Then one summer when I came back, my relatives and parents didn’t want me to go back. They were afraid that if I went back and listened to too much Buddhism, that I would not want to get married. At that time perhaps I owed something to the Chen family, and haven’t returned it. I owe mother-in-law, really. I owe her.
Then I lived with my mother-in-law for 43 years. We passed each day very happily. My mother-in-law likes to eat a lot of different foods, VERY delicious food. She likes to eat the stomach of milk fish, 2 eggs, one yolk only, shaved pork, shaved fish, rice porridge with sweet potato, spiral shells, mullet roe, sesame oil chicken, herbal soups, Tainan sticky rice topped with coriander and ground peanuts. After she eats, she will eat fish oil and vitamins.
Everyday, after she eats, she says, “Afternoon I want to eat this, dinner eat this, today I want to eat this, you have to buy this.” So if I can’t find it at this market, I run to another. In one day, One day, I could go to 3, 4 markets. But when I find it, I’m happy.
When she is ready to eat, she first looks [demonstrates] at the dishes on the table to see if there is anything good to eat. If there’s something good, she would immediately sit there and eat. And if it’s not too good, she would say “I’m going to wait. I’m going to watches Taiwanese opera.” She then goes and watched the opera. After she is satisfied, she comes back. “Hm, this is too hard, this is not delicious, that is not delicious.” I say, “Ok, ok, then tomorrow I’ll think of something else.”
Everyday, she’s happy. “I’m going out to play mahjong!” When she comes home and if she has won, tomorrow, we will add more dishes, and when she sees the small kids, “Come hear Gadin, Ama has money, come here, $3 for you, $1 for you and the kids are so happy. When she comes home and doesn’t talk, it means she has lost. (laughing) It’s actually very cute.
Mom told me that Ama stopped gambling while my Mom was in high school so that she could study hard and concentrate on the entrance exam for college. In my 1987 interview with Ama, she told me that her happiest moment was seeing her children’s names on the acceptance list of those who could enter college. All the girls went to college.
Everyone in my family have freedom of choosing their own religious belief. My husband believes in Taoism, and so do my second son and his wife. My oldest son believes in Buddhism. My oldest daughter does not practice any religion. My second and third daughters are Catholic. While my youngest daughter believes in every religion.
Being able to select your own president is a result of a lot of bloodshed. We also demonstrated, protested, being beaten and killed, dragged to the bathroom and beaten. Hospitalized, ribs all broken.
This clipping fell out of my journal. I don’t remember why I kept it. But I do remember that it was raining that day and as I was coming home from the bank with my uncle, there were so many police in riot gear. I did note that it was the biggest opposition protest up until that time.
My mom votes very early. After she votes, she comes home and calls, urging her friends to vote. Some say, I don’t know where the voting poll is? Oh, we help them find where it is, and urge them to hurry up and go!
From an early age, my children ought to know what is democracy? What is slavery? What is a dictatorship? In a real democratic nation, there are no political prisoners, no black lists, but only freedom in thinking, freedom in speech. Since my best love is going to political rallies and listening to the speeches, assemblyman Zhuo Rong-Tai called me, “Democratic Grandma”.
So, when Chen Shui-Bin, Xie Chang-Ting used to give speeches, the TV could not broadcast it. They can only give speeches in a little park, in the small alleys. We would get lost and can’t find the speeches. When we asked the police, they wouldn’t tell us.
Actually, mother-in-law’s heart is kind to me but when she talks to me, at times, it would hurt me. She doesn’t know that my heart is 100% with her. But when she speaks, it would hurt me. It makes me very sad and at times, very angry.
When we were in elementary school, we could not speak Taiwanese. Speak a little Taiwanese and you have to pay 5NT. 5 NT was expensive. Not only a fine, but if you spoke many Taiwanese words, you have to wear a sign, “I am a pig.”
When I was 23, I met a friend who asked me, “Do you know the shape of the yellow river in China?” I said, “Yes” and drew if for him (drawing). And then he asked, “Do you know the shape of Dan Shui river? And I said, “I don’t know.” He said, “Dan Shui river is the mother river in Taipei. You’re born in Taipei and you don’t even know the shape of it.” So I felt kind of ashamed.
But if you can speak your mother tongue, “You can speak your mother tongue?”, you have not forgotten your roots. You have not forgotten your parents, your ancestors. This is what they have taught you. When you get older and it’s no longer there, what a pity.
Us Taiwanese grow up in Taiwan, eat Taiwanese rice, drink Taiwanese water, but many do not have their hearts with the Taiwanese. Taiwan becomes their springboard, their hotel. Before they leave, they take everything. This is Taiwan’s most lamentable aspect.
U.S. is strong for sure, and acts like the world’s cop. For example, when Bush disapproved of our referendum, well then I think Bush is going backwards. The U.S. is such a democratic nation, and calls itself a democracy.
That time when we were choosing our president, China had their missiles aimed at Taiwan doing so-called practical training. The missiles really came over! At that time, the U.S. sent a military ship out there and us Taiwanese were very grateful.
I don’t know how much longer I will live. I wish I can live to elect the president myself. I would also like to see the Taiwanese become their own master. Never again just like the past 400 years, having been ruled by others.
Everyday you are breathing, your heart is pumping, you thank God, you have to look at the world, and I convince her, she finally said ok, and I took her out. I think it’s the first time she’s outside since her stroke, and she saw the kids and I was blocking her view and she told me to move. Then I turned around and I saw 2 old couple sitting in the swing chair facing each other. Then she looked around and she was very happy.
Now, (crying) that she is ill, every morning when I get up and see the bowl she used, or her things, I feel quite sad because when she was living with me, it was longer than being with my own parents. I look at her own daughters - they did not live with her as long as myself. Really, I am grateful to my mother-in-law. Really. I am very thankful to you. Otherwise my children would not treat me so well, and be so filial. So, I am deserving. Thank you.
In May 13, 1987 I wrote: It was humid and breezy as a stepped out of the Taipei International airport. Ama grabbed my wrist and started pulling my skin. I felt her soft fingers digging into me. She looked up at me and said “Anita, you’re so healthy!”
I want you to sign it for my mom to see. Quick sign it (laughing), and so President Chen Shui-Bian signed (laughing). Chen Shui-Bian didn’t even know what it was, and after he signed it, he said, “Oh, this is democratic Ama!”
I met a young woman Shi-Chi. At 24 years old, she has taken a leap of faith to pursue her dream of running a coffee shop. She said, “If she doesn’t do it now, it will be more difficult when she gets older.” She voted in the 2000 presidential election, but plans not to vote for the upcoming election. She is not excited about any of the candidates.
On February 16, 2003, I attend the anti-war march in San Francisco with more than 200,000 protesters. Between 6 and 10 million people in 60 other countries were marching too - the largest demonstrations since the Vietnam War.
I want to be a boy no. In Nepal, boys are so free, they can do anything they like. They can go anywhere no. If boys born then they will be so happy no in the family and if girl will born then they say they will take a lot of money to marry.
I think that boys should, that first of all their character should be good, and second that they should help their parents, they should be hardworking and at last, I think they should develop our country because our country is very very poor.
If someone does something for the poor people, he’s so kind, he won’t worship the God, but he will love the people. If they are dying for the hunger then he will give food, then I think HE’s the God. Why to worship the God in the temple? That is only the made up stories.
No, but I don’t think that friends must be SO close like that also, because one day look we all must die. If you be so close to each other then we love no each other and when they are far, then we cannot live. We must not love so much once again. One day we have to leave this world.
So like I know these three girls, and they are Nepali, so when I read about their lives and their concerns, on the forefront, I realized that was my concern growing up. How my biggest dream was freedom. Like everything centered around getting freedom.
I was very aware that being a girl I got a different treatment than my brother. Some people they feel like it’s their fate, but I didn’t think so. The fact that in the morning you’re given a different breakfast. Like you don’t deserve eggs or horlicks cause you’re a girl. Our Tibetan, this sort of tea – all the men get served in a special cup. And because you’re a woman, they get served in this smaller, less dignified cup.
My escape was books because I lived by the British Consulate Library. Like when I start to read I feel like I can do this. There was some sense of relief like I’m not gonna be stuck here. I’m gonna be also writing.
She’s my mother, but in many ways there’s not that link. We don’t talk beyond the essential. So I don’t know how she feels or what she feels, but she’s also illiterate. And for me that’s the only form where I express myself, it’s in writing.
She’s very intuitive, and she’s very compassionate. I don’t really see her yelling at people. But I do know that my father used to scold her a lot when I was younger. Just for, you know, things like laughing too loud, and I used to be very bothered by that. He always say, your mom and I never fought. Of course, it never happened because she never yelled back at him.
I felt like as a woman there, I couldn’t live to my fullest without causing pain or sorrow to a lot of people, like my family. I came for that and I came to the States to get an education also. My father, he thought it was better for me to be away because it was almost like he thought I couldn’t help my behavior. Then he told my brothers: I wish she was a boy. And I’d gone to my village alone and he, I think he was impressed by that. But the only concern he had was what would people say, you know. This girl traveling alone. Unmarried, single.
Have I found freedom? I have found a lot of freedom. I was surprised by how traditional I became when I arrived in America the first year. I was 21 and part of it was realizing how lucky I was in terms of the care I got from my parents. It’s like my whole culture came back like I saw the truth in all the little rules.
So I went back for good, in end of ‘96. But my family wanted me to go finish my studies, so I came back to San Francisco. I was a student for a long time. And I got married. Then I got my green card last year.
But part of the reason I got married was because I wanted to appear older in my parents’ eyes. In ‘99, that was the first time I went back after I got married, right? But when I went home, like they were treating me as the same old girl. Then when I was going through a divorce I thought they’d understand, understand I was unhappy, and that’s why I needed to get out of it. But their main concern was like what are we gonna say to people. So I kind of put the idea of going home away. Like until then, home was in Nepal.
Plus I’ve gone through the whole thing about de-conditioning, you know, from my culture. Thinking that I’m inferior because I’m a woman, or being ashamed of my body. So I had that and I felt if I hadn’t found swimming or cycling, I wouldn’t be the way I am now. The wind and water was a lot of touch for me. It’s comforting and it’s nurturing. I didn’t have that growing up with my family.
I have to remind myself to think that you know I have it. I can do anything. And then, the fact that they thought I was crazy enough to put in an asylum was, it hurt me. It’s no point to dwell on that but sometimes when I have a flashback it hurts me.
So it’s part of our culture like if a woman is patient and quiet, and you know, doesn’t really speak a lot, they’re respected. I became more vocal after coming here. I felt like my voice was released.
Ama and Apa. I know I know, I haven’t written in quite a while. There was a time when I wrote diligently, and now, all the letters to the kids addressed to Miya and Michael are in a box unanswered. How do I tell them Miya and Michael is no more, or how can I pretend otherwise?
You said you have the right to say, “Don’t come home” if I went ahead with the divorce. I said, “Fair enough.” Why do I still feel like a 21 year old? What will it take for you to see me as an able adult? Is it money? Do I need to have tons of it to validate my sanity?
Funny Apa, I was in a room full of pagans, going about the Paganistic ritual, when it hit me, that home is here. Home could be anywhere I want it to be. And my people could be anyone anywhere. You have no idea what a relief that was. Imagine all these years searching, and searching to feel at home.
How can I still hold onto the idea of Nepal, as my home. When every breath I take needs an explanation. Where dancing invokes scorn. I live to dance. And there, just being me, in the simplest form, brings you sorrow. Oh to be accepted, just the way I am. And for you to trust me. Waiting to grow up.
Namaste. My name is Phulam Yonjan. I am 34 years old. I was born in Lisankhu, Sindhu Palchok district, located east of Nepal. It’s a 6 hour bus ride and then six hour of walk to my village from Kathmandu.
Whole village is most of Tamang population. Tamang people are largest population in Nepal. And they are poor too, compared to other ethnic groups. Because I think they live high on the mountains - just you do your farm, you know, take care of your house, take care of your land. So I think that’s the reason, I’m not sure exactly. I mean I have to study about Tamang history (laughter) I’m sorry.
But it depends on what kind of point of view you see. I am poor because my parents doesn’t have house in Kathmandu you know. But if I’m in the village I’m not poor. I have house to live. You know, I have food, water, you know. Clean air.
When I was 6 or 7 years old, they opened the school in the village. I’m the one first time went to school, so all village people laugh at my father you know. They think why girl go to school. So anyway, I ignore.
If your family didn’t have the money, you couldn’t go to school. Another thing was that if a family did have the money, they didn’t want to waste their time sending their daughters to school. My sister didn’t go by that and believed in me.
My sister married a Japanese man and by that time I had finished high school in Kathmandu, then my sister moved to the USA. She later came back to Nepal and set me up with a sponsor so that I could go to the USA too. In 1985, I came to the United States.
Landing in San Francisco airport was the happiest day of my life. It was a chance for me to better my life. I had to learn new things, and it didn’t help that I couldn’t speak a word of English. However, I was able to learn and so I went to high school here. I am the first and only person out of all my brother and sisters to have an education.
Also, I study so hard, so I slept like two hours a night, because I go to school like 8 to 3 o’clock and I work around 5 to 11 o’clock. Then I study English or my homework until 3. Education makes you figure out what’s you know, better. I think if you don’t have any education, whatever you got, that’s it, that’s the end of it.
We have here six or seven Tamang women. We met in Bay Area. We get together once a while and discuss things, women’s issue, or girls’ issue. We want to help our Tamang girls in the hills because there’s not much opportunity for education. Every year, the Himalaya Fair, we put the booth and we raise the money. We want to open like library.
Being married, sometimes we have hard time because we have 3 kids. It’s very tough. Right now I’m full-time you know take care of them because we cannot hire a babysitter. My husband works and also we have a carpet business import from Nepal.
I owe it all to one person, my sister Sarshwati. She gave up so much for me so that I could have more. She wanted to give me all the opportunities that she didn’t have. She has been more like a mother than a sister to me. She has been the one friend, the one sister that I can always count on. I want to thank her for teaching me so many things and thank her for believing in me. Namaste. Thank you very much.
Well, I came here because of a guy you know. My parents let me come because they thought I was going to get married, but things didn’t turn out well at all. I didn’t want to tell my parents about that because I felt it would be really humiliating. And that was a really hard time for me because, as a Nepali woman, you’re always sheltered. So you go from your father’s house to your husband’s house. You’re either a daughter or you’re a wife. You’re not yourself. And that was probably the worst time in my life. I had never had the expectation that I would live alone in the States, especially without my parents’ support or anything.
When I started hanging out with people they would ask me what my name was and I would say, Chandani, and they’d be like, what? Charlie? Candy? And I was like no, no. And then finally I started saying, well, my name is Chandi.
Feeling lonely I think is something that Americans deal with better maybe because they’re raised to be that way, whereas we’re raised to be the opposite. It’s always about being with people and being in relationships with people.
I feel like I’ve struggled so much to stay in this country because of my work permit. I had a boss who made me work 12, 13 hour days because he knew I needed the work permit. And then after that I was working at this other place and as soon as I got laid off I instantly lost my status. They were going to sponsor me for a green card. I instantly lost that. And then I found myself back to square one.
And then I’m almost wondering maybe I should just go back to Nepal. Everybody wants me there. They love me. But then I think, I want the freedom to do whatever I want to do and I can’t do that in Nepal. If I lived in Nepal I would probably have to live with my parents because I’m an unmarried woman.
In Nepal, a lot of women go through life - they’re pretty happy. They’re taught that you get married, you have children, you run a household and that’s your life. But I realize that a lot of times when something doesn’t go smoothly, say your husband dies, or say you get raped, the law is not designed to allow for that. In fact, it goes against you.
Sati was this organization that me and a few of my friends started because we all had a very strong sense of the injustice in the society of Nepal, just because you’re a woman. There were certain issues relating to being in an urban environment, such as sexual harassment. So we did a lot of research. And for women it was something so serious that it restricted the way they dressed, where they went, what time they went. Whereas men were no, this is just fun for us.
I don’t think you need to worry because it’s a question of what your immediate family thinks. If you were in Nepal and you’re not married, that wouldn’t worry me that much because we’d be there. What worries me is more the feeling that you may be tired one day you come back, and there’s nobody.
We brought you up not exactly as a 100 percent Nepali girl. After making sure that you thought independently, you challenged opinions, etc., And then it would be stupid of us to expect you to behave in a very orthodox way.
We feel very proud of the fact that she’s lasted out here. You know, we miss her, etc, etc. But that’s all different. Sorry I think I’m going to start crying. No, I mean, Chandani’s been always different. And, it’s been tough for her in many ways. But, uh… (crying, Chandani responds in Nepali) I’m sorry about this.
Whenever I had to write proposals, that’s how I would end. If you educate a girl, you educate the whole village. And if you educate a boy, you just educate the boy. Because the girl, would be educating the family then the village would look at the family and see the benefits.
So I think that these are the kind of things that encourage communist uprisings. And I mean if you are despised all the time and then somebody comes along and says, join us, we’ll ensure equality. And that’s — what do you do?
But the latest couple of massacres - helpless, poor policemen. Nepalese are not generally a violent people. And they would rather tolerate. Tolerance is regarded as a big virtue there. Maybe that’s what the Maoists are thinking, you know. These people are not going to change anyway, so we need something like this. But there’s a lot of fear. There is a lot of fear.
If you don’t know that you could change your life, then you’re happier. But if you know that your life could be better then you’re always unhappy - there’s always an unrest in your heart, which I’ve always had.
My dear daughter, Today it’s been a year since my friend, Manisha, left the world and a three month old daughter behind. She was my age, and a productive and happy member of this world. She had so much to give, yet, and was much too young to die. This makes me wonder - what if I died and left a daughter behind in this world? What would I want to say to her, if I had the opportunity?
What could I give her that could possibly help her in her life? I myself am still far from an age where I can rightfully dispense my wisdom; I am still caught up in the changes and instability of my life, in new situations, and constant learning.
In all the different phases of my life, though, only one thing has remained constant. The desire to be happy. I want to ensure that I pass this desire on. What makes you happy? I’ve seen people forget that money is just a means to an end. But money doesn’t mean anything if you’re not happy. Does money bring you security? What is security anyway? I’ve had security swept away at the moments when I least expected it.
Coming here, to this country, has taught me that it is possible to be free. And yet being free doesn’t mean being Western. Wearing the clothes and speaking the language doesn’t make you independent and strong - life’s hard experiences do. Always be proud of your heritage, but learn from all the different people and situations you will encounter.
Manisha’s death has taught me acceptance. If you accept that good things happen in life, then you must accept that bad things happen as well. I have had moments when I have felt that I was crushed and I would never be strong again. And yes, such moments leave their mark but they pass, and though you may be altered you will never be defeated.
And finally, I hope that I can, through this letter, give you a particle of what my parents have given me. I thank them for going against the grain, even having suffered, to let me do what I felt was necessary. Though they may feel sorrow in their hearts when they think of the hardship I have suffered in this country, I know it was all necessary to make me the person I have become. I hope I can inspire you as much as they have inspired me… Life is out there - and it is wonderful - live it!
Ah yeah, by dream only a person can pass their life. I don’t have that much dream no but I want to be a famous person. When I die also all will say this girl is very nice. This and also I want to keep my family very happy. They did so many things for me. I want to care of my parents, that’s all.
ERICA. My father gave me this Chinese name Yi Ming, and I was born in Springfield, Massachusetts. God, I grew up in Longmeadow. It’s pretty white suburbia, but it felt normal at the time, but I think parts of it probably didn’t feel very normal cause I wanted to get the hell out of there basically as soon as I could. So I’ve ended up at this farm and garden where you’ve been to, learning organic farming and gardening — food production done in a way and in a scale where it’s least detrimental to the environment, to the ecology, and you could even extend that to like social practices. I mean it has been really incredible, to me, to not have my time and energy be so diffused and like really indirect way to my existence on this planet.
FERNANDO. I grew up in western NY, on a farm in western NY. Corn farm, corn fed boy, future farmers of America, rolling hills, quiet four corners, gas station at the one corner and the other corner has a diner, and that’s about it. My parents are fresh off the boaters from the Philippines. They came to this country in the late 60s pre-Marcos. Part of my journey is to find a home where I feel or a safe place where I feel I can reimagine myself in vibrant ways where I can be creative and exist within a support network that allows me to be who I am. So I think growing up, I was trying desperately to figure out what American authenticity was.
On Cathay Pacific to Malaysia for a visit with my friend her family. Sat next to a 45 year old Chinese-Vietnamese man living in Orange County, California. With his heavy and gentle accent, he tells me he is single, works for Boeing, came to the U.S. in 1975, alone with no family, thinks Orange is okay, visits Vietnam two times a year.
He says it doesn’t bother him that he doesn’t belong anywhere. Then he told me he got into two car accidents, both of which he was driving under the influence. I asked him why he did that and he said, “Sometimes, you don’t feel so good.”
KEIKO. I was born and raised in Japan. I came here in United States in 1990. I was 26, I think. So I been here for more than seven years. First, I studied psychology in undergraduate in Denver. I don’t quite remember why I wanted to come here.
KEIKO. I don’t feel any sense of belonging at all. I’m still foreigner here. But there, in Japan, I’m too much Americanized. Even my parents don’t understand what I’m saying. That’s hard. And sometimes when I talk to my friend in Japan, it’s kind of hard to explain what I mean, what I really mean. And it’s kind of sad to feel that way because Japan is my home town, home country after all.
A family friend came over today. Her mother just passed on and her father too and on her visit back to India, she felt so differently toward her hometown. As it wasn’t home anymore. People as the primary forces that define the essence of home. Not so much a place, but a shared place.
REGINALDO. My mom comes from a Mexican American background. My father was born in the Philippines. It was easy for me to identify with communities in San Francisco more so than a concept of the United States. Well, I was exposed a lot to the Latino community. And we, at one time, lived in the community. For me, it was important because it always was a reminder of like, well, this is who I am. This is where I’m from. These, are so-called my people.
CONSTANCE. Returning home at 50, I felt that this was something that I simply did not want to do. It was my father’s home where I had cared for him over the past several years. My life, I felt was being terribly disrupted.
CONSTANCE. I have neighbors who know me. Some of whom have known me since I was a child - who care about me, who look out for my place when I’m not here. I have placed bars on my window - something that I never thought that I would do. But I realized also because of the intrusion of privacy and the people coming and going around my space, that I do need to protect myself.
Went to the church dedication which was nice but felt awful. Spiritual dissonance maybe. Fear, so much fear in this world. Support networks to diffuse the fear - fear of loneliness, destitution, illness, abandonment, fear of fear.
FERNANDO. Where my heart is, is located in the rural American landscape, where being and belonging is connected to large family networks, to a final kin, to people who are friends, who are our neighbors. It’s a place where I hear whispering ghosts, it’s a place where trees grow heavy with babies, it’s a place where corrugated houses are set up that are infested with the spirits of my ancestors.
We talked about how when one travels alone, one is more likely to seek connection with others. In many ways, heightening our need for connection and actually being connected, being a part of a larger scheme of things on earth.
Being in Malaysia, I’ve realized more and more how little I know of Taiwanese culture. How much have my parents needed to adopt other rituals and coping mechanisms to survive in the US? What is the cost when culture is taken away, or when one leaves it? What suffers? The soul. The soul of a people. My soul.
LORI. I was born in MacAllister Oklahoma, which started my dependent career as a military brat. I’ve finally looked back and counted up about 22 places that I’ve lived in my life. Up and down California, living in Washington state, and New York, Mississippi, Texas, New Mexico. In a lot of ways I feel like I belong everywhere and in a number of ways particularly with my ethnicity, I don’t feel I belong. I feel like I’ve been shaped to belong in an Anglo world, but I feel like I’ve denied my Mexican ancestors in the process. And I feel some guilt about that, I feel something really strange about that. I’ve been very well protected by having the appearance that I have because people naturally accept me, but on another plane, I feel like I’ve been hiding behind a clown’s mask too, and people don’t really know who they’re talking to.
REGINALDO. The one place I’m always constantly thinking about right now is Japan. It’s this modern dance that I’m involved in. It’s just generally made me a lot more aware of my physical body in this physical space at this physical time. I almost feel that’s where a lot of the personal power or inner strength or ability to move comes from - from understanding the connection first, the connection to the earth and to other people around you.
I think Indiana was very critical in my development, which was painful. I used to smile a lot in fourth grade, and all of the classmates called me retarded. They said that I must be retarded because I smiled so much.
Movement was totally not happening. It was like a post-Apocalyptic kind of place where everyone seemed like to be in some sort of shock. Like just using their bodies to drag themselves around from work, the mall, the car, the house. That’s about it.
DANIEL. Growing up I was told that I was Indian and stuff like that. I’m Quechan. My dad used to try as much as he could instill that identity in us and my mom thought it was a good thing. She was non-Indian actually.
BIAGIO. When I say belonging and home, and I let it go through my body and I pay attention to what I feel in my body, there’s nothing happening in my heart or my stomach, where other things that seem to have reality I would react to like, the word kiss, or love.
DANIEL. The only time I really felt I could belong was when I was growing up back on the reservation down in Fort Yuma, when I was a kid. It was a great feeling ’cause you had your community, your family, your cousins, everybody was there so you could do pretty much whatever you wanted.
JACOB. I was born in London, England in June 1927. And I lived in London for 20 years. Then I came to the United States after World War II in 1947 and I was enrolled in Yeshiva College in New York City. And then with an interim of a year and a half in the US army, which turned me into a US citizen very rapidly. My retirement has been one of the most interesting parts of my life for me. I’ve been able to do things I never dreamed I could do because I didn’t think I’d have the money. And I’ve been going to the elder hostels which are relatively cheap - 350 a week, cost including board and tuition and any kind of travel that’s involved.
To having a feeling of belonging. I mean if you put on a GI uniform and I remember seeing the GIs in Picadilly Circle in World War II, chewing gum, having a shoeshine, and ogling the girls. Once I saw myself in that kind of uniform, what else could I be but an American!
Jews really aren’t Englishmen. There’s no such thing as a hyphenated Englishman. It’s didn’t make any difference to Americans what religion you were. You were treated pretty much the same as anybody else, as long as your skin was the right color. That was a crucial point.
ERICA. And in Santa Cruz at this farm and garden, it’s a very very tiny non-diverse population. Being with mainly white people, and it’s mainly the white guys, the white boys, and I’m in such a state of awe at the entitlement that just exudes from them and how they are just taking up so much space in like verbal space and psychic space and emotional space. And just thinking about my own experience, and how, it’s such a struggle to feel that entitlement.
We as the handful of Chinese American students. I couldn’t really connect too much with any of you on some level because that would have meant that I was Chinese American. But just the sad thing is that we were not able to commiserate together. I could probably spend days on end grieving, what I had shut off, or the parts of myself that I close off from myself because of that internalized racism.
BIAGIO. So the fragmentation from the family has definitely enabled me to explore this part of myself, to have a feeling like I want to go to a different state or a different country, without battling feelings of responsibility and obligation. It’s almost like I don’t have a family. I’ve chosen that.
MICHAEL. I work in a little program called Youth Build, doing construction work of all types from foundation on up. I have a little girl, she’s three years old. You know, try to build a better future for her. And that’s basically where my mind is at right now. See, she can tell everybody yeah, he took care of me well, he raised me very well.
I’m different from everybody in my family. They’d go out for a little family outing, probably go out for a little picnic, and I don’t want to do that. I mean let’s take a trip somewhere, and just visit other places, instead of going to the same places everyday. I’m just tired of being in Oakland period. I’ve been in Oakland for my whole life. Never been out of this little city. Kind of feel lost. You ask about Mike, you’re asking about Oakland.
LORI. All these years it’s lead to argument after argument as to what we are, Mexican, or is it Spanish, or is it Native American, or does it even matter, who cares. It’s been sad to sit back and watch that and see your relatives deny that they’re any of this and see the prejudice and the hatred that comes out in them toward other people of color and not even recognize in themselves as people of color. Whenever anybody asked me what I was as a little girl I was raised to say I was Spanish and English because that way people would accept you better.
JACOB. I had a lot of ribbing when I came here; people used to call me Limey. I didn’t know what the hell, what does Limey mean. It had something to do with the British sailor’s who sucked limes to fend off scurvy diseases. But I think it was the openness of this society, the opportunities that were made available to me, and I was willing to work hard, or study hard, or whatever was necessary to make a go of it. Nobody has ever said to me at anytime, “You are not an American! How do you dare say this, or do this,” or whatever.
ERICA. Have you heard of the myth of Isis and Osiris? It’s an Egyptian myth. Isis and Osiris were both brother and sister, but also husband and wife. But they had a brother and out of a fit of jealousy, he murdered Osiris and he cut his body up into 14 pieces. And then he scattered them all over Egypt. And Isis I guess in her grief kind of went on a pilgrimage to find the pieces of Osiris. She went to re-member Osiris, to put together again, the different members of his body. The idea that remembering is gathering the pieces to put them back together to make something whole again. Just from this whole Isis and Osiris myth I feel like I can move among my worlds and I can be among simultaneous worlds and have parts of me mirrored and met and fed and in one realm of life and at the some time like layering it can be another realm of life.
FERNANDO. What’s happening though I think in America is that we forget to hear and listen to the stories and these stories I think are very much connected to a sense of place and location and a particular land and terrain. I think we all have stories to tell and all of them are unique and it speaks to the possibilities of what it is to be an American. I think in an urban space you tend to forget the stories.
MICHAEL. My grandmother, she was telling me on his side I have full-blooded Indians, come from a tribe named Choctaw. She been telling me certain things about it; I mean I feel like there’s more to it. But that’s how I feel like I belong though.
CONSTANCE. America is my home. Although there are the roots in Germany. There are the roots in Italy. My people were predominantly from Africa. And they were transported here to the West Indies and ultimately building their homes in Oklahoma. But this is where I was born. This is where I was raised. And this is all that I know.
LORI. But still yet, when I thought about the places I wanted to live and go back to it was always San Francisco because every time I returned my heart just beat outside of my chest. I’ve reinvented myself here. I’ve been able to acknowledge my bisexuality. I’ve been able to take a look at my ethnicity, which is biracial. I’ve finally come to the point for myself to say: I don’t need to fit into any particular category or level of community.
JACOB. Not being looked upon as some special breed of cats. Although you’re different in some ways from the majority, that difference doesn’t make very much difference in terms of your life chances or life expectance and doesn’t make that much difference as far as your friends are concerned.
August 16, 1998. That our experiences with each other are but a small fragment in the larger scheme of one’s life experience. No continuity. I barely have one with my family and they truly are my only sense of continuity on this earth.
Presidio Park. Today I was supervising my students as they shot their first roll of film. A middle-aged Caucasian man approached me and asked whether I was from China. I told him that my parents immigrated from Taiwan and that I was born here.
He then said my English was real good. He said he just came back from China and that he observed that even in the most remote areas, women are beautiful. I asked where he was from and he said he was from Oklahoma, here on business.
KEIKO. I was watching Siberian Express journey or something on PBS last year. My blood was like boiled! I said, “Oh my gosh!” It’s like feel like everything in my hair stands up. Maybe my past life was Mongolia dog or something. My friend told me I’m a dog. That I smell well, I think.
September 16, 1998. Last night in my dream I realized the implications of how collectively, Americans do not have a sense of place. Instead, we have more a sense of time. We all experience childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and we know the pacing of each stage, it’s rhythms. Finally, we know what the end will be like. And this brought about great sadness for me. Not heavy, not devastating. Something transcendent yet very real.
FERNANDO. You can be rural because of the physical location you’re in but you can be urban because of the connections you make through these new technologies. This is busting up spatial location in such ways that we need to rethink and restructure our ideas of spatiality.
ERICA. It doesn’t mean that I’m cutting off my Asian American roots if I’m living here and my whole family is in the east coast, like there are still ways that I can foster that by being connected with them out here. Like even just being on email with my parents now. And just being able to sit down and write what I’ve been doing in a day. Like that’s not really happened before.
DANIEL. What makes me feel tethered to the earth? Well, that’s where we’re from. I mean it’s like breaking away from your mother you know. How can you really go that far. You just can’t break that tie as much as you want to as much as people try to do it by destroying it.
ERICA. The landscape gives me the space to sort of breathe and settle in and slow down, and spend days walking on the earth. Walking on the land that doesn’t have footpaths or trails on it. So I think profound things happen.
October 7, 1998. On receptivity. We are connecting all the time with people, the environment, air, sun, and it’s only when one is open and receptive, vulnerable in some ways that one can begin to fully engage in the essence of that other.
JACOB. I feel really in a sense that we’re all sort of visitors here. We’re not tied here. The idea being that we’re here on a trial basis on the earth and if we don’t behave ourselves, we’re going to destroy the world and ourselves with it. We have a responsibility and a stewardship and we’re doing a lousy job of it frankly. I’m very pessimistic. I say to people I’m glad I’m not going to be alive much into the 21st century because it’ll be even worse than the 20th, which is pretty bad.
I immigrated to the United States because I went to graduate school in Texas to get my Master degree. Taiwan has limited opportunity so those people who want to pursue the higher education, 95 percent came to the United States.
At that point, United States is the country that all those Taiwanese admire. The richest, the greatest country. They believe if you work hard, then you are going to make a good living. You have so much freedom in this country. Under Chiang Kai-shek government, you cannot say, you cannot criticize government. That’s it - dictatorship under one family.
At first, when I came to the United States, I didn’t like United States, I miss home. So after one year, I decided to go back home. I don’t know, there is a loneliness and the first time I left my family, it’s very difficult. Chinese are very close to each other.
Then, your daddy, my ex-boyfriend - I didn’t want him to know where I was, but he found out anyway. So he flew to Texas, and he proposed to me. Then I don’t know, there is like a power, I don’t know, like something control my destiny that I cannot resist, so I accept his proposal, and I stay in the United States.
At my age, at that time, it’s about the time to get married. That is one of the biggest event in a girl’s life. So in China we call “zhong sheng da shi.” “Zhong sheng” means the entire life, and “da shi” means the biggest event. And if I do that it would make my family happy too.
One of the most difficult part about raising children when they were small is when they were sick. Being a young mother, and I didn’t know how to handle the children’s fever. When children got very high fever, I just sit there and cry.
I went back to school at age 42. I don’t know why I went through depression at that time when children were in high school, and then children dropped their lessons, like ballet lesson, piano lesson, art lesson, et cetera, and all of a sudden they no longer need me to chauffeuring around. So all of a sudden I feel empty.
I told your father, “Hey, I really, I’m going back to school, I’m going to prepare a career of my own.” And your daddy finally said, “Okay, but remember, at your age going back it’s difficult. After you graduate, you don’t even find a job, then don’t even get upset.” I said, “Okay, okay, I promise I won’t get upset if I learn this data processing, this computer language, then I don’t get a job, fine. I’ll stay at home. Then I got straight A plus. And 3 months after I graduated, I found a job at an insurance company.
And in the beginning, it’s very difficult, it’s because by 2:30, 3 o’clock at work, I worry about the children are already home – will they be lonely and what’s going to cook tonight, but God helped me pull through that.
I have marriage, I have two kids, I have a good career, then I have a beautiful comfortable home, and I feel secure, and I have strong faith in God. I think I have everything. Maybe the only thing I miss is I didn’t spend enough time to be with my parents after I marry, because, I’m so far away from home.
Well, okay, to tell the truth, I want my daughter to have strong faith in God, and this faith will be able to face all the challenge throughout entire life. And I would love this daughter of mine to get married at that appropriate age. I would love this daughter to have children of her own. I would love this daughter to also have a career, but after marry, take raising the children and family as top priority. Overall, I just hope, it’s very strange, I just hope this daughter of mine were just like me.
I am not afraid to show my sadness. That is life. Life is a mixture of happiness, of sorrow, joy, sacrificing, frightening. The entire life, you will encounter the rough seas. You will encounter the storm. You will encounter all type of difficulty. The good part of life is you will be able to sail as a good sailor. Because we are human, we are emotional. That is normal. Don’t be afraid.
Okay, the first thing if I thought there is no light at the end of the tunnel, I pray. And one of my favorite prayer is like that: Holy spirit, please enter into me and put me on my feet. And somewhere somehow, things turn around and I look at things differently, and all those difficulty things disappear, and from sadness to joy.
We put this religion, put this aside. They have to use their intelligence to deal with the difficulties, to learn how to be a good sailor. But they have to realize, they have to understand, truly understand, what life is really about.
When you are in deep sorrow, when you are very sad and think that life is not worth living, you need to tie a knot, at end of a rope, and hold onto that knot, and hanging there, and things will turn around.