Erenlai - Items filtered by date: Wednesday, 04 August 2010

One of the more entertaining characters I’ve run across in my studies of Taiwan has been George Psalmanazar, one of the famous hoaxers of all time. Born around 1680, nothing factual is known about his early life, even his country place of birth, although he later claimed it to be somewhere in southern France, which was allegedly corroborated as likely by those who had heard his French dialect, while doubted by those who were familiar with his ability to impersonate such dialects.

Regardless of where he spent his early years, upon completion of his education Psalmanazar began traveling around Europe, attempting to scam his way to Rome by impersonating an Irish pilgrim. Upon realizing that Ireland was neither exotic enough to elicit much interest from potential marks nor far enough to be entirely unfamiliar, he began instead impersonating a rare pilgrim from the distant land of Japan, and later to the even more exotic and lesser-known island of Formosa, which we now usually call Taiwan.

His wild tales of alien customs and bizarre foreign lands were popular, and after a detour through Rotterdam he arrived in London in 1703, where he became a minor celebrity. Banking on his fame, in 1704  he published a book entitled An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa, an Island subject to the Emperor of Japan. “Originally written in Latin by Psalmanazar, An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa was translated into English and quickly went through two editions. A French translation appeared in Amsterdam in 1705 and interest in the book was high enough a decade later to prompt a German version, which was published in Frankfort in 1716. By this time, however, Psalamanazar’s fraud had been revealed in England and he lapsed into relative obscurity.”

This book provided a detailed description of the island of Formosa, including its history, geography, flora and fauna, religious customs, language, and so on. And virtually every single word of it was completely fictional. Psalmanazar knew all of this, he claimed, because he was himself a native of Formosa. Having been named after the great Formosan “Prophet Psalmanaazaar, who delivered the Law to the Formosans” as well as their writing, Psalamanazar was bringing knowledge of his exotic homeland to the credulous and curious people’s of Europe. In fact, not only had he never been to Formosa, or Asia at all, he knew nothing about it.

Although there were a handful of Jesuits who had been to the real Formosa, their denial of Psalamanazar’s fantastic claims were largely ignored due to the anti-Catholicism prevalent in England at that time. While it might seem absurd to us today that people would have believed such outlandish tales, consider how unreliable information on foreign lands was in the days before the photograph, the telegraph, and even regular long-distance trade to many regions. We may find it unbelievable that the English believed that a man with Western European features similar to their own could have been a native of the East Asian land of Formosa, but how many Londoners would have ever seen an Asian face themselves?

He not only created fanciful, entirely invented, accounts of Formosa all the while portraying himself as a native of that exotic island, but also invented a Formosan language, in what must have been one of the very, very few pre-Tolkien attempts at such an endeavor. Psalmanazar’s creation of a fictional Formosa was actually very Tolkien-esque, not merely in the way that it included a fictional language, but in the way that the development of the language was linked to the invented history. Although the fantasy island was named after the real island of Formosa, and the title of the book claimed that it was “an Island subject to”  the very real island of Japan, the descriptions of the customs, geography, history, and language of these real places was very nearly as invented as that of Rivendell or Gondor.Psalmanazar describes the language of Formosa as follows:

The Language of Formosa is the same with that of Japan, but with this difference that the Japannese do not pronounce some Letters gutturally as the Formosans do: And they pronounce the Auxiliary Verbs without that elevation and depression of the Voice which is used in Formosa. Thus, for instance, the Formosans pronounce the present Tense without any elevation or falling of the Voice, as Jerh Chato, ego amo; and the preterperfect they pronounce by raising the Voice, and the future Tense by falling it; but the preterimperfect, theplusquam perfectum, and patio poft futurum, they pronounce by adding the auxiliary Verb: Thus the Verb Jerh Chato, ego amo, in the preterimperfect Tense is Jervieye chato, Ego eram amass, or according to the Letter, Ego eram amo; in the preterperfect Tense it is Jerh Chato, and the Voice is raised in the pronunciation of the first Syllable, but falls in pronouncing the other two; and in the plusquam perfectum the auxiliary Verb viey is added, and the same elevation and falling of the Voice is obsery’d as in the preterit. [...]

The Japan Language has three Genders; all sorts of Animals are either of the Masculine or Feminine Gender, and all inanimate Creatures are of the Neuter: But the Gender is only known by the Articles, e.g. oi hic, ey hoec, and ay hoc; but in the Plural number all the three Articles are alike. [...]

The Japannese wrote formerly in a sort of Characters most like those of the Chineses; but since they have held correspondence with theFormosans, they have generally made use of their way of writing, as more easy and more beautiful; insomuch that there are few now inJapan who understand the Chinese Characters.

 
Anyone with even the scantest knowledge of Japanese will instantly realize the absurdity of every word quoted above. In fact, the Formosan languages of his time (before it was extensively colonized by China) were the Austronesian languages still spoken by Taiwan’s aboriginal peoples today, which have no relationship with Japanese.

He also provided a more significant sample of his Formosan language, amusingly in the form of a translation of the Lord’s Prayer. Here are the first five lines.

Lord’s Prayer
Koriakia Vomera

OUR Father who in Heaven art, Hallowed be
Amy Pornio dan chin Ornio vicy, Gnayjorhe

thy Name, Come thy Kingdom, Be done thy Will
sai Lory, Eyfodere sai Bagalin, jorhe sai domion

as in Heaven, also in Earth so, Our bread
apo chin Ornio, kay chin Badi eyen, Amy khatsada

daily give us today, and forgive us
nadakchion toye ant nadayi, kay Radonaye ant

our trespasses, as we forgive our trespassers.
amy Sochin, apo ant radonern amy Sochiakhin.

(A longer excerpt of the chapter on language, including the full Lord’s Prayer, can be found online here.)

To get an idea of how famous Psalmanazar actually was in his time, consider that he was referenced very prominently in Jonathan Swift’s famous satirical essay A Modest Proposal, in which Swift uses him (albeit spelled a bit differently, perhaps due to imperfect memory and a lack of handy reference) as part of his case for the encouragement of cannibalism.

But in order to justify my friend, he confessed, that this expedient was put into his head by the famous Salmanaazor, a native of the island Formosa, who came from thence to London, above twenty years ago, and in conversation told my friend, that in his country, when any young person happened to be put to death, the executioner sold the carcass to persons of quality, as a prime dainty; and that, in his time, the body of a plump girl of fifteen, who was crucified for an attempt to poison the Emperor, was sold to his imperial majesty’s prime minister of state, and other great mandarins of the court in joints from the gibbet, at four hundred crowns. Neither indeed can I deny, that if the same use were made of several plump young girls in this town, who without one single groat to their fortunes, cannot stir abroad without a chair, and appear at a play-house and assemblies in foreign fineries which they never will pay for; the kingdom would not be the worse.

The fact that must be remembered here is that not only was George Psalmanazar a famous public figure in Swift’s time, but that by the year in which A Modest Proposal was published, 1729,  Psalmanazar’s account of Formosa was already been widely known as a fraud, the author having had confessed as much in 1707. While Swift’s essay is still widely read, virtually no modern readers will have any clue to what he is referring in this paragraph, and even fewer will realize that much of the basis for the humor in this section is due to the fact that the essayist is attempting to prove his case by referring to a a source that, at the time of publication, would have been recognized by Swift’s audience as not merely fraudulent, but famously and comically so.

While Jonathan Swift may be the most significant literary reference to Psalmanazar’s imaginary Formosa, it is not the only one. Many readers may be familiar with Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s wonderful comic book series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (and hopefully not the abysmal film based on it), in which they spin a version of our world in which every fantastic story, character, and geography is integrated into a single tapestry. While the story proper is mainly told in the form of comic book panels, Volume Two  contains, in the form of  a lengthy appendix, a sort of gazetteer of this fantastic geography, which contains the following text.

We passed east of Zipang, or of Japan as it is these days called, and went south by way of Formosa, which possesses of its coast another smaller island of the same name, where the women and the men go naked save for plaques of gold and silver.
 
 
 

Zipang is in fact one spelling of the Shanghaiese reading of “Japan,” formerly used by some Europeans and thought to be the origin for the modern spelling. Moore here is obviously referencing Psalmanazar’s Formosa, as we can see from page 225 of the Description (first page of PDF Part II). By describing this Formosa as “another smaller island of the same name”, Moore is cleverly leaving room on the map for both the real and fantasy Formosa.

The great difference between the Japannese and Formosans, consists in this, that the Jappanese wear 2 or 3 Coats, which they tye about with a Girdle; but the Formosans have only one Coat, and use no Girlde. They walk with the Breast open, and cover their Privy parts with a Plate tied about them made of Brass, Gold, or Silver.

Incidentally, Moore’s reference to Formosa is located just above a large illustration of Laputa – which readers may remember from either theeponymous Miyazaki Hayao film, or its original source: Gulliver’s Travels, by Jonathan Swift. When one considers that Swift was clearly a fan of Psalmanazar’s imaginary geography, it actually seems quite reasonable to wonder if perhaps the Description of Formosa was an influence on Gulliver’s Travels

Following the end of his career as a hoaxer, Psalmanazar used his celebrity to start a career as a legitimate writer, producing such works as The general history of printing: from its first invention in the city of Mentz, to its first progress and propagation thro’ the most celebrated cities in Europe. Particularly, its introduction, rise and progress here in England. The character of the most celebrated printers, from the first inventors of the art to the years 1520 and 1550: with an account of their works, and of the most considerable improvements which they made to it during that intervalpublished in 1732. As a now-respectable man of letters, he became friends with such luminaries as Samuel Johnson.

Although he revealed his fraud as early as 1707, details were not revealed until the year after his death. Naturally, this was in the form of a book, which is wonderfully entitled: MEMOIRS OF ****. Commonly known by the Name of George Psalmanazar; A Reputed Native of Formosa. Written by himself, In order to be published after his Death: Containing An Account of his Education, Travels, Adventures, Connections, Literary Productions, and pretended Conversion from Heathenism to Christianity; which last proved the Occasion of his being brought over into this Kingdom, and passing for a Proselyte, and a member of the Church of England.

The one thing that he never revealed, even in his posthumous memoir, was his real name. As far as I know, no details of his early life have ever been verified.

(Images: Wikimedia Commons)

The table of contents, as well as some all too brief excerpts of Psalmanazar’s first book, An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa, can be found here, but until earlier this year it was very difficult to get one’s hands on a copy of the English version of the book, at least outside of certain libraries. Although it was published in Taiwan a couple of years ago, that was a Chinese translation, which even if I could read well would hardly be as entertaining. Original copies are very expensive, with the English first edition going for US$1426 on a rare book site, and the French version selling at an even less accessible $1900! Copies of his memoirgo for a technically more affordable, yet still entirely unaffordable $600 or so. Luckily, not only has an affordable reprint edition of both his Description of Formosaand his Memoirsare available for purchase online. However, even better, just the other day I managed to locate a scanned electronic edition of both books, freely available in an archive of the British Library. As the online version only seems to be accessible from licensed institutions, such as libraries and universities, I am providing both of them for download as PDFs. Since their PDFcreator can only generate files up to 250 pages in length, both of them have been split into two files. Scans of 300 year old books, these files are as public domain as they get. Feel free to spread them far and wide.

George Psalmanazar: Description of Formosa: Part I

George Psalmanazar: Description of Formosa: Part II

George Psalmanazar: Memoirs of ****: Part I

George Psalmanazar: Memoirs of ****: Part II

Thursday, 05 August 2010 00:00

為他找到美麗人生

 

我把內心向世界坦露,裡面有很深的悲傷。悲傷不是為了渲染,

而是讓世人知道身為罕病孩子的父親,心中飽嘗的苦痛。

 

Thursday, 05 August 2010 00:00

我好想有個小孩

希望在某年某月的某一天,我將告別人世時,

可以默默地說:「我把妳給我的愛傳給另一個我愛的人了!」

 

撰文│鄭智偉 台灣同志諮詢熱線協會祕書長

 

一個半月前,我深愛的阿嬤在老家後門旁的巷子裡,被隔壁鄰居的車撞倒在地,造成顱內嚴重出血,在醫生也不敢保證手術會成功的狀況下,我們還是將阿嬤送進手術室開刀,為的是那小小能復原的希望。經過好幾個小時的手術,阿嬤終於被推出手術室,她臉色發白,鼻子、嘴裡及身上插著好幾條管子,她眼眶濕潤,像是為自己的不幸哭過一場。她的體溫好低好低,似乎剛從一個冰冷無生機的絕望之地回來。一時之間,我心目中的小巨人就這麼的躺在病床上,我不習慣,也無法直視。

 

 

漫長的孤獨之路

阿嬤被送進加護病房後,我一個人跑去醫院的角落放聲大哭,覺得生命中有一塊最溫暖、最真實的愛將離我而去,無助的我拿起手機打給我的伴侶:「怎麼辦,我好怕阿嬤醒來後忘了我…」兩個小時後他趕來醫院陪伴我,但當姑姑、表姐問起他是誰時,我只能說是「朋友」。

我是一名男同志,今年三十二歲,七歲時就知道自己的性傾向,便開始了我漫漫十四年的孤獨之路。那樣的孤獨彷彿是在我和真實世界築起了一道牆,我每天得在牆裡及牆外扮演不同的自己,我的世界裡充滿外界的標籤,如愛滋病、變態、人妖、噁心等等,我只能小心翼翼地不讓別人發現我真實的身分。活在當下已經不容易了,哪敢奢望「未來」?

 

 

相遇‧相知.相惜

一直到二十一歲那年開始認識了第一個同志朋友,他拓展了我的視野,讓我有了資源及信心面對自己的身分,之後加入同志團體擔任義工,我更看見了社會對於同志的污名與歧視而投入同志運動,一路走來也近十年。我和我的伴侶在一起將近八年,情感之路當然有風有雨,但相知相惜至今也實屬不易,此刻他正為他的教職之路努力,而我也為我的理想打拼。除了過往深厚的情感,我們還擁有對未來生活的想像,期待著一種平凡但又相知相惜的生活,便是生命中最大的希望。

「別哭嘛,阿嬤一定會好起來的…」他溫柔地在電話另一頭安慰我,我的淚水像是無法關緊的水龍頭,一直流下。

我在一個特殊的家庭環境中成長。四歲時,由於父母親工作繁重,兩人就搬到萬華住了下來,大安區這裡的家就成了阿嬤與我們四個小孩及小姑姑六人的定居之處,我們一年見不著爸媽幾次。三十年來,生活的一切都由阿嬤與姑姑扛起重擔,慢慢地,我與妹妹也得兄兼父職、姐兼母職的照顧起兩個弟弟。

 

 

want_kid2

以愛還愛的渴望

我總是愛跟阿嬤撒嬌,無論在外工作多忙,或是工作到多晚,回到家時總愛跑進她房間,跟她親親抱抱,我在回自己房間睡覺前,總會問阿嬤:「你愛不愛我?」她總會回我說:「愛啦,愛啦,不愛你要愛誰!」有時妹妹也會跑來參一角,演出兄妹爭奪的戲碼,我們會問:「阿嬤,你比較愛我還是妹妹?」其實不用她回答,我們都知道她兩個都愛。她的愛化作每日費心準備的三餐,及為加班晚歸的我留下的一碗熱湯;她的愛化作每天早晚在佛堂裡為一家大小祈求平安,而我完完全全地沉浸在她的愛之中。

阿嬤轉到普通病房後已不太認得出人,她會叫出我的名字,但我站在她面前時,她卻不知道我是誰。

「我好想要有個小孩!」在阿嬤出事後的某一天,我對著我的伴侶說出這句話。

 

 

不容易實現的「家」

在我還害怕自己同志身分的時候,這是一個從未想過的念頭,那時連自己都不喜歡自己了,哪會想到那麼遙遠的未來。但隨著學業、工作及情感也都慢慢有所發展,自己同志的身分某個程度獲得家人的支持,「未來」便在腦海裡逐漸清晰:那裡應該有著我與我的伴侶,還有一間不大卻有著綠意盎然陽台的房子,一隻狗及一個小孩,我喜歡家裡熱熱鬧鬧,那是我自童年以來對「家」的定義。

這個「未來」對一名男同志而言真是不容易,我總是跟我的好友們交待,要他們有了孩子之後給我作乾兒子、乾女兒。這個願望在前年實現了,現在的我,總是會望著乾兒子的照片微笑,想像著在他長大的過程中,如何給他我的支持與關愛。

我想要有個小孩。我想看著他/她成長,給予我有能力可以給的愛與關懷。在人生有了些曲曲折折與悲歡離合後,我更知道我想要的是什麼。然後在某年某月的某一天,我將告別這人世時,我可以默默地說:「阿嬤,我把妳給我的愛傳給另一個我愛的人了!」

 

 

照片提供/鄭智偉(上)、攝影/李權哲(下)

本文亦見於《人籟》論辨月刊2008年3月號47期

您可選擇購買紙本版,或訂閱人籟論辨月刊

 

 

陶大偉,兒童節目主持人、歌手、演員、製作人。只要一提起他,大家總會想起二十多前的《小人物狂想曲》、《嘎嘎嗚啦啦》,還有數不清的兒童節目、喜劇和動畫。

不過這幾年,他的另一個身分更常被提起,那就是──陶喆的爸爸。

聽陶大偉說話,你得隨時扶好茶杯,因為不知道他下一秒又會蹦出什麼笑話。

在陶大偉的書裡,陶喆寫下了這段話:「我爸爸不只是一個說書大師,他也是一個趣味人、叛客、哲學家。」

現在,我們就來聽聽這個「小孩子」的「陶」氣哲學吧!

 

Wednesday, 04 August 2010 17:27

A glimpse into Matsu’s island

Have you ever heard of Matsu?

Most of the people I have met in Taiwan or abroad who never been to Matsu refer to it as a military island or think of the famous Chinese Goddess of the Sea: “Mazu” (馬祖). Unfortunately not many people know about this beautiful and quiet island (actually, Matsu is an archipelago of 19 small islands, divided into four townships*), which belongs to Lienchiang County (連江縣) of the Republic of China (ROC). Matsu is situated in the Taiwan Strait, only 10 miles (16 km) away from China, close to Fujian province, but 120 miles (193 km) away from Taiwan. I was astonished to see at Nangan harbor how very close China is to Matsu, just 40 minutes by boat.

My first trip to Matsu was during the Chinese New Year and I will never forget it. Indeed, as you might say, I did not choose the right time to go to this island. The weather was bad and all the residents of Matsu were going back home to Matsu to spend New Year with their families. My flight was delayed and I had to wait until the next day before to take another plane.... However, there were no normal passenger planes and I had to take a military transport airplane. Everyone was in the baggage hold, sitting all together in two long rows, not so comfortable but quite worth it simply for the experience. Fortunately, the plane trip was short, only 45 minutes, and I did not have to jump by parachute for the landing. This reinforced my strong impression that Matsu is well served by its nickname of Military Island! However, I discovered during my stay on this island that Matsu is much more than just a military island.

Matsu was the furthest military outpost of Taiwan’s Chinese Nationalists when the Communists established their power in the mainland in 1949. Since 1992, when martial law on the island was lifted, the number of soldiers stationed on Matsu has significantly decreased, as has as the fishing industry, which has had an adverse effect on Matsu’s economy. Consequently, with the support of the Taiwanese government, Matsu decided to develop a cultural economy. For example, many military facilities and historic monuments can now be visited, such as the secret military tunnels. They were built during the 1950s to hold ships that could launch surprise attacks on the mainland. It is quite amazing that the existence of these tunnels was unknown even by the residents of Matsu until 1992. Capitalizing on the fame of its Goddess namesake, the tallest statue of Mazu in the world is in Nangan Township.

lise_darbas_matsu2In addition, I was quite impressed by Matsu’s unique stone houses, built in the style of Eastern Min architecture. Indeed, the native people of Matsu were originally immigrants from Eastern Fujian or Eastern Min, so they do not speak Taiwanese but the Fuzhou dialect (福州話, or閩北話). One of the most well-known traditional sites, the village of Qinbi in Beigan (dating from the Ming and Qing Dynasties), bears a strong resemblance to Mediterranean architecture. Most of these houses are nowadays not inhabited during winter vacations. They have been restored and converted into art galleries, coffee shops and bed and breakfast guesthouses to cater for tourists. Walking between these houses made me felt like if I was in a small ghost town. There was strong wind coming from the sea, and I noticed the peculiarity of the roof tiles of the stone houses, which were all weighed down with rocks to defend against the wind. Winter vacation is not the ideal time to fully enjoy Matsu, rather the best time to go to this island is from June to November. During this period the weather is much more favorable for hiking and enjoying a coffee on the terrace of stone houses next to the seaside.

Matsu is now trying its best to lure tourist and attract more interests. Before going to Matsu, I heard of Josh Wenger, an American doctoral student at National Taiwan University who won a competition to be mayor of Matsu for a day. In October 2009, inspired by the famous publicity of “The best job in the world” on Hamilton Island (part of Australia's Great Barrier Reef), Matsu had the brilliant idea to create an online quiz of 10 questions on Matsu’s geographical and historical facts to promote itself. The winner had the amazing opportunity to become the mayor of Matsu for one day, with an award of NT$10,000, and a stay of 3 days and 2 nights in free accommodation.

lise_darbas_Josh_Matsu_5I interviewed Josh who was deeply impressed by Matsu, which he describes as an interesting island with a rich cultural heritage and beautiful natural sites, friendly people and exceptionally tasty food, which was some of the best he has ever tasted in Taiwan. The food he enjoyed the most was fresh seafood, such as seafood noodles, the Buddha hands (炒佛手), and fried clams (炒花蛤). I also found Matsu’s food very delicious, for example, I enjoyed eating Matsu’s “Red rice yeast chicken” (紅糟雞) in the small cozy coffee shop “Lady Coffee” (夫人咖啡) next to the coast in Nangan Township.

Josh’s favorite places were in Beigan island, such as “Biyuan Park” (碧園, which means “green garden”) a small beautiful park with plaques containing the names of soldiers who lost their lives serving in the military; the mountain “Bishan” (北竿大沃山) is the highest peak of the Matsu island with an incredible view of Beigan island, and the “88 tunnel” (八八坑道), which originally took its name to commemorate Chiang Kai-shek’s 88th birthday. Since 1992, this tunnel is no longer a military facility, but is instead used by the people of Matsu to keep their best old rice liquor (老酒) in ceramic pots.

Following on from my short stay in Matsu, and after having interviewed Josh, I became even more interested by this small island. Although Matsu is not as well known as the main island of Taiwan, it is undoubtedly one of the most interesting historical and natural sites I have visited here. I believe that Matsu is an indispensable destination for understanding cross-Strait relations. Moreover, Matsu’s cultural assets such as the stone houses are some of the most important attractions of the island, and have given Matsu a charm and special atmosphere that seems to be from another time. What was once a frontier of the Cold War is now ideal tourist spot for a relaxing couple of days.

(Photos courtesy of J. Wenger and L. Darbas)

Links:

“Matsu National Scenic Area,” http://www.matsu-nsa.gov.tw/User/Main.aspx?Lang=2.

“Matsu’s best-kept cultural heritage: Eastern Min architecture at Qinbi village,” http://www.culture.tw/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1430&Itemid=157

Watch Josh Wenger’s report about his experience being the mayor of Matsu:「 一日縣長」溫賈舒:馬祖的美麗景點,絕對要去看

 

*Nangan (南竿鄉), Beigan (北竿鄉), Juguang (莒光鄉), Dongyin (東引鄉)

Wednesday, 04 August 2010 17:27

A glimpse into Matsu’s island

Have you ever heard of Matsu?

Most of the people I have met in Taiwan or abroad who never been to Matsu refer to it as a military island or think of the famous Chinese Goddess of the Sea: “Mazu” (馬祖). Unfortunately not many people know about this beautiful and quiet island (actually, Matsu is an archipelago of 19 small islands, divided into four townships*), which belongs to Lienchiang County (連江縣) of the Republic of China (ROC). Matsu is situated in the Taiwan Strait, only 10 miles (16 km) away from China, close to Fujian province, but 120 miles (193 km) away from Taiwan. I was astonished to see at Nangan harbor how very close China is to Matsu, just 40 minutes by boat.

My first trip to Matsu was during the Chinese New Year and I will never forget it. Indeed, as you might say, I did not choose the right time to go to this island. The weather was bad and all the residents of Matsu were going back home to Matsu to spend New Year with their families. My flight was delayed and I had to wait until the next day before to take another plane.... However, there were no normal passenger planes and I had to take a military transport airplane. Everyone was in the baggage hold, sitting all together in two long rows, not so comfortable but quite worth it simply for the experience. Fortunately, the plane trip was short, only 45 minutes, and I did not have to jump by parachute for the landing. This reinforced my strong impression that Matsu is well served by its nickname of Military Island! However, I discovered during my stay on this island that Matsu is much more than just a military island.

Matsu was the furthest military outpost of Taiwan’s Chinese Nationalists when the Communists established their power in the mainland in 1949. Since 1992, when martial law on the island was lifted, the number of soldiers stationed on Matsu has significantly decreased, as has as the fishing industry, which has had an adverse effect on Matsu’s economy. Consequently, with the support of the Taiwanese government, Matsu decided to develop a cultural economy. For example, many military facilities and historic monuments can now be visited, such as the secret military tunnels. They were built during the 1950s to hold ships that could launch surprise attacks on the mainland. It is quite amazing that the existence of these tunnels was unknown even by the residents of Matsu until 1992. Capitalizing on the fame of its Goddess namesake, the tallest statue of Mazu in the world is in Nangan Township.

lise_darbas_matsu2In addition, I was quite impressed by Matsu’s unique stone houses, built in the style of Eastern Min architecture. Indeed, the native people of Matsu were originally immigrants from Eastern Fujian or Eastern Min, so they do not speak Taiwanese but the Fuzhou dialect (福州話, or閩北話). One of the most well-known traditional sites, the village of Qinbi in Beigan (dating from the Ming and Qing Dynasties), bears a strong resemblance to Mediterranean architecture. Most of these houses are nowadays not inhabited during winter vacations. They have been restored and converted into art galleries, coffee shops and bed and breakfast guesthouses to cater for tourists. Walking between these houses made me felt like if I was in a small ghost town. There was strong wind coming from the sea, and I noticed the peculiarity of the roof tiles of the stone houses, which were all weighed down with rocks to defend against the wind. Winter vacation is not the ideal time to fully enjoy Matsu, rather the best time to go to this island is from June to November. During this period the weather is much more favorable for hiking and enjoying a coffee on the terrace of stone houses next to the seaside.

Matsu is now trying its best to lure tourist and attract more interests. Before going to Matsu, I heard of Josh Wenger, an American doctoral student at National Taiwan University who won a competition to be mayor of Matsu for a day. In October 2009, inspired by the famous publicity of “The best job in the world” on Hamilton Island (part of Australia's Great Barrier Reef), Matsu had the brilliant idea to create an online quiz of 10 questions on Matsu’s geographical and historical facts to promote itself. The winner had the amazing opportunity to become the mayor of Matsu for one day, with an award of NT$10,000, and a stay of 3 days and 2 nights in free accommodation.

lise_darbas_Josh_Matsu_5I interviewed Josh who was deeply impressed by Matsu, which he describes as an interesting island with a rich cultural heritage and beautiful natural sites, friendly people and exceptionally tasty food, which was some of the best he has ever tasted in Taiwan. The food he enjoyed the most was fresh seafood, such as seafood noodles, the Buddha hands (炒佛手), and fried clams (炒花蛤). I also found Matsu’s food very delicious, for example, I enjoyed eating Matsu’s “Red rice yeast chicken” (紅糟雞) in the small cozy coffee shop “Lady Coffee” (夫人咖啡) next to the coast in Nangan Township.

Josh’s favorite places were in Beigan island, such as “Biyuan Park” (碧園, which means “green garden”) a small beautiful park with plaques containing the names of soldiers who lost their lives serving in the military; the mountain “Bishan” (北竿大沃山)is the highest peak of the Matsu islandwith an incredible view of Beigan island, and the “88 tunnel” (八八坑道), which originally took its name to commemorate Chiang Kai-shek’s 88th birthday. Since 1992, this tunnel is no longer a military facility, but is instead used by the people of Matsu to keep their best old rice liquor (老酒) in ceramic pots.

Following on from my short stay in Matsu, and after having interviewed Josh, I became even more interested by this small island. Although Matsu is not as well known as the main island of Taiwan, it is undoubtedly one of the most interesting historical and natural sites I have visited here. I believe that Matsu is an indispensable destination for understanding cross-Strait relations. Moreover, Matsu’s cultural assets such as the stone houses are some of the most important attractions of the island, and have given Matsu a charm and special atmosphere that seems to be from another time. What was once a frontier of the Cold War is now ideal tourist spot for a relaxing couple of days.

(Photos courtesy of J. Wenger and L. Darbas)

Links:

“Matsu National Scenic Area,” http://www.matsu-nsa.gov.tw/User/Main.aspx?Lang=2.

“Matsu’s best-kept cultural heritage: Eastern Min architecture at Qinbi village,” http://www.culture.tw/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1430&Itemid=157

Watch Josh Wenger’s report about his experience being the mayor of Matsu:「 一日縣長」溫賈舒:馬祖的美麗景點,絕對要去看

 

*Nangan (南竿鄉), Beigan (北竿鄉), Juguang (莒光鄉), Dongyin (東引鄉)

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