Taiwan_2009_HuaTung_Valley_Rice_Paddy_FRD_8146

A Memory of Mother Lo

中文:〈她離家出走了,那位來自洄瀾的羅媽媽〉

During the 2008 Presidential Election, a presidential candidate once said, “What am I treating you as? I’m treating you as human beings. So I can educate you all.” The saying immediately brought the relocation of Taipei County’s Xizhou community under the national spotlight. It was then that I realized people of Xizhou were mostly Pangcah (how Northern Amis people call themselves) from Hualien.

While looking at the TV showing the chaotic scenes of a heavy police presence demolishing buildings, I suddenly had a flashback of someone who I was in awe for, Mother Lo.

 

In that period of “Recovering the Mainland,” a “mountain compatriot” married a mainlander

“Mother Lo was a pure Pangcah; she was called Mother Lo, obviously, because she was married to the mainlander, Uncle Lo.”

“Mother come, mother go,” a common phrase in the contemporary Taiwanese society but 30, 40 years ago, the phrase sounded very mainland-ish. Even though calling some, mother, sounded mainland-ish but most people who were called by that were actually natives, including Hokkien, Hakka, and indigenous people. Of course, back then the word, indigenous people, had not yet come about, so we referred the word as “mountain compatriots.”

Mother Lo was a pure Pangcah; she was called Mother Lo, obviously, because she was married to the mainlander, Uncle Lo.

 

The first that I met Mother Lo was sometime in 1971. I remember the newspaper that we subscribed only had 3 pages and was mostly news of quitting the UN. Even though we could not understand the significance but the news often made my father and other men from the neighborhood sigh while they were discussing this in our living room.

The daily flag raising ceremony at the elementary school were quite different though because the principle’s speeches always invoked; protesting against international appeasement, victory over communism will succeed, standing firmly supporting President Chiang Kai-shek , and long live the Republic of China. At that time when boys and girls all had shaved head or uniformly-cut hair, most of us probably all wished the principle could finish his long and boring talk.

 

Alone for 20 years, the Han Man finally married Mother Lo 30 years his junior.

“……To me, a goddess like Mother Lo cannot possibly be the uncivilized mountain folks from textbook’s stories of Wu Feng.”

“Come, call Mother Lo!” My father yelled, after I got back to my house one day.

That day was special, the worries and the disappointment over quitting the UN were gone and were replaced by the congratulatory greetings for Uncle Lo and praises for Mother Lo.

I’ve forgotten whether if I had my mouth-open stupid look on but I did say it to myself, “Wow, she’s pretty.” Mother Lo stayed close to Uncle Lo with only that newly permed hair fitting for the title of mother.

Her skin was white with tints of red along with broad eyebrows, round eyed, long eyelashes, and lips that looked like roses. For someone who had no makeup at all, Mother Lo really made me think that there were people who were prettier than movie stars and those stars had to put on heavy makeup and draw their eyebrows and this was coming from someone whose family was running a theatre for business.

Mother Lo was quiet that day, her big shiny black eyes, looking at everyone. The men laughed when they talked and that gave Mother Lo a puzzled look. It was only later that I found out, at that time, Mother Lo could not understand those men’s thick mainlander accented mandarin.

 

At our dinner after everyone had left, mom criticized dad for being the matchmaker of a bad match and that she felt sorry for Mother Lo because of her beauty. It wasn’t that Uncle Lo was bad looking. In fact, Uncle Lo, the elementary school teacher, was one of the few handsome guys in Fuli, Hualian. What mom felt sorry for was the 30-year age differential and thought this marriage would be hard to last. Mother Lo just graduated from elementary school and claimed to be 16 but she wasn’t.

It was also at the dinner table that from my parents’ conversation that I learned Mother Lo was a “mountain compatriot.” To be honest, I was shocked. Because to me, a goddess like Mother Lo cannot possibly be the uncivilized mountain folks from textbook’s stories of Wu Feng. (#1)

 

Fleeting life, returning home or settling down?

“Under what circumstance did Uncle Lo fell for Mother Lo? Was it peer pressure? Was it because of her looks? Or was it just that he had been waiting for too long?”

Uncle Lo and dad met each other at the Anhui Community after coming to Taiwan. They both left their home in their early 20s. The two were elementary school teacher and a police officer respectively and even though they didn’t have the military’s strict moral sense of duty but they still cared about politics and current events. They paid attention to newspaper and really believed the old President Chiang would fulfil his political promise of “One Year of Preparation, Three Years of Counterattacks, Five Years for Victory.”

These political slogans and promises had always made Uncle Lo and dad believed firmly in them so originally, dad didn’t plan to get married in Taiwan. He had hoped, to one day, return to his Anhui home to get married under the watchful eyes of his parents and the spirits of ancestors.

However, after wasting years of his life on waiting, he followed his peers and got married. At 1959, after 10 year of coming to Taiwan, my 33-year-old dad married my 21-year-old Hakka mom.

 

Uncle Lo waited another 12 more years than dad because he already had a wife back in Anhui so all he could do was putting his faith in Chiang Kai-shek’s promises. He gave the best 20 years of his life, waiting in Taiwan.

Dad had to defend himself for finding a pretty wife for Uncle Lo so he argued,

“What’s wrong being a little younger? Old Lo has been waiting for 20 something years. Poor guy, it’s been so many years, who knows if his wife back in the mainland is still waiting for him and even if she was still waiting, we don’t know when we can go back.”

“Even so, there’s no need to find someone this young. She’s too young even as an adopted daughter, let alone, a wife.”

“What else can we do? We’ve all been looking out for him these years and introduced a few to him. I don’t know what Old Lo is thinking, always complaining about them being too old or not being pretty enough. So we finally found this pretty one and originally he complained about her for having so little education but good thing he was interested in her after they met, otherwise, I don’t know how long this would drag on for.

“This cost Old Lo quite a fortune so it’s good that he’s satisfied,” said dad who sounded like he had done something right.

 

As far as I can remember, dad had always taken the family out to Hualien City’s Meilun or Nanhua’s Anhui community for the Chinese New Year. The New Year gathering always consisted of at least 20 families or so. Uncle Lo was always alone.

“Everyone was alone when we came to Taiwan except for Old Le. It was so pitiful at the New Year, everyone just flocked to Old Le’s. We really made Auntie Le busy. 20 or so years had passed by so quickly, who doesn’t have a few kids these days? Except for Old Lo…..When we go back to the mainland in the future, we just had to explain to his wife. She has to forgive him because it just couldn’t be helped. Who knew it’d be 20 something years,” dad sighed.

As for my dad, before he came to Taiwan, he was a student at the Nanjing Police Academy. One night, there was a big fuzz at the school and the entire school was gathered and followed the army onto a boat and not knowing a clue of where they were going. They didn’t know how long they were on the ship for but when they gathered up again and got off the boat, they had arrived at a place that they had never heard of before, Taiwan.

There was the odd one, Uncle Chang. He wanted to see Taiwan for himself so he came before 1949. I think his family ran a business in Anhui but who would have thought the he couldn’t go back anymore.
“Old Chang was lucky. At least his family knew he came to Taiwan. Us, we couldn’t even tell them let alone telling them if we were alive or dead or where we have gone to,” an Old Man remarked. 

“What’s the difference? All these years and not a single message,” signed Uncle Chang.

Under what circumstance did Uncle Lo fell for Mother Lo after waiting for 22 years? Was it because of his peers? Was it because of her looks? Or was it just that he had been waiting for too long?
Whatever the case may be, Uncle Lo probably wanted to go back to the mainland originally.

 

Mother Lo who loves to sing doesn’t understand a Han man.

“Obviously though, Mother Lo was not very impressed by the lyrics: “I don’t love man from the mountains.” She told me the song was very bad.”

Mother Lo was only 4 or 5 years older than me so I was always a little amused when I had to call her Mother Lo.

Mother Lo actually really liked to laugh, play, and sing but she never or would dare to show this side of her in front of Uncle Lo. Every time when Uncle Lo showed up, Mother Lo would turn silent and just make quiet eye contacts with us.

Uncle Lo probably knew it all along. Mother Lo had told me privately to act like I didn’t know her well in front of Uncle Lo because he wanted her to be more in line with my mom and not “hanging out” with us.”

Mother Lo didn’t seem to like school much since she once said school was boring. Mother Lo had a good curiosity though so she would always ask about lots of things and she picked things up pretty good too especially on music. She sang really well and could always memorize the lyrics of the new songs. It didn’t matter if it was a love song, a pop song, or the traditional Chinese theatre songs, nothing was too hard for her.

Mother Lo learned lots of Mandarin and words from pop songs and she would always ask me, “What does this mean?”

 

What left me an impression was the time when Mother Lo asked, “What is a Han man?”

Because back then there was a song called, “Rather Marry a Han Man,” and the lyrics goes like this,

“Beautiful mountain flowers blooming on the tall mountains,
Dai (#2) girls rather marry a Han man….

Like a moon when gentle
Like a sun when passionate
I don’t love man from the mountains
Just wanting to love a Han Man, a Han Man”

I was only grade 5 then so I didn’t know what Dai was and not to mention a Han man. Obviously though, Mother Lo was not very impressed by the lyrics “I don’t love man from the mountains”. She told me the song was very bad.

Mother Lo who didn’t know Bopomofo

“I was surprised that the well-mannered Uncle Lo wanted to “strongly educate” Mother Lo with the vine stick for classes.”

I remember one time when Mother Lo was chatting with my mom about not being able to understand the things Uncle Lo said. My mom laughed and said, “If you can’t understand it then whatever, that’s his problem. He’s a teacher. He should make himself understandable to you.”

Mom said she was among the first class to have learned the Bopomofo phonetics system (#3). Her sister on the other hand got the worst deal because she was part of the last class that studied Japanese so she had to be held back and repeat grade one with mom. “Back then, we didn’t learn anything because those mainlander teachers didn’t really care about teaching and many students couldn’t understand them too,” said Mom.

 

At the beginning, Uncle Lo probably did want to be nice to Mother Lo. At that time when record players were considered as luxury items, Uncle Lo often borrowed money from his friends so he could buy the newest records for Mother Lo.

Every time when Mother Lo showed new records to me; it was like when dad coming home from business trips and bringing me a doll. Back then, did Mother Lo feel happy as a woman or was it more like a little girl’s childish satisfaction? I still don’t really know even now.

 

A year later at a dinner, mom had a talk with dad about talking some sense into Uncle Lo about not treating Mother Lo like a child. “In broad daylight, he had her kneel down in the living room without considering how she felt,” said mom.

Dad seemed to have heard about the rumor because after all, it was a closely-knitted countryside. Facing mom’s scolding; dad had to defend for Uncle Lo, “She’s too young, just like a kid. She doesn’t know a lot of things. If she doesn’t know then you have to teach her right.”

I didn’t understand about the situation until dad’s stuttering plus the things that Mother Lo later complained to me about. I was surprised that the well-mannered Uncle Lo wanted to “strongly educate” Mother Lo with the vine stick for classes. After only hitting her twice, it was only when the ruckus startled the Changs did they stop by and Uncle Lo “kindly” changed it to kneeling down.

What surprised me the most was the whole thing started when Uncle Lo forbade Mother Lo speaking Pangcah with her family.

 

Mother Lo was punished for speaking in “dialect.”

“In my backback, I often brought back a “dog tag” that I was too afraid to let my parents know about .The tag was about 10cm long and 30cm wide with the sentence, “Please don’t speak in dialects,” along with a string used for wearing it around the neck.”

Mother Lo’s aunt and uncle came to visit her from a distant community. In that day of age when traffic was very inconvenient, having relatives to come for a visit must had made Mother Lo ecstatic, she held on to them, starting chatting nonstop. The aunt and uncle who didn’t quite speak Mandarin had already passionately greeted Uncle Lo with their limited Mandarin but Uncle Lo still had that distasteful look and didn’t really care. I think this was why Mother Lo felt angry and wronged about!

Who would had thought on the second day, Uncle Lo would once again “warn” Mother Lo about not speaking Pangcah in front of him. So, she talked back to Uncle Lo for the first time which caused the kneeling incident that mom was not fond of.

 

I remember I felt strongly about it, not because I was the observer as  a third party with a righteous attitude but because I felt the same too. In my backpack, I often brought back a “dog tag” that I was too afraid to let my parents know about .The tag was about 10cm long and 30cm wide with the sentence, “Please don’t speak in dialects,” (#4) along with a string used for wearing it around the neck.

Because we were living in the police dormitory, so before starting elementary school, my Hakka mom made compromise with my dad. So at home, there would only be Mandarin. What was interesting was mom actually had a talent in languages because she could speak Hakka with Mother Chang and Taiwanese with Mother Lee.

But it was strange these moms would all switch to Mandarin like changing a channel when us, kids, were around. At the countryside where there weren’t many mainlanders so after starting elementary schools, we had a hard time playing with other kids afterschool so we really had to learn Taiwanese.

However, the school’s conduct of “Please Speak Mandarin Ordain,” along with the punishment of what students called, the dog tag, often imposed on us quickly which really made me feel ashamed and confused.

 

A kid like me already couldn’t understand why the school wouldn’t let us speak Taiwanese but I never thought Uncle Lo would ask Mother Lo’s relatives to not speak in Pangcah.

“Can’t understand yourself so you forbid others speak it, what kind of a rule is that!” Scolded by mom to dad.

 

Mother Lo left home

“From what I heard from my parents, I started to have a faint idea of Mother Lo’s misery. She seemed to have met a human trafficker and dad rescued her from the red light district.”

Throughout the following year, I could still hear or even “unintentionally” witnessing Mother Lo getting punished by kneeling down. As someone who knew about getting punished so I always left in a hurry or pretended that I didn’t see it.

From what I remember, I’ve never comforted Mother Lo about getting punished. I don’t really remember when I started seeing less and less of her until one day after school, at the dinner table; I heard that, “Mother Lo left home.”

Mom was worried for Mother Lo who was under 18 and at the same time, scolded dad for not talking to Uncle Lo about the way he treated her. I didn’t know the hardships of life so I actually thought Mother Lo was brave and I had hoped for her to be carefree and happy.

 

About a month later, Mother Lo came home but she didn’t come back on her own will. She was taken back from elsewhere by my policeman dad.

We invited the Los for dinner that night. Prior to dinner, mom told me not to ask any questions so I still don’t know where Mother Lo disappeared to. The Los were quiet at the dinner table and it was only because of mom and dad to pretend like nothing had happened before.

Uncle Lo’s doors started being constantly shut after Mother Lo left home and it remained so even she had returned. What was worse was that Mother Lo started constantly leaving home but dad could always bring her back from one of the police departments in Taiwan somehow.

The last time that I heard about Mother Lo at the dinner table was when she was brought back by dad the final time and when she and Uncle Lo signed the divorce paper. From what I heard from my parents, I started to have a faint idea of Mother Lo’s miseries. She seemed to have met a human trafficker and dad rescued her from the red light district.

Thinking back, that was over 35 years ago. Now, I’m just wondering if she was in Xizhou community.

Mother Lo was so pretty, at that time, at that occasion, it had always made me sad because had she been born 20 years late then maybe she would had been the second A-Mei (#5) . Now, I wonder where she could be. What’s she doing? Does she still like to smile, sing, or play?

Note
  1. Wu Feng (1699 – 1769):
    A Han Chinese who was originally considered to sacrifice himself to persuade the Cou indigenous people into giving up the practice of headhunting and had been depicted in some Taiwanese history books. The story was later found doubtful and was abandoned, taking advantage of a new-found emphasis on human rights of Taiwanese indigenous people.
  2. Dai:
    One of several ethnic groups living in Southern China.
  3. Bopomofo phonetics system: 
    The colloquial name of the zhuyin fuhao or zhuyin system of phonetic notation for the transcription of spoken Chinese, particularly the Mandarin dialect, in Taiwan.
  4. Dialects:
    In China or in early Taiwan, any languages other than the official language, Chinese Mandarin, are or were considered as “dialects”, including Taiwanese Hokkien, Hakka, and all the Taiwanese indigenous languages, even they are not mutually intelligible.
  5. A-Mei:
    One of the most popular Taiwanese indigenous singer among Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China from the Pinuyumayan community of Puyuma of Eastern Taiwan.

 

About the Author

陳增芝,1961 年生於台灣花蓮,淡江大學日本研究所碩士畢,媒體工作者。 

About the Translator

I’m Steven and I graduated from Canada’s Simon Fraser University’s archaeology program. My family moved to Canada when I was still in elementary school. I have only come back to Taiwan in 2012.

I’m interested in all sorts of tops on Taiwanese history and archaeology. Although I’m not a Taiwanese aboriginal but I want to let my friends abroad to learn the other side of Taiwan so they can learn Taiwan’s Austronesian culture.

After I graduated, I went to Hokkaido as a volunteer for an archaeological excavation for a month and backpacked around Japan for another month. I saw how the Japanese were proud of their history and culture so from that moment on, I decided to promote our island’s stories to the world.


 

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Photo via Wikipediabulliver (CC Licensed)