Lost in transit, not translation

I ordered Indigenous Writers of Taiwan in November last year from Blackwell’s UK. Nothing arrived for three months, so I wrote to them and asked for a refund. Blackwells’ was surprisingly good about it. They declared the book Lost In Transit, and credited money to me.

Then my book arrived. Cue feeling like a goose.

Image credit:

I wrote to them again to tell them and PayPal’d them the proper amount to buy the whole guilt-free, if red-faced, reading experience.

This book is the first ever anthology of books written by Indigenous Taiwanese writers translated into English. Looking forward to reading about village life/warrior life as it was in Taiwan, and some general opinions from fellow Taiwanese people.

Some facts:

•According to archaeologists, humans have lived on Taiwan for 15000 years.

• Indigenous Taiwanese folk are divided into two broad groups: plains people and mountain people, the former whom were just about entirely assimilated by Han Chinese (sad)! Once upon a time these two groups were made up of 14 tribes.

• All tribes kept pigs and chickens, however eating chicken used to be seen as a social taboo (I have pet chickens, and think they would totally get behind this).

• The tribes were/are very diverse. The language spoken by one tribe was not necessarily understood by another ie not mutually intelligible.

• There are currently concerted efforts to keep these languages alive.

• Japan occupied Taiwan between 1895 and 1945, and according to the introduction, many Indigenous Elders still identify with the Japanese.


I wrote in an earlier blog post that my family thinks Great-Great-Grandma was an Indigenous lady. It turns out this notion is not a full consensus as some family members disagree, they think she emigrated.

The historical fact of women having restricted travel is still there however.

I don’t suppose we will ever be entirely sure, but Dad also found a family tree written by a cousin, and Great-Great-Grandma’s name was on it, and translates to [Surname] Yellow Sweet. That was nice.

In conclusion: the patience muscle is an excellent one to exercise. This was a timely reminder because it turns out there’s one more week until online classes start.

Anyone waiting for something to happen?


Earth beneath the family tree

According to the New York Public library there are 20 reasons why people should write their family histories.

I’ve literally never probed about my own ancestry. I did always think I should probably get round to it before everyone dies and then the story is lost. This week I finally got to asking about it. Here’s a tiny bit of that history:

Once upon a time, when the Last Emperor of the Qing Dynasty was around, young men traveled across the sea to make their fortunes.

My Great-Great Grandpa at the time was 17 when he made his trip. He traveled, without family, from Fujian Province in China from a city called Nan’an, to an island with the Portuguese name Formosa.

Source: Getty images

I would assume it was by boat, and that he didn’t swim, because:

a) it was before 1895

b) the trip was about 161km/100miles

c) Great-great-Grandpa carried with him a Taoist statue at the time, no doubt to bring him blessings. The statue was of Tudigong (土地公 “Lord of the Soil and the Ground”).

It’s not explicitly said on Wikipedia but the association of Tudigong is with wealth – I mean, the earth is the means by which farmers and land barons get rich, so it makes sense.

Great-great-Grandpa most likely didn’t bring a girlfriend with him. Women weren’t allowed to travel across the sea on such expeditions at the time, so the travellers went out with the local girls instead. My family thinks he likely got married this way, to an Indigenous lady. It sounded like he did find his fortune – I wish I knew more about her.

He had at least one son, Great-Grandpa, who grew up and became something called a Dàishū.

It’s funny because a Dàishǔ (note the different inflection) translates to “Kangaroo”.


There’s no proper word in English for the actual job title and the translation apps I’ve tried have been a little bit off.

(By the way, despite what the above image looks like, if you ever need to translate anything from another language, is always far more accurate than Google Translate. Would gladly shout this from a rooftop.)

I am sure that for his career, Great-Grandpa did not choose to become a book or a professional marsupial. The closest description I could get is a sort-of-lawyer who deals with documents and transfer of property ownership. The level of responsibility is greater than that of a bookkeeper, less than a magistrate. Anyway, he became a community leader, and so he did sufficiently well for himself and the fam.

I guess Tudigong enjoyed the boat trip across the strait and smiled on father and son.

That island, by the way, is present-day Taiwan, where Great-great-Grandpa’s Tudigong is still housed. He’s looked after by a distant cousin.


(… Before anyone thinks we became Crazy Rich Asians – I’m a child of immigrant parents, and shouldered my own rent and student loans.)

Thanks for reading this personal stuff! Depending how it goes, I’ll leave this blog post up.

Other interesting finds:

The Indigenous people of Taiwan share similar DNA to the Māori people of New Zealand, tracing back 60,000 years. After NZ and Taiwan discovered they are sisters from similar misters they now want to be BFFs, which is cool.

When Han Chinese people emigrated to Taiwan, the Indigenous people were assimilated and sinicized (a new word I learnt, which means to become like-Chinese) so much so that most people have lost this very specific aspect of language and cultural identity. Sad times.

At least, with growing awareness and sensitivity, there are concerted efforts to revive the culture in schools.

What’s awesome is that on Spotify, you can find Indigenous Taiwanese songs and voices – thank the miracles of the internet. Some of them are very pretty.

Here’s one by artist Ilid Kaolo.

And another by the Taiwu Ancient Ballads Troupe:

And one by Sangpuy. The beginning reminds me a little bit of the music from the film ‘Spirited Away’.