Taiwan Tales: One Country, Eight Stories: A Multicultural Perspective by the eight authors listed below attracted me because of one word: multicultural. I look for books written in English by non-native English speakers. I can then point them out to my non-native English students as an example of the skillful, clever, and artistic use of English by non-native English speakers (and writers). Here are my impressions of eight short stories.
Roger Jergenson’s Flyout by Patrick Wayland Sam Fillmore might be described as an “old China Hand,” a term used to describe expatriates that live, travel, and work in any Asian country for most of their adult lives. Sam meets an unnamed American in a bar. Over drinks, while the unnamed one is trying to watch a baseball game on TV, Sam recounts the story of Roger Jergenson, an American baseball player who lost his baseball skills in the US, was dismissed from his team and was offered a chance to play on a Taiwanese team. Roger did not live up to expectations and was as bad in Taiwan as in the US until one day his boss took him to a remote village and abandoned him. What he learned there, how he survived, and how he lived the rest of his life are delivered in an understated but powerful way with a surprise ending that emphasizes cultural differences. What did the girl say that affected him so much? After reading this, I downloaded Wayland’s novel The Jade Lady.
Gap Years by Tony Messina This story comes with an adult language warning. Although justified, only the very sensitive should take note. This is the story of an expat (expatriate) US English teacher in a complicated romantic relationship with a Taiwanese lady. Marriage is the presumed ultimate goal held by both parties but a lot more so by Steph. The two share a common love for food but that seems to be their only common interest. Readers will have fun making up a physical description for the two main characters. The author never states the physical description. The way he draws out the descriptions of the two over time made me feel very unsympathetic to both characters. My conclusion is that Steph should give up and run away, the sooner the better.
Superstition by Amanda Miao It is the ghost month and there are rituals that must be observed. Mom, Dad, and six-year-old brother Ah Jie observe the rules; Ah Jie even looks forward to carrying out every prescribed ceremony. This is not true for Jia-ying; she is a modern girl and doesn’t believe in ghosts. She even plays the coin fortune game and invites a ghost into her life. But she forgets to tell it to leave. A series of unfortunate events push Jia-ying to the temple where she will seek forgiveness for her actions. She might be rescued but it may be too late for others. If you like ghosts with a sense of humor, you will like this story.
The Collector by J. J. Green This story is a bit dystopian. Climate change deniers will not approve. In a complete reversal of roles, the future of the 21st-century world is in the past, specifically in the minds and memories of old people. But there were few old people survivors of Peak Heat. When older survivors could be found, they were detained and maintained by the government until their memories could be completely mined. Other attempts at recovering the past followed a path of reverse engineering. Artifacts from Peak Hit days were collected and studied to determine their function so that conveniences of the past could be reconstructed for the present. Chiang was a collector of past artifacts which he sold in a kind of antique shop until the government seized his shop and confiscated his inventory. It seemed Chiang collected more than just “things.”
In the Mood by CK Hugo Chung Primarily set in a military environment that demanded two years of service from its citizens, this is a tale of a search for sexual identity and friendship. It is a short story mixed with periodic inserts of poetry. I found the language used an unpredictable mix of complex phrasing and everyday narrative style of expression. This story should be of interest to aspiring writers. Does this writing live up to the author’s goal in telling the story? Readers will have to decide.
Dragon’s Call by L.L. Phelps Lara was a seer by inheritance and with that came responsibilities. There were choices she had. She could become a public seer or a private seer. She could even try to renounce her powers but that might lead to her being branded a renegade seer. There were punishments as severe as death for that. Lara really just wanted to be “normal” and teach English; she didn’t want to be involved with dragons, concealment spells, brounies, or boggarts. Fate had other things in mind.
Bitter Pill by Katrina A. Brown People were bored hearing again and again of the main problem plaguing their home city of Keelung: overpopulation. And now there were the unending and periodic shrieks of the warning sirens signaling a disastrous leak at the nearby nuclear power plant. Luckily, the government had prepared years ago for such a possibility. Each home had a survival kit with medicine that would ward off radiation sickness. Each family receiving the kit was thankful for government thoughtfulness in preparation until they discovered each family kit had only one pill. Families would have to decide who would take the pill as the chosen ones took the pills and left Keelung in a convoy of evacuation buses. Pei-Ling chose her oldest child, Hao-Ping, to leave as he would carry on the family name. She and her daughter would stay in Keelung and wait for death. Hao-Ping went to his assigned bus with his pill to find his seat taken by an elderly man who he did not recognize to be Mayor Chen. Chen was the mayor of over-populated Keelung. He was supposed to stay in the city and aid in its recovery. Instead, he had acquired one of the pills and sneaked onto the bus. As mayor, he couldn’t solve the problem. As an escapee, he could be a part of the solution.
We’ll See Each Other on Facebook by Edward Y. Cheung This last story is a familiar one to “permanent expats” (those of us who don’t go home). If it hasn’t happened to us, it has happened to our friends. Most likely it is a combination of both. Mikey was bored with his job at his home in California. Endless, boring, repetitive duties made him flee to a more exciting, challenging environment. Arriving in Taiwan, Mike followed the life of a party animal. He fell in with an expat crowd that did the same thing. After months of alcohol, partying, and complete freedom, the ATM was unwilling to dispense more money. Find a job. He could teach English. That job also became routine. Then he met Sakura, a truly dedicated party animal. Sakura avoided one thing, entangling permanent relationships. Mikey fell in love. Sakura didn’t. Guess what the ultimate result was? There is not much of a surprise here.
This is a collection of stories where the authors are offering a different perspective. Some of the authors are Asian, some Asian-American. Even the US-born authors offer a unique perspective due to their experiences in Asian countries that are more extensive than typical tourist experiences. This was a pleasant weekend read. As a “permanent expat” myself, I identified with each story.