Friday, October 25, 2013

A Room of My Own: Our Dreams

for my father and his generation who gave up their dreams to pursue the National Dream for the Chinese people

Six decades ago, there was a civil war in China. The ruling Chinese Nationalist Party, the Kuomintang, was defeated by the Chinese Communists. Chairman Chiang Kai-shek retreated with his troops to Taiwan, where he hoped to regroup quickly and retake mainland China. My father was a first lieutenant in Chiang's military troops, and, like the majority of mainland Chinese in Taiwan, shared with him this same illusion.

When I started grade four, my father decided I was old enough to learn the good soldier's essential lesson: obey orders and don't ask questions. But I didn't want to be a soldier. They looked dumb to me.

One day, my father tried several times to teach me how to salute, but I couldn't get my hand straight enough. He ordered me to stand in front of the portrait of our ancestors. He shouted at me, "Stand straight and still until our ancestors are satisfied and smile; or else you must apologize to them for failing to follow through on my words: to salute properly. Then you can go."

I stood for hours, but they wouldn't smile at or for me. Finally, I couldn't bear it any longer and fainted. Later, when I woke up, I saw my father's eyes brimming with tears.

into the Taiwan Strait
Father rides on my shoulders
midsummer dream

Published in Contemporary Haibun Online, 7:3, October 2011

Note: 42 years ago today, the United Nations General Assembly voted to admit mainland China and expel Taiwan (officially the Republic of China, ROC, which was established in China in 1912, a charter member of the United Nations and one of five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council). This socio-politically charged event started the first wave of Taiwanese immigrants to North America, especially to the USA, and the teaching of and writing about the Modern History/histories of China have become the battlefield of the meanings of being Chinese/Taiwanese.

Below is my reflection about this on-going, heated debate in Taiwan:

We Are Haunted by Names

Living on Ilha Formosa,
we are haunted by a war of names,
fighting for the Republic of China/Taiwan.
We Chinese, we Taiwanese,
will never end our civil war,
a bloody bloodless civil bore.

No Kamikazes crashing,
no Dr. Luther King murdered.
To Uncle Sam and Brother Momotaro,
We are the good soldiers.
Lacking the ghosts of history,
we are haunted.

Published in Rust+Moth, Winter 2010

When emigrating to Canada in 2002,  I suffered one of the political consequences of this decades-old event:

Following the Moon to the Maple Land

Welcome to Canada.
Name: Chen-ou Liu (phonic);
Country of Birth: R.O.C.;
(Cross out R.O.C. and fill in Taiwan)
Place of Birth; Date of Birth; Sex;
simply more technocratic questions
the Immigration Officer needs to pin down my borders.
He is always looking for shortcuts,
more interested in the roadside signposts
than in the landscapes that have made me.
The line he wants me confined to
is an analytically recognizable category:
landed immigrant. My history is meticulously stamped.
Now, you're legally a landed immigrant.
Take a copy of A Newcomer’s Introduction to Canada.

Broken/Breaking English: Selected Short Poems, 2012

(Note: A Newcomer’s Introduction to Canada was written and issued by Citizenship and Immigration Canada to give new immigrants helpful information for planning ahead, but it is not a detailed guide. For more information, they will be given another book called Welcome to Canada: What You Should Know. It contains specific information on all the practical aspects of living in Canada)


  1. Below is another haibun written for my father:

    A New Beginning, and Yet…

    first sunrise…
    to wear or not to wear
    my father’s face

    On the night before I left for Canada, Father said to me in a matter-of-fact tone, “The most valuable thing I’ve given you is your life. From now on, it solely belongs to you, and you’re on your own journey. My final words to you are that the life of your own should be spent this way: when looking back at it, you'll not have regrets of any wasted time or the failure to accomplish something significant."

    deepening twilight…
    I read Basho’s death poem
    once again

    Note: Historically speaking, Basho didn’t write the formal death poem on his deathbed, but the following haiku, being his last poem recorded, is generally viewed as his poem of farewell.

    sick on my journey,
    only my dreams will wander
    these desolate moors

    Published in Chrysanthemum, #12, October 2012

  2. A fascinating post and the following haiku is poignant and thought-provoking...

    first sunrise…
    to wear or not to wear
    my father’s face

    You are to be congratulated for your highly informative posts on this site, Chen-ou. It is a huge undertaking.


  3. Marion:

    Thanks for your kind words and continued support of my project.