It’s taken me forever to resume my blog update. Not only have I got more images to share from my last trip to Taiwan in May, I also hopped over to another destination (and ideally another one to add before the year-end). But this is one of those better late than never thing, I hope. Please leave your comment, like clicks, Facebook shares, etc. Love to hear from you, as always.
This is how I found Mr. Kang that day. At the edge of the hilltop temple’s carpark, he sat under a tree overlooking the town in the valley below, gazing towards the sea.
As I came to take a look at the view, this old man was sitting there, so I said hello in English, hoping he’d understand me. He looked at me and started talking to me in Japanese. I said I now lived in Tokyo. His was a much longer story of a man who was born in this island and grew up here.
Mr Kang was born in the 2nd year of Showa (In Japan, the years are referenced by imperial year; Showa 2 is 1927). Taiwan was a part of Japan at the time. Being a part of territory, people used Japanese names and were raised in the school system that was managed under the Ministry of Education in Tokyo. I know few people from this generation, but coming from the country that was of the aggressor at the time, I always feel uneasy as to how I should take this. But for him, this was the reality, a perfectly normal life, growing up in Japanese-speaking environment in the island of Formosa.
Jinguashi is on the north east corner of Taiwan, the island that has mainland China to its west, and Japanese islands to its east. Keelung was one of the key ports here, a path way into the main city of Taipei. Jinguashi was one of the biggest mining towns Japan had at the time.
I could see Mr. Kang was not seeing the same view I saw in front of me – as he spoke of the noise, smoke and the buzz of all the workers and business people that walked around the street, I am sure he could still smell it in the moist dust filled air, which was now clear and totally quiet.
In his early teens, he would walk on the rail tracks, which is now a foot path wide enough for a single car, to go to school in Rui Fang (瑞芳), which was about 12km away. On this track ran small carriages that carried supplies into the mining town, and people would also use it to the nearby town. Saving the train fare 3 times he could buy a box of 10 cigarettes. At the gate of the school stood the schoolmaster, speaking over the heads of arriving students, “If you smoke cigarettes, be honest and declare.” Most kids would try to keep it quiet. But the schoolmaster would have the nose for it and identify kids who do smoke. He would stand them up, and give them a sharp slap across their cheek. (This used to be a common practice at schools in Japan until recently.) Mr. Kang would respond to the schoolmaster at the gate and declared that he smoked. He remembers the response was not a slap but a praise, “You are one honest man. Keep it up.”
During the second World War, Jinguashi hosted one of the 7 prisoner of war (POW) camps in Taiwan. There were total of approximately 4,500 POWs in Taiwan, with one third in Jinguashi, by far the largest camp.
Japan was spread way too thin to fight the war it was engaged in, from the vast mainland Chinat to the west, taking Singapore and attacking Australia down south, and spreading Navy legs half the way across the Pacific towards Hawaii. People in its own home territory was short of food and other supplies. Labour was in short availability, not only in industrial production but also in agriculture. POW camp suffered from that as well, though they were treated equally the best that was possible in the country of that state. The camps were short of salt, and many POWs got seriously ill. Malaria was a deadly killer, which claimed about 1,000 POWs in Taiwan.
Mr Kang remembers that he had once a chance to come by POW and saw the ‘enemy’ behind the fences. He was still a kid back then.
Reminder of the times this was a part of Japan, where Mr Kang grew up in:
Mr. Kang bought me a lunch that day, and we took our slow, long walk down to the town. We said good-byes as the bus got into JiuFen (九份) on the way back into the town where he lives. I would spend the night photographing JiuFen that night.
I misplaced the rest of the notes of my conversation with Mr. Kang. But if I remember correctly (and it is a bit sketchy), he studied to become an engineer and had a chance to go to Japan for some trainings.
On the 20th year of Showa, or in 1945, Japan lost the war and Taiwan went under the control of China. Taiwan had previously separated from China, and China’s ideas on using Taiwan was very different from Japan’s, it seems. The mining operation changed, POW camp disappeared but Mr. Kang still lives near this town. He would catch a bus and come up to the lookout where he can still see the old town.