Christmas in Taiwan

My friend Carrie Kellenberger, who runs the insightful travel and culture blog My Several Worlds http://www.myseveralworlds.com/ gave me this bar of chocolate, wheel of spiced Camembert cheese and white wine, an excellent-looking bottle of an Italian style, Pinot Grigio, for Christmas. My wife and I plan to crack it open tonight. We're saving the chocolate for a bottle of Shiraz, to follow in the next couple of days. It's Christmas after all.

All the best to you, Carrie, and your husband John, during this Christmas season and in 2010. 


Monga, the Film

I'm looking forward to the release of the government-funded movie, Monga (艋舺), which according to accounts is about the gangsters and prostitution that are rampant in the neighborhood I live in. Here's a quick, cool trailer. Only one word is uttered, an oddly-pronounced "Monga", or Manka.

Directed by Doze Niu (鈕承澤), the film though not released is already controversial, as some don't like it's portrayal (I'm guessing they're getting this from the trailer) of Taipei's ancient borough, Monga or Manka in Taiwanese (Hoklo) and Wanhua in Chinese. The Taipei Times wrote up on the movie last week and the controversy: Here's the link: http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2009/12/01/2003459824

I don't really have a problem with Wanhua (Monga / Manka) being portrayed as a gangster and hooker haven. From the accounts of locals that live here, it is / was exactly that. I guess what critics object to is the viewer might not understand that the area had a golden age before all the scum crept in. 300 years ago, Wanhua was one of the Taipei basin's three most important communities. Those communities, Wanhua, Dadoacheng (大稻埕) and Danshui, later merged to create the city of Taipei. At one time, an armada of boats sailed up the Danshui River daily to dock in Wanhua, or Manka / Monga, as part of a trade network that extended to the south of Taiwan, China, Japan and the West. Those days have passed us by, mainly because the river silted up to the point where around 150 years ago, large vessels could no longer make it up river (Wanhua is around 35 km. from the Taiwan Strait).

Over the past 100 years, several prominent gangsters have called Wanhua home. I guess the most well-known would have to be Hsu Hai-ching, who went by the nickname of Wen Ge (蚊哥), meaning the "Mosquito Brother".

The Mosquito Brother died four years ago at the age of 93, after gagging on a piece of raw fish. His story is a long and interesting one. Someone should write a book about his life, as they might get at the workings of the government here, and specifically, how enmeshed it has been with organized crime. The Mosquito Brother started out in Wanhua during the 1930s while Taiwan was still a colony of Japan. He, like any person of his generation, was able to speak Japanese. When Japan fell to the US and Taiwan was invaded by the KMT, the Mosquito Brother simply adapted to a new regime and got on with business. His ability to work with different groups earned him another very cool sounding title: The Final Arbitrator. Hsu's resume was impressive; he had links to the Japanese Yakuza, the Bamboo Gang, the gangsters that Chiang Kai-shek came up with in Shanghai and whom he imported to Taiwan to do his dirty work during the White Terror era as well as more organic Taiwanese clans, from which Hsu came.

I also remember reading about Tsai Tai-ting (蔡岱廷), a pachinko parlor operator, who died a spectacular death in 2007 at a wedding, when an assassin unloaded a dozen bullets into him and then fled after hailing a cab.

My own neighborhood in Wanhua is called Ga-la King after a benevolent gangster who liked to eat oysters, hence the "ga-la", which is oyster in Taiwanese (Hoklo).

More on Monga after I've seen it.