Monday, February 18, 2008

One milestone at a time

As I work through this process, I try to acknowledge the little milestones I've reached.

In December I finally finished translating all three years worth of interviews that I've conducted with Su Beng. I've audio and video recorded all of our interviews which are done in Hoklo Taiwanese. Now I finally have written, English transcripts of all the interviews. Many people have asked why I don't just have a translator do the job for me. Aside from not having the funds to hire one to do this, I prefer to take on this challenge myself. Who better than me to understand the purpose behind the questions I have asked Su Beng and the context of his answers? I wouldn't want the spirit and flavor of what's being said in the interviews to get lost in translation. It is a tedious task at times, but it is a part of the process that is absolutely necessary for me to have a complete understanding of this man's life.

These past few months I've been going through this pile of information- recompiling, organizing, documenting and merging all of it. At times it is mind-numbing and repetitive as I try to get the facts straight by listening and "relistening" to various interviews in which we have discussed one particular situation over and over again. This sometimes happens since it takes a few interviews to dig deeper for certain details and specifics. I realize that this is far from the writing and editing process, which will be far more interesting and stimulating for me.

At times I am surprised at what I learn from "relistening" to our interviews. I feel as though I am unearthing little details which are revealing, and that collectively they will tell an authentic story of this man's life. I am amazed by this one man's persistence, and fight against adversity throughout his life. Here are a few of the highlights:

With dogged determination he went to China during World War II to oppose Japan's rising aggression in Asia. Working as an undercover agent for the Chinese Communists, Su Beng grew disillusioned and made a dramatic escape from China back to Taiwan, just as the Chinese Nationalist party (Kuomintang), who had lost to the Chinese Communists, also fled to Taiwan. During the early years of martial law imposed by the authoritarian Kuomintang regime, he started the Taiwan Independence Armed Corps- a group organized to assassinate Chiang Kai-shek. They stockpiled old guns left behind by the Japanese in Taiwan at the end of their 50 year occupation. When the stockpiles of guns were discovered Su Beng went on the lam and eventually escaped once again by stowing away for days in a banana boat bound for Japan.

And if these adventures are not impressive enough, just try to fathom what it took to write Taiwan's 400 Years of History- his most palpable contribution- there are remarkable stories here. Written during Su Beng's years of exile in Japan, and while Taiwan was still under martial law, the first version, which was written in Japanese was published in 1962. An expanded, more complete Chinese version was published in the US in 1980. Supporting documents for the Chinese version were appropriated and bribed from the Kuomintang and smuggled from Taiwan through Su Beng's underground network to Japan. When Kuomintang authorities learned that Su Beng was writing this book, he had to write in secrecy.

I'm looking forward to getting back to Taiwan later this month to fill in the pieces that make up the rest of Su Beng's life story.

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