Monday, July 21, 2008

How it all got started (Part II)

….continued from here

So after reading the Taipei Times article, I wondered about the author. As I sat in the living room of my parent’s Kaohsiung apartment, I turned to my Mom, who always seems to be in the know about people in Taiwan and Taiwan’s current events, and asked if she knew who he was. It turns out she did.

She told me that Su Beng had spent several years in China working with the Chinese Communists and had participated in the Long March*, that he voluntarily elected to have a vasectomy before the age of thirty in order to remain committed to the life of a revolutionary, and that he wrote the mammoth book, Taiwan's 400 Years of History.

I was intrigued.

There was something about Su Beng's life story that gripped me- there was an intrepidity, tenacity and idealism. For days and weeks, I couldn't stop thinking about it. I knew that I had to meet him. I had a feeling that this could be big; it could be epic; that there was a story here to tell and that this was the story I was meant to write about.

Now the exact details and sequence of events that followed are already kind of hazy in my memory.

One day I just asked my Mom if there was some way that she could put me in touch with Su Beng. I'm still not sure what made me think that I could do this, that I could just ring up Su Beng and expect him to agree to pour out all the details of his life.

At some point in all of this, my Mom must have mentioned that there was a relative who knew Su Beng and had kept in touch with him.

In the 80s Su Beng had come to Ottawa, and someone in the Taiwanese Canadian community had contacted my maternal grandfather asking if he knew this person (Su Beng) from Shih Lin. This was not long after Su Beng had written the Chinese language version of Taiwan's 400 Years of History. Though the encyclopedic volume was selling for around one hundred Canadian dollars (which quite a pretty penny in those days), my grandfather encouraged each his five grown children to purchase a copy of Su Beng's Chinese language version of "Taiwan's 400 Years of History" for their families.

All at once I had this unshakeable feeling that I HAD to pursue this story. Looking back on this, I had a certain naivety about what I was about to take on. On the other hand, I had also let my imagination run wild with ideas, which had only convinced me more that I had to do this.

It is amazing how fast things become a "fiction" if memory doesn’t serve you. This further reinforces in me why it is so important to document history in a timely, accurate fashion.

*It turns out that Su Beng did not participate in the Long March, as I’ve explained here:

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