Chin Tsai turned the management of his store over to his
daughter, Hsiu-feng. He knew early on that she would make a
good businesswoman, and she didn’t disappoint him. Hsiu-feng
took the tiny “Chin Tsai’s Shop,” and with hard work and pluck
turned it into a Minchuan Road shopping mall. She stocked
black pearl wax apples brought in from Pingtung, soy sauce that had been fermented for 20 or 30 years in the town of Jhu Jhai
Jiao, daily necessities, and even gold and silver paper money for
use on special occasions. You name it, Hsiu-feng had it. Hsiufeng
had everything that kids like us, whose lives revolved
around eating and having fun, could want: snacks to eat, cold
beverages to drink, toys to play with, and—when television cartoons
became popular—collectible cards. Hsiu-feng knew
exactly what children would want to try next.
Apart from the Kuai Kuai corn puffs and shrimp-flavored
chips that were NT$5 and came with a free toy inside, most of
the snacks were packed inside clear glass jars. There were
brightly colored sugar balls (with lots of artificial dye), spicy
dried mango marinated to a blood red, several varieties of heavily
salted preserved sour plums, malt-sugar cookies, and small
packets of Wang Tzu Noodles. With temptation all around, saving
money was next to impossible, and deciding what to try next
was always a dilemma.
If you wanted to cool off, there was wheat black tea, Jin Jin
asparagus juice, honey soymilk, Bai Ji popsicles and Hsiao Mei
ice cream. Even drinks that came in glass bottles were only
NT$5, like Cherico or the special soda with a marble inside.
Hsiu-feng would come over with her bottle opener, pop off the
cap, pour the fizzy drink into a plastic bag, stick in a straw and
then tie the bag up with red plastic string so you could carry it
and sip on it all the way home—so cool and refreshing. In the
heat of the summer Hsiu-feng would roll up her sleeves, wipe
the sweat off her brow and squeeze lemons to make lemonade.
Cool ice for the summer swelter. Cool O cool O so cool.
Hsiu-feng was even better at selling toys. She devoted an
entire wall to a massive selection of paper dolls, colored plastic
figurines, sand bags, glass beads, toy guns, tiny pots and bowls and rakes and shovels for playing house, soap suds, and bubblemaking
solution. If there was something you wanted, you just
had to stand on your tiptoes and pull it down. The stock
changed faster than the seasons and new toys arrived in an endless
stream. Children who lived near Hsiu-feng’s store never
had enough pocket money.
Every day after school and before dinner, my younger sister
and I could ask our grandfather for a NT$10 coin, and then
immediately spend it on Kuai Kuai and soda at Hsiu-feng’s
store. If we wanted a paper doll with the latest dress, my sister
would crawl up on our aunt’s bed, who was still unmarried. My
sister would just sign and moan, Aya . . . hmgh . . . three times in
a row, and our aunt, who had just got off work and removed her
make-up, would get the hint. My sister filled an entire Chu Shui
Che wedding cookie box with the paper dolls that she collected:
Jewel, Sophie, Ling, Barbie, and Coco. Each one had its own
name and looked as real as life.
After school was out and before it got dark, the first thing
we did was call out for our grandpa, which meant we wanted
money. If he couldn’t be found anywhere in the house, I knew
that he must be in Hsiu-feng’s store. Put another way, when the
western sky burned crimson, all of the old men on Minch`uan
Road would gather inside Hsiu-feng’s store. Hsiu-feng had put
several wooden benches below the Tobacco and Wine Monopoly
Bureau’s trademark iron sign and had set up a canopy. The area
was filled with purplish-red bougainvilleas that she had planted,
bright and beautiful southern flowers. The old men would put
their legs up, chew tobacco, play chess, tell stories, and wait for
their grandchildren to come by and yell “Grandpa! Grandpa!”
The grandpas would respond by giving their grandkids NT$5 or
NT$10 as reward for a hard day of study. Hsiu-feng made a pile of money in those days, and it was tax-free. If grandma or
mother had already prepared dinner and they saw their kids with
a mouth full of snacks, they would yell “How are you going to
grow if you keep eating that junk everyday and don’t eat your
One time Hsiu-feng stocked a new kind of colorful candy
whistle that would go “beep beep” when you blew on it. The
whistle even came with the popular Kung Fu Kids collectible
cards. My sister and I each bought one and headed home, filling
the street with our whistling. I’m not sure if there was too much
artificial color in the candy or whether it had gone bad, but
something went terribly wrong and in the middle of the night my
sister and I both got a terrible stomachache, broke out in a cold
sweat, and began moaning and rolling around on the ground.
We were both taken to the clinic, where we got shots and medicine.
Our grandmother thought her grandchildren, dumb as they
were, had finally learned their lesson and that we’d eat a little
less junk food. She never guessed that we would keep heading
to Hsiu-feng’s store for our three meals, helping Hsiu-feng’s
business to become even more bustling than before. As we
gradually got older, grandpa increased our allowance from one
coin to two, NT$20.
“Hsiu-feng rules your lives!” our grandma said helplessly.
Later Hsiu-feng got married, and her post-wedding homecoming
banquet spanned the length of Minchuan Road. But
Hsiu-feng stayed at home, bringing her husband with her, and
continued to run the inimitable Chin T’sai general store.
Before long Hsiu-feng was pregnant and she soon had a
baby boy and baby girl to help her stock shelves. The children
on Minchuan Road were all envious. We thought it would be
great to be one of Hsiu-feng’s kids—you could eat or play with anything you wanted, all for free.