YU Kwang-chung 余光中
A CITY WITHOUT NEIGHBORS 沒有鄰居的都市*
translated by YU Yu-san 余幼珊
| Coming back from Hong Kong six years ago, I have since
settled down in Kaohsiung. Awake or asleep, I can always
vaguely hear the waves breaking in the Strait. My old friends
blame me: why did you turn your back on Taipei? And I reply: I
did not turn my back on Taipei, but Taipei turned its back on me.
All these years living in the south, I never easily go up
north unless absolutely necessary. Sometimes, when feeling
desperate, I would even flatly say to people: “Rejecting Taipei is
the beginning of happiness.” I felt desperate because, from trivia
to big events—conferences, talks, dinner parties and exhibitions—
Taipei has always played host. If I hastily go up north at
every beckon of Taipei, life in Kaohsiung would become impossible.
So it would seem that I am heartless, or even ungrateful.
But it isn’t so. It’s not that I have forgotten Taipei that I avoid
Taipei, go less to Taipei, and fear Taipei. Quite the contrary. I
cannot possibly forget Taipei—my Taipei, the old Taipei. It was
a rich and prosperous basin—a basin filled with youthful dreams
and memories of one’s prime, containing, within it, the scenes of
my first becoming a husband, a father, a writer and a lecturer.
Or even earlier—it contains the years when I was still a student,
still a son. That was my Taipei—the colorful 50s that have now
become black and white. Whether I enter it from the northwest
by Kuo Kuang coach, or from the southwest by Tzu Chiang
train, or from the northeast by China Airline, I shall never be
able to return to that Taipei.
As to the Taipei that all of a sudden marched into the 90s
from the 80s, whether one reads about it in the papers, sees it on
TV, or meets it in person on the streets, mostly the city pleases
you not. However the prophets or the swindlers interpret it
using such terms as “transition,” “multi-dimensional” or “opening
up,” it doesn’t make you feel warm. When you walk down
Chung Hsiao East Road, the whole of the dazzling and aggressive
world is pushing at your elbow, but at the same time everything
seems so far away; nothing can be grasped at, nothing can
be kept. Just like the hunter in the legend, who, after waking up
from a dream, comes down from the mountain and ventures into
a strange world—you’re walking on the streets of Taipei.
The so-called nostalgia, if it is geographical, then an air
ticket or a train ticket that brings you to a familiar door will
soothe it. If it is, however, temporal, then all roads are one-way,
all doors are closed and none can bring you back. After a
decade of living in Hong Kong, I became a vagrant of time burdened with a heavy bag of memories. Yet when I reached the
door of Taipei, I discovered that I had lost my golden key; I had
long locked myself out.
In my bewilderment and disenchantment, even if the door
opened for me, facing me, inside the door, would be a stranger’s
face, indifferent and impatient.
“Then why did you go to Kaohsiung?” my friend asked.
“Would Kaohsiung know you?”
“Kaohsiung doesn’t know me as a young man,” I replied,
“and I don’t know the old Kaohsiung. So there is no sense of
loss involved, and everything can begin from scratch. But
Taipei is different. There’s too much in the background, so one
would naturally sense the vicissitudes in life. Taipei basin is my
echoing valley; endless echoes surround me and haunt me,
gyrating into a whirlpool of memories.”
| That lane on Xiamen Street is, of course, still there. The
changes in Taipei have mostly been taking place in the direction
of northeast; in the south of the city, the bulldozers have done
havoc on a much lesser scale. If Taipei basin is a huge echoing
valley, then the lane on Xiamen Street is a small meandering
echoing valley ringing with the sound of the footsteps of my old
days. My “home lane,” lane 113, which began on Xiamen Street
and led to Tung An Street, is certainly still there. Long and narrow,
the lane has quite a literary history. In the 50s, the dormitory
of Hsin Sheng Daily News was located halfway down the
lane, and Peng Ko was often seen there. There was a time when
Pan Lei also chose to settle down at the end of the lane. During
the era of Literary Magazine, the residence of the publisher Liu
Shou-yi, which also served as the magazine’s office, was situated in another narrow lane on Tung An Street which was just
opposite the other end of my lane. One often heard, reverberating
along the side streets and narrow lanes, the loquacity of Hsia
Chi-an and Wu Lucien, and saw the flush brought by excitement
in Hsia’s face contrasting with the composure in Wu’s eyes. The
old Japanese-style house of Wang Wen-hsing, located right by
the river bank where Tung An Street met Shui Yuan Road, was
half-sheltered in the shade of old trees. So Wang was also often
seen around, going to places within walking distance. And that
was of course the days long before he wrote Jia-bian. Later on
Huang Yung’s family also moved to Lane 113, just a few houses
away from mine; when the wind blew, the tree leaves in the
yards of both families would be ruffled.
Heraclitus has said, “You cannot step into the same river
twice, for fresh waters are ever flowing in upon you.” As time
flowed through the echoing valley of that long lane, those people
that I just mentioned also left. And I, native of Amoy, was the
only one remained to keep watch of that secluded lane. It was
not until the mid-80s when I handed over the lane—my rootless
root, my non-property property—to the care of the late-coming
Hong Fan Bookstore and Elite Publishing House.
Any one of my “faithful readers” would know about
Xiamen Street. I spent nearly half of my life there; my mother
died there, and my four daughters and 17 books were born there.
The place, if not my native land, was at least my marketplace,
my neighborhood, my village or my hometown. If I sleepwalk,
the policeman would surely find me there.
During my wakeful hours, though, I would not choose to
revisit the place. Although I travel to Taipei every month, I have
not the courage to step into that alley, not to mention paying a
nostalgic visit to the house. Because, although that narrow lane had been widened and straightened out, yet immediately, parked
vehicles took up the two sides of the lane, making it look even
narrower. The low walls, which had been half-sheltered in
hibiscus and paper flowers, along with the shades of copious and
spreading trees, have all but disappeared. Replacing them were
stories and piles of apartment buildings and a network of different
branches and boughs—television antennas. Once there was
the crispy clear sound of wooden getas knocking at the tranquility
that filled the lane, drawing nearer and nearer, and then
becoming low and faint. Then there was the sharp dinging of
bicycles bells that went past outside the house—it was from the
newspaper boy in the morning, and the students returning home
from school. Mixed with these sounds was that of the pedicabs.
Late at night,...
From Yu Kwang-chung’s 余光中 collection of essays Jih-pu-lo chia 《日不落家》(A Family on Which the Sun Never Sets), Taipei: Chiuko Publishing, 1998, 127-137.