CHANG Ai-chin 張愛金
A NOTICE IN SEARCH OF A MISSING PERSON
Translated by Shou-Fang HU-MOORE 胡守芳
| In my memory there was a stretch of white sand covering
the sky and the land, so smooth, delicate, clean and pristine. Out
of the white sand-dunes was a long footpath where one could
only push a bicycle while hobbling along in shoes filled with
sand. That was where our maternal grandmother used to live.
She was my “Waipo” and also yours. I was at the back of her
house and you were in the front. At sunset, a little boy with a
dark face and big eyes was sitting on the threshold in front of the
house, playing with water in a small basin while washing his
hands and feet. Forty years of our common memories seem to
belong to another life. Here is message one. . . .
Sanshan Village forty years ago, we called it “Back Hill.”
Our only maternal uncle was the principal of Anlan Primary, the
only elementary school there. A white sandy path followed thewinding hillside down to Yangchai. Garrisons and blockhouses
were everywhere in the vibrant small town. Then there was the
double-lane thoroughfare around the island, leading in one direction
straight to Shamei and in the other direction to the end of
Hsinshi District beyond the hill. It was a long way going back to
Waipo’s house, which was also the only place I was proud to go to.
Vehicular access stopped at the Outer Ring Road of Yangchai.
The rest of the journey had to be on foot, through the green canopy
of woods, over desolate hills and land, and past the shooting
range. I didn’t know how to appreciate the beauty of the scenery
and the ecology of Nature at a young age. I liked to visit Waipo,
taking along some simple produce in my hand. Leaving a footprint
every step of the way, I walked by the little Huangtu
Village, through the woods along the side and past a few ponds.
Then there it was, quietly in the distance, a hamlet covered with
It was a tiny hamlet with a small population who started the
day at sunrise and retired at sunset. At the end of Back Hill was
a shallow seaport. The villagers had the sea and the farmland.
There were boundless treasures in the sea. Except for fish which
they were not allowed to catch, there were mud-snails, oysters
and seaweed. The marine products were preserved by marinating
or drying for the winter. They grew cereals and grains on
the hillside farmland. There were wild guavas on the roadside
and purple grapes in front of their cottages. The villagers didn’t
feel any hardship but gratitude towards Heaven instead. In this
hamlet that depended on the mercy of Heaven, everyone worked
diligently, trading services for goods and living a simple contented
The houses stood next to each other. White sand was right
outside the side doors. When the farm work wasn’t busy or over a cup of tea after dinner, one could sit on the clean, soft white
sand over the door steps and soak one’s feet in the sand. The
light, soft and scentless sand has formed my childhood memory.
The sunlight forty years ago doesn’t fade. It is still glitteringly
bright, sprinkling the sky and earth at noon without reservation.
At Grade Five in the elementary school, I started to feel love and
a small happiness germinated in my heart. Once I chanced upon
you sitting on the threshold of Waipo’s house washing your feet,
and I became a little bit self-conscious and shy. You sat close to
me in class doing Chinese calligraphy and told me that to lay the
foundation of calligraphy one had to start with practicing the
characters yong (perpetual), cheng (success), jia (home), feng (phoenix) and fei (fly). As we finished elementary school, I
asked everyone in class to sign my autograph album except you.
I could only take a glimpse of the photo of your face in the year
book and committed it to my memory. The young and ignorant
look with sparks of artfulness in the eyes was the face I would
never forget. Since they all called you Ah-san, you must be the
third child of your family. Message two . . .
I started to enjoy going to Waipo’s before I knew it,
because she would give me a chicken leg behind others and told
me to eat outside to avoid being seen by my older brothers. I
went to her place on holidays as well as during the summer and
winter vacations just to be able to see you. While our Waipo
was chatting with the neighbors at the entrance of that narrow
alley, I could only reach you through eye contact. I wanted to
come across you in the field early in the morning. And I longed
to see you sitting outside on the threshold at sunset when I
returned from the vineyard beside the house with strings of sparkling
purple grapes. I walked by you, feeling crazed. But sometimes
I failed to see you.
Distance can make the heart grow fonder; space also fosters
longing. Going to school in the sixties, I envied the classmates
from the neighboring villages the most, who rode bicycles to
school. I imagined that, as the wheels rolled onwards, one’s
heart could pause or wander freely and, as the hair and skirt flew
up, the mind could expand infinitely. My home was at the end
of Shamei. Behind it was Chinsha Junior High and not far in
front of the house was Chinsha Elementary. On the days when I
was responsible for class duty, I was able to sneak back home
for a nap at lunch break. And I would climb the wall to sneak
away when I was too lazy to sweep the classroom floor or to
lower the flag. It was also very convenient for me to go home to
pick up the exercise outfit for physical education class. The
number of times I entered the school from the front gate during
the three years of junior high was countable. The gender-segregated
classrooms couldn’t stop the yearnings of students in
puberty. I enjoyed the distant eye contacts with you on campus.
Class 109 that year was very special. Due to a classroom shortage,
that class followed their teacher-in-charge, biology teacher
Ms. Lin Guihua, moving into the biology room located in the
stand-alone building at the edge of the campus. A bunch of us
stood on the second-floor stair landing of our building trying to
draw attention. We overlooked the crowd going in and out of
the campus store, searching for the little yearning in our own
heart. And you walked into my sight unexpectedly.
Chinsha Elementary was our Alma Mater. We studied there
together for several years without showing affection towards
each other. The campus was a piece of muddy land that had
gone through huge transformation. Excavators went in and out
marking years of change for the students. We witnessed the
epoch-making construction unfolding like a feast of mirages with the creation of hills and water. Rong Lake appeared in
front of us. On the misty shore across the lake was your home.
One afternoon that year the sound of suona horn woke up the
napping countryside. The wailing dirge accompanied a funeral
procession along the way. All the students in class bowed at the
funeral to pay respect. Being the oldest grandson,....
From Kinmen wen-yi《金門文藝》(Literature Kinmen), No. 27, November