1992 / 10月
Jackie Chen /photos courtesy of Vincent Chang /tr. by Jonathan Barnard
In June of this year, when the Mainland Spouse Friendship Society held its meeting in Taipei, a fashionably dressed woman with long hair attracted people's notice.
When discussion turned to the topic of mainland spouses being allowed to come to Taiwan, she stood at the podium and made an appeal about a variety of problems mainland spouses face, such as lacking formal identity cards and the right to work. Her way with words and smooth stage manners made a deep impression on people.
She is Feng Chieh, the wife of the president of the society, Taiwan's first organization for mainland spouses.
Father said he's honest: Feng, a native of Shanghai, comes from a good family. She has a college degree in international trade, and her father went abroad to earn a doctorate in Russia. When speaking of her, husband Yen Ma-lung is always quick to say she's got a good head on her shoulders and that her opinions are to be taken seriously.
The native Taiwanese Yen, who studied statistics at Chunghsin University, travelled on a tour to Nanking in June of 1990, at which time he ran across Feng, who was also there on vacation from her job at a foreign-owned company. Her poise and good looks immediately attracted Yen's gaze. After travelling together in Nanking, Yen followed her to Shanghai. Within a week, she was wearing his ring on her finger.
How did Yen know that she was the right gal? He explains that she was a once-in-a-lifetime catch that he couldn't let slip away. And Feng Chieh? Smiling, she says flatly that her father said he was very honest!
Only in his early thirties, the handsome Yen had gone out with several women in Taipei. But, as he describes it, the women in Taipei have expansive social circles. Even if it's easy to come in contact with them, they're not necessarily very sincere. His idea of an ideal wife was a traditional woman, simple and unadorned and faithful to her husband to her grave. For a while, he was even willing to forsake marriage and go through life a bachelor.
He wasn't expecting to run into Feng Chieh.
The busy bees of Taipei: Five months ago, he finally brought Feng Chieh back to Taipei. Most of the mainland wives who come to Taiwan suffer from loneliness and from not being able to work, but Feng Chieh has a different sort of problem.
Yen runs some cram schools in Taipei, and when Feng arrived in town, she was given charge of one. At the school Feng Chieh is the boss, a teacher and also a receptionist. Yen Ma-lung does not avoid mentioning that his wife serves as his right-hand woman, and Feng Chieh finds aspects of this suddenly shouldered burden hard to bear.
She explains that she works from 9︰00 in the morning until ten at night and at times gets fed up sacrificing both her leisure time and family life.
Feng Chieh says that although she previously worked at a foreign-owned company on the mainland, she arrived at the office there at 9︰00 or 10︰00 in the morning and left at 3︰00 of 4︰00 in the afternoon, and she frequently went on business trips. She simply didn't have to push herself too hard. Here, not only is she waiting for orders the whole day but she's also busy relearning skills. Teaching English, for example, is something that she's never done before. "Are all people in Taipei this busy?" she asks.
No work, no food: Mr. Yen is resolute in his response.
He says, "She didn't see how gung-ho about work I was before!" He'd be in the classroom from 8︰00 in the morning to 10︰00 at night, teaching 10 classes in a single day, and then he'd often chat with the students until 1︰00 or 2︰00 in the early morning. This kind of lifestyle is common in Taipei, but Feng Chieh just can't deal with it. "Life ought to have things outside of work," she says. On the island, she hasn't even been able to venture out to the Taipei suburbs!
This poses a tough problem for Yen Ma-lung. He explains that it isn't that Feng Chieh is particularly lazy or loves to play; it's just she's used to a different way of life. Whenever he went to the mainland, for example, Feng Chieh could take a month or two off, and even her whole family would take time off to be with him. But if his in-laws were to come here, how would he find the time to accompany them?
"In the mainland, you rely on the state for everything. If you don't do anything, you still get your pay check," Yen often says to his wife. "Over here, you may be the boss, but if you don't get up and open the shop, you are not going to have anything to eat."
Feng Chieh has accordingly demanded a salary.
"I had wages in the mainland," she says with an air of self-righteousness. Eventually, they came to a consensus: Big boss Yen pays his wife Feng a salary because the boss claims to approve of his wife squirreling away a little money on her own.
Where are the mainland girls? Besides Feng's Shanghaiese habit of eating rice soaked in soup for breakfast, which startled Yen's family and provided fodder for many a joke, Feng has had few problems adapting to life in Yen's home. Yet consciously and subconsciously, she often feels that people have prejudices about the mainland, and this troubles her. As soon as people come into the cram school, they ask, "Where's the girl from the mainland?" After they see Feng, they say, "She doesn't look like she's from there!" "I don't know what they mean," Feng says.
And then at times people seem to worship her. "Your skin is so beautiful," one remarked. "Is it because the mainland is so big?"
Though she knows they don't mean any harm, such comments still unsettle her.
She says that it seems as if everyone's knowledge of the mainland comes from television programs like "The Clouds and Moon of 8,000 Miles." As a result, they always feel that the mainland is poor, backward and weird. But the mainland isn't really like that, she protests. Those locales you see on T.V. are just as remarkable for most people from the mainland.
Yen says that it's just like many people from the mainland who imagine that Taiwan is some sort of paradise. But in heaven you've also got to work like a dog! Feng says that not only do a husband and wife need to communicate, but the people on the two sides of the strait also need to understand each other a lot better.
The fashionable Feng Chieh says that she was much more so in Shanghai. In Taiwan she's too busy to make much of a fuss. Yen Ma-lung is extremely satisfied with his beautiful wife.
Learning how to perform her new task of teaching at a cram school was no sweat for Feng Chieh. But she starts grumbling when her work load gets too heavy.