1992 / 10月
Jackie Chen /photos courtesy of Vincent Chang /tr. by Peter Eberly
I asked directions over the telephone. Chu Ming-ching, who lives in Penghu, said that I should take the bus to the Catholic church in Shakang and then ask anyone I might happen to meet where "the family with the wife from the mainland" lived.
When I got off the bus in Shakang, I was about to ask an old man for help when he made a gesture to come along with him and added, "We're the family!" It turns out there aren't many families in Shakang, and I had run into the elder Mr. Chu.
Shortage of brides: When I arrived at their home, Mrs. Chu was holding a year-old baby and her mother-in-law started serving tea. The first thing she said was, "I've got no quarrel with you. Don't let your article get me in trouble!" Mrs. Chu is one of the mainland brides who have entered the Taiwan area illegally. Fear of being found out, fear of being sent back, is their common fixation.
Chu Ming-ching is from Penghu, and his wife, Huang Hsiu-chen, is from Chinchiang County, Fukien Province. They met in Chuanchou in 1988, through the introduction of a friend. How did they get to know each other? And how did they come to decide they could spend the rest of their lives together? Shyly, Huang Hsiu-chen lowers her head and is silent, finally blurting out, "I don't know what to say."
What about Chu Ming-ching? He says it's "tough to find brides on Penghu." According to him, the women all want to marry men from Taiwan. The only Penghu men they're interested in are teachers or government workers, with genteel manners and a stable income. "Nobody wants us redneck fishermen."
Once they decided to get married, the two of them went through a long and arduous process. It took a month of applications and 10,000 renmenbi just to get a marriage license, which even then didn't mean she could come to Taiwan. There was a big line of mainland-Taiwan couples, she says, and some of them stood and wept in each other's arms when their application were turned down. She and Chu were tenth in line and the first couple in Chuanchou whose application went through.
Nothing's gonna stop me now: After they married, Chu made three or four trips to the mainland to live with his wife, but it was costing too much and the baby was getting bigger. Five months ago he decided to try to bring her to Penghu.
On a windy, moonless night, Huang Hsiu-chen set off on a fishing boat that Chu had hired before-hand, holding the baby and carrying her papers. The journey took a full day and night. "I was seasick the whole time, and the baby kept wailing." All she could think about was what if she got caught on the way or what if her husband wasn't able to meet her when she landed. As for the rest, she could only fall back on the Lim Giong song, "Nothing's Gonna Stop Me Now."
The day after she landed, she turned herself in. The judge ordered her deportation temporarily delayed for humanitarian reasons. The family was finally united. "She doesn't have to tell people that the baby's father lives across the sea anymore," as Chu likes to put it.
Adjusting hasn't been difficult. The people in Chinchiang and Penghu speak the same dialect, eat the same kinds of food, worship the same deities and observe similar customs. She gets along well with her mother-in-law and sisters-in-law, but she still feels a bit out of place. "It must have something to do with crossing the ocean," she says.
If you like eating fish, marry a fisherman: There are some differences, though. "People eat better here. The men all have big bellies." Fishermen here keep the freshest, most expensive fish for themselves, while fishermen over there save it to sell.
"Potters eat from cracked bowls, and mattress makers sleep in chairs [a Fukienese saying describing how professional workmen must be frugal]," her mother-in-law chimes in, and Huang nods knowingly in agreement.
She really can't bear to think back on her days of lonely waiting all on her own. Her husband was rarely at home, and even though he always brought lots of rice and other commodities when he came, so she never had to worry about food and clothing, she still had to deal with all the questions: Will he cheat on you? Are you his other wife? She really felt sorry for herself when she went to have the baby and her brother's wife was the only one at her side. Now they're finally "more like a family."
Does she have any regrets about marrying a Taiwan man--no dowry, no fancy wedding, having to sneak ashore, without the blessings and congratulations due to a newlywed?
"If you like eating fish then marry a fisherman," she says. It's fate, so why fight it? "It's like a fish getting hooked. She was happy and willing. And who needs the formalities if you're sweet on each other?" Chu Ming-ching says with a smug smile.
Liberating our mainland compatriots?
The Chu's are village celebrities now. This May, the Japanese television station NHK came all the way to Penghu and filmed them for three straight days as part of a report on mainland brides in Taiwan. They were sent a dozen or so copies of the tape for their friends and relatives. "It was all too much. We were afraid she'd be sent right back," Chu smiles and seems to be joking. "Didn't they use to tell us back in school that we should liberate our compatriots on the mainland? So how can they say it's wrong now that we really try to do it?"
At the mention of deportation, the whole family knits its brows.
"Okay, send her back. I'll get along just fine," Chu says, still joking. But everyone understands how much grief and bitterness there is in his words. And Huang Hsiu-chen keeps sacrificing every day to the statue of Kuanyin she brought with her from Chuanchou, praying that the family can stay together like they are now.
Don't get the wild idea that Huang Hsiu-chen was brought over in my fishing boat, Chu Ming-ching says. If she had been, it would have taken at least a week.
Bashful Huang Hsiu chen has never wanted to have her picture taken with her husband, but she says that when he isn't fishing he often takes her for walks along the seashore.