1992 / 10月
Jackie Chen /photos courtesy of Vincent Chang /tr. by Peter Eberly
When we interviewed the mainland spouses featured in this issue, news that the government was expanding its quota for mainland spouses but would deport those who had entered the country illegally had not yet been announced, and so they talked freely and easily with us about their lives and daily affairs.
Recent developments have brought joy to some families and sadness to others: Feng Chieh's husband may open another cram school; Ma Yu is preparing to start up a dim sum restaurant; Huang Hsiu-chen may soon be sent back to the mainland. . . .
When veteran film star Lu Chih, in his 60s, showed up in a line at the Chinese Refugees Relief Association late last year to apply for his wife to come to Taiwan, it set off a media storm. The famous actor had fallen in love with a mainland lass, it turned out, and was hoping to bring her over to Taiwan as soon as possible.
"I never expected to get married again," he says, but his line of defense collapsed after he met Ma Yu. "I missed hearing my hometown accent." Lu hails from Chengchou, Honan Province.
Life is like a play: They met at the end of 1989, when he went back to the mainland for a visit to his relatives. She accompanied him sightseeing, which built a foundation of mutual affection. After he finished working on a television show in Manchuria, she stayed with him every day. Their feelings grew deeper and deeper, and they got married the following year.
When the government announced last December that it would start allowing mainland spouses to come to Taiwan, Lu Chih applied at once to have his wife and their precious infant, Pan-pan, brought over.
When he thinks of how he no longer need suffer the pangs of being torn between two different places, Lu Chih, even now, still feels like he's living a fantasy: He can hardly believe his dream has come true. He's acted in many dramas over the years, but this time he's really come to appreciate the Chinese saying that "life is like a play."
When Ma Yu, who is from the same area of Honan as Lu Chih, was permitted come to Taiwan at the end of June, her arrival set off another media frenzy. She stood out at once from other mainland brides with her tall, slim figure, delicate features and elegant demeanor. And their adorable daughter, Pan-pan, stole people's hearts with her winning looks. Lu Chih was one lucky old fellow, many people thought.
Living in a hotel? Ma Yu has been here for some two months now, but she's still at a stage where everything is strange and new and hard to get used to.
Take living in an apartment building, for instance. After they married, Lu Chih bought a Chinese-style house in Chengchou. It wasn't very big, but the neighbors were friendly and they took care of each other so she didn't feel lonely even though Lu Chih was away most of the time. If she had to go out and the neighbors saw she was having trouble taking the child along, they would call her over and look after her for her. People would even help her carry the groceries on the way home.
"Here it's like living in a hotel," Ma Yu says about Taipei. "You get on the elevator and everybody is expressionless, like a bunch of statues." She often wonders how people can look that way all the time.
She rarely goes out. The child had a fever once when Lu Chih wasn't at home and she took her to the hospital. While they were waiting to see the doctor, Pan-pan, who is two, started to cry for her milk. Ma Yu was in a bind. She lifted up her blouse and started to breast-feed her in front of everybody.
Suddenly, the 60 or 70 pairs of eyes in the waiting room were all focused on her. "They all stared at me with an incredulous expression," she says. To her way of thinking, mothers here are really "deficient in maternal love." "None of the mothers breast-feed their children. Every baby has a pacifier hanging out of its mouth!" This time she's the one with the incredulous expression.
Are they all on pacifiers? "In Cheng-chou, as soon as a woman has a baby, she asks if she is lactating. If she isn't, the whole family's upset, and they try all kinds of home remedies to help her. I never expected that people here would let such a great resource go to waste," she says.
Ma Yu is clearly still at the stage of wondering why things are the way they are here.
On the mainland, she says, there are posters everywhere notifying people to get their children vaccinated. Neighbors run around reminding each other, and the public health bureau comes round door to door. But here you have to rely on television and the newspapers to find out about things and pay attention to everything yourself.
Another thing she can never figure out here is why friends getting on the bus together each pay their own fare.
With everything striking her the wrong way, Ma Yu occasionally gets in tussles. She got so mad at a taxi driver once who drove her the long way round that as soon as she got out she started yelling at him and calling him names, accusing him of taking advantage of her as an outsider and attracting a crowd of onlookers. Another time, when she got on an elevator at a shopping mall near her home, the elevator girl was sitting on a stool and idly swinging one of her legs. When she saw she was about to kick her daughter, Ma Yu yelled: What are you kicking for? Why don't you go home and do it? Her shrill tone was answered by an annoyed look, and she wound up in another quarrel.
State run or private? At this point, Lu Chih shakes his head forcefully and sighs. "She's a northerner. She's impatient. And she's a Muslim and spoiling for a fight!" he worries.
What can he do? Careful guidance is all he can offer. "Many people are too polite to mention it, but the fact is I'm old," he says. He's 30 years older than his wife and she's 30 years older than their daughter--three generations in a three-person family. All he can do is try his best to help mother and daughter get used to living here as quickly as possible.
He takes them on bus rides around the city to see the sights. When she sees a big store Ma Yu frequently asks him: Is it state run or private? He patiently tells her that almost all the stores here are private.
When she sees teenagers working at odd jobs, he tells her it's because parents want their children to learn to be independent. It's common in commercial and industrial societies . . . . "She treats me like her elder brother!" Lu Chih says, adding that it's a marital relationship that many people find hard to understand.
Temporary or permanent? Ma Yu is well aware that she has to learn quickly.
She remembers how the girls of her village used to laugh at her after she got married: Hey! Ma Yu, thanks to you, there's a new wonder in the world--who ever heard of people getting married and not living together? She passed it off as a joke at the time because she knew her situation was only temporary, that her husband would come to take her away sooner or later.
Now everyone tells her that getting adjusted is just a temporary phase, too, and that she'll surely get through it. It's just that she doesn't understand why the phase is so much longer for her than it is for other brides?
Even though Lu Chih is a famous television star, Ma Yu is the one who draws the attention of photographers.
Ma Yu proclaims that she never lets her child eat fast food, but french fries are different--they're a novelty.