Taiwanese Literature Park?

Taiwanese SayingThe Tâi-lâm (Tainan) City government has just completed renovations of the Lian Yatang Memorial Park (連雅堂紀念公園地) which have added a little “local language” colour in to the mix, reports the United Daily News. The park had formerly fallen in to disrepair and acquired a reputation in the area for being unsafe after dark.

Along with improvements to the structure and layout of the park in order to improve safety for visitors, the government has designated the area a “Taiwanese Literature Plaza”, which contains engraved idioms and slang in Taiwanese (written in Chinese characters). The beginning of the Taiwanese phrases are written at the top of the plaque, right side up, while the second half of the phrase and the explanation in Mandarin follow written upside-down in the manner of a quiz book.

The example above right is chhit go̍eh pòaⁿah-á, which literally means “mid-July duck”. The July, in fact, is actually the seventh month of the lunar calendar, which is “ghost month” in Chinese tradition – a time of spiritual danger. To ward off this danger, various devotions are made during the month, with the fifteenth day being the time when ducks are slaughtered to offer up to the hungry ghosts (thereafter being consumed by the hungry living). So to be a mid-July duck is by association to be one unaware of impending doom. In English we might allude to a “sword of Damocles” or a “time-bomb”, but I’m struggling to think of something with the same connotations of being ignorant of fate. Written underneath is the completion of the phrase “mÌ„ chai sí” (“doesn’t know it’s dead”), although the resident native speaker here (my wife) knows the phrase as “chhit go̍eh pòaⁿ ah-á, mÌ„ chai-iáⁿ sí o̍ah” which has pretty much the same meaning, although I think it scans better.

Chinese ChessThe park is named for Lián YÇŽtáng (連雅堂), better known by his pen name Lián Héng (連橫), who was both a poet and a historian. Lian wrote The General History of Taiwan (台灣通史), one of the first comprehensive studies of the island’s past, in 1920 during the Japanese colonial period. Incidentally, Lian Heng is also the paternal grandfather of Lien Chan (Liân Chiàn, 連戰, Lián Zhàn in Mandarin), former Chairman of the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang or KMT).

I popped down to Tâi-lâm recently and grabbed a few pictures of the park – it’s really a rather sad corner sandwiched in between two busy roads. If you’d like to check it out for yourself, it’s centred in this Google Maps link. During the few minutes it took me to walk around the paths on an overcast Sunday morning, I met a group of old gents playing Chinese chess and a very cheerful homeless man who seemed to have taken possession of one of the gazebos.

Unfortunately, adding a few phrases to the walls does not turn the place in to a “Literature Park” by any stretch, and I’d love to see more concrete steps (oops, bad pun considering the relative lack of grass in the park) taken to promote the language of the majority on the island. Coming up in the next couple of days – a post about the Taiwanese Literature Museum, a place with a more direct contribution to native language consciousness.

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