Had the one day off today. On my way to an afternoon fueled by coffee and idiosyncratic music at Kafka on the Shore near National Taiwan University, I stopped at the neighborhood Eslite bookstore, hoping to grab a book on the history of the battle of Kinmen (Quemoy) published by the Ministry of National Defense. As I couldn’t find it, I went to the information desk and asked the lady behind the counter to locate it for me. It turns out they were out of stock.
Two things, however, stand out from the brief conversation that we had. First, she had never heard of said battle, admitting that she was rather thin on her Taiwanese history. Then, as I was paying for another book I had decided to acquire — Chang Sun Kang-i’s Journey Through the White Terror: A Daughter’s Memoir — she asked me where I was from. Canada, I told her. Odd, she said. Why, as a foreigner, would I be interested in Taiwanese history? Because I want to learn as much as I can about Taiwan, I replied. But, Taiwan is practically China, so why learn about Taiwan? No they’re not, I replied. They’re two separate countries. But why the interest? Because I am a journalist in Taiwan and it is part of my job to acquaint myself with my subject. She shook her head, took the NT$250 for the book, and mumbled something about their difficult position, or something like that, whatever that meant.
An employee in a bookstore across from Taiwan’s foremost institution of higher education. Hum. I crossed the street and went to Kafka on the Shore, where I sat myself in a comfortable corner, ordered a coffee and cracked open a book on politics and change in Hong Kong and Singapore. Thankfully, the waiter didn’t ask me why in hell I was reading about Hong Kong and Singapore.