Asian Review of Books – “Taiwan Tales Volume 2: An Anthology” from the Taiwan Writers Group

 

taiwan3

There aren’t that many English-language books about Taiwan, especially fiction. This is a pity because despite being wedged between much larger neighbors such as China, Japan and the Philippines, there is a lot to Taiwan that often gets overlooked. There are many good stories that are still waiting to be told and the Taiwan Writers Group, a collective of local and expat writers, tries to tell a few in their latest collection.

This second volume of Taiwan Tales is compact, but its seven short stories are diverse, ranging from ghost stories to mystery. As the writers are all expats, most of the stories feature expats as protagonists. This obviously presents mostly an outsider’s view, but their fondness for and knowledge of Taiwan is evident in their descriptions of contemporary Taiwan life and culture. But there are also local protagonists, including that is an animal.

In what might be the story with the most Taiwanese twist, “Room 602” by Pat Woods sees a local woman face unusual problems in her hotel room during a business trip in Kaohsiung, falling back on childhood memories involving superstition and the appeasing of ghosts.

Mark Will’s “Notes from Underfoot” is an amusing story of Taipei life from a dog’s perspective. Baobao, a literate poodle owned by an expat and his local girlfriend, provides a witty narrative that includes cross-strait politics, the frequent neglect of pet dogs by Taiwanese, and buxibans or local tutoring centers for students. In Laurel Bucholz’s “Bob the Unfriendly Ghost vs The Mother Plant”, an expat finds herself under assault from a tormented ghost in her apartment right after taking Ayahuasca, a medicinal herb from South America. The combination of local superstition and hallucinatory visions from the herb produces a potent tale.In what might be the story with the most Taiwanese twist, “Room 602” by Pat Woods sees a local woman face unusual problems in her hotel room during a business trip in Kaohsiung, falling back on childhood memories involving superstition and the appeasing of ghosts.

JJ Goodwin’s “Underground” takes readers on a wild ride through an underground universe populated with deities and creatures from Taiwanese and other Asian folklore. This Taiwanese Odyssey features an unsuspecting hero who must complete quests and brave dangerous creatures to find his way back to the real world. Connor Bixby’s “A Completely Normal Male Expat”, the most humorous story in the collection, pokes fun at a stereotypical randy male expat while also parodying online dating. The story sees an American expat who becomes fixated on a local Tinder match, only to become increasingly neurotic as things go awry with the ensuing date.

Ray Hecht’s “The Taipei Underground” features a blossoming romance between two Taiwanese youngsters working in an underground electronics goods arcade in Taipei. It is a good take on work and social anxieties faced by young Taiwanese, in a setting that might not be well-known but is one of Taipei’s many distinctive facets.

Last but certainly not least, “Onus” by Ellyna Ford Phelps is an intriguing story about two female English teachers who form a close bond, but whose backgrounds suggest mysterious, tragic pasts. The story takes a dark turn midway but it blends expat friendship tale and mystery thriller in a poignant and suspenseful way that works very well.

It is no coincidence that there are two stories in the collection that feature ghosts, for  Taiwanese society has a strong superstitious nature due to the influence of traditional religion. Ghosts do feature regularly in modern Taiwanese life. For example, “Ghost Month” in the lunar calendar is widely observed by many Taiwanese who worship the ghosts of their ancestors by burning paper in urns outside their homes or businesses.

The anthology is a good reflection of Taiwan: small, calm on the surface but belying a fascinating, quirky, and pulsating character.


Hilton Yip is a writer currently based in Hong Kong and former book editor of Taiwan’s The China Post.
Advertisements

Taiwan Tales 2 free promotion!

Taiwan Tales Volume Two is free to download for the Kindle app on Amazon, for this week only! Get yours today to read my short story “The Taipei Underground” – a tale of two souls trying to figure out love beneath the shady caverns of the city – as well as many other excellent works by talented Taipei-based authors.

The stories include a mix of genres, from high fantasy with mythical beasts to ghost stories, and even one from the point of view of a small dog! 

From TWG Press:

 

 

https://www.amazon.com/Taiwan-Tales-Anthology-Connor-Bixby-ebook/dp/B078XPDQDM

 

“Room 602” by Pat Woods, a Taiwanese ghost story inspired by an unusual local superstition about knocking on hotel doors.

“Notes from Underfoot” by Mark Will, a humorous and erudite story that gives a dog’s-eye-view of life in Taipei.

“The Taipei Underground” by Ray Hecht, a glimpse of the lives of two young people in Taipei Main Station’s cavernous underground.

“Bob the Unfriendly Ghost vs. The Mother Planet” by Laurel Bucholz, dealing a sometimes funny, sometimes terrifying experience of local spirits and Ayahuasca.

“Underworld” by J.J Goodwin, an epic odyssey through a strange world beneath Taipei where local and foreign mythology is alive and kicking.

“A Completely Normal Male Expat” by Connor Bixby, which, in the author’s own brand of neurotic fiction, checks out communication and the dating game in Taipei.

“Onus” by Ellyna Ford Phelps, a story of friendship, dark pasts, and goodbyes as two expats share an all-too-brief connection.

Taiwan Tales: The Taipei Underground

Excerpt from the short story collection Taiwan Tales Volume Two, now available on Amazon:

 

The Taipei Underground
by Ray Hecht

 

Jerry Lee, also known as Li Shi-huang or merely Xiao Shi to his friends, stared across the cash register station to gaze longingly at the cute girl at the shop across the hallway. She had short hair, glasses, a well-fitting T-shirt. As she carefully stocked a shelf, for a split-second their lines of sight crossed over.

Suddenly, Jerry turned away and looked at a passerby eating a sausage, all the while exaggerating the movement of his neck as he pretended that was what he was looking at all along. He immediately regretted the embarrassing instinct, but it was too late and he had no choice but to go along with the ruse.

He continued to gaze rightward, pushing himself to ignore the girl from across the hall, and found himself making a 180-degree U-turn. The motion was interrupted by a shout from his cousin, whom he usually semi-affectionately referred to as Cousin Lee.

“Jerry! Come here.”

He walked to the back of their shop, squeezing between narrow passageways of obsolete computer equipment. The gray plastic was full of dust and wonder, hiding away computer chips decades old. All of it was close to his heart, and he never tired of working in such a magical place.

“Check this out,” Cousin Lee said as he plugged a replica of a 1981 console into a 40-inch widescreen HD monitor. He was tall and gangly, taller and ganglier than even Jerry, but spoke with an obnoxious confidence. Within the confines of these walls, he was in his element. “Pretty cool, right?”

A tune began to ring through the halls, a somehow familiar but simplified melody of an animated television theme song adapted and skewered through the primitive digital ringer of 8-bit glory.

The sounds brought everyone comfort, reminding them of a time before time, that pre-millennial age that was somehow part of their ancestral genetic memory or collective unconscious.

Jerry couldn’t help but bob his head.

The menu screen was in Japanese, a language Jerry knew only vaguely, but he grabbed the controller and played along through sheer muscle memory. Before he knew it, the little trademarked sprite had hopped and bopped its way through three whole levels.

“He’s good, isn’t he?” Cousin Lee said to a browsing customer.

Jerry, in the zone, felt distracted and content.

After a quick win, he returned to the register and stole more glances. He couldn’t help wondering about the girl. With no information about her other than that she was new at the workplace, his imagination had many gaps to fill. She’d been there about a month. What had she done before? Where was she from? The boss, was he her father? Uncle?

Why was she here?

The shop across the aisle was a different kind than that of the second-hand computer game variety. It was altogether low tech, specializing in cute toys of plastic and plush. It was located between one model robot dispensary and a knockoff handbag boutique, alongside a deep chasm of specialty stores that stretched infinitely in both directions underneath the streets of the city. Not unlike cave grottos at certain Biblical archeological sites, each one carved its own unique religious iconography onto the walls of the contemporary cultural landscape.

Several hours later, Jerry was ordered to close up shop. He counted the cash, put aside receipts, and jotted down inventory.

“Make sure you go to the bank in the morning,” his cousin said and then zipped up the cash bag tight.

“I know.”

“Good.” As they lowered the railing to lock up the family business, both saw the shop across the aisle doing the same.

“I hate that shop,” Cousin Lee said, spitting fire and saliva. “Ever since they opened, they do all they can to steal our customers. Those video game toys, all the same characters I advertise. I spend the marketing money, and they try to reap the benefits.”

“Yeah,” Jerry muttered.

“Do they think I’m stupid? What a shame. Nobody wants to buy the originals anymore; people just steal everything online and then only buy some cheap dolls.”

“It is a shame,” Jerry added in a weak attempt at consolation.

“I know those people just make the toys themselves. I can see them sewing in the back. That’s theft of intellectual property! I ought to report them.”

“But don’t we sell emulator rigs?” Jerry asked, giving the matter some thought. “Like, the software is all downloaded online for free. And then we sell it. Isn’t that basically the same thing?”

“It’s not the same!”

Jerry offered no retort. He simply watched his cousin go in one direction and the girl go in another. If only he could ditch him and find a way to talk to her alone. He sighed slowly as he followed behind, and resigned himself to his fate.

Xiao Shi,” Cousin Lee said with an air of closure, “I will see you tomorrow. I think I ate something rotten, so I’m going to go to the bathroom in the mall. Don’t wait up.” It was a reasonable request, considering the caliber of restaurants available for dinners in the tunnel.

“Oh. Okay.”

His cousin turned a corner with a slight moan, and disappeared.

With a nervous trot, Jerry made his way to the subway station.

It was a day like any other. He planned to scan his card and wait at the platform of the subway train in order to transfer once over the course of ten stations so that he could arrive at his small apartment in the outer district, and then at last go to sleep and do it all over again tomorrow.

This day, however, was slightly different. A minute before the train was due to arrive, he noticed she happened to be waiting two cars down. All alone, tapping away at her mobile phone. Heart thumping at a reckless pace, he cautiously approached her.

“Um, hello.”

She half-looked up. “Hello?”

“I work across the hall from you.”

“You do?” She tore her eyes away from the phone stuffed it in her purse, and inspected him closely. A flash of recognition abruptly lit up her eyes. “Oh, it’s you. I’ve seen you around. What’s your name?”

Li Shi-huang. Or, you can call me Jerry.”

“Everyone calls me Sha Sha,” she said. “So, uh, how do you like working in the tunnel?”

“It’s pretty good, I guess. Usually there are a lot of people window-shopping and not enough sales.”

“I know exactly what you mean.”

“Yeah.” A pause. “Where are you going now?” he asked.

“Home,” she answered, with a bluntness that he regretted hearing.

He didn’t know what to say next. “I hope you have a good night.”

“You too. I’ll see you next time.”

He smiled and was about to turn away, even finding himself on the cusp of formulating an apology for bothering her. But before he could react she interrupted his transition with a: “Hey, do you want to hang out some time?”

“That would be cool,” he blurted out.

“Let me see your phone,” she said.

They each procured their mobile devices, turned to the appropriate application, and she scanned his personalized digital code.

Silently, they both smiled and entered separate trains and waved goodbye.

Nice to meet you, he later texted in bed, along with an accompanying image of a smiling bunny rabbit.

She replied with a blobby wink.

The next day there was much back-and-forth. Instead of glances from across the chasm, the two pairs of eyes stooped downwards as the gravity of a glass screen pulled them all in to a small private world of written letters and animated pets.

I loved this character as a kid, she said, after a link to a humorous GIF of a cartoon pocket-sized monster in fierce battle.

This is my favorite one, he said as they simultaneously livestreamed a showing of a popular action-adventure strategic game.

Look at that!

I love it!!

Awesome!!!

We shall have to get together soon to eat some delicious food and listen to music

I like strawberry ice cream, but no hamburgers.

Slowly through intermittent conversations they learned more about each other. Dreams, passions, personal histories, dietary restrictions, and various other preferences and peeves.

She learned that he was new to the city after moving the previous year, and he still spent many weekends exploring tourist spots. He learned that she was a part-time student, full of visions of design and creativity and financial independence.

They made plans to meet at a night market—one that he had never been to but had researched and assured her was vegetarian-friendly.

Not to mention, he wrote, the further away the better.

No one said it aloud, nor typed it up, but they both felt relief that there was slim chance of bumping into any family members or mutual acquaintances.

I cant wait to be there with you. Only you.

In person, they ignored each other. Work was one world, and there they had their own separate reality. There was no need to actually speak.

It didn’t need to be spelled out.

The families wouldn’t approve.

They met in secret two weekends in a row, waiting in line at crowded food stalls shrouded in moonlight and then watching movies in dark rooms lit up by vast screens. Never in daylight, never with risk of discovery. In person they kept their words at a minimum, in contrast to the essays written by thumb.

Eventually, the power of skin touching against skin proved to be the most powerful—yet most dangerous—communication of all.

On the third date, Jerry and Sha Sha decided to risk everything by staying at a small love hotel a mere six metro stations away. It was for the most part a natural progression.

In bed, after said communication had completed, Jerry held her in his arms and felt compelled to take a dare by suggesting the logical next step. “You should come to my apartment next time. I’ll cook you some dumplings. It will be great.”

“At your home?”

“I do have to warn you that it’s a bit far, and it’s small,” he joked. “And it’s messy. But I promise I’ll clean up.”

“Well, it sounds nice, that is, but you know I live with my father, and he’s very strict.”

“Just say you’ll be visiting a friend. Or not. Come on, Sha Sha, you are old enough to do whatever you want to do.”

“Don’t pressure me. I mean, I wish I could, but just don’t think I can’t stay the night like that.”

“But, I got a new console and we could play—”

“I can’t!”

“Fine,” Jerry conceded, hopes dashed. “I understand.”

“This is happening too fast. I’m very busy with the afternoon classes and work and I barely have enough time to spend with you already,” she said, her voice shaking and quick.

“I get it. Fine then.”

“To tell you the truth…” she went on, “I don’t even know if this arrangement is really working out for me. I simply don’t know.”

“I said I understand!” Jerry shouted, surprised at his own anger.

She rolled over in the bed, turning away from him, and shut her eyes.

He said nothing.

Soon after, they got dressed and left for home.

The next day, Cousin Lee suggested that Jerry should accompany him on one of his bimonthly trips abroad. He needed new inventory. Jerry agreed.

As a last ditch effort, he later reached out to Sha Sha to see if she wanted to see him again before leaving.

Just go, she wrote, in simple and unadorned prose.

OK, he jotted.

His heart lost, he clicked send.

There was no reply.

****

Continue reading

Taipei International Book Exhibition

Soon begins the Taipei International Book Exhibition! TWG Press will have a booth at A711 and I will be there, selling the new Taiwan Tales Volume Two book as well as some of my other works from February 6th to 11th…

There will even be a free event on Friday, February 9th @ 8:30 p.m. in which the authors of the anthology will read excerpts and interact with the audience (at the Yellow Salon in the World Trade Convention Center Hall 1).

I am honored to be a part of it and it’s my first book expo in Taiwan. Can’t wait to meet more readers and authors and embrace the 台灣 literati! 😀

 

See more information here: http://www.tibe.org.tw/en/

Taiwan Tales Volume Two – short story anthology

 

https://www.amazon.com/Taiwan-Tales-Anthology-Connor-Bixby-ebook/dp/B078XPDQDM

 

Since coming to Taiwan, I have become a part of the Taipei Writers’ Group and I am now honored to be a part of their new anthology sequel Taiwan Tales Volume Two. My short story “The Taipei Underground” is included among many other works by excellent and talented writers whom I’ve been humbled to share writings with.

Please give it a read, via the Kindle or even order a hard copy. In fact, as always I’m happy to share an complimentary advance edition for reviewers! Also, stay tuned for updates including free promotions and other events coming up soon…

The book will also be on sale at the Taipei International Book Exhibition from February 6th to 11th, featuring yours truly. Do come say hi to me if in the area 🙂

 

Brief synopses of the short stories herein:

“Room 602” by Pat Woods, a Taiwanese ghost story inspired by an unusual local superstition about knocking on hotel doors.

“Notes from Underfoot” by Mark Will, a humorous and erudite story that gives a dog’s-eye-view of life in Taipei.

“The Taipei Underground” by Ray Hecht, a glimpse of the lives of two young people in Taipei Main Station’s cavernous underground.

“Bob the Unfriendly Ghost vs. The Mother Planet” by Laurel Bucholz, dealing a sometimes funny, sometimes terrifying experience of local spirits and Ayahuasca.

“Underworld” by J.J Goodwin, an epic odyssey through a strange world beneath Taipei where local and foreign mythology is alive and kicking.

“A Completely Normal Male Expat” by Connor Bixby, which, in the author’s own brand of neurotic fiction, checks out communication and the dating game in Taipei.

“Onus” by Ellyna Ford Phelps, a story of friendship, dark pasts, and goodbyes as two expats share an all-too-brief connection.

The collection was edited by Pat Woods and L.L. Phelps, and the gorgeous cover image was provided by TWG member Brian Q. Webb.