Lovely old gentlemen

Yu Kuo-hwa (1914-2000), former Premier of the Republic of China (Taiwan), was a prominent Mainlander.

The term “Mainlanders” essentially refers to the group of people from all over China and extremely different backgrounds that arrived in Taiwan between the end of Japanese colonial rule in 1945 and the Chinese Civil War that the Nationalists lost to the Communists in 1949.

Their exact number will never be known, with 1.2 million being the most commonly cited figure in Taiwan. As their ranks included a lot of military personnel, the male to female ratio was almost 4:1.

Many of them belonged to the Chinese elite on the mainland and went on to dominate the government hierarchy on the island during the martial law era (1949-1987).

This fact, combined with the bloody consequences of the incident which took place on February 28th, 1947, and remained a taboo topic for decades, created a lot of animosities between the newcomers and those who had migrated from China (much) earlier that in certain circles linger on.

Although I personally associate the above-mentioned definition much more withlovely old gentlemen, or sometimes even adorable old ladies, whose physical attributes often make them stand out from the crowd.

Many of them are quite tall, have long faces and males like to wear hats or caps, probably because they are retired soldiers of all ranks. Their accents in Mandarin are quite particular and very different from the local variety.

During my ten years working for a Taiwanese government agency, I met many of them, as there in particular they are still vastly overrepresented. Some already felt like Taiwanese, others stuck to their Chinese heritage.

A few of their last names are extremely rare, meaning “ancient”, “black”, “cold”, “sand”, “raven” or “willow”. Some of those are almost unique in Taiwan.

My almost 80 years old, though seemingly tireless friend is one of them. We occasionally talk about politics and our worries about the future, as well as the enormous cultural gap between East and West.

Over the 20 years that I have spent in Taipei and its surroundings, I have met many of them gathering in groups to eat and drink. The restaurants they chose were usually the most authentic.

Also, they follow certain patterns of behavior which are very specific. For example, their gestures when they refuse something politely, like another glass of strong liquor, made a deep impression on me.

Just two days ago, one of them bought a potato salad at my stand. To my great surprise, he called me a couple of ours later to inquire about other items on my (non-existent) menu and to place an order for next week.

It will be my pleasure to prepare some more authentic German food for him. Especially, as he pointed out on the telephone that he has been to Germany!

Unfortunately, because of natural causes their days are numbered and in the People’s Republic the infamous Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) completely wiped out what they represent. So, let’s enjoy their company while it lasts!