We had a two-week vacation at the language center, so I took a five-day trip to Quemoy.
The name "Quemoy" should trigger an some memories in the baby boomer crowd. In fact, some of you may be feeling slightly nauseated at this point. It's ok, it's normal; it's just because those memories are connected to Nixon, a known cause of nausea. That's right, Quemoy is that place that came up in the 1960 presidential election because those dirty reds were trying to take it from Free China.
But where is Quemoy?
Well, check out this map on the Wikipedia article to see where it is. Now you can see why the Communists tried to take the island, and why the fighting was so heavy. The island is just off the coast of China. It's the sole remaining piece of Fujian Province that is still in the hands of the Republic of China (Taiwan, or "Free China" in 1960's parlance). The rest of Fujian Province is controlled by the People's Republic of China centered in Beijing.
Now, as to the name. You may have noticed in the Wiki article that they mention that the island has multiple names: Kinmen, Quemoy, Chinmen, Jinmen. This is because romanization in Taiwan still has a lot of holdovers from previous systems of romanizing Mandarin, but in the case of "Quemoy" it's because the name isn't even based on Mandarin, it's based on the local, Minnan name. I choose to call the island Quemoy because it is by far the most kickin'-rad of all the choices available.
I stepped out of the airport into the cool(er than Tainan) air of Quemoy and found the bus stop. I was just in time to see them taking away the seats on a truck for some reason. Uh...is this the right place? This is an active bus stop, right?
I took a bus to the ferry terminal where I met up with my friend. On our way to the B&B we were staying in, I noticed this plaque near the terminal:
I'm sure that America's help during the Chinese Civil War is a big part of the reason why Quemoy continues to this day to be in the hands of the Republic of China (Taiwan) and not the People's Republic of China (Beijing's government).
We stayed at a town near the port called Shuitou. It's famous for its amazing collection of fancy homes. Most were built 100 years ago or so by people from the town who emigrated to South East Asia (most of which was European colonies at the time) or Japan in order to work and make money. Most of these people, if they managed to save up lots of money, would return home and construct a big, fancy house to retire in.
This cafe featured a Chiang Kai-Shek dish and a Mao Tse-Tung dish on its menu. I wonder if they keep track of which one sells better?
This is Shuitou's old elementary school, built with remittances from Shuitouers living abroad.
It's common for a lot of these buildings to have European influenced design features. The people who built them after all had spent many years living abroad and being exposed to European architecture. The mix of western and Chinese design features in one building makes for a very eclectic look.
Here's where we stayed. Some of the traditional homes have been converted to B&B's in order to ensure that they're properly maintained and not abandoned.
Above is how you lock the doors in these traditional homes from the outside. Below is how you do it from the inside. (Can you see the wooden slats?)
Amongst all of the traditional buildings are also a collection of bomb shelters. They're a reminder of the war-time experience that the island went through; an experience that lasted longer for the islanders than for people on mainland Taiwan. The KMT (Chiang Kai-Shek's political party/government) lost to the Communists led by Mao in 1949 and moved their capital to Taiwan. They basically lost all of the mainland except for a small number of islands of the coast, including Quemoy. The communists tried to take Quemoy, but were unable to. However, they did shell it for the next couple decades, right up until the 1970's.
I felt like I saw a lot more Republic of China flags hanging outside of people's house in Quemoy than I usually do in Tainan. The flag of the RoC has usually been associated with supporters of the KMT (the Nationalist party, Chiang Kai-Shek's party). This is because opponents of the KMT are usually pro-Taiwan independence, and therefore feel uncomfortable with the flag of the "Republic of CHINA". (However, some people have said that this has been changing in recent years, and many young people fly the flag as a symbol of Taiwan, even though it didn't originally have that meaning.) Quemoy is a stronghold of the KMT, and they pretty much always win elections around here.
The reasons I've heard for why the KMT is so popular in Quemoy are the following. First of all, the island isn't traditionally part of Taiwan, by which I mean the island of Taiwan and the islands in its immediate surroundings. The people on Quemoy consider themselves Fujianese, Chinese people, and therefore their reception to the idea of Taiwanese independence is less than enthusiastic. I also wouldn't be surprised if the experience of being bombed by the communists for 3 decades after WWII and being protected by the KMT's military has probably engendered a feeling of thankfulness towards the KMT amongst the islanders.
Unfortunately, many of the traditional houses are abandoned and falling apart. The island is, politically, a far-flung remote island part of Taiwan, and it's not particularly urban, so I'm sure the population must be aging and falling rapidly.
Quemoy is well known for its Kaoliang liquor, made from Sorghum.
One of the biggest houses in Shuitou is the Deyue Tower.
This is a mansion that, like many others, was built by a financially successful returnee to the island. However, at the time he built it the Qing Dynasty had only been just overthrown and Republic of China had only just been established, so the situation in China was rather unsettled, and the seas in this area were filled with pirates.
This home was built with a big wall around it, and with this tower so that there would be advance warning of coming pirates, not to mention the fact that you could retreat to the top of the tower and fire on the pirates. The tower also has a tunnel below it that runs underground and connects it to the house.
In addition to the other security measures I mentioned above, in the house itself there were also a couple of trap doors on the second floor. This one was just over the hallway in front of the stairs. If invaders managed to break into the house, one could open this trap door up and fire down on them.
This trap door was for escaping through in case invaders managed to make it up to the second floor.
This is another bomb shelter.
Finally, on the first day we made a short trip into Jincheng, the main town on the island, for dinner.