Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Jeff Quinn's "Man On The Scene: Kaliu"--Insights into Taiwan and East Asia

Quinn, Jeff. (2011) Man On The Scene: Kaliu , U.S.A.: Create Space
Books, pp. 282

By Kevin Anthony Stoda

“Kaliu” is a word in the Matsu/Fujian dialect—and also used in Taiwan—which means to enjoy one's stay or enjoy one's self. According to the author, Jeff Quinn, visitors to the Matsu region of Taiwan are sometimes told to “kaliu their stay.”

With Man On The Scene: Kaliu, Jeff Quinn has taken time to write and publish another important work of his--as part of his series entitled “Man on the Scene”. One can see other examples of Jeff’s publishing links at:


Before I begin a review of Jeff’s newest Man-on-the-Scene work, I would like to allow Jeff to share a bit, in his own words, about his memories and the reflections on his corners of Asia as revealed in one of the historical interpretations of life & in both the Matsu Archipelago and Taiwan, i.e. in the legends of the Little B. People.


Concerning founding myths of Taiwan, Jeff Quinn shares, “[c]onsensus has it [that] the first occupants of what would later be called Taiwan arrived 5,000 to10,000 years ago. It is surmised that the northern tribes hailed from from modern-day Japan, Vietnam, and Mongolia, while the southern aboriginal groups display Mayalo/polynesian roots. But then, nobody seems to know for sure.”
Quinn then raises the question in his own rye-humor, ”Five to ten thousand years simply "lost" to history. What went on? Family bonding? War, peace, and the occasional headhunting outing? I don't know about you, but I've always found these "lost" years intriguing. Lacking documentation or a written history, these people, who lived for thousands of years receive a paragraph or two in the annals of history, while those living in Taiwan for brief blinks of an eye, such as the Spanish, receive ten times the inky output. After saying this, I'm about to do the same, as I know squat about these mysterious hunter-gatherer types who presumably lived wild and exciting, albeit short, lives, scampering around the island doing their best to stay alive.”
Jeff proceeds in his stream-of-consciousness style, observing that there is “an amusing historical aside concerning a group known as the Little Black People (no I didn't make that up) to share. It is speculated that the group were descendents of the Negrito race, dispersed widely throughout the world at the time. I must confess up front that there is a fair amount of debate whether the Negrito race ever made it to Taiwan. Furthermore, there is also a fair amount of debate whether there was actually a tribe known as the Little Black People (sometimes referred to as the Short Black People) living on the island of Taiwan at all.”
Interestingly, “[I]f you ask the aboriginal Saisiyat people, there is no doubt as to whether the LBP ever resided in Taiwan. The Saisiyat biannually celebrate a raucous ritual known as Pas-ta'ai, said to appease an ancient curse placed on their tribe by the LBP centuries earlier. The curse was believed to cause crop failure and to inflict general misfortune and ill will on the Saisiyat. Accordant to Saisiyat lore, the LBP once dwelled within the caves of a certain steep ravine in central Taiwan. It was said the LBP were extremely knowledgeable in the ways of agriculture. They were also allegedly keen at throwing bashes and partying. Much to the Saisiyat's sorrow, the LBP also had an uncanny pension for accosting young Saisiyat women by making lewd advances and flirting whenever they got the chance. One day, it was said, a certain faction of the LBP went too far by ‘molesting’ (what I infer as raping) a young Saisiyat princess and her handmaidens.”
The story doesn’t end there and the Jeff Quinn continues to interview about half the population of Taiwan to get at the truth on this early history of his new-but-temporary homeland. Eventually, after various anecdotes and alternative historical narrations have been shared and pursued, Quinn asks the big question, “So, did the Little Black People live in Taiwan or not? It seems doubtful that we'll ever know for sure. In 2004, Taiwanese Vice President, Annette Lu, made the bold, if not misguided statement, that an extinct race of ‘black pygmies’ (the LBP) were the original race to inhabit Taiwan. As you can probably imagine, this didn't go over very well with some of the other aboriginal tribes still living on the island. Goofy or not, the celebrations continue today, taking place every two years during the 10th lunar month, with larger festivals held every ten years. The celebrations last three full days and are said to resemble dance marathons.”

NOTE: Jeff notes, “It appears the Little Black People also roamed around China for a time. Known by the Chinese during the Three Kingdom Periods (AD 220 to AD 260) as "black dwarfs", these people were said to possess dark skin, curly hair, and broad noses. Whether they were related to the LBP or not remains a mystery.”

Another great sample of the writing genre created by Jeffery Michael Quin is provided in the chapter in Man on the Scene, Kaliu on “beetle nuts” —a topic I never once covered (nor observed) when living in and writing on the Matsu Islands and in Taiwan. In short, like any fly-on-the-wall perspectives on Asia, we (I) ignore what is being spit on the sidewalk in front of us.

This acknowledgement that I did not personally observe the usage and abuse beetle nuts does not mean that I did not have the awareness and the eye for the signs of this sort of substance while living in Taiwan. I read, in fact, quite a bit in Amy C. Liu’s, TAWAIN A TO Z: The Essential Cultural Guide, about the commonness of this addictive chewing habit in Southern regions of Taiwan.

As well, I would have to say that the Taiwanese were more likely to hide or be quite secretive about their habits in front of us school teachers on Beigan island, where I lived 7 miles north of where Jeff Quinn did. (Likewise teachers have had to hide all-kinds of bad habits, such as smoking or excessive drinking, from their pupils and others on the same island. Such is the life of those living and working in small town.) The silence of peoples on the northernmost island of Matsu, where I lived, reflected a desire to not appear too self-critical of their own nation or peoples in the presences of a foreigner.

“A Nutty Habit”... in the words of Jeff Quinn in “Kaliu”

Here is Jeff Quinn’s spin on a nutty matter that colored his stay in Taiwan.

“Soon after arriving on the island, I began noticing a substantial portion of the male race engaged in a habitual ritual...The indulgence of betel nut. The reddish orange teeth were a dead giveaway.” Jeff asks, “So what exactly are these curious little nuts and why all the fascination with them? Well for starters, the nuts referred to as betel nuts aren't betel nuts at all. The nuts are actually harvested from tall, wispy areca palm trees native to the shores of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Areca nuts are slightly smaller than your average walnut and are extremely hard. Although some users opt to add candy or tobacco, there are basically three main components involved in the preparation of chewing grade betel. First, it is of course necessary to procure the aforementioned areca nuts. The nuts are then wrapped inside a freshly picked leaf from the betel tree (thus the name betel). Lastly, in order to generate the ‘kick’ or desired effect, an alkaloid known as arecoline must be introduced. One of the most popular means of triggering this chemical process is through the use of lime powder derived from crushed oyster shells. One now has the requisite components of the three-part harmony.”
Moreover, “[s]o where do they chew the stuff? Before answering, I must inform you that betel nut chewing is really betel nut sucking. But as that sounds somewhat grotesque we'll refer to the practice here to fore as betel nut indulgence. That just sounds better doesn't it? Betel nut indulgence is found in nearly every nook and cranny throughout the continent of Asia. Strangely, the practice is virtually unknown throughout most of the western world. The reddish-orange stains gracing sidewalks and streets remind me of the Old West, to a time when chewing tobacco was at its height of popularity in the America. Just like back then, there are signs informing people that betel spitting is prohibited. In Papua New Guinea, for instance, “No Betel Nut Chewing” signs are posted right alongside ‘No Smoking’ signs. Though I must admit I never came across any of these signs on Nangan, just a lot of juice.”


Looking at the photo on the cover of Jeff Quinn’s newest book, Kaliu, I am reminded that I, myself, went swimming from that same “semi-militarized” beach a year ago this spring, i.e. with Jeff and his wife looking on from the same shore. That particular shoreline can be seen from the school where Jeff used to teach and live on the island of Nangan (in the Matsu archipelago) in Taiwan. The Matsu chain of islands are only a hop across a small straight from mainland China’s province of Fujia (also called Fukian).

Like Jeff Quinn, I had lived in the Matsu Islands (but on Beigan Island) in 2010-2011. Likewise, I taught in the same local school districts as Jeff for the County of Lienchiang. I wrote about my time there extensively on the internet, e.g.




In contrast, Jeff Quinn has taken to more clearly explain how “[w]hile technically Taiwanese soil, or rock, as the islands are composed mainly of granite, the Matsu Islands share close cultural ties with neighboring China.”

“The Matsu Islands, commonly referred to as the ‘Pearls of Eastern Fujian’ . . . are said to resemble a string of pearls lying off the mouth of the Min River Delta near Fuzhou. The Matsu chain consists of 19 islands and islets lending themselves to 22 villages and 137 neighborhoods; all of which are administered by Lienchiang County, Taiwan.” [The county is divided into four townships: Nangan Township (which translated means Southern Fishing Pole), Biegan Township (Northern Fishing Pole), Juguang Township (Brilliance of the Ju Kingdom), and Dongyin Township (Welcoming the East).” ]
I concur with Jeff that “[f]or those who've spent time in Taiwan, the Matsu Islands will certainly exhibit a different vibe. Matsu islanders tend to march to their own beat, having more in common with the Eastern Fujian or Eastern Min region of China in terms of tradition and culture, than that found across the straits in Taiwan proper, where most speak Hakka, a southern Fujian dialect. Although Mandarin Chinese is the official language, residents of Matsu speak a northern Fujianese dialect called Pinghua, which is wholly unintelligible to Mandarin speakers.”

Jeff adds, “For many years the islands [of Marsu] were off-limits to those in mainland China. Conversely, mainland China was also off-limits to those in Matsu. A policy known as Three Small Links was instituted in 2001, allowing for limited trade and travel between Fujian ports and Matsu, as well as Kinmen. A ferry now runs several times a day between Fu'ao Harbor in Nangan and the port city of Mawei, southeast of Fuzhou.” For this reason, some students of ours had visited mainland China several times—implying that the border was fairly wide-open.
However, as Jeff and his wife came to discover, international relations and confusion about spheres of influence in the multipolar Chinas of 2012 continue to make it difficult for non-Chinese to travel between what is known as mainland China and what we currently call Taiwan. This becomes very clear if a non-Chinese or non-Taiwanese would try to cross the small straight on a boat or ferry to the other shore.
In a way, this sort of confusion at what it means to live and travel in a globally integrated world are revealed both in Jeff’s reflections in Kaliu and in the reality of the confusing geo-political hotspot--which we all still-know as the Two-China Policy reality that U.N. member states and their citizens have been confronting for 4 decades now.



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