Shopping on Peace Memorial Day

February 28 (‘228’) commemorates the massacre of up to 40,000 Taiwanese civilians and a four-decade period of “White Terror”…

A heron in the foreground with an out-of-focus elderly person sitting on a park bench in the background.
228 Peace Memorial Park in Taipei, December 2019. Photo: Zhen-Kang.

White Terror is a horrific part of Taiwan’s recent history, which makes its present-day status as the freest democracy in Asia, outright remarkable.

White Terror ended during my lifetime, in 1987. (Taiwan’s first parliamentary election wasn’t until 1992.) As I enjoy daily life in one of the world’s safest, most peaceful societies, it’s hard to believe the people around me lived through it.

Over the past few days, I asked friends how they feel about Peace Memorial Day. A common theme is that Taiwanese have short memories, perhaps intentionally.

I was also told it’s often a day for shopping.

Coincidentally, I needed to visit my local Show Ba (小北百貨) 24-hour hardware store. A basic shopping trip that gave me an immense sense of achievement—because I had my first slightly-complex, multi-sentence interaction, in Chinese, with a stranger.

I was second in line at checkout, but the customer in front of me was taking time-consuming health precautions, unwrapping each item to spray it with sanitizer before placing it in their repeatedly-sanitized bag, then repeatedly sanitizing their hands. (I wondered if they might have COVID-19.)

The store clerk said to me, in English, “sorry about the wait”.

The rest of the conversation happened exclusively in Chinese—translated to English below:

ZK: No problem!

Clerk: (Surprised) You speak Chinese?

ZK: Only a little bit.

Clerk: That’s great!

When it was my turn to be served…

ZK: I want to buy one bag.

Clerk: Do you want one large bag for the tissues and one small bag for the rest, or only one small bag?

ZK: Only one small bag.

Clerk: OK!

ZK: Thank you. What’s the total cost?

Clerk: $688 [NZ$35].

ZK: (Handing over a $1,000 note) Thank you.

Clerk: Thank you. Here’s $312 change.

ZK: Thank you. Good-bye!

Clerk: Thank you! Good-bye!

Five boxes of tissues, a power adapter, USB cable, and packet of Ariel 4D laundry detergent laid flat on a mattress.
Told you it was basic. I purchased tissues (which always come in vacuum-packed sets of five boxes), a Micro-USB cable and adapter, and some detergent.