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.
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!