My Little Hakka Village

by Cynthia Ho Lam

CynthiaI was 3-years-old when I left Shanghai, my mother’s hometown in Mainland China, with my extended family, in the great exodus to flee the Communists, and to retreat to the island of Taiwan, in 1949.

Having been colonized for 50 years by Japan, Taiwan was now all of a sudden seeing a great influx of mainland Chinese arriving, ready to take charge of the island, and to build on it the Free China, and to prepare for the recovery of the mainland that was bitterly lost. There was great confusion and it was tumultuous time!

Being of Hakka descent, we were advised to move to the town called Miao Li, where many local Hakka people of the island have made their home. We the newcomers would hope to be accepted more easily, sharing the same dialect, living among people from the same ancestral Hakka village from mainland China! And this did turn out to be a great foresight, fortunately.

We rented a farmhouse from a couple who grew orchids among other things. The house was big enough to house us all—three generations, my paternal and maternal grandmothers, my uncles and aunts, my Mom and me, while my father was in Taipei the capital, trying to work out a long-term settlement for the family.

The town of Miao Li was so small and rural that there was only one road. But our house was lovely with a spacious living room in the center and bedrooms on both sides. Outside the front door, there was a big open court yard, where our three generations would often have dinner together enjoying the cool evening air, listening to the cicadas, the toads, and other nameless insects. And the farm behind the house was even bigger! There was a big orchard with many kinds of fruits trees, so big that I was scared to go in there alone. I remember clearly of that chicken coop where we raised more than 200 chickens, of different kinds and feathers—white ones, colorful ones, and dark ones. Every morning I would go with my grandma to collect the eggs. We tried to sell them to subsidize our income so as to help pay for our rent. There were two goats by the barn that I would help milk it and to drink the milk too. I would tell my friends in high school, years after, that it was the delicious goat milk drink that gave me my fair skin! There was a small pond by the side of the house, where my youngest uncle and I had great fun wading and raising small fish and shrimp, and feeding the pigeons that came beside it, then watching them fly high. And then of course there was that skinny and gorgeous papaya tree, standing tall right outside of the round window by my bed!

HakkaVillage1That was indeed a perfectly idyllic childhood dream come true, and I lived it for two years. During that time my courageous Mother single handedly built up the first ever “Miao Li Experimental Kindergarten.” I was among the proud first group of graduates., Then came the sad time for our family to move to Taipei, where my father worked and the family settled. We never did return to Miao Li, except on visits.

My first visit back to Miao Li occurred when I was about 10 years old. The house was showing neglect already. I remember walking with my Mom and my aunt around the graveyard behind the house. There were big oval stones standing as tombstones, and I remember feeling bewildered as I listened to the adults talking, half-jokingly, about which stones they would prefer for their own tombs.

The second visit I came during my college years with two schoolmates, who had heard enough from me of my Miao Li village and were intrigued to want to see for themselves. Alas! I was stunned to see how the house and the farm were in such disrepair. It looked altogether abandoned. The broken screen windows are still vivid in my mind now.

The last visit was about five years ago, after an interval of 40 years. Miao Li was transformed beyond recognition! It was now a modern city with infrastructure to support the hustle and bustle of city life. We were all curious, trying to re-orientate ourselves. We were drawn to the many wonderful local attractions there where we saw the unique local products, the art and craft display, both indoors and outdoors. We tasted the yummy Hakka food in the neat restaurant, next to the coffee houses by the lovely creek. We were delighted to play tourists immersed in the new Miao Li in front of us. But my childhood farm house was gone, without a trace; and so was the eerie graveyard. We were left wondering whatever happened to them.

Taiwan had gone through huge overhauls with the tremendous political and economic forces over the years. With the political stability came the enormous economic growth that earned it the nickname as one of the Four Little Dragons of Asia in the 70’s and 80’s, with products one could find everywhere that said “Made in Taiwan.” Now with China becoming a world super power, Taiwan has unavoidably been caught up in constant geopolitical disputes, though continues to spare no efforts to prove to the world its economic prowess. As a result, my farm house in the little Hakka village there never stood a chance for a comeback in all those bygone years. And in all likelihood, it never will ever again.



1 comment

  1. What an interesting story; so true of many rural parts of the world where the population expands and urbanization takes over the farms. Did your original farm/home have running water? Flush toilets? Laundry and cooking facilities? Sometimes the “old farm” holds many happy memories but was hard on women (and men) to live comfortably as time and energy were needed to complete basic chores that are easily mechanized now. On another note, I really enjoyed the 6 coloured sketches embedded in your story. Did you paint these yourself? Who was the artist?

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