Returning

16 January 2020

I don’t normally approve of stealing.

But there was this Chinese magazine that I wanted badly, but couldn’t get hold of or subscribe to because of my weak command of the Chinese Language.

This elusive magazine is known as 金门文艺 or Kinmen Literature. It is a collection of mostly Kinmen inspired literary and art pieces published bi-annually by people who are determined to promote & preserve Kinmen’s intangible heritage.

I like the artistic layout of its cover page, and the feel of its paper quality. I cherish the chance to have a glimpse of the Kinmen spirit through the poems, essays, artworks, photographs and even advertisements of Gaoliang wine that appear in the magazine.

But mostly I’m in love with this magazine because Kinmen is where my grandma was born.

The map of Kinmen Island resembles a puppy making a play bow. Olli the cat of course has to assert his feline stake, so that dogs will know who really owns the world.

As a Chinese woman who makes a living teaching English Language and Literature, I felt that an annual subscription of Kinmen Literature would let me stay connected to Kinmen while honoring the team behind this labour of love.

Kinmen Island lies in the sea between mainland China and Taiwan. It is 20 mins away by ferry from Xiamen and less than an hour by flight from the Song Shan Military Airport in Taipei. There are no direct flights from Singapore to Kinmen Island. The song lyrics of “漂洋过海来看你” (Crossing oceans & seas to see you) by Jonathan Li was deeply felt as I made those crossings for my grandma.

Last September in 2019, on the day we were flying out of Kinmen to be in Taiwan for our flight back to Singapore, I saw copies of the 67th edition of Kinmen Literature at the airport reading lounge.

Should I just “take” one copy to Sg as a souvenir? Who knows when will I be able to return to Kinmen again?

And after all there was no cashier counter where I could make payment for the copy even if I had wanted to, the thief in me reasoned.

Furthermore there was no sign saying that the magazine had to be returned, the justification for dishonesty strengthened.

But then again there was no announcement anywhere that said the magazine was free either, a sliver of light broke through my muddled mind.

Pre-boarding, my thoughts continued to oscillate between keeping the magazine which was actually stealing, and letting it go.

Finally at the last moment, I decided to return it to the shelves where I found it.

But not before taking many many shots of the copy next to my walking cane as if the magazine was a person.😊

Kinmen Literature & my walking cane overlooking the airport runway of Kinmen Airport before I put the magazine back in the reading lounge.

In mid-November 2019, a couple of months after I triumphed over the temptation of taking what’s not mine in Kinmen, an Facebook friend from Taiwan asked if we could meet up. She was in Singapore for a very short visit.

Miao Ling (陈妙玲)had read my Facebook posts about my grandma’s childhood and my journeys in Kinmen for her. Even though Miao Ling knew I wasn’t proficient in Chinese and might not even get to to meet up with her, she decided to bring a copy of the latest edition of Kinmen Literature for me!

Holding the 68th publication of Kinmen Literature hand delivered from Taiwan to Singapore for me, courtesy of editorial member, Ms Chen Miao Ling. She had read my subscription enquiries.

At the Nanyang Cafe in Chinatown Point on 16 Nov 2019, I received my very own copy of the literary magazine from Ms Chen Miao Ling, who was also on the editorial team of the magazine that I coveted.

Miao Ling (陈妙玲) took the trouble to bring a copy of Kinmen Literature to Sg for me without even knowing if she had the time to meet up with me. 🙏

Miao Ling indulged me as I gushed in a mixture of English, Chinese and Minan Dialect about my encounters with Kinmen Literature, including the attempt to steal one from the Kinmen Airport.

And so there we were, two modern day Kinmen daughters exchanging information of our family histories.

As we spoke, we felt the fears & tears of daughters before us in olden times, many as young as 7 or 9 years old, forced to be sold, abandoned or fostered by near strangers because of changes in their family fortunes brought about by upheavals in politics & wars.

Before we parted, Miao Ling & I took some pictures together. A Filipino lady from across our table helped us to record this meet up that started a century ago, in 1914, the birth year of my grandma.

It’s now 2020. Last week I learnt that my grandma’s love for Kinmen and my visits have found their way to Kinmen Daily (金門日報) and Indonesian- Chinese Daily (印華日報) through Miao Ling’s writing.

Miao Ling’s essay in the Indonesian-Chinese Daily dated 6 Jan 2020. To the writer and those proficient in the Chinese Language, please accept my apology in advance if my interpretation does not do justice to Miao Ling’s words. 🙏

In her essay, Miao Ling likened the 108 chimes of the temple bell in her childhood to my grandma’s constant pining for her birthplace.

She communicated poignantly my attempts to sync with Kinmen and my grandma’s 3 phrases of attachment to her birthplace that she recited like a mantra throughout her life.

Miao Ling’s publication in the newspaper has enabled an unknown 7 year old girl, born more than a 100 years ago in Kinmen, to return to the embrace of her birthplace.

Love can really cross oceans and seas, transcend histories and navigate round all kinds of logistical & language difficulties.

Our duty is perhaps not to be disheartened or feel silly, and talk ourselves out of loving.

A copy just for me. ♥️

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