Yui Interviewing Lena

To listen to this interview, click here.

Translation of “Yui Interviewing Lena”

by Li-Ting Chang

First, I would like to know which year you were born.
Were you born in Taiwan in 1961?
Yes. I was born in Taoyuan, Taiwan, in 1961.
When you were born, what did your family look like?
I was born in 1961, and my father fled from China in 1949 with Chiang Kai-shek.
Was your father a soldier or…?
My dad was a police officer.
Oh, a police officer.
He was studying at the police academy at that time. When the Nationalist Party retreated from China, he came to Taiwan with others. When he came to Taiwan, he initially served as a police officer but then worked in the Examination Yuan. There were five Yuans in Taiwan. [Executive Yuan, Legislative Yuan, Judicial Yuan, Control Yuan, Examination Yuan] My mom is an islander.
Does it mean that she is a native-born Han Chinese? Or?
Well, I am unsure if she is mixed since Taiwan was occupied by the Netherlands before being colonized by Japan.
Yes, the Netherlands, indeed.
So, I personally think that she is mixed because my uncle looks a bit like a foreigner.
She looks like a foreigner. She looks like a person of mixed race.
Yes, but it has been a long time ago. My uncle and other relatives do not look like Han Chinese. When I was born, my family consisted of my father, mother, older sister, older brother, and me. I also have a younger brother, but, of course, he was not born when I was born. For me, because my father was a government employee…according to my mother, Taiwan was, in fact, not very rich back then. However, we had enough to eat since my father was a government employee. At that time, the United States would provide Taiwan with some relief supplies, such as flour. Because the flour bags are made of cotton, they were used to make clothes.
My father came from Guangdong province, so he eats rice on a regular basis, unlike your father. My mother would also make very traditional, simple cakes; my mother used a Tatung rice cooker to make all her cakes. My childhood was like such. If you asked me how rich we were, we were not rich. When I started earning money, our family became wealthy, and our life improved. My elder brother and elder sister did not make that much. However, when I began to work…my elder brother and elder sister both got married earlier. How much did I earn after I started to work? In principle, I did a summer job for three months in college and made about 8000 NTD.
The NT dollar?
Yes, I was talking about the NT dollar. After I graduated from college, I earned about 12000 NTD.
Was that around the 1980s?
It was about 1983 or 1984. At that time, I earned about 12000 NTD after I graduated from college. Then I earned 24000 NTD after I graduated from graduate school. After I graduated from graduate school, how was the stock market back then? I saw my colleagues were all obsessed with the stock market. I remember I earned 24000 NTD after I graduated, but two or three years later, my salary increased to 40000 or 50000 NTD per month. It means that the annual salary adjustment was 23%, which was very good.
The economic development in Taiwan was very good.
It was not until 1990, Taiwan’s economy…it was not necessarily due to Taiwan’s economy; it was because I was old enough to make money. I don’t know. Because my father was a government employee, the government employee had to raise four children.
Well, did your mother also work back then?
No, she did not. When we were younger, my mother had to make extra money to support the family since my father did not earn that much. We did original equipment manufacturers (OEM) at home when we were younger. You know how there are embroidered flowers on sweaters? We helped my mother sew them. After sewing, we packed ten sweaters per bag. Some would weave sweaters first, and we sewed patterns on those sweaters. The money we earned depended on how many sweaters that we sewed patterns on. We weaved, weaved, and weaved. We would return the sweaters with patterns and then get new ones. This was how we made money. We probably did these things when we were in elementary and middle school.
Did you study and help your family with this job when growing up?
I usually helped after school. My elder sister’s physical condition did not seem to be very good. In fact, my parents cared about our academic performance a lot. My elder brother and sister memorized things slowly, but my younger brother and I did not have this problem. In fact, I did not play much when I was young. As I remember, my elder brother and sister were always asked to stay home to study. My elder brother and I seemed to be the children my parents expected a lot from since we were healthier. My younger brother had polio when he was little. He had polio when he was three or four years old, so he was not very healthy. My elder sister was not very healthy, either. Therefore, my elder brother and I did more things.
As you mentioned, your parents attached importance to your education, right?
Yes, they hoped we would study more, so my elder brother and elder sister were always asked to stay home to study. Anyway, if you could not memorize the multiplication table well, you could not leave home. I remember they were all locked up at home, but I did not seem to have this problem. I played outside but saw they were not allowed to do so.
Do you remember if there are traditional values that your parents instilled in you? Your father came from China, didn’t he? Did he teach you and your siblings some traditional Chinese values?
Besides my father, Mr. Chiang [Chiang Kai-shek] introduced all the traditional Chinese values to Taiwan. When the nationalist party retreated, there were 36 provinces and one special administrative region, including Taiwan, in China. It is no longer the case now. It means people came to Taiwan from 35 provinces. In fact, a lot of elites came, so it is one of the reasons why Taiwan is better than China. However, there were a lot of people in China. At that time, many people wanted to come to Taiwan but failed to do so because ships were fewer than needed. I know that it was a very, very cruel thing to get on ships. You even had to step over corpses to be able to walk. You had to squeeze and squeeze through people to walk. A lot of people died there since they could not flee to Taiwan. For those who could come, some of them had already been renowned people in China. In my opinion, the reason that Taiwan is a bit better than China is the people. Of course, Mao Zedong later launched the Cultural Revolution. Taiwan is better than China because Mao launched the Cultural Revolution in China and because the Nationalist Party brought better people to Taiwan at that time. My grandfather was a member of the National Party and a county mayor.
Did your father come to Taiwan with your grandfather?
He [my grandfather] could not come. He did not come, but he was shot right after the war.
Shot by Communists?
Yes, he was shot by Communists. The class struggle was severe at that time. My grandfather died because of his identity as a member of the National Party. Anyway, he was dead. My grandmother was fought against because of the class struggle. My grandparents were considered wealthy in China. In fact, to put it bluntly, it was not other people but your relatives fighting against you. My grandmother died very miserably.
My father still sends money to his relatives in China. He also asked me for money. My younger brother and I put together some money to build a house for the relatives in China. My father is one hundred years old this year, and still sends money back to China.
Your father still lives in Taiwan, right?
Yes, he is one hundred years old this year.
So are your older brother, sister, and younger brother all in Taiwan?
Yes, they all live in Taiwan. I am the only one who is not in Taiwan. I came to Canada because my son came here to study at the university. That’s why I came.
Would you go abroad if your son did not come here to study?
I would not come here.
I see. Based on my understanding, your father fled from China to Taiwan because the National Party lost the war. After he came to Taiwan, he met your mother. How do you identify yourself?
What do you mean by identity?
Do you think you are Chinese, Taiwanese, or?
Actually, I should put it this way. I always thought I was Chinese until…Until which year?
Until which year?
Until I was in my 30s or 40s, I think it was in my 40s. Um…I never agreed with China’s [policies], because they killed my grandparents.
Did you not agree with China or not agree with the Chinese communist party?
To me, China and the Chinese communist party are the same.
Are they the same thing?
Yes, they are the same. They now differentiate between Chinese people and the Chinese communist party, but I will explain this later. I used to think that I was Chinese. I told people that I was Chinese when I went abroad. However, I am from the Republic of China, whereas you are from the People’s Republic of China, so I always thought I was Chinese. My older brother, older sister, father, all the relatives on my husband’s side…my father-in-law also fled from China. We are all regarded as mainlanders. There are mainlanders and islanders in Taiwan.
So, were people who came to Taiwan after the war all mainlanders?
Yes. The second generation of my father and father-in-law is us [my husband and I]. Among the second generation of mainlanders, probably only my husband and I end up not identifying ourselves as Chinese. It was not until recently that I did not identify myself as Chinese, but my husband probably has not identified himself as Chinese since high school. As for me, I never thought about it. I thought about it for the first time in my life after I got here. Everyone said that we were Chinese. Maybe after one or two years, I realized that something was wrong. Why was I Chinese? The first year we took a language class, they said: “You are Chinese.” I also thought that I was Chinese. In the second year that I took the class, I said: “No, no, no. I am not Chinese. I am Taiwanese.” As I told others, if an American’s parents came from England, they would not tell you that they are British because they have already been Americans. Is that right? Just like I am in Taiwan, I am Taiwanese. However, the world does not think in this way. Taiwan cannot join the United Nations (UN) and other organizations. Everyone does not recognize Taiwan as a nation, but Taiwan has always had what a nation has. We have a president, currency, our own government, and our own passports. There is not one in the world…only a few countries recognize Taiwan as a nation. However, Taiwan is indeed a nation. So, I later became…I never thought about this before. I would not need to say where I came from when I was in Taiwan. I would not even think about it when I was in Taiwan. However, after going abroad, Chinese people would say that Taiwan belonged to China when I was a classmate of Chinese people. However, it is not true. Chinese people say that only to please themselves. Our languages, our presidents, and our governments are all different. To put it bluntly, we have different welfare benefits. We also have different value systems because our education is so different.
You have to know my educational background. I know China’s geography and history well. Let’s not talk about history because the history in China and in Taiwan before the retreat is all the same. I know China’s geography more than Taiwan’s since our textbooks did not introduce much about Taiwan.
Since you were born in the 60s?
There was little about Taiwan in our textbooks. Our map in the textbook was the map of China. The textbook did not introduce Taiwan, so I was unfamiliar with it. However, our exams were all about rivers and provinces in China. Even our high school was this way. So, for me, I never thought thoroughly about how I identify myself. It was not until I encountered something that I started to think about it. I began to think about it in the past one or two years. I started to hear people talking about it after I came here. Then I realized: “Oh no, there is something wrong with it. How come I never thought about it before?” I never went to China since I thought China was very dangerous. After China joined the World Trade Organization (WTO), China made a lot of money. However, China sacrificed its land and caused land pollution. The pollution cannot be reversed. It cannot be reversed. Plus, I would not even go back to China because of my grandparents. However, my father would go back. My father would go back, but I have never gone back. People would travel to China, but I would never do so. I have been to China, however. I went to China because of a business trip. When I took China’s case, I went to Dalian from the border of Beijing. I took a plane back to Taiwan right after I had my meeting. I took cases in India before.
Was that related to your job?
Yes, it was in India. I met a Tibetan. The Tibetan told me what kind of life he was living, so I had an idea of what it was like living in China. My feeling is…I care about this election in Taiwan a lot, but there is not so much I can do about it. As for the case of Tibet, the Chinese government said it was an internal affair, so there’s nothing we can do about it. It was the Tibetans themselves voting to become a part of China, so every nation in the world cannot save them since the case of Tibet is viewed as an internal affair. If Taiwan…like my father and older brother, they want China and Taiwan to be unified instead of Taiwan’s independence.
Do they both hope for peaceful Chinese unification?
Of course, they want peaceful unification. No one wants wars, but they don’t know. I told them: “If you want Chinese unification, you can try it. If Chinese unification happens, you will no longer be in Taiwan. Among 23 million people in Taiwan, maybe a few people can stay in Taiwan. The Chinese government won’t make you all stay in Taiwan. The government will directly assign you to different provinces in China.” Taiwanese people are too naive. They don’t even have a clue. In my opinion, it is impossible for the Chinese government to let you stay in Taiwan because it’s really difficult to cross the Taiwan Strait. If Chinese unification happens, not many people can stay here [Taiwan]. First is to cleanse, meaning killing people; second is to migrate. It will undoubtedly be like this. I don’t know. I initially hoped there would be peace in China. After China becomes rich, after China becomes rich, it doesn’t want wars. However, Xi Jinping is currently practicing a planned economy. It looks like a planned economy. I saw him when he started his political career. Probably five or six years ago, I said Xi was about to implement the planned economy. Everyone told me it was impossible. It indeed looked like Xi was about to implement the planned economy, but they said it was impossible. Now Xi is practicing the planned economy. There is no solution to it, but I saw a lot of people on the street when I went to India for the first time. They were very short. These children perhaps got married at an early age. I really felt bad for them. When I traveled to Delhi, I saw a huge sign that said “freedom.” I was thinking at that time. I had never been to China, but I thought: “a democratic country and a communist one, and at least China seems to feed its people.” The previous China, perhaps ten years ago, China before Xi Jinping, Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin took a different path from Xi Jinping. At that time, I felt bad for India, though I was not fond of China that much. One is a democratic country, and the other is a communist one. It looked like at least you had enough to eat, whereas they had not.
In terms of your self-identification as Taiwanese, it was not until recently…
You also mentioned the concepts of mainlanders and islanders when you grew up in Taiwan.
But I am telling you, I could go to school. I could go to school because the government could reimburse my tuition because of my father’s job.
Because of his job?
Yes, so the classmates who could study have similar backgrounds to mine.
Their backgrounds were like yours. You would not meet people with different backgrounds.
And I lived in Taipei. If I had lived in Kaohsiung or a more rural area…
Because I lived in Taipei, it was not until I came to Canada that I met poorer people. Otherwise, people that I met in my life were similar to me. My impression was that people I could meet at that time were probably just like me. Among my middle school classmates that I could find in the group chat, about four out of five are supporters of the Nationalist Party. In other words, they support the blue party. They still support the blue [the Nationalist Party], but I support the green one [Democratic Progressive Party]. My earliest memory was three or four years old. I remember that we lived in military dependents’ villages (juancun). My mother rarely told me what to do.
For the dreams of your youth, are they related to your job?
I was lucky. I did not like civil engineering, so I did not add the department of civil engineering to my application for the college entrance examination. What about the other departments? Any other department was okay for me. Then I got into the department of chemical engineering, which is different from chemistry. I was in the chemical engineering department, which is different from the chemistry department. I was good at chemistry. I did not think I had to study chemistry in college based on the chemistry I learned in junior high school. I should put it this way. It was certainly something to do with my father. Because of my father, I could be an intern at a chemistry engineering factory in the summer and at a research center. Back then, only a few people had a master’s degree. In the 1980s, it was easier to find a job. Everyone would look upon us differently wherever we went, unlike college graduates.
Graduate students have higher education backgrounds, so their remuneration packages are different, right?
Yes. I didn’t want to study further. I thought that studying for a PhD meant that I would teach after graduation. However, my teacher told me that I was not good at expressing myself and asked me not to study for a PhD. I personally did not want to study for a PhD, either, since I did not want to be under my teacher’s control. So, I did not continue studying but started working. However, for me, I thought at that time that men all worked in factories. I felt that it would be difficult for me to take work shifts after getting married. It would become challenging.
Because of the household chores in the family?
I was thinking that…I was determined to work in a factory after I graduated. I had to get into a factory. I had to get into a factory, so I got into the factory and learned how to operate machines. Of course, people with master’s degrees like us are assigned to debottleneck and increase manufacturing capacities when we work in the factory. We usually work on increasing manufacturing capacities after training, so what I usually did was more technical. I changed my job again and again and ended up working in a consulting firm and becoming a designer. I ended up doing design work for LNG Terminal.
Is it completely different between the situations in Taiwan when you grew up and the living conditions of your son?
I gave birth to my son when I was thirty-seven years old. In 1997, when he was born, life was just different. My husband taught at a university. Anyway, I think they [the generation of my son] are lucky…um…lucky or not…in fact, I believe our generation is luckier. Your generation is unlucky because of your future. I think you already have no future.
There is no future.
You do not have a future. Nowadays, you may not even know how severe pollution is. You do not even know…
I remember that Taiwan’s economy in the 60s or 70s was growing. What is your opinion about it?
I should talk about pollution problems. Because of the pollution problems, the factories in Taiwan were all moved to China.
Do you mean moving from Taiwan to China?
Yes. In fact, we actually always had wastewater. Taipei, well, all factories were in Kaohsiung, so the pollution in Kaohsiung was actually the most serious. Can it be zero pollution? Of course, it can. Can coal-fired power stations be zero pollution? Of course, they can, but why was it not zero pollution?
Because the cost is too high.
You have to capture the exhaust gas. Electrostatic precipitation, how much would every step that makes exhaust emissions with zero pollution cost? These all cost money. These are about air. How about water? Of course, it can be zero pollution, but this also costs money. It all costs money. There are penalties in Taiwan. There is the Environmental Protection Department in Taiwan, so the department indeed would check if factories violated laws about exhaust gas. If you ask, is there collaboration? Is there someone who checks if factories break the law? Of course, there is someone who checks. There are also people who steal and people who collude. How to find out whether they break the law? You will see if I dare to find out whether they violate the law. I’ll know how to find out if you ask me.
Did you say that many factories in Taiwan were moved to China because of the pollution?
They were all moved to China.
They were all moved to China. Do you think that job opportunities in Taiwan were affected because of it?
Maybe they were, but I was not impacted.
Did you change your job at that time?
No, I still cannot figure it out. In 2013 and 2014, I went to China to help with the design of LNG Terminals. I was a project manager, so I flew to China.
In fact, Taiwan has accepted many immigrants in the past few years.
Taiwan’s immigrants…Taiwan perhaps cannot accept too many immigrants.
Taiwan has accepted a lot of people, as we have learned, from the Philippines and other small countries in Southeast Asia.
No, they are not immigrants. They are foreign workers.
Some of them are married to Taiwanese people.
Some of them are, but most of them are foreign workers. They are still foreign workers. That is, they do what we don’t want to do. We hire them as caregivers. We only need to spend 30000 NTD per month to hire one foreign worker, but we may have to spend 50000 NTD or 60000 NTD per month to hire a local Taiwanese as a caregiver.
It’s more expensive.
It’s more expensive, but I personally think legislators. These foreign workers are also very pitiful. There are perhaps commissions.
Do you think that these foreign workers are Taiwanese?
If they have Taiwanese passports, they are Taiwanese; if they do not, they are Filipinos. To me, if you get a Taiwan passport, you are Taiwanese, no matter what skin color you have.
Do you think your opinion was the same when you were a child?
There were not that many people in Taiwan when we were children. To put it bluntly, we took exams…because we were not a big family. Some people might come from a big family. You probably came from a large family. We had nothing. Also, my mother barely contacts her relatives. I have maternal grandparents, but we do not…and the other reason is that my mother is married to a mainlander. My mother is married to my father, so the relatives on my mother’s side seldom contact her. My mother got married to a mainlander at that time. I have never known how Taiwanese people view mainlanders, but mainlanders have always thought that they are superior.
Is it because of the culture? Is it due to the language?
No, it is because of education. Mainlanders are more educated. If you struggle to earn a living, you should go to make money. You should earn money if you do not have enough food to eat. Then those who have to make a living certainly have less time to study, right? I grew up without any toys. I did not have any toys.
The opportunity that you went to school is to do with…?
I had to take exams!
Did you have to take entrance exams for elementary and middle schools? Or because of your father’s job…?
If my father’s position had been higher, I could have had the inside track. People like Ma Ying-jeou have the inside track for schools. As for my father, his position was not that high, so we all had to take entrance exams.
You had to rely on your own. Do you remember how difficult the exams were or how many children could get into schools? How many students went to work and could not go to school?
From middle school to high school…my sister even had to take the entrance exam for middle school. There was a nine-year compulsory education policy when I was in school. That was the only difference between my sister’s experience and mine. There were probably no more than ten people out of a hundred in my middle school who got into high school.
How about the rest of the people?
I don’t know. They could only go to vocational schools, perhaps vocational schools. Going to high school after graduating from middle school…if one did not get into high school, one went to a vocational school. Going to college after high school…I don’t know…one was the technical and vocational education system, and the other was…how should I put that? There were different education systems after middle school. Everyone was in the same education system before middle school.
Were there many people who could get into middle school after graduating from elementary school?
We had compulsory education. Compulsory education required everyone to go to school. If parents did not let their children go to school, these parents probably had problems. However, it was not for free. We had to pay tuition. We also needed money for our meals, but this was compulsory education.
Are you still in touch with your middle school classmates?
Yes, I am in touch with them. As I told you, they all support the Nationalist Party, unlike me.
In your current view, you now support the Democratic Progressive Party. Do you think your view is different from your classmates in your generation? Why are you different from them? Is it because of your personality? Or is it because of the different paths you have taken in your life?
I should say that my husband was my inspiration since I never thought of these things.
Which is politics.
My husband is not that political, but we know politics are very important, right? You cannot say that you do not care about politics. You have to care about politics. You do not have to be involved in politics, but your vote matters a lot. You must care.
It should not be said that my husband supports the Democratic Progressive Party, but to us, it should be said that the Nationalist Party has been in power for so long. It should be changed. When a party has been in power for a while, it indeed would abuse its power. No one is a saint. If any party is too “clean,” perhaps no one would vote for that party.
When you were younger, when you went to school, your teachers and the education system taught you to…?
We were taught that we had to counterattack Mainland because Chiang Kai-shek always wanted to counterattack China. He realized that he could not counterattack in the end, right? We always wanted to counterattack China. If I want to counterattack, then I would think you [Chinese people] and I are the same, right? If you think Taiwan is part of China, you regard Taiwanese people as Chinese. I would think you [Chinese people] and I are the same if I want to counterattack, right? The logic is the same.
I have some more questions. When you were younger, you said you were different from people in your generation. Do you think that you were different from your friends in your generation when you were younger?
I, of course, was different from most people.
What was the difference? Because fewer women were studying STEM, right?
Yes, maybe even less in your generation.
There are perhaps not a lot of women studying STEM nowadays. I only saw a few female students in the chemical and mechanical engineering departments. There are probably more now. There are also more people now, whereas there were fewer people in the past. Based on our college acceptance rates, only a few could be admitted. I mean, our college acceptance rates were low, and the opportunities were few. The college acceptance rates are now 100 percent. There are so many universities. That’s different. Because what I learned was different, I was surrounded by men. All my colleagues were male. I did not contact everyone much when I got off of work.
You didn’t interact with a lot of people in your company?
I didn’t. I didn’t. I didn’t go to eat and drink with my coworkers. Unless the situation were very, very special, I wouldn’t hang out with them. I usually went straight home after work.
As we mentioned, were you satisfied with your life as a child?
I think it was okay because I was not starving. But if you asked me how tasty my food was, it was much worse than my son’s. I did not have a single toy growing up. That was the reason why I bought so many toys for my son. It’s psychological compensation. I later realized that it was psychological compensation.
If you could tell your younger self one thing…or if you did something that you regretted, what would it possibly be?
Alas, I always discuss the matter on its merits. I am not flexible enough, you know.
To yourself or…?
All I asked for people was to work from the bottom of their hearts. I didn’t like people’s window dressing, but I now feel it is a bit exaggerated. I should change my personality. What I think is good is not always what others think is good. I want to apologize to the engineers; it’s all in the past. I was wrong so I will change in the future. If I encounter something later, my attitude will be different. However, I treated my engineers…I wanted them to continue the tradition and asked them to have the same mindset as mine. Therefore, I said something very, very offensive to people who did not work hard. I was straightforward. I would not make polite remarks. I only knew to discuss the matter on its merits, so I perhaps broke a lot of engineers’ hearts. I think I broke the hearts of the engineers who worked for me. However, overall, for workers who are forty or fifty years old like us, our technical skills are…most of the people would be more respectful to us. My job was to solve problems when there was trouble. If there were any problems after a factory was designed, I would then fix them. This was what I did most of the time. I hoped to carry on the tradition, but this…what expected to carry on was perhaps different from what people wanted, so I’m sorry. I want to apologize to these young engineers, but let it go. I’ve come through. Some people perhaps also treated me in this way. Some people say that victims become perpetrators. You may not even realize. Copy behavior. I have been wrong for so long. We should not always rely on experiences. Some of our engineers rely on experience. You would never understand something without a theoretical basis. If something is changed, then people without a theoretical basis cannot understand. I think theories are the most important. If you know theories well, many things will be easier to solve. That’s it. Our generation should be considered the most prosperous.