Li Xiaohan, MA, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
Hot springs are one of Taiwan’s important geographic features, and soaking in the steaming waters is a popular way of relieving stress. Open year-round, Beitou’s famous hot-spring resorts are situated in Yangmingshan’s southwestern foothills, a twenty-minute car-ride from the center ofTaipei. With their milky-white color and distinctive sulfuric odor, the spring waters’ possess a kind of literary beauty, attracting an unending stream of overworked city dwellers. Moreover, Beitou is the setting of many interesting history stories.
Hao Yuxiang’s essay, “Hot Springs Wash Our Grief Away” is part of an eponymous 2011 collection. In writing about Beitou’s past, the author at times recalls her own growth experiences, and at other times recounts the area’s exotic tales, creating a living record of an individual’s intimate spiritual connection with the land.
As the essay begins, the first-person narrator is perusing the diary of Lü Heruo, a 1930s Taiwanese intellectual. In 1943, stifled by Taipei’s oppressivewartime atmosphere,Lü sought physical and mental succor in Beitou’s hot springs. Reading the diaryentry, the narrator thinks back to the social unrest that followedthe lifting of martial law in 1980s’ Taipei, a time when she too yearned for the hot springs’ healing properties – “we” who live in the Taipei of todayare heirs to this collective grief, and “we” continue to seek relief in the Beitou hot springs. This is the significance of the possessive “our” in the essay’s title.
After the narrator’s escapes from the urban jungle, Beitou’s sulfurous atmosphere and the forest’s shifting shadows are the backdrop for strange tales and legends, as well as the author’s memories of childhood. As her recollections and perspective shift, Hao provides a chronological account of the second stage of Beitou’s historical development.“Old Beitou,”a traditional commercial district, served immigrants from the southern part of China’s Fujian province; “New Beitou” sprang up after the hot springs were opened in the Japanese colonial era.
First, the “Old Beitou” of the author’s 1970s’ childhood – narrow Central Road, running north and south, countless winding lanes and alleyways, store-lined streets, a friendly farmer’s market, the urban milieu awash with the aura of the common people. Jumping forward to 1987 and the writer’s adolescent memories, the narrative moves along Hot Springs Road in “New Beitou,” an thoroughfare famous for restaurants and hot-springs resorts.
The writer discovers that her memories of Beitou are still fresh; thus, at the end of the essay she asks herself: “Did I really leave? After being away for almost twenty years, I can’t say for sure.” Only after sketching out the area’s history from its landscape does she realize she has never truly been away from her hometown of Beitou, wherehot springs heal our “past and present” selves, bringing back memories and washing away grief.
Hao Yuxiang (1969- ) was born in Taipei to a family with roots in China’s Shandong province. She holds a doctorate in Chinese literature from National Taiwan University, and currently teaches at National Taipei University of Education’s Department of Language and Creative Writing. An important generational voice, she has received the China Time’s Literature Award, the Unitas Award for New Novelists, the Central Daily News Literary Award, the Taipei Literature Award, and the Government Information Office Excellent Screenplay Award. Her publications include the short-story collection Bathing (1998), Annie’s First Love (2003), and Dark Tales (2007); the novels Guesthouse (2000), and That Summer, the Most Tranquil Sea (2005); the essay collections Secret Voyage in the Closet (2000), Dream Moment: China Travel Notes (2007), and Hot Springs Wash Our Grief Away (2011). Her scholarly works include Sensual Fin de Siècle: A Study of Contemporary Fiction by Taiwanese Women (2001), and The Imaginary Era: Contemporary Taiwanese Literature (2008). She has also written a screenplay, A Squirrel’s Suicide.
Fiction and essays account for the bulk of Hao Yuxiang’s work. Her short-story collection Bathing is a frank treatment of sexual desire and the emergence of feminine consciousness. Hao excels at meticulous depictions of sexual themes – the short story “Washing” contrasts a woman’s personal and sexual freedom before marriage with the pressures she experiences after marriage. The work delves into and magnifies the semiotic significance of the female body, completely displacing ethics and morals, political issues, spatial and temporal location, and gender relations; moreover, the story boldly depicting women’s sexual experiences, providing a theoretical model for examining Taiwanese feminism. In discussing her work, David Der-wei Wang has said: “[Hao Yuxiang] excels at expressing out-of-the-ordinary feminine thought and behavior; she takes all the possibilities that follow from the displacement of ethical, political, temporal, spatial, and gender relationships, piecing together all the life variants and oddities we don’t want to look at directly.”
A milestone in Hao’s writing career, Guesthouse marked a turn from feminism to autobiographical fiction, reflecting on her waisheng 1 father and her search for roots and identity in the currents of history. Set on a beautiful and mysterious island, That Summer, the Most Tranquil Sea, which was later adapted as a screenplay, combines fact and fiction, the convoluted plot and endless pursuit metaphors for hidden lies and truths.
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit: http://nrch.culture.tw/twpedia.aspx?id=7672
1Waisheng (literally “other province”) is used to refer to mainland Chinese who came to Taiwan in the late 1940s and early 1950s and their descendants.
|Work(English)：||Hot Springs Wash Our Grief Away|
|Anthology：||Hot Springs Wash Our Grief Away: In Search of Lost Space|
|Author：||Hao Yuxiang (Hao Yu-hsiang)|
|Publisher：||Taipei: Chiu Ko Publishing Co. Ltd.|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.books.com.tw/products/0010500372|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|The “book.com.tw” Internet Bookstore|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||No English Translation|