Sun, Jun 11, 2006 - Page 19 News List

Taiwan consciousness has a store of its own

Fearing that Taiwan's unique cultural heritage is under threat, Goo Seng-sam founded Taiouan, dedicated to selling all things Taiwanese

By Ginger Yang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Goo Seng-sam quit academia to set up a store that reflected his passion for Taiwan.


A small shop located in Taipei's Gongguan area, Taiouan Shop (台灣ㄟ店), in which everything for sale is related to Taiwan, has achieved an almost iconic status in the island's search for a national identity.

Its floor and shelves are stocked with books and bric-a-brac that reflect a strong Taiwanese consciousness; books in Hakka and Hoklo, tomes on local folk music, maps of Taiwan, diction-aries and objects considered

important to local culture.

For the unacquainted, a quick peek is all that's needed to figure out where the store owner's

sympathies lie.

Its shelves are replete with books rarely found in other stores, including publications from county cultural centers and books that were saved from

martial law period censors.

Taiouan Shop has a strong selection of books by ben tu (本土) authors, a literary tradition that arose from the Japanese occu-pation period and focuses on parochial issues of Taiwan life and on the nation's unique history and identity. It is clear that this is not a market-driven operation, but a realization of one person's dream.

"Some scholars from China criticized us by saying Taiwan has no culture. I wanted to prove them wrong. So even though I lose money, I sell these books by (ben tu) authors," said the owner Goo Seng-sam, 64.

In Mandarin, Goo's name is Wu Cheng-san (吳成三), but he prefers the Hoklo version. He founded the Taiouan Shop in 1993 with his wife Huang Miao-ling (黃妙齡). The Romanized name of the store is Taiouan, which uses the Siraya Aboriginal language. His choice reflects his belief in the need to preserve Taiwan's ethnic minority cultures.

"I create a `small land' that allows people to purchase stuff about Taiwan conveniently -- sometimes, people thank me for selling books that cannot be found elsewhere," Goo said with a smile, "I take their money, but they still thank me."

Sitting in his "small land" in an alley off Xinsheng South Road, Goo appears no different from other storekeepers, and it is hard to believe that he received his doctorate in computer

science from Columbia University in New York 40 years ago (at a time when there were only four or five such degree holders in Taiwan, he says) and has been a professor at National Cheng Kung University (國立成功大學) and National Taiwan Normal University (國立臺灣師範大學).

Why did he leave academia? "When I was abroad, seeing Taiwanese culture constantly being denigrated by external forces, I was unable to concentrate on my scientific research anymore," he said.

Then there was his experience of the anti-war movement while he was attending Columbia Uni-versity. This taught him that demo-cratic movements could have a positive impact on his homeland.

When Goo came back to Taiwan in 1980, he became a political activist, and took an active part in the demonstrations and street protests that were instrumental in bringing about the repeal of martial law in 1988.

"I joined virtually every

demonstration, such as the 520 protest parade, the Wild Lily Student Movement (野百合學運), and the demonstrations to abolish the Sedition Penal Law. Many professors like me stood in the front line of the protests to avoid the demonstrations being stig-matized by the police. If we were arrested, once the police found that we were professors, they couldn't describe us as a mob," Goo said.

"During the Wild Lily Student Movement, when students demonstrated at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, I protected my students there," Goo recalled.

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