Thu, Nov 01, 2012 - Page 12 News List

Memoirs recall Japan’s wartime rule over Taiwan in the 1940s

Kuo Tien-lu’s memoir of time spent in Indonesia sheds light on a seldom-told chapter of Taiwan’s wartime history, and includes an unhappy visit to a brothel, air raids over Japanese bases and a bout with malaria

By Dan Bloom  /  Contributing reporter

Black urine

The day Kuo passed “black urine” was something he would never forget, he told his son back in Taiwan long after the war. He wrote about it in a diary entry about a local man, an overseas-Chinese tailor, who had recently died from malaria, after just a three-day illness.

“Two months later, I also got malaria and had to stay in bed,” Kuo noted in his diary. “To my utter astonishment, the color of my urine had turned very dark after two days of this terrible sickness. I thought I would soon die, too.”

Kuo was bouyed, however, by memories he had of a local medical treatment in Taiwan he had heard about as a youth, where local people would drink coconut milk when they had malaria.

“I tried the same coconut milk cure,” he wrote. “The next day, sure enough, the color of my urine returned to normal yellow. After this incident, I kept drinking coconut milk as often as I could, and I thanked the gods for blessing me with life.”

Comfort women

Being a young single man far away from home, Kuo decided to go to a local brothel during his stay in Indonesia. Most likely, the young Dutch and Indonesian girls who worked there were the euphemistically-named “comfort women,” so Kuo was about to see it all up close and personal. He reasoned that as an unmarried man, he might as well get to know what sex was all about so that when he did get married one day back in Taiwan, he would know how to please his wife. But things did not turn out as planned.

“I chose a girl and went into her room, but to tell the truth I felt disgusted by what I was doing and almost vomited,” he confessed in his diary. “Was this really a place to soothe one’s body and mind? The girl I was with was about the same age as me. I reasoned that I could have my first sexual experience so that when I got married later in the future, I would not be teased by my future wife in Taiwan for having a lack of sexual experience.”

So far so good, but Kuo was soon to come up against something that some men suffer from time to time.

“A most embarrassing thing happened that night at the brothel. I often suffer from irrational fears and phobias about cleanliness and sexual diseases, and I had also heard from the army doctors about the dangers of catching a venereal disease. As those thoughts and images came to my mind, my sex drive completely disappeared and I could not get an erection even though the girl was ‘comforting’ me.”

It got worse, Kuo confessed to his diary: “No matter how hard I tried, I just could not do it. Even though I had prepared two condoms to protect me, I never used them. After 30 minutes of this, I walked out of the room without having done the deed.”

Tony Kuo said he hopes his father’s memoir will reach interested readers in the three languages it is now available in: Chinese, Japanese and English.

“This is not a commercial book and it is not for sale in bookstores or online,” Kuo said. “I just wanted to try my hand at doing the translations and making the booklets available in Taiwan to whoever might benefit from reading them. It was all just a labor of love.”

* To order a copy of The Peaceful Gunfire, please send an email to: bikolang@gmail.com.

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