Woof woof woof, grrrrr, woof. Woof woof, yelp, grrrr ... [Google’s mongrel-to-English translation starts] ... regular trips to lagoudian (辣狗店) on Linsen N Road.
But I should start at the beginning. My name is Punkspleen. I’m a tugou (土狗)-chihuahua-German shepherd-Labrador mix ... at your service. You may wonder why I’m talking to you instead of my master, Johnny Neihu. I will do my best to satisfy your curiosity. Please excuse my fleas.
The truth is, my master is no longer with us. More on that in a moment. First, let me tell you how I came to be my master’s dog.
My abandoned mother and I used to forage around the edges of Taipei Zoo before new construction for the panda enclosure a few years ago led to strays such as ourselves being rounded up and impounded. I arrived in one piece. My mother was not so lucky: In trying to defend her pup, she bit one of the dognappers and was beaten to death.
Some weeks later at the pound, a stranger walked past, listening to the staff relating this story, before being told I was that very pup. He looked at me for a minute before cursing, then saying: “Miserable punks, the lot of them. Good thing I didn’t catch them hitting a defenseless dog or I really would have vented my ...”
He paused, looked me in the eye, and said: “You’re coming home with me, mutt.”
That was the first time I saw Johnny. The last time was a few days ago. The following is what came before.
My master had been distracted for some time over something called an ECFA and had been calling up people day and night arguing about it.
Then, just over a week ago, Johnny’s mother died. He became very sad and withdrew to his room, speaking only occasionally with his gal, Cathy Pacific. He was so upset that sometimes he forgot to take me out for a walk.
I didn’t see him for a while, but then he emerged from his room and began to talk again, this time calmly and carefully. His behavior changed.
The next afternoon, his granddaughters came over for a visit. He hugged them for so long and so tightly that I wasn’t sure what was happening. He talked with them about school, their boyfriends and their hobbies.
“My darlings,” he said at one point, “I know I’ve never been very impressed by all these hot new dance moves you do. I’ve softened now. I love your energy. But for the love of Matsu, promise me that one day you’ll learn how to tango.
“Oh, and whatever you do, don’t lose your virginity in a gravel truck.”
That evening, Johnny and Cathy had a long conversation in the living room of Neihu Towers.
“Now I know what the ECFA is,” my master said. “It’s not about the economics. It’s about the process: the rush to be accepted by lowlifes with hate in their hearts, the need to have your self-worth tagged to fuckheads who believe in racial superiority even as they spread the infection of a rotting Western philosophy, the desire to lead people who trust you down the road to despair, the compulsion to entrust the fate of everyone and everything that matters to you to some of the nastiest, ugliest, most corrupt pieces of filth that walk this half of the Earth.
“The ECFA has become these people’s accidental commentary on being Taiwanese. Between the lines, it calls us unable to speak and act as equals. It implies all those labels foisted on us by KMT [Chinese Nationalist Party] think tanks and Mainlander bigots over the decades: crude, uneducated, dim-witted, unsophisticated, provincial, parochial, cowardly, greedy, pliable, betel nut-addicted, alcoholic yokels, barely a step removed from those pacified savages up in the mountains, being brought back under the arm of the greatest, the only, the last civilization on Earth.
“This crap is the beginning of a process that will re-administer the poison I’ve spent a lifetime suffering, half-believing and then fighting back against.”
Cathy looked at my master with misty eyes, and said: “My darling, I’ve actually been doing something about it” ... and then came clean.
It turned out that most of her time in “existential exile” in Taitung was spent forming an international network of activists and insurgents. One key focus was operations in China, she said. After months of fruitless efforts, she had got in touch with an alliance of lapsed members of Falun Gong, now regrouped as The Church of the Excruciatingly Bright Light, who were preparing to launch attacks on Chinese security forces and corrupt Communist Party officials.
My master was stunned into silence. After several minutes, he took her hand and said: “Precious, I understand why you didn’t tell me. But now, recent events and your activities make me realize I haven’t got the time to fool around attacking underpaid journalists in a weekly column.”
He stopped, looked over at his senile pet chimpanzee, Lien, studied his cage, slobber and forlorn expression, then said: “When battling cowardice and treachery, one must create — and annihilate — the appropriate symbols,” he said. “One must offer images that light the way.”
My master made a call to his friend “Knuckles” Chiang of Chiayi. He said: “Time for a game of mahjong, wouldn’t you say, Knuckles? Also, I need to speak to you about getting some gear from your military buddies. It’s a bit risky, but remember that drunken conversation we had last February 28? ... No problem? Good. The cash will be in your hands tomorrow.”
My master and Cathy then spent many hours in conference, planning something.
A couple of days later, my master took me down to Liberty Square, the unconvincing replacement name for an architectural compound honoring Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石). The memorial for Peanut itself, with its original name restored, stood there as it always does, a symbolic tomb for a dictator and the nation he defiled.
“Punkspleen,” my master said, “it’s time. But don’t worry: I would never allow you to be left alone. Everything’s been sorted out.”
He stoops down once more, looks me straight in the eye, scratches me under the chin, and leads me over to the garden next to the memorial, where he ties me up — much more firmly than usual.
Then, he walks over to a group of Chinese tourists in suits and sneakers milling about at the base of the Peanut Shrine. He engages a few in conversation for a while, then walks up the front steps of the memorial. At the top, he takes off his shirt and vest, unsheaths an Aboriginal machete strapped to his waist, slowly carves the letters E, C, F and A into his chest, stops for a few moments to adjust to the pain, lights a Long Life cigarette and takes a deep puff, exhales, and calls out to everyone below in a calm, steady voice:
“So that things might be better.”
He strides into the interior of the memorial where Peanut’s huge statue glowers down. I don’t see what happens next, but there is shouting, a few screams, and within seconds, dozens of tourists rush outside and down the side stairs of the memorial.
Then, about 20 seconds after the fleeing tourists have cleared the area, there is a massive explosion, and the statue of Chiang Kai-shek is blasted forward and outside, rolling down the front steps of the memorial, smashing the KMT logo and spraying marble chips into the air like confetti, before crashing down and killing the Chinese tourists.
As Peanut’s statue comes to rest, the rest of the blue-and-white memorial collapses into the space where the statue once stood and the honor guard once did their girly routine. Dust and smoke vomit from the rubble.
There is pandemonium as guards come running from around the grounds and tourists run screaming into the winter evening. But among it all, an elderly man in traditional clothing walks slowly toward the wreckage from the other end of the plaza, and upon reaching the base of the memorial, lights joss sticks, bows and murmurs a prayer.
He does this for a few minutes, then comes over to me. I am barking madly, straining at my leash and ready to tear flesh from bone.
“Punkspleen,” he says in a firm but kind voice that calms me. “You remember me, don’t you? I’m Dr Kang, the only surviving descendant of Colonfucius (肛夫子). The 101st generation, in fact. Don’t be afraid; your master asked me to look after you. And that’s what I will do.”
Dr Kang leads me past the toppled statue and the flattened Chinese tourists, whose leader still grips a little flag reading “Sichuan Province Engineering Safety Division, CCP Cadre Delegation.”
In the following days, the media duly reported the incident, as well as explosions at Chinese diplomatic facilities in Europe and Hong Kong and government facilities across China.
But there were two sets of loose ends. The first was raised in several newspaper editorials: Why would an old man be involved in such destruction — such “terrorism” — when there was nothing in it for him, and at such cost for tour operators?
The second was forensic: The police couldn’t find any trace of my master’s body.
On the day of the attacks, Cathy flew out of Taiwan and moved to a hacienda near Big Sur to continue her underground activities. Why California? I think it was because she heard something about Taiwan’s de facto ambassador and Heritage Foundation muse, Jason Yuan (袁健生), spending a lot of time there instead of Washington.
As for me, I spend my days relaxing outside Dr Kang’s surgery in Sanchong (三重), where he practices as an unregistered proctologist. I like to chew on a nice bone, watch interesting people and admire some of the younger bitches prancing along the kerb, tails flitting back and forth and lovely scent wafting by.
I feel sad about my departed master, but my new owner never fails to cheer me with a tasty treat and a nice walk along the nearby shores of the Tamsui River — underneath all those expressway support columns, where I can piss to my heart’s content. Most of the time, I’m happy to be petted by strangers, some of whom stop, smile and say: “Waaah, that’s Punkspleen, Johnny Neihu’s dog.” It helps pass the word about my new master’s business.
Next to where I lie on the sidewalk these days is a poster on a large piece of cardboard plying my new master’s trade. It features three dozen before-and-after, close-up color photos of his patients’ hemorrhoids.
At top is a black-and-white photo of my new and former masters taken long ago, when they were classmates in elementary school — laughing, carefree, eyes sparkling, their arms around each other’s shoulders.
And between these photographs is a snatch of calligraphy that my former master wrote in honor of the opening of Dr Kang’s surgery some years before:
If in the end things come up short
And life has turned to farce
At least with us you’ll laugh and squat
And prize what comes to pass.
This is the final edition of NewsWatch. Got something to tell Johnny’s next of kin? You can write to firstname.lastname@example.org, but put “Dear Johnny” in the subject line.
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