Theatrical Review: “寶島一村”

Three military families were thrown together in a village in Taiwan when they retreated from mainland China as part of Chiang Kai Shek’s “temporary” military plan to regroup before embarking on liberating the entire mainland China. However, the plan was interrupted when time ran out and Chiang died in 1975, 26 years since he arrived at Taiwan.

The three families eventually settled and took root in Taiwan. One Beijing family has 4 kids and settled in #99 of the village, one gay officer settled in #98 with a make-believe wife who husband’s plane was shut down over mainland and disappeared and rumored to had defected. And one San-dong family with a local wife settled in between the two walls with an electricity tower in their home. The stories started when they were assigned their houses by the government in the village, and ended two generations later when the village was being torn down to make roads. In between, their lives were tangled and dependent on one another. The kids, resenting being treated as a second-class citizens, rebelled against the parents and their traditional values. Some pursued great careers. Some took the easy ways out and some stayed behind.

The lightly-set show took the audience through the emotional roller coasters of laughter (when one of the friends found that he was never understood due to his unique spoken dialect), disappointments (two lovers were separated because the man was not good enough for her family), and sadness (when they visited their families back in mainland).

The final act spoke loudly of the tragedy of this generation as the ghost of the patriarch showed his youngest son of his written blessing hidden in the house just before the houses and the village were going to be torn down, “May you live in a world free of wars and family separations!” He never lived long enough to return to his home town. And as he reflected on his life, he saw that life is nothing short of of kids’ house game (???, 家家酒) and people were thrown together to act out their parts. It sounded like the desperation of a disappointed man. Also, the separated lovers finally met at the Blackjack table in Las Vegas as the women, who rejected him decades before for being not good enough, dealt the cards to a now successful man with an ABC boy. He was still very much in love with her as he traveled many places to look for her.

As a Taiwan-native boy growing up with the 2nd generation of these military families, I never realized and truly empathized their struggle against poverty, loneliness and the pain of being thrown in a foreign place, not being able to see their family members for so long. This was indeed a tragedy that no one should be asked to endure. And yet, the new political party consists of mainly native Taiwanese still continued to play the native-vs.-outsider card to pit one against another to further divide the country. Unfortunately, it’s the political game politicians play to grab power.

I enjoyed this show very much and learned a few things about the outside-province people who I grew up with. In a way, Taiwan is a melting pot of all Chinese people with all the goodness that each one of us brought from his/her home towns from all corners of mainland. This is what makes it unique and lovely in its own way. Like the nickname, 寶島, for Taiwan, it’s a precious island indeed.