Monday, October 1, 2012

War-time 'diary' recalls life of Taiwanese conscript in Japan war

BLACK URINE: An unhappy visit to a 'comfort woman' brothel in Indonesia, air raids over Japanese bases in New Guinea and a bout with malaria were an old Taiwanese man's memories of World War II

When Tony Kuo, a retired high school English teacher in Chiayi City,
decided a few years ago to translate his late father's handwritten war-time ''diary'' of his life as a civilian conscript in the Japanese Imperial Army when he was in his early 20s,
Kuo took on a challenge: translating the Japanese kanji his elderly farmer father had used to write down his memoirs into both Chinese and English and then finding a printing shop to turn out readable copies of a small part of Taiwanese history.
He also wanted to honor his father, he said, who had died in southern Taiwan in 2001 at the age of 83.

The memoir, titled "The Peaceful Gunfire" in English, shines a revealing spotlight on an important part of Taiwan's war-time history, especially on colonialist Japan's conscription of Taiwanese men to work and wage war in the southern Pacific theater.

"My father's diary, written much later after the war, after he retired from farming in Tainan County, is a slice of life that I wanted to make available for historians, academics and anyone else who might want to read this," Kuo said over coffee at a local sidewalk cafe in Chiayi.

"My father was bsed first in Papua New Guenia and then later in

Indonesia. He left by ship in 1943 and came back by ship in 1946."

Conscripted to work for the Mitsui Company as a rice

warehouse laborer, the senior Kuo, a native of Kaoshiung, shipped out

from Taiwan on July 29, 1943, and although the war ended in 1945, he was not able to make it back until 1946.

In writing down his memories in old age, the elderly Taiwanese banana farmer

was able to recollect such detailed memories as U.S. air raids over

Japanese bases where he was stationed in New Guinea, a near fatal bout

with malaria that saw

him pass "black urine", sightings of so-called "comfort women" aboard a Japanese

troop ship and a one-night, unhappy visit to a brothel in


Kuo's father was not a soldier in the Japanese Imperial Army, but he was constripted as a civilian worker for a Japanese company connected to the war effort in southeast Asia. After leaving Kaohsiung by ship in 1943, the first time he ever left Taiwan, the 21 year old man spent 10 months in New Guinea. As the only son

of a widowed mother, he spent a lot of his time there thinking about his mother back home and writing her letters which he never knew if she received until he got back home three years later.

"I sometimes missed my

hometown very much because my mother had always been plagued with

chronic asthma, and I was worried about her," he wrote in one of his diary entries, adding: "Here in New Guinea it is

March and we have summer all year long here, but in Taiwan, it is

winter. How is my mother's health? I have

written about ten letters home already, but I never know if she

received them. And I never receive any mail from her since I am at one

of the frontlines of the war. So getting mail from home is


The day Kuo passed "black urine" was something he would never forget, he told his son back in Taiwan long after the war, but he wrote about it in a dairy entry about a fellow Taiwanese conscript 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


"I tried the same coconut milk cure," he wrote. "The next day, sure enough, the color of

my urine rerturned to normal yellow. After this incident, I kept drinking

coconut milk as often as I could, and I thanked the heavens for

blessing me with life."

Being a young single man far away from home, Kuo decided to go to a local

brother 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 sopon to come up against something that some men suffer from from time to tine.

"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 veneral 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 thirty minutes of this, I walked out of the

room without having done the deed."

Kuo said he hopes his father's "memoir" will reach interested readers in the two languages he has translated it into, in addition to the original Japanese text.

"This is not a commerical 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."

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