On September 12 I went to a meeting of the Singkawang Association 山口洋地區鄉親會. It also called Permasis in Indonesian.
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This meeting was set up by Mr. Hartono, 李伯巧, whom Aimee introduced me to the first week I was in Jakarta. As noted below, I did not know what to expect before I went to the meeting. I thought I would speak with just a few people. Instead, it was a meeting of the association as a whole that was arranged to accommodate my schedule. I was overwhelmed. They spoke Mandarin at the meeting for my benefit. I asked afterward how they normally conducted meetings, and Fuidy Luckman, who was very nice to me, said they spoke a mixture of Hakka and Indonesian.
Fortunately that morning I took time to do an overall analysis of the interviews, counting the number of marriages with Taiwanese men discussed by participants involving themselves (women) or a close family member. The total is 22, and of these 15 were described as “good” and 7 as “bad.” This may seem to indicate that marrying a Taiwanese man is a good thing, as a majority worked out well. The problem is that the “bad” marriages were really bad. The stories of abuse that were suffered by these women were horrid and should not be allowed. Even one bad marriage, like those described to me, was one bad marriage too many. (What I did not mention was that some people told me women may cheat their husbands in Taiwan. This is something I heard of when in Taiwan. So treating the other person badly may go both ways. But the numbers are unequal, and neither justifies this practice.)
After I spoke for about 15 minutes (recorded), the Dongshizhang (don’t know his name) chaired the meeting and directed the ensuing discussion. Seven men took turns, each speaking 10-20 minutes about their experiences, knowledge of this matter, and what they saw to be solutions. Common themes were that Singkawang was poor because of anti-Chinese policies, the so-called paihua 排華. Mr. Li (and others?) said that the people of Singkawang fought against the Dutch, suffered at the hands of the Japanese, then after independence, and the anti-Communist coup of Suharto in 1965, suffered many deaths. The result is that Singkawang was impoverished, making it a community distinct from most other Chinese communities and populations that were wealthy.
The city began “exporting” its women to Taiwan in the 1970s. (I interviewed a woman married to a Taiwanese soldier in 1969.) Some of these were poor and destitute prostitutes. Others were young girls fo 15, 16, forced into marriage by their parents. Singkawang had many young girls, and Taiwan, with its large population of unmarried (or separated) mainland soldiers, had a need for brides. (There may have been a sex imbalance ratio at the time due to the large number of killings in 1965. Presumably more males were killed than females.) These girls were sent to marry Taiwanese men by their parents, some willingly and others not. Many, however, did “well” in their marriages. This also happened with Indonesian men, as an Indonesian general (don’t know name) took for a second wife a young woman from SKw. Poverty was clearly a motivating factor. It set up a pattern of migration by marriage from skw to Taiwan that became known in the community, and presumably was known in Taiwan. Skw has the reputation of being not only the city of a thousand temples, but also the city of young women, or “Kota Amoy.” 城市阿妹 In addition to narrating the motivating factors, the men expressed a number of the same discursive themes that I heard in skw. One man said marriage was a 緣分的問題. (a question of fate) Another said 生女孩子 = 美金 (giving birth to daughters is like giving birth to US money). They spoke of the pattern of sisters leading each other. Speaker 3 said he knew of a family where the older daughter married a man in Taiwan. The younger daughter did not marry right away, and resisted. Finally she married the oldest brother of her sister’s husband’s family. But also in the past there was a resistance for people to share bad news. (I might site my transgressions paper as it fits well.) Thus, even if a daughter entered into a bad marriage, she was reluctant to share it with others. And if this news even reached her family in SKW, they were reluctant to tell their neighbors and extended family members. Another point came from number 6, who said that sometimes if a woman did not want to marry a Tw husband, the family would put pressure on her, asking her if she “loved” her family (listen to recording). It was their duty to sacrifice for their family. Finally, number 4 said that Taiwanese women are also part of the problem. While women from Skw work hard and can accept hardship, Taiwanese women cannot. Thus, they will not marry a man in the countryside and accept such a life.
Solutions that they see are found through economic development and education. They said that there are no factories in skw, and that girls will 賣身 (engage in prostitution, or sell themselves to Taiwanese husbands) instead of gain an education. The city of Pontianak (Kundian in Chinese) was mentioned a number of times as a place that was better because of its factories. Yes, factories do provide jobs and can lead those who work in them to a better life. However, driving through Pontianak was not a pretty sight. It is a sprawling, dirty, and totally uninviting city. Singkawang is a much better place, with a cleaner environment, and without polluting factories. Singkawang does not need factories like Pontianak. Rather, it could benefit from an ecologically sensitive economy, one that preserves and protects its natural beauty while drawing in visitors who will spend money there.