Vignettes of of Taiwan - a book review

by Ernie Yap, Nov 24, 2007 | Destinations: Taiwan

Vignettes of Taiwan

Author: Joshua Samuel Brown

Publisher: ThingsAsian Press


            I read this book with mixed feelings. With so many picturesque photographs and poignant narratives, this anthology is a very impressive telling piece. But for an Asian currently residing in the West, it also invoked unwelcomed feelings of homesickness.


Joshua Samuel Brown was a 24 year old university graduate with a degree in English, a dose of post-college restlessness and a lust for the Oriental flavor. He ended up in Taiwan because, by his own admission, could not afford to go to Japan -- the ultimate ‘cosmic coincidence.'


Now 10 years down the road, much mellowed and spewing Chinese proverbs, Mr. Brown pays homage to his adopted land with this flurry of essays, short stories, photographs and tales of one of the world's most controversial country. The book strikingly begins with a run-down on the political history of Taiwan, which is apt, for politics run deep in the veins of the Taiwanese, as shown in his entry of the hilarious chapter ‘Shotgun Marriage', which actually caused me to laugh out loud, somewhat incredulously.


Writing from the perspective of an American, seemingly local day-to-day events and conversations are described with the wondrous innocence of a wide-eyed foreigner. The converse is also true, as Mr. Brown himself became a local television sensation for roller-skating down the busy streets of Taipei! - An unheard of endeavor. I also enjoyed his accounts of the English school community in Taiwan, licensed or otherwise, something not everyone hears about. A group of westerners vying for the one job in the country that require only the right looks and scuttling from place to place as dictated by the local bureaucracy is just too good a parody scene to pass on.


A self-described anthology, this book serves no purpose as a guide or directory for one planning to walk the author's path. Thus, just sit back, legs up and a cup of tea and enjoy as the perceptive author relates to you juicy stories from the grapevine, such as the tale of the ‘Humble Mahjong Loser' and his own harrowing experience in tackling the Five Finger Mountain.


            Mr. Brown is not a shy writer. He liberally describes his ‘love hotels' excursion and included a very private conversation between two betel-nut salesgirls concerning foreign men in ‘Betel Nut Ingénue.' (Although he does not mention how he got hold of that conversation). The chapter ‘Skinny Asses' is an insightful conversation the author himself held with his colleague about romantic prospects with the locals.

Vignettes of Taiwan is written with a prose that is engaging and interesting, with subtle insertion of dry humor. It deserves praise as a fine exposé about exploring important and noteworthy aspects of the nation-even if there are a few glitches along the way. With almost every alternate page a mesmerizing photograph of the scenery in Taiwan, Vignettes of Taiwan is a must-read for both the committed and the curious, unless of course, you're a homesick Asian boy.