Thursday, November 27, 2008

We Three: Real Life Beyond the Political Smoke

We Three: Real Life Beyond the Political Smoke
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
November 27, 2008

"We Three" is a documentary film produced by director Hou Hsiao-hsien for the Taipei City Labor Bureau. Next to a old wall on Heping East Road, Luo Mao-sheng stands next to his motorized coffee cart. He stands for up to 12 hours on his artificial left leg. This is how he makes his living. This is how he supports his wife who has glaucoma, and his visually-impaired son. He was once a business manager. He once sold lottery tickets. Now he sells coffee. He depends upon customers who patronize him partly out of charity. Luo Mao-sheng has endured setbacks. But every day he must think about how to make it through tomorrow.

This is the broad outline of "We Three." The entire family is physically handicapped. Yet they want to maintain their dignity by supporting themselves. Luo and his family do not complain about their fates. They do not accuse the government or society of being unjust. They merely struggle to make their way and help each other. In fact, "We Three" is not just about Luo Mao-sheng and his family. It is also a documentary about many workers on Taiwan. It may not be as entertaining or romantic as "Cape No. 7." But the half-hour documentary is well worth watching, particularly for politicians who have forgotten how real people live.

The global financial crisis has struck. Taiwan's economy is sunk in depression. The justice system is investigating the embezzlement of billions from the public coffers by a former president. Ruling and opposition party politicians are arguing about whether to support Ah-Bian and whether to issue consumer vouchers. The opposition party is repeatedly inciting the public to denounce the judicial system. The political atmosphere is charged with tension. The contrast with the quiet struggle of a roadside coffee vendor seems ludicrously ironic. For the past eight years a bitter confrontation has prevailed between Blue and Green. Politically, the public on Taiwan is utterly incapable of arriving at a consensus. There is no room even for the discussion of non-political issues such as economics. This is the saddest fact of all. When even life-saving measures such as consumer vouchers are deliberately obstructed, just how much does the hardship endured by ordinary citizens figure in the eyes of our politicians?

It's official. Taiwan politics is more and more out of touch with its civil society. Politics is less and less capable of solving the problems that confront individuals and society. Over the past decade, politicians have busied themselves "amending" the constitution, yammering about reform, engaging in partisan infighting, concocting a rationale for a "Nation of Taiwan." They have consumed most of the nation's resources and energy. They have shunted aside problems affecting the real lives of ordinary people. The ruling party is busy filling the gaps and fighting corruption. The opposition party meanwhile, is busy protesting. Politics is invariably about venting one's spleen and inciting hatred, leaving people with deeper and harder to heal wounds. Has the meaning of democracy been reduced to this?

More and more people must turn off the TV to avoid having their mood destroyed by ugly political spectacles. When people watch the documentary "We Three," their throats may well be choked with emotion. Luo Mao-sheng has his own way of thinking about the future. He stands on the beach alone. The chilly sea breeze and waves wash up against him, allowing him to organize his thoughts. From time to time a large wave will stagger him. On occasion it may dislodge his artificial leg. Luo Mao-sheng must then stand on one leg amidst pounding waves to recover his artificial leg. We do not know whether Luo Mao-sheng has found a way out. But those who wield immense state power and public resources ought to ask themselves what sort of opportunities have I given individuals such as Luo?

Entering the second half of this year, Taiwan's economy is experiencing negative growth. Next year will be worse. A wave of corporate layoffs and plant closings will result in half a million people losing their jobs by the end of the year. We need not wait until things come to that. We can already see the future. By that time, not just handicapped workers, but even privileged white-collar workers will face the same fate. By then, will Luo Mao-sheng's coffee cart still be able to hold out? Will the customers who support him continue doing so? This may not be a question Luo Mao-sheng can answer. But it is a question those in power must ask themselves.

Each night Luo Mao-sheng roasts his own coffee beans. He knows all about the characteristics of coffee beans from various countries. Who would have imagined that a one-legged handicapped man would invest so much effort into operating a simple coffee cart? His only son must use a magnifying glass to read, putting his right eye up against the page. He hopes that by repeatedly taking scholastic exams he can find employment. The economy has hit bottom. Luo Mao-sheng has provided a reminder to all workers not to lose heart. He has also reminded the ruling and opposition parties to set aside their political differences, and turn their attention back to the real life concerns of ordinary people.

The three members of the Luo family do not flinch in the face of adversity. They struggle to remain together and to survive. Taiwan has been torn apart by "ethnic" (community group) differences and ideological differences. Whether the Great Depression can be overcome depends upon whether we can avoid interal strife. Political decline is the result of an "us vs. them" mentality in the hearts of politicians. They see only "us" and "them," They have fogotten that We the People are "them."

2008.11.27 02:49 am


在 和平東路一堵老牆下,羅茂盛守著兼代步的摩托行動咖啡車,扶著左腿的義肢,一站就是十二小時。這是他全部的生計,為養活青光眼的妻子和弱視的兒子,他做過 管理員、賣過彩券,最後摸索出賣咖啡這條路。靠著客人半贊助式的愛心,羅茂盛熬過了挫折的日子,但他每天還在思考:未來的路要怎麼繼續走下去?

這 是「我們三個」的故事梗概。一家三口都是身障,卻希望有尊嚴地維持自己的生活,羅茂盛一家沒有抱怨命運,也不質疑政府或社會不公,只是不斷地摸索嘗試、互 相扶持。「我們三個」其實不只是羅茂盛一家的故事,也是台灣許多勞動者的人生紀實;雖沒有「海角七號」的趣味和浪漫,這部半小時的紀錄片卻值得一看,特別 對那些忘記人間真相的政治人而言。

當金融海嘯狂襲全球,當台灣經濟陷入景氣嚴冬,當司法正在偵辦幾億、幾十億的貪瀆案件之際,朝野政客卻 還在為要不要挺扁、要不要發消費券作無謂的叫罵,在野黨一再發動群眾向司法示威。大環境氛圍的嗆辣,對照這個路邊咖啡攤靜默的生活掙扎,更顯荒謬而諷刺。 過去八年在慘烈的藍綠對峙下,台灣在政治上不僅徹底失去了凝聚共識的能力,即連非關政治的經濟議題也失去理性討論的空間,這是台灣最可悲的墮落。如果連消 費券這種緊急救命措施都遭刻意延宕,政治人物眼裡還會有市井小民的生活苦難嗎?

事實如此,台灣的政治不僅越來越和社會脫節,甚至可以說政 治解決人民及社會問題的能力也越來越弱。過去十年,政治人物忙著修憲、忙著談改革、忙著政黨惡鬥、忙著建構台灣國論述,消耗掉國家絕大部分的資源與精力, 有血有肉的民生問題被擺到一旁。如今,執政黨忙著挖貪補漏,在野黨忙著反嗆拉扯,政治只是一味發洩憤怒、激盪仇恨,留給民眾的則是難以平癒的創傷。民主對 人民的意義,為何會窄化及矮化到此一地步?

當越來越多人必須關掉電視,避免被醜陋的政治景象擾亂心情,人們看完「我們三個」這部紀錄片, 可能會有喉嚨被卡住的感覺。羅茂盛思考未來的方式很特別,他獨自到海邊,藉著海風的清冷和海浪的沖刷,來整理自己的思緒。大浪不時打得他踉蹌跌坐,有時甚 至打掉他的義肢,羅茂盛必須奮起單腿,在千鈞一髮中向海浪奪回自己的義肢。我們不知道羅茂盛從險惡的海浪看到什麼出路,但那些掌握有偌大公權力和公資源的 人應該問問:自己給了這樣的人什麼機會?

台灣經濟今年下半年已進入負成長,明年將更惡化,隨著企業裁員和關廠潮,到年底將有五十萬人失去 工作。不必走到那一刻,我們已可預見未來的景象;到了那種時候,別說是身障的勞工,優秀的白領階級一樣將同遭其殃。屆時,羅茂盛的咖啡攤還撐不撐得下去? 支持他的顧客還會不會繼續出現?這也許不是羅茂盛能回答的問題,卻是主政者該捫心自問的課題。

羅茂盛夜裡在家中自行烘焙咖啡豆,對各國咖 啡品類的脾性皆能娓娓道來;誰能想像,一位獨腿人如此用心經營他簡單的咖啡攤?就像他的獨子,須藉放大鏡將右眼緊貼在書頁上才能閱讀,也只是寄望不斷參加 考試取得就業機會。在經濟的退潮時分,羅茂盛一家的堅毅和無怨,除了提醒所有勞動者不要灰心喪志,也提醒朝野政黨應拋開務虛的政治硝煙,回到關注人民真實 生活的主軸來。


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