Partitions : The Lot of Being Common to All

at the windowless west wall
If you fly west long enough, you can get east. My plane takes a banking curve over the serpent rivers in the meadow lowlands, over the streets lining the spiny peninsula, and is quickly just a silver glint in the eyes of the women standing in high-heeled boots and fake-fur jackets on Communipaw Avenue, who slump and wait for a chance man, a pocket, a few dollars for the rent. On the other side, in Chungli, we pass the “betel-nut girls” about midnight, in showcases rimmed in lime and hot pink neon, fantasy women in tight-fitting outfits who sell a quick upper to workers, men who drive by for their fix and a flirt. On almost every corner there’s a 7-11 convenience store, but the young Filipino women from the electronics factories, maybe the Pen Wa Textile Compound, get purple ube jellyroll sweets at the local storefronts, the same as the Filipino nurses on Newark Avenue choose from the Bread House, Saturdays, too early or too late to buy weekdays as they walk home from their shift. The streets are glistening dark grey, the buses are running, there are one or two red-tile-roofed buildings. The woman gathered into her dark conservative dress says, “The stress was really, really hard. I tried to kill myself. It seemed hopeless. We were single women, we had children, sisters to support, bills to pay.” In the pink room of the former brothel in Taipei, the walls are plywood partitions open at the top, so the women could be heard if they called for help. The room just wide enough for a bed, at one end a low dresser and a picture on it. Her on the first day at work there, age fifteen, bouffant hair, big eyes. She stands in the alley off Gui Sui Jie Road in Da Dao Cheng, one of the oldest trade areas. Overhead, green vines drape the balconies where the shop owners used to live, glad the women worked below because they brought business in. She had done talking. Her eyes shine, silver mirror tears. Su Ching looks over our shoulders at the words we are writing down in our notebooks and says she is learning to use the computer so she can record their life stories. She was the most fierce in the battles with the police. At first they wore the old-fashioned farm women’s hats to hide their faces, they were ashamed, but at the spring labor march, they cast them to the ground. They don’t know the farmers near the new airport in Narita, near Tokyo, where one runway takes the planes through a zig-zag because the protestors wouldn’t give up the land. Downtown in Tokyo, there are stacked stories of bars in Shigiku, each floor a warren of one-room clubs, blocks and blocks of brilliant pulsing color, a tablet of signs hung from each tall building, advertising desire to be found somewhere in the fragments. A huckster with a handful of flyers says to me in English, “Ladies drink for free.”

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