Old frontline warriors immune to shell shock
JASPER BECKER on Quemoy
Despite the sound of shelling heard from frontline Quemoy island, its inhabitants have a blunt motto: 'Wo men bu pa' - we are not afraid.
Everyone says it - from fishwives in the market to its convivial county leader, Chen Shui-tsai.
So far the only invaders on Quemoy, just two kilometres from the mainland, have been foreign journalists and Mr Chen has been fortifying his defences by plying them with the famous local sorghum brew.
Quemoy's 47,344 citizens do not produce much else, as most of the island is just a mass of bunkers and tunnels. But the brew does come packaged in beguiling containers made from shells which rained on Quemoy between 1958 and 1960.
'We have seen this before and much worse,' said taxi driver and ex-soldier Fang Ling-pao, pulling up his shirt to show his war wound. 'We fought them before and beat them.' Everyone seems remembers the onslaught which turned Quemoy into the hero island and the symbol of Kuomintang resistance to the communists. Even, it seems, those who look far too young.
'Of course, I was only little at the time, but we remember,' said Wang Li-li, a young woman minding the family shop.
Despite this bravado, Mr Chen reckons 80,000 mainland troops are ranged against the island - and another 70,000 opposite Matsu. 'I reckon the chances of war are one in three,' he said before instinctively adding that wo men bu pa.
He said the island had been put on a war footing and residents told to take all precautions in case of a blockade, though the island has enough supplies for at least three months and perhaps six.
So far though, the markets are full, often with fish and vegetables imported from China.
Although most of the 80 residents of the smaller island of Wuchiu to the north have been evacuated, it is not an option worth considering on legendary Quemoy.
Now, plans for building a bridge to the mainland have been shelved, the garrison is being reinforced and beaches cleared of mines are being guarded again. Trees planted to beautify the stronghold are being cut down to clear lines of fire and troops are digging trenches and making tank barriers.
Thirty-five years ago the Americans helped save the island of Quemoy.
'The Americans will protect us again,' said saleswoman Lu Fan-kuo. 'Wo men bu pa.'