Portia Placino

Repository of my thoughts and images of art, literature, travel, and life.

Memories of Painful Pasts: Human Rights Museum

DSC02245One of the most thought-provoking things that I have witnessed in Taipei is their National Human Rights Museum. Albeit all the sensitive issues that this may provoke, at the very essence, they are preserving their painful memories so that they may never allow the same suffering to happen to their people ever again.

It was an incredibly gloomy and rainy day. It sets the stage for the gray walls of the museum.

You literally have to pass through a claustrophobic inducing structure, mimicking the experience of political prisoners of the Taiwanese dictatorship.

The former barracks were recreated to serve as a briefing room. Here, the guide would retell the story of the Taiwanese period of dictatorship and the White Terror.

The bare grey walls speak for itself. I am not a Taiwanese, but the story of dictatorship is also my story as a Filipino.

On top of the highest grey walls are dove sculptures. Until now, I think we are still fighting for our flight towards freedom.

This entire complex was created for the sole purpose of holding political prisoners.

Still, a mythical figure looks on. I truly wonder how they felt about this.

Irony of all ironies, this prison also holds a Chiang Kai-shek memorial. How was it like to pass through a structure memorializing the very reason you are imprisoned for? They memorialized the person who robbed them of their freedom.

The museum showed how communications were monitored at the time.

Even phone conversations. Lifting those phones, you can hear the conversations that the political prisoners had. I don’t speak Chinese, but it gives a sense of loneliness, isolation, and fear. Maybe it is the context that I am viewing it from, as I have absolutely no idea of what is being said.

An opening to the prison cell.

No conversation is allowed in the small exercise yard below.

The story is painful for the to tell, but they tell it anyway. It is the subject of endless debates. Is it right to represent something that cannot be fully conveyed? By doing this, do you prevent the people from moving forward?

Is it a valid point, to keep on telling the story so they may heal? So that they always remember, and through collective remembrance, learn.

They invited one of the former political prisoners to speak with us. He does not appear to be a sad man, even if he did went through so much pain. He believes in the museum and what it aims to do. The museum tells a story of terror. And through that terror, a story of freedom.

It leads me to thinking about our own struggles as Filipino people. Why are we so intent to forget? We don’t try to remember. We forget and let go of our past hurts and terrors, but we don’t learn the lessons. In forgetting, one generation may heal from it, but the coming generation forgets.

This place feels bleak. You will leave with a pain in your heart and a disturbed mind. But still, they teach a lesson. They don’t forget. They teach a lesson to always fight for the freedom that they earned. They grow  from that belief. Taipei is rising around these walls, but these walls still stand.

I wonder how I can carry this home. How can we remember the pain? So we may never allow such terrors again. I still have no answer.

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