Tuesday, December 30, 2003

To the west and north of my property are bamboo groves. The old path up the mountain goes west beyond the bamboo, within earshot, but out of sight from my house. A couple of years ago, the town hall shored up the path with old railroad ties for the convenience and safety of hikers, but very few people ever use that trail. From time to time, a work crew is dispatched to keep the trail free from undergrowth.

Early this afternoon, I heard someone calling me. I went out to be greeted by the work crew, about eight Tayal. “Yugan, today we are clearing the path. Will your dogs bite us?”

“No, but they will lick you.”

I left them to their work. A few hours later, Batu came by and called. “Yugan! We are taking a break. Come chat with us. Bring your dogs to play with us.”

I went out and sat on the trail chatting with them. Batu circled around, and discovered my poor Giant Bamboo. I have two stands of Giant Bamboo, which, true to their name, grow tall and thick, even though our climate is much cooler than their native Malaysia. Unfortunately, they do not have strong roots, and both stands got knocked flat by Typhoon Dujuan late in the summer. I suppose now I should call them lies of bamboo, not stands.

I had sawed the fallen bamboo into sections and left it there to dry as I figure out if there is any use I could find for it. Batu beat me to it. He came to us with a six foot section over his shoulder, singing and beating out a rhythm with a stick. Everybody joined in, singing and clapping.

Batu lay the bamboo across the path. Hayung chopped off a tree branch to prop up one end of the bamboo, which is about as thick as my thigh. The other end was wedged into the side of the path. Batu and Lmuy started beating rhythms with bamboo sticks, but Batu's sticks were rotten and broke. I picked a soki and chopped two drum sticks from a qesu tree, and gave them to Batu. I sat down and steadied the free end of the bamboo drum. The hollow bamboo sticks played soprano to the tenor qesu sticks, and I provided bass by beating the bamboo with my palms. Work was forgotten. Pretty soon Batu handed his sticks to Hayung and started dancing. His dancing was so burlesque that everybody dissolved into laughter. Sayun joined him. They pretended to be a pair of lovers, hamming it up as we laughed. Somebody shouted, “Belly dance!” We all took up the shout, so Batu started performing a belly dance (This is the first time I have seen two belly dances within one week. Friday on Third Street in Santa Monica, a black lady in a gold costume performed a belly dance to the rhythm of her finger cymbals. Today, Batu. An interesting contrast.) As he danced, he held up his tee shirt, but after half a dozen grinds, Lmuy pulled his shirt up over his head. Batu almost danced off the path, but was pulled back in time. Then Lmuy and Batu performed a waltz: another first for me: the first time I have ever seen anybody waltzing in a bamboo grove. That didn't last long, because Lmuy complained Batu's footwork was off, so she reached down to pull his leg into the right position. That was too much for me: “Are you dancing or wrestling?”

After a few more numbers, everybody decided that it was time to quit work for the day. “Yugan! We have done our work for today, and we are happy. We will come back tomorrow. Will you come play the bamboo drum with us again tomorrow?”

Of course!

Saturday, December 20, 2003

words of wisdom

"I've broken 22 bones. That's something you don't get used to. It hurts."

-Bubba, professional motorcycle jumper

Thursday, December 18, 2003

What miracles we take for granted!

December 18, I set out in a Singapore Airlines 747 on an utterly routine (I hope) flight across the great Pacific Ocean to LA. Almost exactly one hundred years earlier (consider the time difference between Taipei time and Eastern Standard), the Wright Brothers launched their plane off the surface of the earth to make the first powered flight. Their momentous little hop would not have taken them from the fuselage to the wingtip of a 747!

How far we have come in a short one hundred years!

Now, if only morals advanced as quickly.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

How to Get to My Place
I have discovered that I have an excellent line of defense.

People trying to find my place asking at the last house on Huanshan Road before the turnoff to the sideroad leading to my track are apt to encounter Laowa. First, let me state that although she is fluent in Tayal, she is actually an Amis, our only long-term resident Amis, I believe. I forget how she ended up in Wulai, but she is almost always there in her little roadside house to befuddle the passerby with her impenetrable directions.

“Oh, you're looking for the American? You mean Yugan? I've never heard of him. Does he live around here? I don't know. Well, there is a house up there somewhere, but I'm not sure. You're trying to find the American, right? No, I don't know him, I'm not sure where he lives. The one with dogs, right? His name is Yugan, right? No, I've never heard of him. He lives uphill somewhere. You might try the next turnoff, but he doesn't live there. Well, I don't know. He has beautiful dogs. Now he has three of them. The little puppy is named Yumin. My son Bilao loves dogs, but we're right by the road, so it's dangerous for dogs. Look at Tunux next door. She was a beautiful, intelligent little dog, so some sightseer from the city stole her! Isn't that terrible! Stealing a dog from someone! And taking a mountain dog to the city is especially cruel. How can they live in an apartment? Look at Yugan's dogs, they couldn't live in the city, they are mountain dogs. Who? Yugan? An American? Never heard of him. Does he live around here? Really? An American lives around here? Where? You don't know? I don't know, either. Maybe uphill somewhere. I hear there's an American living around here. I don't know him. He teaches English, yes, that's the one. I asked him to teach my son Bilao, but he said, Not yet, Laowa, wait till he's bigger, I don't teach kids, they're uyuq yungay, that means baby monkeys in Tayal, Yugan can speak Tayal. Yes, he's American. Yes, the English teacher. You mean Yugan? An English teacher? Yugan? An American? Never heard of him. You mean the one with dogs? Yes, of course, his place is not by the road, so it's a good place to raise dogs. Every time he comes down with his dogs, he has to tie Yumin on a leash. Yumin is a beagle, he's a puppy, so he doesn't understand cars. My son Bilao loves dogs. Every time he sees Yugan with his dogs, He says, Mama, I want a dog like Yugan's. But I tell him, Bilao, we live too close to the road, these sightseers from the city drive like maniacs. Yugan? Oh yes. Yugan lives near here, but it's very far away. I don't know where his house is. Up near the spring. Which spring? Why, the spring Yutas gets his water from, that spring. He pipes it down from there. So do Meilu and Banzi and Mulang too. No, Mulang lives downhill, and Yugan lives uphill. Not this road, the next one, but it doesn't go there….”

Laowa can go on like that ad infinitum, but after a few minutes, strong men break into tears. All but the hardiest, the most determined, are ready to flee the mountains.

Yeah, so sure, come on up for a visit some day. If you can't find my place, just ask anybody. Especially Laowa.

Monday, December 15, 2003

UPS and downs
Sending parcels by UPS (United Parcel Service) is expensive, but it's worth it for the comic value alone.

Recently I ordered some merchandise, which the company suggested sending by UPS. I have not been happy with UPS service, but I acquiesced. The package was sent December 3. By December 11, I had not received it, so I sent the company an e-letter. They responded immediately with a tracking number, reporting that the UPS website listed that the package had reached Taipei at 1100 December 8. I checked the website and found the same information, so I phoned the UPS office. The lady who answered the phone said there was absolutely no information concerning that tracking number. I assured her I found the number on the UPS website. She did not believe me, and asked me to fax the email with the tracking number. After trying for 15 minutes without success to get through the UPS fax number, I gave up and phoned again. The second lady I got managed to find my number. It turns out that, in my ignorance, I was pronouncing the letter “R” in the tracking number like “are.” The second young lady kindly informed me that that letter should be pronounced “ah,” rising tone. Forgiving me for my ignorance, she said, “Oh, we mailed you your package through the post office.”

I eventually got someone in charge of deliveries. They said that on the 8th, they phoned, but were unable to deal with my answering machine, so they mailed me the package instead of leaving a message. I asked why they didn't phone again, or even attempt to deliver, and they said it was ‘not convenient.’

So now we know that the Post Office service is so much better than UPS, even UPS prefers to send packages that way.

I finally received the package from the postman on the 12th of December, nine days after it left North Carolina, about four days after it would have arrived if it had been sent by regular old air mail.

This morning I got a phone call from UPS, follow-through. When I answered the phone, I heard a young lady say, “Hello-Mr-Tao?-how-are-you-this-is-UPS-last-week-you-had-a-package-you-have-received-it-already-right-so-there-is-no-problem-ok-thank-you-goodbye” *click* lickety-split, all in one breath: “你是陶先生是不是你好這是UPS你上禮拜有個包裹已經收到了吧對不對沒有問題好了謝謝拜拜” From the time I picked up the phone until she slammed down her receiver was at most eight seconds.

Who says UPS isn't efficient?

Sunday, December 14, 2003











“你不知道當司機的苦衷。 車子一定要有油。 每一次加油,加油站就要贈送衛生紙,可是他們從來也不想,人的食慾有限,怎麼用得完這麼多衛生紙?

“只好叫孩子多吃一點,你懂這個利害關係嗎? 偏偏女兒只想她的身材,怕發胖,顧不得做爸爸的困窘,就是拒絕吃那麼多。”


他繼續一盒一盒地在我手上堆。“有甚麼辦法? 只好偷偷給兒子下瀉藥。夏天冷氣開到最大,天氣冷開窗、沒收全家的棉被、外套,目的是要大家流鼻水。 浴室、廚房的毛巾、摸布都丟掉了,叫家人用衛生紙代替,沙發也丟了,放一堆衛生紙,千方百計,可是衛生紙還是有增無減。

“我前幾天打電話給我大甲的表舅,請他吃飯,他居然開口第一句話問我,’你是不是又有衛生紙,要找人幫你用?’ 我自己的表舅跟我講這種話! … 他怎麼知道?”

老鄭熱淚盈眶。“我老闆有多姦詐,你知道嗎? 每一次叫我把他的轎車開去加油,自己怎麼樣不靠近加油站,然後假裝很慷慨,說,‘有贈品你自己留著用。’ 如果喝礦泉水能拉肚子那還好…我該怎麼辦?


“謝了,我家裡喝的就是礦泉水,不用瓶子裝的。”蹐蹐後退,想趁早逃脫,可是講到『水』給了我一個靈感。 “老鄭,你不是有親戚住清水嗎?”

“我太太娘家的。 我不想把關係搞壞。”

“我教你。 你跟他們講,臺大醫院研究出一個秘方,整個房子地板用衛生紙鋪滿,可以預防SARS,可是因為他們怕衛生紙價飆長,所以現在還是保密…”

老鄭眉顏間的愁雲終於放晴了。 他一語不發,跳上車,笑哈哈地開走。 看樣子,他是往清水開的。


Saturday, December 13, 2003

A great shame. I recently saw a wonderful article on the web, and now I can't find it.

It seems that a bus driver in Nigeria had a contract to pick up a load of mental patients and transport them from one hospital to another. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on where you're sitting), when the driver stopped at a gas station to fill up the tank, his passengers departed en masse. To get paid, the driver had to deliver a full load of passengers. Quick thinking: he drove up to a crowded bus stop, got a bus load of passengers, and delivered them to the mental hospital, unobtrusively warning the orderlies that the whole lot of them were delirious liars. Took three days to clear things up.

Last time I took his bus, I told this story to my friend Eban, the bus driver. He sort of smiled, and got a dreamy look in his eyes.

Thursday, December 11, 2003


有一個人在臺灣鄉村遊玩、一對阿公阿媽請他喝茶、遊客發現他們用了幾十年的老茶壺被他們養的茶質滲透、瓦磚老壺竟然日積月累變成了絕倫的妙壺、於是乎出高價求他們割愛、但是因為身上帶的錢不夠、說過兩天再送錢來、結果過兩天送錢來時、 阿公阿媽說、那個茶壺那麼髒、歹勢給你帶回台北給人看、所以我們把它刷乾淨了、那個人一看、絕倫妙壺一刷又變回瓦磚老壺、一文不值、於是乎揮淚、空手回都市、

怎麼樣? 你也聽過很多遍吧。 我記得第一次聽,下鄉的是一個台北年輕人,後來變成高雄的巨富、中央研究院的學者、日本茶道大師、新加坡的政壇要員、外國人… 聽了二十幾年,只有 James Bond 與外星人還沒來買壺。

那一對阿公阿媽的茶壺可真多! 仁人君子若有空,勞駕一下,去跟他們講,不要再刷了!! 學不乖! 就讓那個台北年輕人、高雄巨富、中央研究院學者、日本茶道大師、新加坡政壇要員、外國人開開心心地買回去,讓這個故事就此結束!

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

呂氏春秋 慎大:

Monday, December 08, 2003

There was once in China Duke Yi of Wei. He loved his cranes. When he wasn't engaged in the serious work of drinking and womanizing, Duke Yi spent all his time tending to his beloved cranes, watching them fly, listening to their calls.

In the 9th year of his reign, 660 BC, the 翟Di barbarians came out of the north and attacked Wei. Duke Yi called out the army. The army declined to stir, saying, “Our duke loves cranes. Please order your cranes to attack the barbarians.” The Di barbarians entered Wei and killed Duke Yi.

The moral of this story is, if you're going to go overboard on your pets, raise tigers.


Friday, December 05, 2003

Who Did the Top?

With the topping off of Taipei 101, Taipei now has the world's tallest office building. It's colossal. The effect is magnified by its solitude. This is not New York, with rows and rows of behemoths. Around it are rinky-dink twenty story buildings, and way off at the Train Station is what has become the second tallest building, at about fifty stories. The 101 rears up alone, a giant chopstick in the Taipei sky. You can see its top from back in the mountains.

Agogo was wondering, “How worked on the top half? Who's going to be hanging up there in the middle of the sky building that thing?

”Yugan, I used to do construction work, you know. In Taichung (central Taiwan), I worked on the outside of a 47 storey building. It was terrible! The wind was strong, and I was out alone on the scaffolding.

“Above the 30th floor, there were only aborigine construction workers. None of the Han Chinese dared to come up so high. Above the 30th floor, it was mostly Amis and Bunun, and some of us Tayal. Above the 40th floor, everybody was trembling.

“Yugan, it was frightening. They had iron scaffolding thrown together. The people who made the scaffolding must have been frightened, because they just did a quick job. There is the iron scaffolding, no outside wall, and to walk on, a board about as wide as my shoulders. That is all you had to stand on. You look down, oh, Yugan, you don't want to look down! I had on a safety belt, but I knew that if I fell, who would come rescue me? I knew I would just dangle there, over 40 stories up in the air, until somebody drummed up the courage to come rescue me ~ I would be frightened to death long before any rescuers came.”

“If it was so bad, why did you go up?”

“The day before, an Amis had been bolting the exterior on the top floor, the 47th floor. He bolted on three plates. Then he threw up his lunch and sat down and couldn't stand up again. They had to get another Amis to go out and carry him back.

“I figured, if the Amis are afraid, I will show them what a Tayal can do! There were nine more plates left to bolt. I took the elevator up all the way to the top. I got out and looked at that little board I had to walk on. I looked down. Oh! No, I would not look down. I kept my head up. I had my bolts in my pockets, big bolts the size of my fist.”

“You mean you were alone up there?”

“I was the only one on the top storey. Below me, men were working on the 46th floor. Tsiy was there, you know, Losin's brother-in-law? He was working on the 46th floor, but most of them were Amis and Bunun. Everybody was trembling. Nobody talked.”

“What would have happened if you dropped something?”

“It would have fallen. But my wrench was on a safety line.”

“In the morning, I bolted five plates. Usually I can bolt sixteen plates in a day, but you can't forget how high you are, so you work slowly. The wind is very strong. They may have a good view up that high, but I didn't want to see it!

“I had a quick lunch and went back to work. I wanted to get it over with. I was so frightened I couldn't work very fast, and I was getting tired very quickly.

“When I reached my last bolt, I was so tired I dropped my wrench. When I saw it fall, I was so scared I threw up. Then I sat down on that little board and rested a while. Finally, I pulled it back up to me and put on the last bolt. As soon as I finished that, I crawled back off the scaffolding as fast as I could. I crawled all the way into the elevator! Then when the elevator reached the ground, my legs gave out on me, and I sat down on the ground with my back against the wall. I didn't want to look up to see how high I had been.

“I went to the office and phoned the boss. I said, ‘Boss, this is Agogo, I quit,’ and hung up. He phoned back and said he would give me a reward. He asked me how many plates I bolted, and I said, ‘Nine, I finished the work on the exterior of the 47th floor, and I quit!’ He said he would give me extra pay, but asked me to stay on the job. ‘Work on the third floor, how about that, Agogo?’ ‘Third floor?’ I said. ‘I can do the third floor. But from now on, I am not going higher than the tenth floor!’”

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

No Willpower Whatsoever

Walking past the Tribe on my way to the bus, I heard shrieks and shouts behind me, and turned around just as Ciana was leaping up on me. I have mentioned she is my favorite little kid in the Tribe, have known her since she was a babe in arms, about nine or ten now. She and two other little girls were playing badminton when they saw me go by, and came after me.

“Why aren't you in school?”

“Wednesday afternoon we're off.”

“That's right, today's Wednesday. That's good, I was about to go take you to the principal and have you thrashed for cutting school.”

“You'd never do that, Yugan. Are you going to teach?”

“Yes, I have to go catch my bus”

”Oh, please, play badminton with us first.”

”No can do, I have to go catch my bus.”

”PLEASE, Yugan!” Then they all three looked up at me hopefully with their big eyes. You think Chinese kids are cute, you should see Aborigine kids.

So that's why I spent five minutes leaping about by the side of the road playing badminton with three little girls. I figured, there's another bus twenty minutes later, and it's not the end of the world if I miss this one. You have to have some priorities in life. And say, one of these little girls, Ciana's cousin, is good! She doesn't know how to serve, but she sure can give you your money's worth on a return! This with a drabbled shuttlecock and a racquet that doesn't have a flat face.

(actually, that may be the reason they were so eager for me to play with them. None of them knows how to serve. They'd throw the shuttlecock to me and ask me to serve.)

But then all three of them had had a turn, so they graciously let me go. I hurried, and caught my bus anyway.