Thursday, September 30, 2004


A month's dreary drizzle suddenly cleared to produce a dazzling Sunday. The mountains rimming Taipei basin were clear and shining in their spring greenery, enhanced by the rain. As the noon bus to Wulai reached the outskirts of the city, a man and his son got on. Judging from his hands and look, the father was most likely a machinist, making a living among the shrieking lathes and drills of some crowded little workshop as a radio added to the din. He was of slightly less than medium height, hard and wiry, with teeth stained and corroded by betel. He worked hard, with few luxuries and little leisure. Today was different, though. He had scrubbed his hands and face and put on his slippers and his best pants (the ones with few noticeable grease stains) and was out for a holiday with his son. His son was a bit taller than the father, in his second or third year of junior high school, probably one of his last years of schooling before he got a job like his father's.

Father and son beamed with happiness and excitement. The father announced to the bus driver, "We want to go to Wulai."

"Fine," said the bus driver, reasonably enough.

"How much is the fare?"

"33 for you, 17 for your son."

The father stood a moment in thought. His face cleared as he said, "Fifty all together." The bus driver nodded. The father fished in his jacket pocket and drew out a plastic bag with a fistful of coins. One, two, three, four, five 10NT coins makes fifty, which he carefully deposited in the slot. The driver handed him tickets, which father and son examined carefully. Their eyes were shining as they put the tickets in their pockets.

"We're going to Wulai," said the son.

"We can see the waterfall," said the father, "and take the cable car, and even watch the aborigines dance." Both turned their heads to the bus driver, clearly an aborigine.

The son nudged his father, looking curiously, but shyly, at a Westerner chatting lazily with the driver. "No, that was just after they got married, so it would have been only about two years ago," he was saying. The boy may never have seen a foreigner from so close up before.

They sat down, forward and back, and glued their noses to the windows. Wulai has some of the most superb mountains in an island noted for scenic beauty. Thick vegetation hides the practically vertical flanks of the mountains that rise sheer from the river bed, not high, but mighty, powerful for all that they rise only several hundred feet. A vigorous river winds next to the road.

They swayed with the bus making its way towards its destination. At one turn, the father and son suddenly looked at each other.

"Fishing," the father breathed, grinning.

"Fishing," his son repeated, as one who has been granted a glimpse of another realm.

The bus finally reached Wulai. The father and son were the last to leave the bus before the foreigner, still chatting with the driver. The father carefully asked, "What time is the last bus back to the city?"

"9:30," answered the driver. "There's one every half hour between 5 and 9:30.”

"Which way is the waterfall?”

"That way," pointed the driver. "If you’re not in any hurry to get back to the city, be sure to stick around, because tonight we're having a show, Aborigine Night.”

The father and son were radiant. The driver continued, "Do you know Gao Liyen, the famous pop singer?”

"Of course!" they both protested.

"She's a member of our tribe, and she's coming back to sing tonight, right there on that stage they're putting up now in the plaza. You can watch the show for free. All the best singers in the tribe will be performing, and there will be fireworks, too.”

Their joy was complete. Thanking the bus driver, father and son strolled leisurely off towards the waterfall, creating memories that some day, when the boy is an old man with grandchildren and great-grandchildren of his own, he will cherish. That was the day he visited Wulai with his father.

+++  
written in 1997

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

I wrote this a couple years ago. I regret to report that I haven't seen him for some time now.

Taipei's southern edge is Hsindien (New Store); beyond that, mountains, east to Pinglin, south to Wulai. To enter the mountains, the two main roads out of Taipei converge in NewStore at Bitan, Green Lake, a scenic spot that was, thirty years ago, the edge of civilization, home to a few temples and a scattering of residents. Now the area is built up, and graced by the presence of a nut. A wonderful nut, but nonetheless, a nut, a great favorite of the busdrivers.

He loves to direct traffic. He appears at the intersection from time to time, especially on busy days when there is a lot of traffic to direct, with a string of whistles. He is apt to stuff three or four into his mouth at the same time as he stands at the intersection and directs traffic. And how he directs traffic! Influenced perhaps by martial arts and Chinese opera, many traffic directors in Taiwan are given to graceful gestures which can be delightful to watch, but none can come near the expressiveness and creativity of The Nut. As is the problem with so much modern art, the viewer can only watch in uncomprehending wonder, as he waves his arms, flaps his fingers, twists his elbows, and works his shoulders in a manner that an orchestra conductor would do well to emulate. Evan (Bus #390) and I were struck speechless by his beautiful bobbing wave of the hand. We speculate that this can mean nothing but "Beach ahead; surf's up!" That must be what it means, because he followed it with hula motions: beach, see? Never mind that the nearest shore is seventy kilometers ahead across a treacherous mountain road.

Old-timers pause to admire his gesticulations and then drive on. New-comers generally try to follow his directions, something a trapeze artist would find strenuous, much less someone confined within a humble Toyota. When he has traffic snarled, the real police come and chase him away. He runs around to the back of the subway terminal until they go away. Then, resurrected and triumphant, he appears once again at his post, for the further befuddlement of traffic.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004




Monday, September 27, 2004

I came to Taiwan from Saigon when I was 18. On my first day, in the International House, I met Roger, who knew everything about twentieth century Chinese warlords. That was the beginning of a friendship that continues to this day.

After a year in the I House, Roger and I found an apartment nearby. To fill the other room and help with the rent, we rounded up Del Weeks, a slim, dark haired American with a slight stoop. Del had been in Viet Nam, and spoke excellent Viet Namese. I would occasionally practice with him, but my Viet Namese was nowhere near as good as his.

After a couple months living together, once when Del and I were shooting the breeze, the subject of Tet 1968 came up. That was when the Viet Namese communists made their great push to overthrow the Republic of Viet Nam. They laid waste to Hue, Viet Nam's ancient capital and cultural center. Communists do not like people who think for themselves, so they targeted the many universities of Hue. They had lists prepared of professors and student leaders, and buried them alive. Koreans were captured; the communists wired their hands behind their backs and threw them into the river. Only one foreigner, a legendary figure, survived the slaughter.

The Viet Cong also entered Saigon and caused great damage. My neighbors used to point out to me the spot where the Viet Cong killed a Swiss doctor because he had been doing humanitarian work among the poor. They tied his hands behind his back, dragged him to an empty lot, threw him to the ground, and slit his throat. That lot is built up now, but I can still point out the exact spot.

In the quiet of our apartment on Hsinsheng Street in Taipei, over two steaming mugs of tea, I asked Del, "You were in Viet Nam in Tet of 1968, weren't you?”

"Yeah,” he replied, quietly, his eyes far away.

"Where were you?”


"Hue?" I sat up in my chair, realization dawning on me. I had never thought about it, but Del fit the descriptions to a T. "Was that you!?"

"Me? I was in Hue through the 1968 Tet Offensive.”

I had heard the story a dozen times in Viet Nam, but I asked him to tell me again, to hear it from his own lips.

Del had moved to Hue in 1967. He is a likable guy, speaks fluent Viet Namese, and with his dark hair, dark eyes, and medium height slim figure, doesn't oppress timorous people with his westerness. He roomed in a Viet Namese neighborhood, and made many friends.

When the Tet Offensive began, his neighbors, fearing for his safety, hid him in their own house, in a tiny loft under the roof. He brought along a Filipino friend. The neighbors slipped them food. Del spent most of his time lying on his stomach. He could peek out through the air vent to see the street below.

Soon the Viet Cong came looking for Del. Even though the whole neighborhood was in on the secret, everybody played dumb. "Nguoi my? (the American?) He ran away before the fighting came. We haven't seen him since then."

The cadres came back the next day, again asking for Del, but again the neighbors played dumb. The third time, the cadres came with loudspeakers, threatening dire reprisals for the whole neighborhood if Del was being sheltered by any one of them. They came again and again, searching houses, but never found Del's hideout. They trooped through the neighborhood wielding severed heads, and promised worse for anyone who knew where Del was but didn't report him to the Viet Cong. Over the loudspeakers, they bragged about what they would do with Del when they found him: they would cut off his head and put it in his stomach. Hidden Del secretly listened carefully.

By the fourth day, the Filipino's nerves had cracked. Del tussled with him, but he insisted that he could escape through the darkness of night. He urged Del to run, saying that it was only a matter of time before they were found. Del trusted to his neighbors. He stayed on his stomach near the vent, hidden in the tiny loft.

The next morning, the cadres showed a new trophy: the mutilated head of the Filipino. He had not disclosed where he had hidden. The communists were furious. The neighbors held firm.

Then the cadres stopped coming to threaten the people. American and ARVN troops reentered the ancient city, fighting step for step. A company of American Marines was picking its way through the rubble when a tattered figure emerged from a doorway and staggered towards them. The man on point swung his M16 towards him, preparing to shoot; he looked, looked again, his mouth dropped open, and in sheer astonishment he stuttered, “You're.... you're American!” The man collapsed in their arms and was taken to safety. Del's ordeal was over, and quickly passed into the legends of the war. He is the only foreigner known to have survived the Tet Offensive of 1968 in Hue.

Del was surprised to learn that I had heard the story many times. He was unaware that anybody remembered his nightmare. Of course his version contained many details I had never heard before. We nursed our tea until it cooled, and then retired to our rooms.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

There was a terrible crash outside. When I went out to investigate, Yumin came prancing over, ears flapping, tail wagging, SOOOO happy to see me! He bounded around in delight. A pile of curing wood had fallen over, no harm done. I could barely put it back in place because of beagle exuberance. He kept bouncing back and forth between my legs, brushing against my arms and licking my face as I bent over to pick things up, and in general showing me how absolutely elated he was to see me, and OF COURSE the fallen wood pile had nothing to do with a beagle, oh no never, of course not. Tlahuy and Bengax watched from a distance. As things got straightened out, suddenly Yumin detected some threat on the outer perimeter, and rushed off boldly, barking fiercely, to protect us from all mischief.

Friday, September 24, 2004

附近溫泉館移植兩棵杉、一棵肖楠,結果都種死掉了。樹歪在那兒,等著倒踏腐朽。可惜,尤其那棵肖楠;圍一拱,高兩丈有餘,于是乎,我決定跟他們要。不認識老闆,但kneiring Masa 在那裡上班。 幾次路過,沒機會進去,不然就是外頭工人說老闆不在。幾個月了。

不能等太久。上禮拜提早出門,打算找老闆或留言。快到時,Ciwan 開車下山,叫我坐他便車。好吧,因緣如此,隨緣。上了車。

"Yugan, musa su inu?”
"Tsbaq biru. Nanu sa? Mswa tama simu qani?" 你們怎麼在這裡?
"裡面消毒,不能進去。Hangaw ta la.”
"甚麼事? Yugan.”
"他就是老闆," 她指旁邊坐的一個打領帶的男的,"你問他。”

老闆說可以。我決定,如果平怡她們不來的話,早上鋸。平怡果然有事,但是半夜下大雨,我想,不妙。睡醒,還在下,又過半小時就停了。我拎著鋸子、開山刀,走後門沿小徑,從 Tetuq 家旁下去,鋸好,滿頭大汗,暫放兩棵杉在路側,走原路扛肖楠回來。Tetuq 家旁一塊地,政府一直想開一條路,說實話,沒有這個必要,加上地主不肯蓋章。 地主不肯蓋章,十年前政府不管他,索性就在那兒挖了一條路。地主不悅,就在路中概了一棟鐵皮屋;畢竟是他的地。一、兩個禮拜前,政府又偷偷地鋪了柏油,到鐵皮屋為止。


今天下午下山,發現那塊地地主火大了,昨天下午用籬笆把地圍起來了,截了Tetuq 家旁的'新路'、與我扛肖楠的小徑。

我們常說 "隨緣,該是你的,跑不掉,不該是你的,留不住。" 我們相信這個道理呢,或用這句安慰自己?



Monday, September 20, 2004

I am going to tell you something that will cause you to turn green with envy and to admire me immensely. Last Wednesday I posted a note bragging about my teaching skills: a student slept through more than two and a half hours of my three hour class. I know wish to inform you of a further advance in my expertise. Just now, I was chatting with Chiaoyi on MSN, and ~~ prepare yourself ~~ she fell asleep in the middle of our chat.

If I get any better, I'll have people falling asleep in the middle of my emails and …. hey, come on, wake up!

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Not the least of the joys of living in Wulai is watching the eagles. We have a good number of them, large, majestic birds with wings that stretch six feet. I never tire of watching them soar over the mountains, towering and swooping with the wind.

Today is a beautiful fall day, with a high blue ceiling, wispy white cirrus, and billowing puffy cumulus. As I sat eating lunch in the hammock, an eagle lifted from a tree in the slope to the north, circled the house a few times, and, with a sharp cry, flew straight across the valley, covering a kilometer in about a minute.

I whistled my imitation of its cry. It ignored me. Eagles always do. Even before I moved to Wulai, I always whistled back at eagles, and they have always ignored me. Now, I am not a very good whistler, but I have been working on this for a dozen years, so I should think I can do a reasonable imitation of an eagle's cry. They call back and forth between themselves, and always ignore land-bound me, whistling futilely below them.

In a burst of enlightenment, today I realized why:..... they can't hear me.... I am not a very good whistler, and even on a good day, I doubt my whistle could be heard more than twenty or thirty meters away, and here I am, whistling away at these glorious eagles soaring a hundred meters overhead.

That is, anyway, the comfort I have found for myself. Maybe the call I have spent so many years perfecting means, in eagle speak, "There's that guy again, ignore him.”

Friday, September 17, 2004

The Dogs of War
This morning when I took out the trash, I spotted a large dog about twenty paces in back of us. Fearless Yumin immediately charged. He ran so fast his whole body, from front feet to back, was like one straight line, he ran so fast even fleetfooted Bengax was left behind. Tlahuy stayed by me, bristling. The problem is, there was other dogs from that pack down around the bend, and Yumin and Bengax charged straight into them. There was a terrific clamor. Tlahuy left my side and raced down into the fray, which ended the war immediately; I have yet to see any dog or combination of dogs that can stand up to Tlahuy when he is protecting me or Bengax.

I rushed down. Tlahuy hurried to my side. Bengax looked sort of shocked, and ran up the stairs back home.

The dog pack had disappeared entirely. There were not even any stragglers in sight. But Yumin was nowhere in sight, either. I went down to the road and called him, but he was gone. I searched around the bushes, and inspected the road for blood, but there was nothing to be seen. Tlahuy stayed close by my side, never more than two steps from me, my own private SWAT team.

After a few minutes, I gave up and headed home, up the stairs. There were drops of blood on the steps. I ran up. More and more blood. When I got to my property, I heard Yumin roaring. I have never heard him barking like that. He was furious, racing back and forth and barking in rage. As soon as he saw me, he raced over to me. Bengax was standing on the back porch, waiting for me with imploring eyes. It was then that I realized she had a bad cut on her back left leg. I held her and inspected the gash, which was clean, about 6 centimeters long. Evidently, Yumin had chased the other dogs away, then circled around to escort Bengax home. Then he was holding down the fort, racing back and forth, protecting Bengax, issuing bloody challenges to all comers. There were none.

I phoned Lilly, the vet, and described the wound. She said, "Don't worry about it, put some iodine on it, it'll be okay… do you have iodine?”

"No, but I'll pick some up tonight.”

"It's nothing to worry about. Bengax craves attention. If it had been Yumin, you wouldn't even know about it.”

And indeed, an hour later, I discovered that Yumin also had a small wound on his back leg.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

My teaching skills are getting better and better. This morning I taught 3 hours. I began at 9:10. By 9:20, a guy in the back row was already fast asleep. He woke up around 10:20. I called a ten minute break at 10:30. He was asleep again by 10:45, and slept until 11:20. He dozed off again at 11:30, and was still sleeping soundly when I left the classroom at 12.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

For various reasons, I had class on Wednesday morning two weeks in a row, the first time I've taught on weekday mornings for a couple years. But this entailed leaving the house at 7:15, ugh.

Walking past the Tribe, I came across Ulin, who is already in junior high now, and two little grade school girls, slowly making their way to Wulai Primary and Junior High School. Some aborigine women are extremely beautiful, and these two little girls are sure to be heartbreakers in another ten or fifteen years. Now they are giggling, sparkling, semi-wild mountain girls, dawdling on their way to class in their school uniforms, blue skirts and white shirts. Smiles and laughter, white teeth, huge dark eyes, long black braids, skinny arms and legs, squirming and wriggling like beagles.

Obviously when you are on your way to school, there is no need to be quick about it. They were wandering back and forth across road, looking at the mountains as if they had never seen mountains before, inspecting the clouds and the birds, jumping, skipping, laughing, circling hither and yon. They saw me coming. "YUGAN! Where are you going?"

"I am going to teach. Are you going to school?"

"Yes, we are third graders now," one of them piped up proudly.

"What time does school begin?"


"You have only 45 minutes, can you get there in time?" For me, it's a fifteen minute walk from the Tribe to the School. At the rate they were going, I doubted they would get there before New Year's. I told them I had to go catch a bus, so I was going to go on ahead, and encouraged them to get a move on.

The road there makes a big S turn. When I reached the turning, I looked back and didn't see any of them. I sighed, figuring they must have found something to fool around with, and kept hurrying down.

When I neared the part of the road that bends back right below the Tribe, I heard giggling in the trees above the supporting wall, and plop! Ulin dropped over the wall, which is a good two meters tall. Then she turned and held her arms out for the two little ones, who gleefully ignored her and launched themselves off the top of the wall. They had taken a shortcut, down the steep edge of the mountain there. They could barely contain themselves. "Yugan! We beat you! We won!"

"Just be careful you don't kill yourselves, jumping like that." Together we headed down the stairs there. Ulin walked with me, two steps at a time, and the little ones blasted off as fast as they could. "Hey, hey, laxi takuy!" I called, don't fall!

When we reached the road again, I told them to go straight to school, listen to the teacher, and study hard, and, waving furiously, we parted ways.

Soon a motorcycle ridden by three fourth grade boys came uphill. As soon as they saw me, the three boys yelled YUGAN! and three right hands stretched out. I held out my right hand and we slapped each others' palms as they went by while I shouted, "Wrong way! Turn around and go to school!"

I sighed and kept walking. Pretty soon I heard my name shouted again with great hilarity, and watched the same motorcycle come weaving down the road at me. It seems the second little boy had taken advantage of the driver's raised arms to start tickling him, so the little boy on back started tickling the one in the middle. They were giggling and laughing like goblins, having a grand time, as the motorcycle dipped from one side to the other. “GO TO SCHOOL!” Old spoilsport Yugan. At least this time they were headed in the right direction, if they survived the trip.

I caught the 7:45 bus. The driver pretended astonishment: "Yugan! Is something wrong? What are you doing on the bus at this hour?" I sat in front and we chatted idly.

As we approached the next village, the road makes a sharp turn around a ridge and enters the next valley. I told the driver, "Hey, look at that, that wasn't like that yesterday." The face of the opposing mountain was gone. We had heavy rains during the last typhoon, which saturated the land. That slope is too steep to be habitable. There was a good sized landslide during Typhoon Nari a few years ago, in which we got about six feet of rain, and now a larger wedge had slid ~~~ then we realized that the valley was full of dust, and that all traffic had stopped. The landslide had occurred moments before we got there. They had all gotten out of their cars to watch or left their motorcyles by the road. The people watching were frozen in place with their mouths open, awe-struck by the stupefying power of the landslide.

Have you ever seen or heard a landslide? One moment the mountain is there, and the next moment a section sloughs off with a tremendous rumble, the cracking of trees and smashing of rocks. We had not heard it because we were on the other side of the ridge. The face that fell was a good fifty meters across, and a hundred meters from top to bottom. This is probably the largest landslide in Wulai in living memory.

Monday, September 06, 2004

史記 趙世家 一句可為環保人士座右銘:
仁者愛萬物 智者備禍于未形
不仁不智 何以為國?

Sunday, September 05, 2004


Friday, September 03, 2004


Thursday, September 02, 2004

You know what I'm afraid of? They are going to have this great 'intelligence breakthrough' and capture Osama bin Laden about two weeks before the election.
They can't be that cynical. Can they?