Sunday, May 31, 2009

My great-great-grandfather Jacob Jennings Burnett fought in the Civil War for the Lincoln and Liberty too. He was born on Christmas Day, 1829, in Indiana, but I would like to point out that it is a matter of considerable pride in this family that he resided, after the Civil War, in Rabbit Hash, Kentucky. I believe I may be the only person in northern Taiwan whose ancestors hailed from Rabbit Hash, and I am positive that I am the only person in Wulai who can make such a claim (assuming there were no Tayal in Kentucky in the 19th century).

Every person with a heritage in Rabbit Hash should be proud of our ancestral land, for in 1998, residents elected a dog as mayor. In 2004, another dog, Junior, won the race, although the state Health service would not permit His Honor the Mayor to enter stores.

In the 2008 mayoral race, competition was stiff: ten dogs, one cat, one opossum, one jackass, and one human being ran for the most prestigious office in Boone County, KY. The new mayor of my ancestral home is Lucy Lou, a fine Border Collie. I'm not surprised the jackass lost; eight years with one in the White House was enough.

So tell me, what kind of drab and boring place do your ancestors come from? Some place where they elect people as mayor, I suppose. How trite. Ha ha, Rabbit Hash forever!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

An Englishman named Alun Daniel wrote this Letter to the Editor:
My friend's mum recently pointed out that I have the same ironing board cover as her. Can anyone think of a more mundane and pointless remark to make than this?
Certainly I can!
First, that he bothered to write to the Editor about it.
Second, that some twit posted it on his blog.
Third, that another twit read it.
Hi there, how do you like my blog?

Thursday, May 28, 2009










Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Among Taiwan's aborigines, the Tayal/泰雅 are the noted as the most skillful weavers. A girl had to be able to weave cloth before she was eligible to get married, and boys learned how to make packs and bags out of ggi (苧麻, ramie).

The most difficult of these handicrafts is, by far, weaving net bags, such as the one shown in the photo above. As far as I know, in Wulai the skill has been lost for at least forty or fifty years, and in all the Tayal villages of Taiwan, there are only a few old men, probably less than half a dozen, who can make these.

One of these is 82 year old Hayun Alun, a Tayal from 宜蘭 Ilan, in the next county over, on the other side of the mountains. In order to pass on this almost extinct art, the Wulai Women’s Weaving Association invited him to come to Wulai to teach his skill.

Originally, men's and women's handicrafts were strictly separate; men did not learn women’s skills and vice versa. However, the survival of the craft is more important. What interests me is that although the hardy women in the Association are highly skilled weavers, the tools and methods taught by Hayun are totally different from any of the traditional women's weaving. The traditions evidently developed separately and without exchange.

For example, the likus, the tool shown in the photo above, is like nothing women traditionally used, and the women had no idea whatsoever about how to use it.

Hayun is a careful, meticulous teacher with great patience. He took us step by step through the process of winding ggi strings into synu strings, and building the pack. Some of the steps were so difficult that consternation reigned. Difficult for us: Hayun has been doing this for over 70 years, so he weaves with ease and grace, but at first the Wulai Weavers were stumped. They persisted and thrashed it out, and came back the second day looking like a flock of pandas, from lack of sleep, but they worked it out.

They did, Chao did, but I know my limitations. I will stick to woodcarving. It was a delightful exercise in frustration, and I assure you, Chao picked up the skill quickly, but for me, chisels are just fine, thank you very much.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Due to my affiliations with the Jingpo / Kachin in Taiwan, I get a lot of information from Jingpo around the world. I don't know the language, so I follow the English.
Erh, I try to follow the English. I just got an e-letter with a long text in Kachin, and this English explanation:

This news is Kachin Language news which is burma arm peace groups are preparing for changing style of arm peace groups in burma.
Ah, come again, please?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

If I were to visit your home, I would hardly slaughter your daughter because her presence was inconvenient, smother your brother because I thought he might prove aggressive, or murder your mother because I thought she might resemble some criminal I vaguely remembered seeing a photo of.

Snakes are very sensitive, even more sensitive to moods than dogs. If you are nervous, they get nervous; if you are calm, they don't get nervous. The mountains are the snakes' home. They were here long before us. It would be impolite to slaughter or murder them simply because they are there. I never play with snakes. I treat them with respect, but not fear.

Some people barely dare to move around the wilderness for fear of snakes (but they blithely cross busy city streets, a far more dangerous undertaking). My dogs crash around the underbrush with never a care. Certainly they have crossed paths with snakes, but they have never been bitten. This observation led me to understand that snakes do not lurk around waiting for something to bite. Rather, they will avoid biting when possible.

I probably have more experience with snakes than most people, and this is important to me, as I go barefoot the year round. There are plenty of snakes in Wulai; on my little plot of land I have encountered six species of poisonous snakes, and there are plenty more out in the jungle, where I meet them frequently. Three in as many days this week. But I treat them with the respect due neighbors, and we get along fine. I never leave the house at night without a light, to avoid stepping on them or startling them.

Case in point: last night I stepped outside to observe the weather. A few steps from the door my flashlight discovered a qimbahu龜殼花 pointed-scaled pit viper (protobothrops mucrosquamatus), a very poisonous viper which has a reputation for being very aggressive. Of course my immediate reaction was to race into the house for my camera, and on the way back out I picked up a long bamboo cane.

As I rushed forth to snap photos, silly sappy Tlahuy gleefully led the way ~~ and almost stepped right on the snake. That's impolite, so I hastily called him back. He was so flustered that he just stood there and wagged his tail guiltily, not being able to figure out what he had done to make me raise my voice. His feet were a palm's width from the snake’s head, and I can assure you, from experience, that when it wants to, the qimbahu moves so fast that you have to see it to believe it.

But it didn't want to. Finally I dragged Tlahuy away by the collar and took a few photos. Then I explained to the snake that the walkway wasn't a good place for it, especially if irascible Yumin came and started barking. I gently prodded it with the cane, and it slowly, with dignity intact, slithered off into the grass and into the night.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Overall, I believe that nature knows best. When you are befuddled by the complexities of modern life, consider what is natural: 順其自然.

易曰,一陰一陽之謂道。先有夫婦而後有父子,有父子而後有君臣上下:禮始于夫婦。The human being is 'designed' by evolution to be born, nurtured, and reared by a father and a mother. That's natural, isn't it? In a nutshell, that sentence captures the essence of millions of years of evolution and development. Obviously, exceptions abound, but I'm trying to trace the main flow of human development, to see what is natural for us, to see what we were 'designed' for.
(I put 'design' in quotes because certainly I know evolution does not work towards set goals; I am using the word as a convenience.)

Recent news has informed us that a woman in California had octuplets, and that now a 66 year old woman in England is expecting her first baby. Whatever became of ZPG? Questions of overpopulation aside, I wonder, where is the father?

The report I saw on Yahoo showed a 61 year old woman with 3 year old twins, a boy and a girl. The girl was proud of her sparkly Cinderella shoes and the boy was more interested in his toy train than the tv cameras. Has this mother taught her children the appropriate gender roles? Or is something more basic, more unconscious, at work? in other words, nature.

But if human nature exists, which should be a proven fact by now, then back to Chou I: 一陰一陽之謂道。For a healthy, happy development, these kids should have one father and one mother; this is how we were set up. Artificial insemination deprives children of a father's role in their development.

I may be selfish to say, ZPG forever, I don't want to bring any kids into this world to suffer the aftermath of our generation's rape of the ecosystem. But it may also be selfish to say, Okay, I think I want to have a kid to amuse myself with but I don't want to bother myself with providing the kid with a live-in father role model.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Since they're an English school, you'd think that they could at least write their own sign in English.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The world is struggling with the problem of Somali piracy. Should merchant ships be armed? Which nations should patrol the sea? Great people are working hard on this problem.

Now a minor barbarian is going to throw in his two cents worth, with a solution that will take longer to put into practice, but provide lasting results: try to solve the problem at the root. Why do pirates become pirates? A few are sociopaths, okay, shoot them and be done with it. But for the most part, I believe pirates become pirates for lack of other means to support themselves and their families: poverty, lack of education, lack of anything better to do. Okay, great, how much fuel does a navy ship burn up in one day? I don't know, but I will bet that it is a lot more expensive than building schools that can stand for decades, or for educating young people to become teachers for decades.

Use the navy ship's fuel money for the second day to build basketball courts, provide free basketballs, uniforms, and coaches, form teams, and keep the young men busy shooting baskets. Shoot baskets, not sailors.

One big problem is, of course, that Somalia has no government. Nuts, contract it out to Chinese businesspeople, from Taiwan, PRC, and Hong Kong, and they'll have a government. That sentence would probably give a lot of Washington bureaucrats the heebie-jeebies: What!? expand the Chinese presence in Africa? But first tell me, pleased, what the US is doing to bring Somalia back to order, aside from shooting their pirates.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Strange Encounter
This afternoon as I was carving outdoors, all of a sudden a horrendous racket came from the ravine out front, of a dog in pain. Naturally Tlahuy, Byajing, and Yumin charged out to see what was going on, and I followed. Nobody sets traps around here, or rather, they'd better not! but since the dog was not running back and forth, it sounded like it was trapped.

I followed our dogs, and found that the dog was trapped. The long hair of its tail had gotten tangled in the thorns of a rattan vine, and probably by struggling it had gotten its whole tail wrapped around the vine and stuck fast. Rattan thorns are long, sharp, and hard; I don't like to step on them barefoot, because they go into your feet and break off.

I talked quietly to the dog, and recited Amitabha. It calmly waited for me to do something. I couldn't peel off its tail from the rattan. Sabiy followed soon to see what the ruckus was about, so I asked her to get a saw and my headhunting knife.

I stayed with the trapped dog. Tlahuy and Byajing looked down from above with great concern. Yumin licked its face.
When Sabiy brought me the saw, I started to saw off the vine above the dog's tail (you didn't think I'd saw off its tail, did you!?) It patiently waited without writhing or twisting; it knew that I was trying to free it. Yumin kept licking its face, comforting it.

Rattan is hard to saw, especially at that angle, but finally I got almost all the way through, and chopped the last bit with the long knife. I had intended to saw off the piece below the tail, but the dog twisted and with a great wrench, freed itself.

Maybe the dog's name is Absolom. Anyway, it's the first time I've seen a dog in that predicament.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Overheard in Wulai: You Light Up My Life

"Did you ever eat candles when you were little?"

Friday, May 15, 2009


A house divided against itself cannot stand。


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Dali Silan has three fine hunting dogs. Each is larger than Tlahuy, my largest. They are trained to attack boar.

His dogs and ours have been quarreling over territory. Last week when we got home from the city, Byajing and Yumin came down to greet us just as Dali's hunting dogs came out to investigate what was going on, but they beat a hasty retreat when Byajing and Yumin charged them, even though each of them is much larger and heavier than either Byajing or Yumin.

Yesterday afternoon there was a terrible ruckus. Dali and I reached the scene at the time, from opposite directions. Apparently the hunting dogs had stepped across the border between our territories, and Yumin sailed into them so fast the Tlahuy and Byajing couldn't keep up. One little beagle against three big hunting dogs. By the time I got there, Yumin was covered with blood and standing off all three dogs. They had bitten his hind legs and back, but he fought so ferociously that they were driven off. Dali took his dogs and I brought Yumin home. He has been licking his wounds, eating grass, and resting a lot. He will be okay. That was really impressive, though, Yumin howling with rage keeping the three bigger dogs from advancing.

hard headed beagle....

Wednesday, May 13, 2009





Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A neighbor sawed down a camphor tree which was threatening to fall on his house. We sawed up the pieces, and I brought home two blocks weighing over fifty kilograms each, which I plan to carve eventually.
Now they are drying under the stairs, and the whole house smells sublime, if you like the smell of camphor.

My grandfather certainly did. Hale and hearty into his late 80s, he attributed his strength to the two drops of camphor oil he faithfully rubbed into his chest every morning.

Interesting speculation: for the greater part of Grandfather's lifetime, Taiwan was a main producer of camphor; much of it came from Wulai; in Wulai, this area I live in now is noted for camphor; thus, it is quite possible that some of the camphor Grandfather absorbed in Kansas originally came from this very neighborhood.

Monday, May 11, 2009

utux mqu
If you meet a snake, don't be afraid, and don't get close.
Admire it from a distance, and go your own way.

Saturday, May 09, 2009


Friday, May 08, 2009

As I reported earlier on this blog ::click here:: smoking has been banned in many public places throughout Taiwan. In Tainan, I was pleased to see that the ban is taken even further. Smoking is banned outright anywhere on the campus of 成功大學 National Cheng Kung University, and what's more, you are not even permitted to smoke on the streets around the campus.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Commemoration: this afternoon in Wulai, the humidity is 20%. Usually it ranges from 60% to 99%; Wulai is, after all, rainforest. This is the driest it has been since I put up the hydrometer. All day long, bamboo has been cracking from the aridity; the bamboo grove sounds like a tank is driving through it.

After lunch, we had tea, as usual, after which I turned the tea utensils upside down to dry. An hour later everything was bone dry. In only an hour? I'm not even sure it's legal in Wulai for anything to dry out that quickly.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Very questionable taste. At the 臺南孔廟 Tainan Confucian Temple, a high school jazz orchestra prepared to perform. First they took half an hour to make sure no two instruments were in tune with each other. Then they launched into a raunchy rendition of the Clint Eastwood theme song, A Fistful of Dollars (or, as it is called in Taiwan, 荒野大鑣客, A Fistful Of Dollar), followed by one of the three Taiwanese folk songs, which is extremely Politically Correct, although Politically Right would fit better. Correct or Right referring to the ideology, not the attempted harmony.

Whether or not a Muzak jazz orchestra belongs in a Confucian Temple is another issue. My concern is for poor old Confucius, who was a highly sensitive, devoted, and talented musician. Were they butchering music to honor Confucius, or to bury him? Rend me your ears.

The lady on the left in my photo had the right idea: grab your kid and git while the gitting's good!

PS: ### 五月五日是舞蹈節,舞舞舞!

Monday, May 04, 2009

If there is such a thing as an ugly tree, it must be the result of human interference and 'beautification.'

Taiwan has some especially beautiful trees. We spent the weekend in 臺南Tainan. Chao was helping in a Dance Therapy workshop, and I wandered around 成大 National Cheng Kung University, admiring their campus, and especially their trees.

My beloved alma mater, NTNU, would fit in the space occupied by their library. Our entire 'landscaping' consisted of a row of five or six draggly palm trees and the grass on the athletic field. When the janitors mopped the corridors, we counted that as 'landscaping,' too, for lack of anything better to admire.

Sunday, May 03, 2009



Saturday, May 02, 2009



故事好玩,可是牽強附會,望文生義。打貓、打狗之名顯然本非中文,譯音而已。打貓本是平埔Hoanya洪雅族Dapyo (Taneaw) 社;打狗是Makatao馬卡達奧族語Takau,義為竹林


Friday, May 01, 2009

Overheard in Taitung

Wife to Husband: "I want to buy a skull."