Monday, May 31, 2010




Recently I saw a very long laraw, or Tayal headhunting knife. It occurred to me that this must be the kind I had heard tribal elders mention. They said it was very useful for killing Japanese soldiers.

The blade is 80 centimeters long, which IMHO is too long. The shorter one in this photos is mine, the one I use all the time.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

an old Overheard

Boss: Where is Luke*?

Assistant: He took a day off. His brother got meningitis.

Boss: That's a bitch. If his brother doesn't die he will be a complete idiot for the rest of his life.

Assistant: How you know that?

Boss: I had it as a child.

101 North Wacker Drive

Chicago, Illinois

Friday, May 28, 2010




Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What is this man doing??

This is a one piece jacket + sleeping bag + tent put out by JakPak. They cost US$250 each, but they aren't available yet, so you have to sign up.

Or not. Before you rush to sign up, be sure to read the review by Bryan Gardiner on

Yeah, they laughed at Newton and they laughed at the Wright brothers, but they also laughed at a lot of darn fools. At least the model in this photo has the consolation that we can't see who he is.

Monday, May 24, 2010



Sunday, May 23, 2010

Today the celebrations for the 102th anniversary of the founding of the Taiwan Museum were graced by a performance by a rather confusing group of American Indians. They were dressed as Northern Plains Indians, but they played pan pipes, which I had always associated with Andean Indians, specifically the Inca. They may know something I don't, of course.

But not everybody was happy to see the guests from afar.

Photo courtesy of Sabiy

Saturday, May 22, 2010


Every time I see someone playing video games on the subway, or talking interminably on a cell phone, I want to ask, Don't you have any imagination at all? Can't you think?

Friday, May 21, 2010


High school girl waiting for the subway: "It doesn't have anything to do with me, I just happen to look more intelligent!"


Monday, May 17, 2010

On a hot hike up from Pnguu, I reached an altitude of about 1160m before I ran out of time. I am still trying to find a way to get closer to Hohcubu, even though I know I will not have enough time to reach the peak, which is at about 2400.

And of course, more on YouTube.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

You've got to hand it to Taiwan's truck drivers, for skill, if not necessarily for total obedience to the traffic laws.

The gentleman driving the rig you see in this photo was backing a container into a small corner of a small flat lot in the mountains. Did he think it was difficult? Apparently not, because he was smoking and talking on his cell phone the while.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

從來吉國小走上約三百公尺海拔,漸近鄒族聖山塔山. I started out from Pnguu Elementary School on Aborigine paths, which means no nonsense, none of this back and forth stuff, the shortest distance from Point A to Point B. I soon reached a small hamlet and met several Tsou tribesmen, one of whom I am acquainted with. I tried out my rudimentary Tsou on them, and not holding that against me, they asked me to sit and join them for some fish, which they had caught just that morning. I declined, as I am a weedeater, a vegetarian. We got to talking about various wild plants, and I asked them if they have wasiq龍魁 there, and they said, Of course, it's delicious. They call it miji in Tsou. Now wasiq is a spindly little bush with delectable black berries that grow very tasty under a strong sun. My bearded friend told me, "Oh yes, we have miji here, if you like, I will take you, it grows this thick at the trunk," and he cupped his hands to show a trunk larger than my thigh. I laughed, because miji never grows thicker than a pencil, and said, "Oh sure, I believe you." He said, "Well, if you want to go eat some, I will take you, but I have to get my chainsaw to cut down the trunk," and launched into a perfect imitation of a chainsaw ripping through hardwood.

We all laughed, and I told them that miji, or wasiq, is called nightshade in English, and Western people say it is poisonous. They were amazed, even astonished, and you could see they were trying to figure out if I was serious, or just trying to top the ridiculous story of miji you have to chop down with a chainsaw.

After a short chat, I bade them well, and continued upwards. I was trying to reach a view of Hohcubu, the sacred mountain of the Tsou, where spirits of the dead go. Some of them must have died attempting to pronounce the word, because it is difficult to pronounce, and not to be tried without supervision. Tsou children love the mountain and are delighted when their parents take them there on outings.

Another fifteen or twenty minutes, and I saw its distinctive peaks rising over the ridges. Soon it came into view, behind a tea garden, probably a thousand meters above where I stood. Sacred or not, it is one of the more impressive mountains I have seen. I couldn’t figure out how to photograph it still, so I filmed it with my digital camera. I wanted to go forward, but had appointed to meet Sabiy at the school at noon, and it was past time to turn back. Reluctantly, I headed downhill. Next time, I hope for more time.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Pnguu ‘o’oko basu naino

嘉義縣阿里山鄒族來吉國小的學生唱古調:ancient songs sung by Tsou tribe children, Pnguu Elementary School, in the mountains of central Taiwan. The language is Tsou, one of the oldest languages extant.

全校二十七個學生,來唱的超過一半:over half the student body sings here, as there are only 27 pupils in the whole school. Recorded May 10, 2010, Pnguu, Maibayu, Taiwan.

This is Miome, 安魂曲 a requiem.

or click here::


This is sung during ceremonies to invite the god to come.

Or click here:


This is sung at the end of ceremonies to see the gods off.

Or click here::

Sunday, May 09, 2010

A mystery resolved.

Coming home one night last month, while we were climbing the stairs, we heard Yumin above us barking his snake bark. A qaxaq, 雨傘節, or banded krait (bungarus multicinctus multicinctus) was draped across the steps, and Yumin was barking at it furiously. Nothing unusual, but what followed was unusual: I got a stick and prodded the snake, but it wouldn't leave. It stayed on the step, facing down Yumin. The snake looked a bit strange, bloated you might say, but I could see no wounds or injuries. I did not want to risk stepping over it, because the qaxaq is deadly, so finally we went around back; not without reason do I always carry a small flashlight. Tlahuy and Byajing accompanied us, Yumin stayed barking at the snake. Armed with a stronger, longer stick, I approached the snake from above, and carefully pushed it off the steps. It immediately shot off deeper into the underbrush, and with difficulty I restrained Tlahuy and Yumin from chasing after it.

But I had never seen a snake so unwilling to leave when prodded. The other day Basang and Watan came by for tea, and I mentioned the strange behavior. Basang said, "It could have been the light on your steps. Snakes go crazy at night when you shine a light on them." I said, "May be, but we get lots of snakes out there on the steps, and when I push them with a stick, they scoot."

They thought this over, and Basang said, "It must have been pregnant. A pregnant snake will hold its ground." I recalled the bloated look of the snake, and we all agreed that that was the answer to this mystery.

Happy Mother's Day.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Outrageous false eyelashes may be all the rage, but oh my dear, one for each eye? Two? Oh how pedantic, how trite, how unimaginative. Allow our fashion director to model the false eyelash for the truly chic.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

If we are to be responsible for the consequences of our actions, Inoue Daisuke, the inventor of karaoke, should be required to listen when Mrs L switches on her death machine. She and her husband maintain a house in Wulai and come up for the occasional weekend. I'm surprised that anything can grow within a two hundred meter radius of their place. When she starts up, the karaoke machine should qualify as a Weapon of Mass Destruction.

Her random shrieks and shouts call to mind no rhythm, no tempo, and certainly bear not the slightest relation to anything even remotely resembling a melody. This is what dentistry must have sounded like in the days before anesthesia.

When I first heard her, I thought her husband was beating her, but other neighbors explained that, no, this is karaoke. It sounds more like a SWAT attack on a gambling hell.

She and her husband are very nice people, in their late 50s, very hospitable. Once as I passed they invited me to come in and sing with them. I declined. I could surely find much more enjoyable ways to spend my time, such as pulling out my fingernails or driving red hot spikes through my tongue. Come to think of it, if I maimed my tongue in that manner, I could do a duet with Mrs L and her karaoke machine.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The bamboo shoots are shooting, slowly, but the season has begun. There are not many shoots yet, and unfortunately, the squirrels and boars have found the shoots before me. Here's something I wrote in 1999 about plucking bamboo shoots.

A couple men in the tribe are blind in their right eyes, resulting from exploding (handmade) guns. The other day I ran into one of them, and noticed a hole healing on his right middle finger, which was swollen and peeling. He had been out plucking bamboo shoots. Not seeing a bamboo snake on his blind side, he got bitten. I understand poisonous snake bites are terribly painful. He rushed to the clinic, but they were going to charge him NT$200 (say a little more than US$6). He went to the other clinic, where the doctor performed free treatment with a pair of scissors (no anesthetic for free cases), squeezing out the poison. "I am a liquy (man), so I didn't cry… but it hurt, Yugan, it really hurt. But I didn't cry.” Rest assured that I would have.

I would have paid for anesthetic, I mean. Lots of it.

Monday, May 03, 2010


By the road in a tiny hamlet of about five houses, deep in the mountains in central Taiwan, three trucks had pulled up and traders were selling tools and various goods. When I walked by, the traders called me over to sit and chat a while. When a little hand-made knife caught my eye, the trader started peddling his other knives. He showed me a hooked knife and said thieves use that to cut down cables to sell for the copper, but if I bought it, I could not use it for that. I said it could be used for taking the bark off of trees and for woodcarving. The trader said, "Woodcarving's fine, but don't cut down trees! Look at how ugly our mountains are now. When Typhoon Morakot hit last August, our beautiful mountains became ugly. Can you see? The mountains are crying. Woodcarving's fine, but don't cut down trees!"

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Today’s vocabulary lesson:


The fear of being watched by a duck.

Useful vocabulary!

Unfortunately, I do not know the word for the fear of being watched by ducks. One will have to do.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

The Shakespearian dilemma confronted while trying to find the platform to board the high speed rail:

2B or not 2B?