The Hakka Center and the "Dongfong"

I'm heading out for one of my constitutionals, and am taking my camera along; as usual, I take the back alley through my block.

I usually see this woman doing some washing. Across the alley, there's a little alcove—a sort of "square"/parkable space between dwelling units—and someone is cultivating orchids there; you can see them hanging up against the back wall. [Note: This is a composite picture, composed of two separate shots, put together. Can you see the seam?] Orchids are very popular here, and you'll often see potted orchids in banks, at finer buffets, and in other "professional" business environments. Classy, wot?

And now you get to see what I look like, these days. I'm siting on a railing which flanks the trail. Behind me there's some low-cost housing.

As you may well know, Taiwan "dances on the fault line." It rests uneasily on a planetary meatgrinder, a major tectonic slow train wreck in progress. I experienced, really, my first "real" earthquake about a month after I took these shots. Maybe not as real as 9/21/1999, but real enough that I can say I know what an earthquake is like. It was about 3 or 4 on the Richter Scale, and lasted 30 seconds or so. There's nothing quite like being on the second floor of a stout, ferroconcrete building while it's being dandled about like a tyke on an uncle's knee. Take my word for it.

Anyway, the bright side of all this is that Taiwan has vast quantities of beautiful volcanic rock. Even little mom and pop business up and down the streets will have impressive granite and marble walkways and walls; this island drips with beautiful stone, everywhere you look. And you can see an example here: The Dongfong is dotted wih little picnic areas, where the tables and chairs are sizable chunks of glorious marble.

I really enjoyed this road sign. It's an instruction to motor vehicles getting ready to cross the Dongfong trail, telling them to beep their horns. The character is an example of a meaning-meaning compound, and there's not enough of 'em! The larger structure on the right is a "niao," which means "bird," and the smaller "square" on the left is a "koh," which means "mouth." This little square on the left is used to indicate vocalizations and particles; indicative sounds that communicate interrogation, "borrowed" sound vocalizations (which aid in appropriating words from other languages), and here it's used in a "meaning" sense to indicate that this is "ming;" the "vocalization" of a bird or insect. For example, "ming chan" means the sound of cicadas singing in the summer.

Anyway, here it means "please sound your horn before crossing," and I think that's just cute as a bug. Don't you?

Here's a nice shot; a little knot of buddies having a leisurely ride. Notice the pretty flowers in the foreground. The county keeps this path fairly well in flower for much of the year. Here are just a few examples. The way is also lined with middling-sized trees that give solid shade and also flowers in season, which smell great.

Of course, a lot of little shops have popped up to serve the touring public. Sunday is a big day—families come out in droves to pedal up and down the Dongfong—and all needs are met; you can rent a bike, ride, stop to eat and drink, check out a little tourist attraction, like the "Lovers' Wooden Bridge," and go shopping. For example, at the 6km mark there's a wonderful nursery and tea shop, where you can pick up a few plants and sit under an umbrella amidst flowers and greenery and sip something hot or cold. Three kilometers from Dongshih, you hit the big river that separates Dongshih from Shigang. There's a good, solid bridge that spans this riverbed. The sign shown here provides a good look at how one writes Dongshih in Chinese; the two characters in the upper left, descending. At the lower left, you see "gongli," meaning "kilometer." It literally means "public li," where (if I understand right) "li" is an ancient Chinese unit of land distance.

Here's a shot of Dongshih from this bridge. Not a great shot, but you can get the picture that the town is pressed up against the higher mountains of the central island; hence the name: "Eastern Vanguard" (as best as I can interpret "Dongshih").

Well, elsewhere in these pages, I sort of give the rap about the Hakka Center. They started building it shortly after I got here, and have now inaugarated it shortly before my scheduled visit back in the good ol' "Mai" of "Guo."

Here's some more info: Well, actually, I don't have much more info; I'm not attuned enough to the culture (read: don't speak the language) to really know that much which is salient about the place. I can mention that the Hakkanese are a precursor batch of Chinese folks, historically wedged between aborigninal folks (e.g., Taia, Bunang) and the more recent waves of Mandarin-speaking Chinese. I was told that Hakkanese sounds rather like Cantonese; hence a Hakka-speaking person can vaguely "make out" what's going on in Hong Kong cinema.

So an added dimension to my ignorance is the fact that I'm not really sure what the center will be used for. A museum? A conference center? Just a really nice building to hang out in and around? Sorry, but I can't really say. But have a look at this entryway, with the de riguour protective lions flanking the entryway! With their stocky builds and massive jowls, they look like Fed Chairmen; and I feel safer already.

But there are so many nice things to see all around this place. Check out the stony reflecting pool. I do sort of wonder, however, how they'll manage the threat of algae. My guess is that people who implement pools like this already anticipate that problem and have a fix. I just remember the fish lader in Burchard Park in Lansing Michigan, on the Grand River. I called it the Lansing Slime Garden. The best-laid plans...

As you might expect, I take the same alley when I come back from my constitutionals. Here's a view down the alley to my place. Note the drink shop dead ahead, across the street. The entryway to my apartment is the first opening in the building on the left before the scooter. I have to walk up 3 flights to my 4th floor room.

But let's back up a sec and see what I see when I come up that alley and dogleg to the left. This is another of the ubiquitous temples you can't stop tripping over here. To the left of this temple is a little shop where you can buy "temple stuff"; Convenience Foods of the Gods, "ghost money" (which you burn to pass it over into the nether world for use by folks over there), incense, and other necessities. It's interesting how folks here really believe in this. There seems to be something at work that's not really different from religion in the U.S.; you're raised up "in the faith." Your parents take you to temple, show you how to pray, instruct you in the rituals, and you come to associate this with a sense of connectedness and belonging. It seems like about half the ladies at my work visit a temple at least once a month—to "keep in touch"—and some attend more frequently. I went on a bike ride with Claire one time (who you can see elsewhere in these pages), and we stopped to rest at a temple along the bikeway in Shrgang. She walked up to a central point before a kind of sacraficial altar, stood stock upright, put her hands together and prayed for about 30 seconds. It was like she was pausing to touch base for a moment. To tell the truth, I didn't see this as being much different from what she did at her birthday party, where she took out about 15 seconds to wish with all her might before blowing out her candles. Would that we all had that kind of spirit.

And one of these little chapters wouldn't be complete without a completely irrelevant little side image; and here it is. These are "nio jiao," "bull horns." They're sort of like chestnuts, except that they're not as sweet and tasty as chestnuts. Their shape is reminiscent of something Jim Woodring would draw to invoke a sense of dread, and it should be added that "real" chestnuts can be had here, fresh-roasted and piping hot at the night market, and they're excellent. So I'm not sure why these things even exist. Anyway, my boss-lady, Pauline, had a bunch of them, and she offered me some. I dutifully ate 'em, but won't go out of my way to procure more. Unlike spicy, barbecued squid-on-a-stick, which I actively seek out at the night markets around here.