Monday, April 12, 2010

Capital flows

From the Taipei Times a while back: Gifts for ghosts changing from cash to flash goods.
It seems that fake paper money is no longer good enough for the dead of Taiwan, where relatives traditionally burn make-believe cash to help ease the passage of their deceased loved ones through the byways of the netherworld.

Instead, many people now opt to provide ancestral ghosts with more elaborate paper gifts — models of everything from Ferraris to iPhones and even villas.

This article is a wonderful source of food for thought. I like the straightforward statement that the afterlife is a place where "buying opportunities have never been convincingly documented".

There's also the bit about burning paper replicas of guns for dead gangster relatives, so that they may continue their lifestyles as ghosts.

I must admit I'm very curious: if a gangster ghost uses lethal force against a rival gangster ghost... what happens, exactly?

I'd like to read more socioeconomic studies of what goes on in the afterlife. A while back, PodCastle ran Maureen McHugh's story "Ancestor Money", which was a good start.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Down the East Coast

Monday, April 5 was a holiday - Tomb Sweeping Day, the day that the Taiwanese traditionally travel to their ancestors' graves to honor them. What it meant for us was a 3-day weekend. Jenna and Emily and I rented a Toyota Camry and drove down and up the East Coast.

I'm not a confident driver in big cities and I've never driven so much as a motorbike in Taiwan. Also, neither I nor Jenna have an international driving license. So it was Emily who took on all of the driving duties, for which I am thankful.

We set off for Hualien on Saturday, driving along the narrow North Cross-Island Highway, through Fusing and Baling, eating a delicious lunch at a very modest restaurant in a very modest town. We stopped frequently to take pictures, hitting Suao as dusk was approaching and Hualien as night was falling.

Sunday morning, we drove down the coast on Highway 11. We stopped at Cow Mountain Beach, a lovely little beach (where swimming is not permitted) with very, very hot sand that made us regret our decision to leave our shoes and walk down barefoot.

We stopped at Shihtiping, a section of rocky coast popular with tourists (a Chinese tour group was leaving as we were arriving). I was most interested in checking out the many tide pools, particularly the contrast between the ones that were green and disgusting, and the ones with clear water, brimming with fish and crabs and other life.

We stopped at a seafood restaurant in one of the small coastal towns, where we had a good meal, watched over by the restaurant's very fat dog, Mimi.

At Highway 64, just north of the Tropic of Cancer, we turned inland towards the East Rift Valley. Highway 11 continues past interesting and beautiful areas south of the Tropic of Cancer, but Jenna and I had already visited Basiandong and Sansiantai on a previous trip.

We turned south on Highway 9, stopping at the Tropic of Cancer Monument and twin ancient Saoba Megaliths. Rough Guide claims that local legend says the megaliths are the remains of incestuous twins who were turned to stone. None of the ample bilingual signage around the megaliths actually makes reference to this story, though.

I liked the East Rift Valley quite a bit. It is very different from urban Taiwan. Its humid, tropical ruralness reminded me of the Philippines or Sumatra. We stopped to eat at Cifadahan Cafe, an Ami restaurant in Mataian that Lonely Planet recommended. Many of the cafe's specialties were out of season, but the salad made from local raw vegetables was excellent.

And that was it for Sunday, as we returned to Hualien that night. The following morning we packed up and left Hualien, heading to Taroko National Park. We'd all been there before, but not with our own transportation.

The weather did not really cooperate; rain came and went, and we took pictures of beautiful scenery partially obscured by fog. That said, we had a good time, and to make it a proper road trip we bought some unhealthy snack food (Pringles!) in a cafe at Taroko.

We made it back to Taipei that evening, after dealing with traffic both in Luodong (where traffic was allowed on the highway very slowly) and at the toll booths for the Xueshan Tunnel, but once we were in the tunnel traffic moved smoothly.

Jenna documented the trip here and here.