Toward the end of my stay in Taiwan, I wanted to go out the front door of Tung-Hong with my camera, just to take pictures to record what it is like there. My wife said that might make the place too identifiable, although it looked about like most other places in Kaohsiung, so I did not. I realized at that point that perhaps it would be better for me to record mental pictures of Taiwan, although it's really hard to summarize. I could imagine going out the door and walking a short distance to the convenience store nearby, or the restaurant, or the fish market. Of course, the recycling center and the old folks' home are also on the grounds owned by Eunice's family, and Duo-Duo runs his computer repair and upgrading business out of Tung-Hong where he lives. (Ironically, his computer broke down the day I left, but fortunately, he is well equipped to fix it.) Meanwhile, I could visit with the neighbors and watch over the kids. I would need to be careful not to wander into the barber shop a couple of blocks down the street, though, lest I be asked whether I want a striptease show or a massage with my haircut. It's a good thing Eunice has a beautician's license, so there is no need to go to a barber shop for a haircut in Taiwan, if you know what I mean. Perhaps I could make my way to the Chinese fried chicken place which proudly displayed a sign of a presumably American cowboy riding on his horse, herding those thousands of chickens on the range, I guess.
The most persistent image in my mind from Taiwan, is that of the scooters -- the hordes of scooters seemingly driving every which way, some with as many as 3 or 4 people on them. Mind you, these are not large motorcycles such as the Harleys we are used to seeing in the United States. These are rather small scooters, about equally likely to be driven by a woman as a man. In fact, along with the image of entire families riding on one little scooter, my fondest image is of the plentitude of pretty young women on their scooters, something we never see here in the U.S. Actually, by law motorcycle riders have to wear helmets in Taiwan, so most of the scooter riders do wear them, though not all. Nonetheless, it is easy to see that many of the drivers are cute looking young ladies. There is just something that would be so incongruous about the site if it were not in Asia -- the indelible image of the macho motorcycle rider being irreparably shredded to pieces by the yellow hordes of Chinese feminine pulchritude, like a scene out of some futuristic nightmare of an American xenophobe. In contrast, I, rather than fearing the "yellow hordes," have come to join them and love them, although riding around Kaohsiung on a little scooter may be a step too far for me. By the way, I have come to realize that another reason so many scooter riders wear masks in Taiwan, is probably to hide the looks of terror on their faces as they negotiate the horrid traffic there. Despite that, I did not come upon a single accident while there, a driving success rate which surpasses by far that which I have observed in the U.S. Even on the way to the airport here in California, we passed a bad accident in which a motorcyclist was struck by a big rig and was laying on the ground clutching his back while his motorcycle was on fire. In Taiwan, motorcyclists (that is, scooterists) have to drive on the right side of the road, in all cases. On the larger roads, there are entire motorcycle lanes in which they must drive, although cars are allowed to go in them too. Many of the drivers tend to drive slowly in Taiwan, either in cars or on scooters, since they frequently have to stop for other drivers. I think it is this courtesy which makes accidents relatively uncommon there, although perhaps I have just been lucky in not witnessing any accidents there.
Eventually, it occurred to me that Taiwan may be an unwitting fortune teller, a harbinger of what the future has in store for humanity, in a surprising number of ways. Certainly, the congestion of a rather crowded island is consistent with humanity's still-expanding population, but it is more than that. Thom Hartmann, on his show today, aptly desribed libertarians as people who had never heard of "the commons" -- the things upon which we all depend and therefore, which we must share, with the help of government. I would be surprised if one would ever find a libertarian in Taiwan, unless it was some sort of transplanted, misguided American. The Taiwanese get the concept of "the commons," as I am sure the people of most other nations aside from the United States inevitably do as well. The Chinese are also famously good at making the maximum use out of small spaces such as small farming areas even where farming would not appear feasible, or by building small, productive fish farms, of which I saw many in Taiwan. Taiwan has lots of mountains along its eastern side, and they are no slouches, reaching up to 13,000 feet above sea level (or maybe about 12,800 a few centuries from now with sea level rise), and these mountains are rugged and wild, basically tropical and temperate rainforests, but cold enough to get lots of snow in the higher elevations in the winter. However, the western side of the island, gradually slopes toward the ocean, and aside from the flood plains, human beings have made use of almost all of it. In fact, there are several native tribes in Taiwan, and they still constitute several percent of the population. However, rather than being conquered by the Chinese, they were simply outworked, outresourced, and outsmarted by the Chinese, who used their ingenuity to make use of places which the native tribes did not know how to use. The natives, who are rather like polynesians such as Tahitians or Samoans, often with wavy hair and rather dark complexions, were relegated to their homelands in the mountains or along certain coastlines. Eunice says the Dao-Ren (Chinese people whose ancestors came to Taiwan hundreds of years ago) call them "mountain people." Eunice herself is a Dao-Ren, who represent the majority of Taiwanese, and who came from the part of China closest to Taiwan. There are two other groups of Chinese in Taiwan, the Hakka, who are Cantonese, and the Kuomintang or Mandarins, who fled mainland China as the communists took over. There are also quite a few immigrants from southeast Asia, including Thailand, Vietnam, and the Phillipines. Finally, there are non-Asian immigrants from all over the world in Taiwan -- Taiwanese converts, if you will, or in many cases, people who happen to have fallen in love with and married a citizen of Taiwan. Thus, Taiwan is a melting pot of peoples and cultures. It might not be melting quite as fast as the United States, but it is a melting pot indeed.
Speaking of melting, the people of Taiwan will need to use their ingenuity as global warming melts the world's icecaps. Although about half of the island is mountainous, the large majority of the people live relatively close to sea level. This is certainly the case in Kaohsiung, which has some high hills, but these are forested and relatively unpopulated. The people live on a plane near sea level, conveniently located -- for now -- near the port but not in it. When one of Eunice's friends, Sherry -- actually sort of a godchild of Eunice -- drove us to the port the day before I left, I was struck by the fact that it involved no downhill driving. I must conclude that Kaohsiung, and many cities like it, will be in great peril as sea levels inevitably rise. In fact, it is a virtual certainty that all I saw there will be under sea water within a few centuries unless the effects of global warming can somehow be reversed. As with most of humanity, the people I met in Taiwan seem oblivious to this "inconvenient truth," as Al Gore famously called global warming. However, being the future oriented people that the Chinese are, and having the sort of intelligent planners which the Chinese are known for, they will find ways to cope with the rising seas -- moving to higher ground, building higher ground, becoming "boat people" -- whatever it takes. I would expect Taiwan to be one of the places taking the lead in dealing with climate change. Interestingly, Taiwan is still rising out of the sea, but not as fast as sea levels are likely to rise.
It is the sort of resourceful ingenuity that the people of Taiwan exhibit, which I expect will come to represent the future of humanity, as we are forced to cope with the changes and challenges of expanding populations, shrinking land bases, dislocation, and political challenges as well. The future may not look all rosy, but it doesn't look all that bad either. In fact, that futuristic young lady I can imagine riding her solar powered scooter around town, looks pretty cute. And you thought I was going to write about fortune cookies. They don't have those in Taiwan, only in America.
However, there is one more very salient side of Taiwan which I haven't touched upon -- the spiritual side. Seemingly everywhere I went, I saw signs of spiritual belief and practice. The colorful temples of Taiwan were almost an omnipresent feature. These were of several sorts, I think -- Bhuddist, Confucian, Taoist, maybe even Animist. The Bhuddist ones tended to have large statues of people such as Bhudda or other Enlightened Ones. My favorite one, though, was a temple dedicated to the Chinese Goddess of Mercy (clearly an Enlightened One, plus a raving beauty), or some such, next to the Lotus Pond in Kaohsiung. I love it when the feminine side is considered just as high a power as the masculine, or higher. Many of the temples had colorful, blue and red displays of mythical creatures such as Dragons. I never found out whether these were Animist temples, Daoist, or what. There are spiritual shrines in almost every house, including Tung-Hong, where people honor their departed ancestors and the cumulative wisdom they represent (cumulative wisdom such as that found in fortune cookies). I often saw barrels in front of people's houses with fires burning in them. Why would they want to start fires in that hot weather? Well, they were burning paper offerings, which were slips of paper meant to represent money. They are not real money, but people still have to buy them and pay something for them, so that selling the offering papers is a pretty large business in Taiwan. Now, if only we could get people such as the Koch brothers to burn all of their money...
An even sillier spectacle that I saw one day in Taiwan was a large fire, looking very much as though a big rig had caught on fire, next to a major street. However, I was told it was relatives of a recently departed person scaring away bad spirits so their loved one would have a heavenly transition to the afterlife, or some such thing. I think as exemplified by the Taiwanese, we will continue to see people cling to the past while constantly adapting to present circumstances and evolving into the future. Such is human nature, I suppose. However, there were also signs of newer spiritual practices and perhaps more scientifically oriented forms of philosphy and spirituality, such as the Falun Gong centers and signs I saw.
Although I occasionally saw Christian churches in Taiwan, eastern spiritual practices of various kinds continue to dominate the culture. I have noticed this trend even with my wife Eunice, who believes or is influenced by many spiritual practices of her homeland, although she is a Christian (and ironically, although I am a "westerner" I could never believe in the fantasies of Christianity, and am not that impressed overall with its moral teachings, either). The last afternoon I spent in Taiwan, not long before having to go to the airport, we met with several of Eunice's Bhuddist friends -- Yang Xiaojie (Miss Yang), a widower who kept calling me "handsome boy" and wondering where she could get a boyfriend like me, Mrs. Wong who used to be a psychiatric nurse at Tung-Hong (who still works as a psychiatric nurse in another hospital), another Mrs. Wong who used to run a sort of recreation center started by Eunice called King Arthur's Garden which only lasted a couple of years (another long, sad story out of Tung-Hong Place), and another pretty gal described as a protege of Miss Yang. We met at the coffee shop now run by Mrs. Wong of King Arthur's Garden fame, where they were making donations for a Bhuddist charity to help people in need, and where Eunice's friends referred to my darling wife as Chairwoman Chu. I offered my $300 N.T. in addition to the probably thousands of N.T. Mrs. Wong was collecting, but Eunice told me I had better keep it. Later, Eunice told me that there was a charity banquet that evening but she was missing it to be with me as I went to the airport. She said she was still a chairwoman of sorts, of the charity group. What a gal! Maybe that explains Eunice's spending about 20% of my income on charity donations.
If we are to succeed as a people, we must also blend and evolve our spiritual ideas, something that Taiwan acts as another melting pot for. Finally, we must exhibit a spirit of generosity, as the people of Taiwan do, and which I plan to be the title of my next post. The people of Taiwan may not know it, but it is my guess that they are fortune tellers of a sort.