Taipei to Tainan

Taiwan:  It felt good to slow down in a place that moves so fast, 24 hours a day. This is a sketch blog.  I was almost a tourist attraction.  People stopped to take photos of me sketching.

 

This is the view from our hotel room way up on the 14th floor.Taipei to Taichungaerial view hotel 1

We took the high speed train from Taipei to Taichung, travelling along at about 200km per hour felt just like taking the subway in Toronto, only we travelled from one end of Taiwan to about 3/4 of the way down the island. High speed train is an unthinkable infrastructure in Canada because we don’t have the population to support it.  But just imagine how convenient it would be to travel by land between cities.  No long waits at the airport, fast and effecient.

It felt like an endless city from one end of the island to the other.  Rice fields with about 3 weeks of new growth on them  butted up against buildings.  Reflections of the buildings rippling amongst the green sprouts.

Flying down the island on a high speed train you realize that Toronto would appear as a small dot amongst a billion dots.  There doesn’t seem to be any feeling of boundaries or city limits.  However rivers and fields are very much part of the cityscape.

When we reached the factory, Donald, Dereks partner thought it would be nice for me to visit the temple, so they dropped me off several blocks away from the factory and said be back by 4.  They gave me a Nokia phone in case I needed to call (little realizing how phone illiterate I am, especially when all the symbols are in Chinese) and pointed me in the general direction.

This is a self portrait  of me trying  to learn about putting incense and paper money atselfie templethe temple.The temple is dedicated to Tian-Shang-Sheng-Mu Mei-Zhou Mazu who was a doctor.  Mazu rescued people and helped people who either had suffered disaster at sea, or helped prevent disasters at sea.  It is difficult to tell exactly, because the translation is odd to say the least.  The pamphlet is a bit ambiguous.  In any case, I bought some incense  and some paper money and travelled through the 5 stations to pray.  There is a ritual way to pray at a temple.  At one of the stations you can take a photo of one of the Gods. Then you wave it in a clockwise direction over the incense and it is supposed to provide you with protection.  After completing the five stations, you can make a prayer to Mazu and then you take two little half blocks of wood that are painted red on the outside and resemble two slice of apple sandwiched together. After you have prayed and told Mazu your name and address and what you are praying for, you toss the slices of wood.  If they dont open the correct way (one slice has the red peel up and the other slice has the bare wood up) then you pray some more and try again.  Then if you are successful, you then pick out a stick with a number on it and repeat the process.  If you land the correct configuration then you look at the number on the stick and go over to a small cubby hole and pull out a fortune.  So i made a prayer for Emilio.  I prayed for him to find his path, enriching his life with things that interest him and feeling good about his work.  I had to ask Penny and Donald later on what it meant.  I noticed that people come to the temple to seek help from the Gods in their endeavours.  They place the money on a table while they go from station to station praying.  I noticed a man pulling out bundle after bundle of the fake paper money.  he literally had brought a sack full.  He must have had a very important business deal.

I then wandered up the wrong street and got a little panicky as the streets stretched out in a  star and i wasnt sure which direction I had come from.  i pulled out my camera to look at the pictures I took along the way to attempt to retrace my steps.  Once I had found myself, I felt comfortable finding a bench to sit on and sketch the market street.  People swarmed around me, curious about the scene i was painting, wondering how my foreign eyes see their world.

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I could have been anywhere, my drawing primative and disappointing compared to the elaborate detail and exquisite craftmanship of the wood and jade and bronze trinkets they sell in the shops. We were shy of each other, with only the language of smiles that were brighter than any trinkets they sold.market view taichung

Back to the factory where i sat for a few minutes to sketch one if the girls working on piece work.    She was really very smiley, only when i drew this, it got quite smudged. So I did a little mixed media with it. factory girl taichung

 

It seems somewhat mundane to mention that our hotel we were staying at had enough living space for several families from a Taiwanese viewpoint of real estate.  After dinner we browsed the shops then at 10pm we went for a massage.  The place had at least 30 spots for foot massages then an entire open section of over  30 beds for full body massages.  We opted for a more private area for our massage.  We were happy they were able to squeeze us in to their full schedule, and treat us to the best deep  massage I have had.  Anybody can talk about their best massage.  What they don’t often find though is a culture that has refined it to a 24 hour “must have” as part of a daily routine.

Next day we were well rested and relaxed, and ready to return to the factory and family business. .  The toy factory is a family run operation which includes grandma and young children.  They all stop for a communal lunch at grandmas house.  The table is filled with choice bits of, squid, fried fish, beans and anchovies, pork, soup, and vegetables.  We notice sleek racing bikes in the corner which belong to Chenys son, who is competing in triathlons. He is competing nationally.  We ask Cheny how well he does, but he says he will wait and see.

Penny,  Donald’s partner looks at her watch for time and her fitbit to see if she has reached her mandatory steps count for the day.  She prefers her watch for the time. she doesnt like looking at the fitbit since the time shows up digitally and she doesnt like to see the number four.  Superstition mingles with practicality.  I am not sure why there are pop bottle on the family alter, or the no smoking sign in the house.

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We take a side trip to a very old temple.  temple taipei psI fall in love with a very old tree there.

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While Derek was discussing business at the printing factory, i was treated to a day out at the art gallery with Sharon and Mandy.

Then out for a vegetarian meal, followed by more shopping which consisted mainly of stopping for more food then off for supper for a traditional meal in Tainan.  I thought I might  miss my western food, and was surprised that being so full all the time kept me quite conten

Derek and I went to Huilien to have a small tour on our own.  Donald arranged everything for  us, which included a private driver, meals and hotel.

These are some sketches of the places we stopped at.

bridge at university hulien no dabbling

The first is supposed to be a bridge at the university.  There is a sign just to the right of the bridge that says “hermetically,no swimming fishing boating dabbling or bring to justice”. The sketch is a little rough as I really didnt want to be caught dabbling.

This was little Juifen. in the early 1900’s the Japanese created a village to harvest some of the cyprus trees in Taiwan as they were ideal for building temples.   This carried on until about 1945 when the Taiwanese began to protect their forests.  The Japanese built

japenese railroad hulien taiwan

railways to carry the timber out from the mountains.

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Taiwan is heavily populated on one side of the island and less so on the other, but the cental mountain range is fairly impenetrable.  The mountains have steep cliffs as well as the instability from typhoons and earthquakes keeps the mountain range from being developed.

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Our taxi driver told us that a carrier pidgeon could travel faster to Huilien than a person travelling by car from Taichung,  which lies approximately equidistant down the western coast. This picture to the right is one of the village houses. I like the slate roofs.Japenese village hulien

Then back to Taipei.  While Derek and Donald talked business, I went out to sketch again.  This was an old army barracks close to Donalds office.  People come here to take wedding photos, graduation photos, and millions of selfies.  Taipei 101 is in the  background.  It used to be the tallest building in the world.barracks house taipei

barracks house taipei copy

The last in my series is from outside the city hall in Taipei.  I sat and watched a woman play with her two dogs.  One of the dogs was fifteen years old and had had a stroke.  He looked at the world on a bit of an angle.  We sat and watched as busload after busload of Chinese tourists paraded by.  The tour leaders have long poles with some kind of distinctive identifier such as a stuffed banana hanging on the end dangling like a fish from a fishing pole.  And to help keep track of all the people in their group, they give them all red hats.  They herd them from one monument to another. girl with dog in park taipei

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day of the Dead Voodoo in Haiti

Why is it the dead  return anyways? I ask but feeling as though I know the answer.  Liz and I had just met a few days earlier and had only just met Kat and Joseph the night before.  It was All Saints Eve in Haiti and there we were in a van, traveling up and down streets torn up by the earthquake three years previously,  not just laughing but having a true gut laugh that reaches right down to your bones and gives you cramps and makes your eyes water.  This is why the dead  wake up.  They are hungry for life, and ready to feed.  We were rocking the place with our laughter and if there was a soul out there anywhere it would surely have felt the pulse of life we generated and been attracted to us, just to feed on that feeling.

Joseph is originally from Argentina and had heard about people celebrating All Saints Eve by going to the cemetery to honour the dead, and I had heard about people taking picnics to the cemetery while living in Guatemala.  Both of us wanted to witness the celebrations.  I wasn’t necessarily thinking of it as a voodoo festival,  but as a celebration of all saints day that is found in many parts of Latin America.  Traditionally it is told that they leave food for the dead so that they will not bother them for another year.  People have to feed the hungry spirits to keep themselves safe from sickness and death.  We begin to make our plans.

In Haiti there are armed escorts and drivers to transport the volunteer workers. Joseph asks a driver to come by at midnight to pick up Kat,  Liz and I and himself.  On the drive to the cemetery we are struck by the absurdity of what we are doing.  This is Haiti, the land of magic and voodoo. It is three years after the earthquake and the country hasn’t recovered from the serious damage.  There are makeshift shanty towns and the government is politically unstable with efforts to undermine some of the international aid that is occurring.   Conversation slides from the sublime to the ridiculous as we communicate with not just our hands and facial expressions but use our feet and legs too. We talk about serious issues such as the international aid projects and the strange donations that turn up, and the challenges facing millions of people suffering from a shortage of life saving medication and qualified medical personnel.  We laugh at Liz and June our physiotherapists bringing 2 white right feet to a black culture and no matter what, it will always be right for them.   Then we laughed about how we had dressed up for an evening of exploring Voodoo culture in Haiti.  We  were instructed to all dress in white with a bit of red on us to protect us against evil spirits. As we talk about what red coloured items we are wearing we worry in general about not having enough red with us.

We arrived at the first cemetary and the gates were open, but there were no lights on anywhere, or any sign of life. Not surprising we laugh.   I said to Joseph that since we were there,  that we should at least get out of the van and step into the cemetery at which point one of us put their arms around Kat, and she screamed frightening us all.  After that there was no way any of us were getting out of the van.  I thought that if we wanted to see a family taking food to their ancestors it might take a little leg work.  It wasn’t as if there were going to be large neon signs with arrows pointing down saying “this way for some cemetery voodoo.”  Without a family of our own to visit at the cemetery,  it would be just plain creepy to walk around in a cemetery at midnight on halloween night, in the dark, but Joseph was determined to see a real Haitian ceremony, so he asked the driver to take us to another cemetery.  We laughed and laughed as we drove around for another hour or two sweeping the streets of Haiti.  There wasn’t a person on the streets, nobody sleeping in doorways, no midnight revelers.  We were lucky to have seen a few stray dogs and some goats.

Our driver is extremely patient with us as we roared through the streets,  and when we see that the gates of the second cemetary are closed we make him promise to take us out the next night.  We have confirmed what  we had refused to listen to earlier.  The celebrations really start on the 1st.  That would be when we would expect to see parades of people dressed in purple with their faces painted white on the street and maybe see something ceremony at the cemetery.  We resolve to try again the next night.

With a new chemistry in the mix, a bigger group, we start our drive and arrive quickly at the first cemetary.  Once again we are all dressed in white and scrambling to find something red to protect us.  The doors to the cemetary are open and this time there are about 20 or 30 men congregated around the entrance.  It looks as though there is a stage set up to play some music.  Lucus slides past the door keepers getting a look around while the rest of the “whities” and Kat our one black friend, step out of the van.  We look like ghosts come to haunt them.  One of the men at the gate starts to gesture in an expressive “going down” manner but not the “going down” in a good way. We rather hurriedly hop back into the van, quickly forgetting on the climb back in about any new hips, or sore knees,  feeling relieved to be back in the van, but not discouraged because Joseph has heard about another band playing downtown. Tonight there are more people on the streets, and it is earlier in the evening.  Joseph stops at the bank machine while Liz and June tick off yet another unsafe activity to do while in Haiti.   But there are 2 policemen standing next to our van and quite a few people on the street, so they settle down.  We start to tell stories about our trip out to the cemetary the night before soon everyone is smiling and laughing.

We bumped around the torn up streets ofHaiti for another hour, going to see the band. We cruise past the crumbling palace, and speculate on whether it would be left as is, repaired or torn down. During the day we have noticed roman pillars being sold on the street.  History often has a way of asserting itself, even the history we try to forget or erase. Next we attempt to go to a party at one of the fancy hotels.  Surprisingly there are still fancy hotels in a city that has suffered the most extensive earthquake damage of nearly anywhere else in the world.   We never even got so far as the outer gate.  The street was packed, rocking with music, and honking horns. Expats were clustered in by an array of randomly parked vehicles and we were trapped for a while squeezed into a tight fist of vehicles with armed guards circulating about the hotel entrance.   Again, it might have felt more comfortable to be behind bullet proof glass as we remind ourselves that during the day, we work to heal  gun shot and machete wounds. Soberly we wind our way home over rough boulder and rubble roads.

Late that night, Lucus  and Joseph decide to go out searching for one last place that Lucus has heard about through Baby Girl, a good friend he has been two timing with, that he also made me pinky swear not to talk about.

The next day Lucus shows us a picture of his face splattered with some blood, and Joseph shows us a rather smoky picture of the one of the voodoo dancers with a goat draped around her neck.  They sacrificed 26 goats to represent 26 spirits. Joseph had had his palm read by the priestess,  I told him that I had wanted to go with them, but had thought it was a guy thing.  I was upset that I hadn’t been there.  He said we would try to go back there tonight.

After supper we split up into groups. We drove as far as we could down a very narrow alleyway.  The road looked as if it were shoring up the walls of the buildings on  either side with small boulders and crushed rubble attempting to fill the gaps.  We drove into a parking lot and pulled together our group which had come in 2 vehicles.  There was Jen, Kim and Scott, Kat, June and Liz, Dr. Bones,  Joseph and myself.  Baby Girl met us there. Negotiating our way out of the parking lot to get to the voodoo dancing required slipping past street vendors and pick pockets.  When ever I have gone to a night club, there have always been people hanging around on the  street.  So this didn’t frighten me,  What did frighten me is history.  History comes alive when you carry your stories into the present.  As a group of white people including Kat, who is technically black but is  considered white when with us, all of us dressed in white, being chaperoned by a black female 5′ 2 body guard dressed in a  brilliant red dress hemmed at the panty line accentuating a perfect cupped bottom, wearing 4 inch stiletto heels walking into a very very black party we had to ask ourselves as we walked up that alley what kind of history we wanted people to remember.  We chose one of smiles and  humble nods, but we formed a chain like kindergarten children holding onto each others hands as we kept together as a group attempting to not be separated.  We wound our way through the dancers and masses of people who had come to see their queen, or high priestess of voodoo.

As we crossed the room a funny looking man made a kissing noise at me, so I kissed back and smiled. Another women further up the line laughed at me so we smiled together and as I passed I slowed to dance with her. She was dressed in the ceremonial purple dress with a purple scarf. As we danced we contacted through music, rhythm uniting us, our hands touching in the air.  She grabbed me and the rest of our train that was stalled behind me as I danced,  and led us up onto the stage where Joseph and Baby Girl had led the others. We climbed a makeshift ladder and stood on a platform that was easily beyond maximum safe capacity.  Liz ticked off  another unsafe activity to do while in Haiti off her list.  Some people were seated on chairs, others lining the back wall, and some were overhead sitting in the tree.  There was a view out the back over thousands of lights of the tightly packed houses in the valley that glittered stronger now that we were closer.

We watched for a long time dancing and weaving on the spot, winning smiles and encouragement when we moved and danced.   The dancers would spontaneously sing as they danced creating harmonies to the constant rhythmic drumming.  The main dancers were taking turns and were distinguished by the colour of their dress.  There were some women dressed entirely in white who had been  priestesses in training for the dance for the year, and other women dressed in purple, many of them sporting bright red scarves. The atmosphere in the room packed with hundreds of people is electric as everybody waits for the queen to appear out of the sanctuary at the back.   Eventually the small orchestra began to take the places of the people seated on the upper stage where we were standing. A man with a 6 foot curling bronze trombone and some men with smaller trumpets  came and took their seats.  They would join the pulsing rhythm of the drummers when the queen enters the room. Dr Bones went into the sanctuary and is gone for quite a while.  We thought that he had met a friend but it turns out he had been picked and led to the priestess.   Inside the room was a mystery to us, but for him he felt blessed to have been allowed in.  He felt it helped him to understand them better.  The women had prepared a meal using some  of the 26 goats that they had slaughtered from the night before.  The food was spread out in dishes and was left to ferment for 7 days after which they take it to the cemetery and bury it to feed the dead.   Doc Bones was splashed with lavender oil and blessed.  His face was glowing when he came back to tell us. Meanwhile, Joseph’s young street orphan was running back and forth to the street vendors at the entrance to the hall buying us beer and waters.  We were dripping with perspiration from head to toe just standing in one spot watching the dancers, and thankful for his help.  Then Joseph grabbed our hands and indicated that for any of our group that wanted to go down into the party we were to follow him.  He said they were getting ready for the high priestess or queen to come out.  So we formed our single file, hands holding hands led by baby girl dressed in her tight red dress onto the dance floor, congregating around the center pole and in the eye of the storm.

The queen had come out. She was dressed in a multicolour skirt but our eyes were immediately drawn to the intensity of the look on her face.  It was as if she were looking right at you but not seeing you, seeing what is on the other side in the realm of the spirit.  Her milky white eyes were opened wide and staring beyond.  We were so focused on her stare that we didn’t immediately notice the large machete that was swinging freely in her hand and the hand of her dance partner.  They were performing a ceremony where they would come up to  a person at the edge of the circle and flash the knife around them cutting at unseen spirits, sometimes the knife was making contact with the skin of the face, or on the shoulders but not cutting the skin.   She would draw the chosen person into the circle and play with the folds of her dress as if cradling the spirit being sometimes fierce and sometimes tender.  There were ceremonial dancers of all ages.  At one point a young girl  dressed in purple arrived and shook our hand. At times we were being pulled into the circle and at other times carefully herded back to make sure we weren’t caught by the tip of one of the waving knives of the dancers.

We were now at the very edge of the inner circle and the high priestess came up to Beth scaring her as she scooped up some of her own sweat and blessed her by wiping it starting at her forehead and down onto her cheeks.  And then she spritzed us all with a lavender lotion. Our bodies are caught in waves of sound and spontaneously move.  The pulsing rhythm of the drumming was constant and there were moments where our hips and shoulders began to move and for just a moment, we felt the space in between the stars.   We were lost in time, hands raised and singing in unison with hundreds of voices, drummers, trumpets and the trombone, forgetful of the knives and pickpockets of history and culture.

In the morning on our way to work, our last day in Haiti, we noticed an alarming number of police on the streets.  There were UN police, there were special agents with their masked faces, there were army men dressed in army fatigues, we saw some armoured tanks roll by, special units and sirens.   When we got to the hospital people asked us if we had heard the news. Twenty six people had been shot dead and more were wounded. The staff at the hospital heard the gunshots just outside the gates of the hospital.   The hungry ghost of history had had its feast, and Liz ticks off another unsafe activity while volunteering in Haiti.

Dolores Hidalgo Cemetary

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Waves of  bittersweet orange and carmine red flowers and music flood our senses.  A jangle of soundscapes and colour contrast the bright white graves. I follow the soundwaves along the rainbow coloured ceramic sarape to the music. Guitar in hand, sombreros and amidst much laughter and some liquid spirits are people singing and celebrating the music of Jose Alfredo Jimenez, Mexico’s king of songs. Behind them a forty foot sculpture of a Mexican sombrero and a grave that says “La Vida no vale nada”.  Life is not worth anything. Is it true? It seems to me that music, memories and laughter defies that.

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