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Thursday, August 27, 2009

グレイトフル・デッド?

I went for a walk in the Hsint'ien 新田 area at noontime today. I worked up a good sweat in a short period of time, but overall it was an unremarkable, though pleasant, outing (I only saw one other person on the trails). Afterward, on the way back, for some reason I stopped at some graves by the roadside. In general, Taiwanese are scared of cemeteries and avoid them at all times, with the exception of a national holiday known as Tomb Sweeping Day 清明, when families are supposed to clear away all the brush that has grown up around the grave sites of their ancestors. The result of this aversion to the places of the dead is that cemeteries are usually in a semi-wild state most of the time, at least until the next April 4 or 5 rolls around. Occasionally, however, you come across graves that are kept in near-pristine conditions, and this is probably what caught my eye this afternoon:
In all likelihood, this is one large family plot. At least that's what my wife thinks, who was obviously uncomfortable when I asked her about the writing on the steles (stelea?) 石碑. The tomb in the upper left corner was particularly well-tended. There appeared to be a small crypt with locked screen doors on both the left and right-hand sides. Inside could be seen brooms, suggesting that someone comes by regularly to clean up the site (there was no trash on the ground, and the lawn behind the tomb looked healthy):
Like many cemeteries in Taiwan, these graves were located on the side of a mountain, with nice views overlooking the town of T'antzu (Tanshi) 潭子 (or what would be nice views if the weather hadn't been so hazy today). While the living cram themselves into densely populated urban areas, the dead are given what would be prime real estate back in the U.S. Yet another aspect of Taiwan I don't think I'll ever understand.

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