A view seen near Yakou on the Southern Cross-Island Highway in Taiwan
I recently read the novel Yushan Spirits (玉山魂) by Husluman Vava. In the preface, he describes the incident which inspired the novel. He was traveling on the Southern Cross-Island Highway in Taiwan. At Yakou, the highest elevation point on the road, he was feeling the effects of the altitude change, so he decided to take a break at a parking lot, where there were two multi-story buildings. This is at the border of Kaohsiung and Taitung counties, so passengers going between Kaoshiung’s bus system and Taitung’s bus system would transfer there. Husluman Vava saw an old man waiting with other bus passengers who seemed to be looking at the mountains in a particular way. He addressed him in the Bunun language, asking him if it was going to Taitung. The old man answered that yes, he was going to Taitung to visit his daughter.
They got into a conversation, and eventually, the old man said (note: I’m translating this from Chinese, which was translated from Bunun, and I’m also abridging this, so the accuracy is questionable) “When I was young, I often went hunting here with my elders.”
“Here, in this parking lot?” Husluman Vava replied.
“The mountain forest here was originally our village’s hunting ground … I once shot and killed a deer in this area – just about there! There was originally a giant rock there, the smart deer would duck behind there to get out of our sight … it was rare that we hunted down such a big deer,” the old man continued as he basked in his old sense of glory.
“What? Inside that multi-story building?”
“Yes! But someone who doesn’t understand mountain forests, who doesn’t understand hunting, put a building in a place which belongs to deer … this place has changed, there are more and more things which don’t belong in the mountains. Sometimes when I pass by here, I wonder whether the things I remember actually existed.”
Husluman Vava was really struck by this comment. He pondered what would drive someone to stop believing their own memories were true, and what it meant when it happened to a whole culture. That was the starting point for the novel.
I myself have been to Yakou, in 2013, and I recall looking at the buildings mentioned in the preface. However, at the time I was there, there was no bus service; I had to hitchhike to get up there. The buildings were closed and not in use. When I was looking down at that, I also felt like they looked really out of place in their setting. Continue reading →