Tag Archives: Formosa Moon

Sun Moon Lake: A peculiar mingling of love and death

Sun Moon Lake is one of Taiwan’s many beauty spots. We got some very excellent material for the book Formosa Moon from the Sun Moon Lake research journey, though as often tended to happen, not quite the material we’d come for. Though we’d gone to Sun Moon Lake for some peace and quiet, specifically booking a hotel on the lake’s quieter side, our plans were altered by a funeral that happened to be going on in the alley next to the hotel. As I’d not slept the night before, it was particularly stressful, or so it seemed at the time before stress gave way to a strangely peaceful epiphany about acceptance. This would later become one of the most well-received chapters of Formosa Moon, “Sun Moon Lake: A Peculiar Mingling of Love and Death”. I’ll post that chapter below, but before that I’m posting the video we made from the roof of the hotel, shall we say, prior to the epiphany that would eventually become A Peculiar Mingling…

If you like the chapter and would like to read more, Formosa Moon is available in print and for Kindle. The print version is lovely, and makes a great gift for travelers, people interested in Taiwan, or anyone into humorous, heartwarming travel writing. Follow this link to purchase your copy of Formosa Moon.

 

 

Sun Moon Lake : A peculiar mingling of love and death

Formos Moon Joshua Samuel Brown by David Lee Ingersoll

The sound of gongs and chanting were already pronounced as we turned the corner and approached our hotel at the alley’s end. Though we’d come to Sun Moon Lake for its legendary peace and quiet, so had Shi Ah-gong though in a markedly different way. Grandfather Shi had passed away at the age of 97, and his relatives had booked the entire street in the normally sedate village of Ita Thao to hold his three day funeral.

Taiwanese funerals are in many ways the opposite of their Western counterparts. Both are solemn affairs, but the Taiwanese have a different take on what constitutes solemn. A Taiwanese funeral will sometimes employ the services of paid mourners, women hired to behave as if they’re torn with grief at the deceased’s passing (despite never having actually met them).

Electric Flower Cars are another distinctly Taiwanese funeral custom. In addition to being a great name for a 1970’s prog rock band, Electric Flower Cars are covered flatbed trucks bedecked with flowers on which comely young ladies dance, sing, gyrate libidinously – and occasionally, pole-dance – to honor the passing of the deceased. Though still seen occasionally, this type of overtly risqué funeral ceremony seems to be going the way of betel nut girls in Taiwan, that is to say, still found on occasion but considered mostly passé.

Grandfather Shi must have loved Ita Thao. His relatives were certainly making his last hours there memorable ones. Though the ceremony did not have strippers (at least none that we saw), there was no shortage of other elements designed to produce the hot noise that’s an indispensable feature of any Taiwanese funeral. Designed both to celebrate the life of the deceased and ensure their smooth passing into the next world, Grandfather Shi’s hot noise included gongs mixed with rigorous Buddhist chanting, pop music, karaoke, and later, a live band complete with drummers and an accordion. All of this was taking place under a covered tent set up in the alleyway next to the Cherry Feast Hotel, where we’d booked a three day stay in advance.

The manager was sympathetic. This was the second day of the funeral, and she was aware that guests at the otherwise serene hotel might not appreciate the ceremony as the sincere and somber affair it was meant to be. She moved us to a room on the other side of the hotel, giving us an upgrade in the process. The new room was quieter, though the gongs and chanting still filtered in softly beneath the white noise of the room’s air conditioning.

Having slept poorly the night before and in desperate need of an afternoon nap, I initially fumed about our rotten luck to have booked a hotel next to a Taiwanese funeral. But after a long bath and a short nap, what had initially seemed bad luck transformed into epiphany.

Taiwan’s rhythm is peculiar, marching to its own beat, its own particular ebbing and flowing, and to the uninitiated this can seem peculiar, unpredictable even. The tourist says but I paid for three days of peace and quiet and peace and quiet is what I expect!

To this, Taiwan replies Grandfather Shi so loved Sun Moon Lake that his family chose this very spot, fifteen feet away from your hotel, to throw a raucous party with which to simultaneously mourn and celebrate him. As a guest, surely you understand this?

Getting the joke, the traveler responds, Fair enough. But I was told there’d be strippers.

To which Taiwan replies gently: You were misinformed.

Taiwan is kind, to its native born, adopted children and short term guests alike. But Taiwan doesn’t change its tempo for you. Instead, you must change your tempo to adapt to Taiwan. And this will make all the difference.

~~~

Stephanie HuffmanThe funeral services quieted down after dark and our air conditioning drowned out most of the music. It was hard to ignore the humor of our situation. The next morning we had our coffee on the garden balcony. The haze we’d awoken to yesterday in Nantou City had not come to Sun Moon Lake, and the sky was bright blue. We’d just started our breakfast, enjoying the majestic view of boats floating out on the peaceful waters of the lake when the funeral band next door . Loud drumming, and an impossibly jarring accordion quashed the tranquility I’d felt just a moment before. Was no place on this island quiet?

 

But my annoyance gave way to something more philosophical as I found myself wondering about the people attending the funeral next door. The world wasn’t stopping for them to grieve. Why should their grieving stop for us?

This part of our journey was offering a peculiar mingling of love and death. We’d booked this lovely hotel for a romantic getaway, while at the same time the family ten stories below had booked the alley to mourn the loss of their grandfather. Romance and mortality are normally kept apart, but isn’t this distance merely an illusion? I was finding the juxtaposition between the two more and more poignant.

Our plans for Sun Moon Lake kept getting changed from outside forces. Josh’s hope of getting me to bicycle around the lake got canceled by rain, so we bought boat passes instead and went to the more crowded side filled with restaurants and tourists before making our way to the more tranquil Qinglong Mountain Trail. This was exactly what I’d been craving-a quiet hiking trail with beautiful views. We passed only a few other people as we climbed past clustered bamboo clacking together peacefully in the breeze. The view of Sun Moon Lake was beautiful, and the trail led us to Xuanzang Temple, a temple that seemed profoundly spiritual to me. I’ve sensed other holy sites in Taiwan were sacred but hadn’t been personally moved. Maybe it was due to this monk being a traveler. Perhaps his backpacker persona resonated with me? Whatever the reason, the Xuanzang Temple felt like a place I could pray. A monk invited us to take some Buddhist texts. I chose “Taming the Monkey Mind” hoping it would help quiet my own inner chatter. She then invited us to write a wish on a prayer card.

At first I didn’t know what to wish for. Grandfather Shi’s funeral had reminded me to be grateful to be alive. I had just graduated college and was traveling abroad with a loving partner. What more did I dare ask for? I remembered my anxiety about taking this leap of faith, leaving home and the world that I knew. Change may be healthy but it is rarely easy.  

I wish for the tranquility that comes with enlightenment, I wrote.

Afterwards we hitchhiked back to our hotel, finding the funeral still in progress, though thankfully at a softer volume. But the vibe of Sun Moon Lake was sinking in. My insect bites and overall stress level had faded. We were getting writing done so decided to stay another day on the quieter side of the lake. Fewer hotel and restaurant choices meant fewer tourists and gave the area more of a small town feel. I found the people quiet friendly.

The next day Grandpa Shi’s funeral ended and the street emptied, the mourners taking any evidence of the event with them. After another day Josh and I would check out of our temporary love nest and housekeeping would clear out our room, resetting it for the next occupants. As I watched workers sweeping up the last evidence of the funeral I reflected on how everything is impermanence. These life cycles begin and end, sometimes paralleling each other. Life leads to death; death leads to life. Perhaps I was mellowing with middle age.

Like this chapter and want to read more of Formosa Moon? Purchase your copy from Amazon, Barnes And Noble, or Powell’s City of Books.

Author sketches courtesy of David Lee Ingersoll. Photograph courtesy of Tobie Openshaw.

Author Reading of Formosa Moon April 25, 2019 – 18:30-20:30

Thanks to everyone who came out to our reading on April 15th at The Center in Taipei. We had a good crowd, a selection of fine wines and cheese and more fun than you can shake a stick it. Tobie was gracious enough to film the thing, so I’ll go ahead and post two segments from the reading (which lasted about 90 minutes). The first clip is of us reading the chapter titled “The Talk”, which more-or-less sets the book up, and the second is from “Now We Have a Chicken”.

Below is the original invite to the event

Joshua Samuel Brown (Vignettes of Taiwan, Lonely Planet Taiwan) and Stephanie Huffman cordially invite you to a casual meet, greet and author reading from Formosa Moon at The Community Services Center – Taipei.

Formosa Moon

Published by Things Asian Press, Formosa Moon is a romantic and geeky cultural journey around Taiwan undertaken by a couple comprised of a seasoned guidebook writer intimately familiar with Taiwan and a first-time visitor who agreed to leave everything behind and relocate to Taiwan sight unseen. Along the way the couple lose themselves in Taoist temples, feast on street food and explore Taiwan’s breathtaking scenery while also engaging in less typical expatriate activities including filming a clandestine puppet show in a hijacked hotel lobby, accidentally taking up chicken farming in their residential Taipei neighborhood, and allowing themselves to be briefly sucked into a local religious cult…all in the name of cultural immersion.

Part travelogue, part guidebook, part memoir, Formosa Moon is a dual-voice narrative offering practical travel information about this young and vibrant democracy while commenting hilariously on their often unusual travel experiences around the country, ultimately inspiring readers to explore Taiwan on a deeper level. Join the authors of Formosa Moon for a refreshments and a reading from Formosa Moon with Special Guest Tobie Openshaw.

The Community Services Center – Taipei on Thursday, April 25th.
(Tienmu District, No. 25, Lane 290 Zhong Shan North Rd., Sec. 6, Taipei, Taiwan 11161)
Click Here for details through Facebook

Click Here for Map

Reception starts at 6:30 PM, Reading begins at 7pm, followed by a Q&A session and book signing. A good time is guaranteed!

Can’t make the reading? Buy the book at Amazon.com!

A Nihilist’s Guide to Sun Moon Lake

A Nihilist’s Guide to Sun Moon Lake is a story that didn’t make it into Formosa Moon, and probably for good reason. Stephanie and I traveled to this fabled tourist destination for the book, and actually had a wonderful time.  Alas, when we started posting little snippets of our lovely experience over the digital herpes machine that social media has become, we were predictably treated to the golden shower of comments from a few of our fellow expatriates concerning their own negative feelings about the place. Overdeveloped, not “the real Taiwan,” too many tourists, yadda yadda…

I suppose this was for the best, as it triggered my aforementioned contrarian nature in two ways:

First, I decided that I was going to absolutely love the place. This proved to be anything but a challenge, as Sun Moon Lake turned out to be the epitome of loveliness, and we got several great chapters from Sun Moon Lake for the book.

And second, being a comedy writer, I decided to use the juxtaposition of being in an absolutely lovely setting and seeing comments disparaging the place on my fairly innocuous social media posts about the area to write some comedy.

Without further ado, “A Nihilists Guide to Sun Moon Lake”

(Though it isn’t in Formosa Moon, I may include it in the audio-book version, but only if I can get Werner Herzog to read it. In my mind, the piece is best read in his voice.)

Nihilist Sun Moon Lake

A Nihilist’s Guide to Sun Moon Lake

Driving through the mountains and valleys of Nantou County, we pass through towns and villages scarred by natural catastrophe, stopping to visit a plaza containing two ornate houses of worship. The first had been destroyed in an earthquake, and the second was built afterwards to house idols rescued from the first. Both are without meaning.

In a nearby market, villagers sell local fruits, teas and tonics for health, unaware of the futility of their industry for buyer and seller alike. After brief repast, we drive to the lake itself.

Thought by some to be among the most beautiful spots in Taiwan, Sun Moon Lake was formed by a cataclysmic strike coming without warning from the endless and indifferent void of space. The blow likely as not destroyed most of the island’s life at the moment of impact, itself a mercy.

Over millennia, the crater filled with water and slowly trees and plants grew around the damp hole. At some point, humans arrived and thought the place pretty. Then as now, this was merely a mental self-preservation construct designed as distraction from existence’s ultimate futility for whatever time it takes to ensure copulation, thus ensuring biological continuation of the ghastly charade. These days, there are many hotels diminishing the lake’s beauty while simultaneously providing a place for human sexual encounters. Contemporary social mores require such encounters be conducted indoors. Why is this?

We stop to visit the Wenwu temple overlooking the lake, inside of which ornate statues represent various folk deities. Local people pray to these idols, but their prayers go unheard. God is dead. On the third level is a temple constructed to honor the sage Confucius, who died alone as do all men. In the attached gift shop, foodstuffs can be purchased.

On opposite sides of the lake lie two collections of buildings, clustered in futility, seeking solace in number. We head to the smaller of these for shelter from the rapidly approaching night, pausing to watch from the pier extending timidly over the water the setting of the sun. The same star that gives our planet life will inevitably destroy it. This is inescapable fact.

Now it is time for evening sustenance.

There are many restaurants, but we choose instead to eat smaller items of foodstuffs from vendors who have set up small stalls in the alleys and streets of the villages. Village vendors wear clothing signifying belonging to the local tribal group, whose ancestors came to the area before those of the island’s current-dominant culture arrived in response to a multitude of political and social pressures in their own homeland, quickly exchanging the mantle of oppressed for oppressor. If the vendors are aware of various theories stating that their ancestors played a similar role with a previous indigenous group, the very existence of which is now lost forever, they make no mention of it. We who enjoy sticks of pork grilled over flame despite our own awareness of the sentience of pigs can hardly judge.

For dessert, we eat shaved ice served with crushed fruit, served to us in a shop in which a young girl happens to be sitting stroking a pet cat. In the natural course of things, both the cat and the girl will die, yet if the cat outlives the girl it will be considered tragic.

Why?

We return to our hotel room to bathe and though procreation is not our goal, we copulate. Despite the presence of road and futility of man’s every endeavor, tomorrow we will take a boat across the lake.

~ Fin ~


A Nihilist’s Guide to Sun Moon Lake does not appear in Formosa Moon, by Joshua Samuel Brown and Stephanie Huffman. You should purchase the book nonetheless at Powell’s City of Books, Amazon, or wherever else you purchase books to fill in the time before the inevitable occurs.

Formosa Moon Launch Party!

Joshua Samuel Brown (Vignettes of Taiwan, Lonely Planet Taiwan) and Stephanie Huffman cordially invite you to a book launch party for their latest book, Formosa Moon, at Taipei’s Red Room! Published by Things Asian Press, Formosa Moon is a romantic and geeky cultural journey around Taiwan undertaken by a couple comprised of a seasoned guidebook writer intimately familiar with Taiwan and a first-time visitor who agreed to leave everything behind and relocate to Taiwan sight unseen. Along the way the couple lose themselves in Taoist temples, feast on street food and explore Taiwan’s breathtaking scenery while also engaging in less typical expatriate activities including filming a clandestine puppet show in a hijacked hotel lobby, accidentally taking up chicken farming in their residential Taipei neighborhood, and allowing themselves to be briefly sucked into a local religious cult…all in the name of cultural immersion. Part travelogue, part guidebook, part memoir, Formosa Moon is a dual-voice narrative offering practical travel information about this young and vibrant democracy while commenting hilariously on their often unusual travel experiences around the country, ultimately inspiring readers to explore Taiwan on a deeper level. Join the authors of Formosa Moon for a reading, live reenactments, book signing, food, drinks, puppetry and more at the Red Room on Saturday, October 27, starting at 5pm. Admission is free, and a good time is guaranteed!

What: Formosa Moon Launch Party

When: October 27, 2018 – 17:00 – 21:00 (5pm-9pm)

Where: The Red Room, Jianguo S. Rd. Sec.1 #177 (1st building on the left, 2F)   建國南路一段177號 (入口左邊第一棟灰色大樓2F),

Click here to RSVP through Facebook!

Can’t make the party? Order your copy of Formosa Moon online!

The Red Room is an ever-expanding community exploring and extending the boundaries between audience and performer through events centered around the spoken word, music, visual arts, theater, and family friendly activities, Red Room is a community hub where participants can explore their passion with other artists and creatives.

What people are saying about Formosa Moon

“I don’t know if this is the most exhaustive book ever written in English about Taiwan, but I feel like it might be the coolest and weirdest. It’s definitely a lot of fun.”

Freddy Lim, New People’s Party Legislator / Chthonic Lead Singer

“Joshua Samuel Brown and Stephanie Huffman have pulled off something remarkable: A love letter to Taiwan grounded in deep experience and fresh eyes. A beautiful book for the beautiful island. “

Andrew Leonard, Salon.com

“What a delight! Joshua Samuel Brown and Stephanie Huffman offer readers an affectionate, clear-eyed view of Taiwan that highlights its complexities, its eccentricities, and its wonders. A must-read for both returning and first-time visitors to Taiwan.”

Shawna Yang Ryan, Author Water Ghosts, Green Island