Denis’ version: It was insane. So we’re sitting at my place hungover on a Sunday in late November. Trista’s already promised to go to this aboriginal festival, the Pasta’ay in the Hsinchu mountains. First, we cross the street and go eat mifan at the xiaoche, where there were 2 hot waitresses, two sisters 17 and 18; they would make a fine sandwich. What? “Pig?!” We took the train to Hsinchu and then the taxi, oh my god all the way up there, for 700nt. I got the guitar and bag as we get out of the shuttle bus. I can see people dancing on the left, and on the right mountain people getting drunk in a restaurant. The whole night I never left that staging area.
We started by drinking conservative pints, then downing beer in bottles and plastic cups, the shots, then the shirts go off, there was armwrestling, with the whole posse of these young guys… I was trying to console one of the younger mountain kids — someone broke his nose and it was bleeding profusely. I’m pretty sure his uncle took him aside for being such a dink, and kicked his ass. He’d started with the ‘meilimao’ stuff (bad manners), said to me things like “I don’t like you.” But then he apologized, and invited us to go to his place in Jianshi, with hot springs in the morning and everything. I guess I said I’d pay, thinking for some reason maybe it’d be 100 bucks or so for the taxi, but we ended up going to a completely different mountain, and the cabbie wants 900nt. I refused to pay, since I only had 700nt on me.
Plus, I’d already paid for his beer, all the food at his family’s restaurant, and apparently he was using us as an escape hatch, to get home, to the tune of 900nt. Trista’s saying to the guy Chris, “Why don’t you go inside and pay this guy for the taxi ride. Ask your wife upstairs, she’s right there just watchin’ TV. Or go wake up your mother and get it from her”. You gotta have rocks in your head, I told the guy.
So there we were, me and Trista sitting on some rocks. I thought we were left ass-out; I had 700nt to my name, and we were truly stranded there on a mountain. Trista put out a thumb, and when a car came by I stopped it, and we got our ride, just like that down the mountain. And as we get to the base of mountain, the ‘village idiot’, with his puffed-out funk fro, was getting out of the taxi in front of the taxi company, talking with the driver. As we roll by Trista calls out, “Hey hello, how are youuuuu,” as we fly by.
So we end up getting dropped off at a bus station, then gradually get to Miaoli, by train. Took us about 10 hours to get home.
Trista’s version: It was my first Pasta’ay. I’d heard and read some very intriguing stories about the famed Little People Festival in Wufeng, deep in the mountains of Hsinchu County… but I’d never seen it like this – the entrance to Mimi and Carpenter’s was closed off to traffic, and we went up a road and were taken by shuttle bus up the Chinese-lanterned mountain road, and dropped off in a place that I’d been many times before… but tonight, there were xiaoches (little eateries) and vendors and food and beer everywhere….
We immediately made a beeline for what turned out to be Wu Hang’s place, my now-adopted mother. I made her and her daughter a rollie, and then Mama Hang grabbed me by the arm, took me to the loo, then around the entire vendor area, introducing me to everybody. As we take a tour, I tried to take pictures of everybody to get a snapshot of the moment — these faces, here and now.
Sat down with Mama Hang’s friends, and sampled different types of xiaomijiu (millet wine); one tastes like there’s lemon in it; it’s just apparently fermented differently. Some are dry, like champagne, others very sweet. They were usually 200nt (US$8) a bottle; somewhere, I heard they were NT$150 (US$5). I like to cut mine with something like 7-up; it’s such a fine liqueur, and sweet. It also has slightly hallucinogenic qualities, I’ve discovered. You’ll still feel drunk on this stuff the next day.
I asked a research question of three different people: Under the Japanese, were you able to dance during the Pasta’ay? I’ve been told elsewhere that aboriginal traditions like this were suppressed during the Japanese colonization (1895-1945). I believe the answer was yes… but have to get a translator to confirm this from the audio-recorded responses I got.
I also asked why nobody seemed to know whether the dance had been danced for 100 years or a thousand years? Didn’t get a satisfactory answer.
I asked if it was permitted to dance with the circle of people there. I told them I know it’s not a ‘happy’ festival, it’s like praying. They said it was okay for outsiders to dance with them.
This wild young aboriginal guy Chris had told Denis ‘I don’t like you,’ and thereafter never stopped spewing a never-ending stream of idiotic nonsense like I’ve never heard before — “I’m from Virginia… Can you speak the Chinese?” stuff like that over and over again, and the like. I wanted to write every word down, it was so absolutely ludicrous…
I went back to check on Denis – the last I saw he was getting overwhelmed by a huge group of young guys and wasn’t sure if they were razzing him, or just wanted to touch him… I left after he and Chris stripped down and armwrestled, thinking they’d peacefully had their contest of wills– a bit like rams butting heads in mating season.
When I came back with Mama Hang, Chris was streaming blood from the bridge of his nose. He and Denis were both chewing betelnut and Denis was tending to the guy’s wounds. We asked him several times, “Who did this to you?” And never got a coherent answer.
I meet a sweet, plump girl whose little sister is studying to be an English teacher, and get her number as a potential wife for Denis, so he doesn’t have to keep doing those expensive visa runs. But he’s not interested.
Then, next thing I know Denis wants to go home with the Village Idiot. “Let’s go,” he said. Why? (Why????) I could have protested more, but I succumbed, telling myself, “Okay, we just got here a few hours ago, and I didn’t even get to dance yet, but let him lead this adventure to wherever it goes. Trust Denis.”
We pass by Auntie Mimi’s on the way; they’ve gone to bed and the Taiwanese people sitting, talking on their couch haven’t seen any other laowai, old foreigners. So we got the taxi ride to Chris’ place. “I’m not payin’ shit for this,” I said, up front. After all, nobody can stand this guy — probably for good reason. And at least at the Pasta’ay we’re among friends, and could get a ride later down the mountain with someone …
In the taxi, we laugh raucously, since Denis doesn’t know if he loves or hates this guy, and we go into hysterics talking about ways we could potentially get rid of him, stopping the taxi to dump him over the bridge and so forth…
It was no doubt a beautiful ride into dense high forests, but it kept goin’, on and on…. Denis did say he’d pay for it though, so I didn’t even think to haggle. So we finally get out of the car. It’s a nook in the mountains and you can hear the stream rushing beside us as we argue with the taxi driver about who’s coughin’ up the chump change – at first it was supposed to be 1000nt – US$35. Exotic birds start to sing.
Chris got us in this situation. Neither of us is paying it, we decided. We’re out of cigarettes, and Denis starts to freak out about that. I roll him a rollie with my aromatic tobacco, also offering one to the cabbie, but not to Chris. Inside his two-story digs, his TV is broke but he turns it on anyway, he lives in a shack in the middle of nowhere, and worst of all — for him and right now for the cabbie — he’s an Idiot…
Finally, because Chris won’t cough up the dough — nor will anyone else — Chris has to go down to the taxi company’s office. They take off in the taxi. Denis and I are literally in the dark, somewhere in the mountains of Hsinchu. We have a couple of options, I told him. 1) The weather is perfect. We could sleep right here, it’s beautiful. Or: 2) hitchhike.
I put out a thumb, he stops the car, and presto, we get a ride with someone driving to Judong for work. Five minutes down the mountain we passed the two– Chris and the cabbie were getting out of the car at the taxi company.
“HELLO HOW ARE YOU…” I call out to them as we roll on by, and they turn to look at us, mouth agape. Denis and I were laughing for about a half-hour about this.