Not all who wander are lost

img_2101.jpgIf it’s possible to walk somewhere, I will always choose to do it. Yes, you can cover a lot more ground on a bike or a bus, but you can see a lot more on your own two feet … and in an age of GPS, it’s also one of the only ways to still have a bit of serendipity in your journey.

One morning at T-Life Hostel, I was doing a bit of Googling on behalf of my British partner, who is always keen to experience the local ‘pub’ scene, and found a write-up about a bar that was about a 2-mile walk from the hostel. We decided to wander over during the day to see if it was a place we would be interested in returning to at night, and I thought it’d be fun to try to get there via the small, interconnected lanes that Google Maps show emanating from Guoji Street. After a bit of “chasing the blue dot,” we found a nearly hidden turn-off next to a parking lot, which turned into a dirt lane alongside a field that led to a small gate, beyond which were the paved lanes of a small cemetery.

I love cemeteries.

They dotted the rural landscape where I grew up — full of cragged apple trees and crooked headstones — and I loved meandering through them, looking at the names and birth dates and death dates, while thinking about what those people’s lives might have been like. I’ve done the same in London, where the overgrown tangles of Abney Park are a favorite Sunday walk.

Here in Taichung, I obviously couldn’t read any of the headstones, but the sense of peacefulness was the same (not least because it was free of scooters!)

Little tree-lined, pebble-strewn paths branch out from the main lanes, and gnarled evergreens and trailing vines separate each gravesite. We saw songbirds and grasshoppers, and the air smelled of burning pine and incense.

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Each gravesite is more like a miniature memorial; the headstones are thick slabs of marble with low-walled “courtyards” in front of them. A pair of lion statues guard each “gate,” with a small pot with burned-down sticks of incense centred between them, just like you find in temples.

I was curious about the symbolism of the lion, so I did a bit of research when we returned to the hostel, and now I know that they are apparently part of traditional feng shui. When facing the lions, the one on the left is a female, guarding the spirits of the dwelling, while the lion on the right is a male, and guards the physical structure. I find it quite beautiful that this concept is applied so equally to in death and life.

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It also turns out that Taichung has quite a few cemeteries, ancient tombs, and memorial arches worth visiting either in the city itself or relatively nearby, so I may go explore a few of those too.

If you would like to see the one I describe here, and follow the same little path to it, from T-Life Hostel, walk down XinXing Road and cross over to Guoji Street. Just before you reach Yushi Street, look for a path on your right; it initially looks like a little parking lot, not a road. Then just follow that path through the field as I described above, and you’ll come out in the middle of the cemetery.

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Google Maps says this is a road 🙂

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