Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

May 18 2004

So I’m back. It was an interesting four days as we…

So I’m back. It was an interesting four days as we shot what will hopefully soon be a video version of a Bunun legend.

Dean and I started out on Thursday from Taipei in a rented Tercel, picking up Katie, a classmate of Dean’s at Chengchi University, on the way. The car was painted a rather limp shade of green and had so little acceleration it seemed to be going backwards most of the time. That was ok, though, as the people we were following kept stopping, turning around, and asking for directions. Why they needed directions to their own village I have no idea. Perhaps the village, to amuse itself, moves around when they’re not looking.

It was late afternoon by the time we arrived, so we spent the rest of the day getting to know our actors and talking about the upcoming shooting before settling down in our rooms, provided generously by the local church. They even threw in several thousand insects that acted, at various junctures, as ear-cleaning devices, wallpaper, and the object of merry chases around the room.

The next day we piled into the back of a little blue truck owed by Aziman, the village head, our lead actor and a solid guy altogether. When I say ‘we’, I mean Dean, Katie, myself, Aziman’s son, a handful of village children, and a white rooster in a basket. The roads were impossibly steep and narrow, gorges traversed by plates of sheet metal laid across PVC pipes, but Aziman had no trouble despite the fact that he had gotten very little sleep the night before, due to the sudden hospitalization of his wife’s father. The children were fearless, often standing up in the back of the truck despite the danger of being thrown out or being hit by a tree branch. One of the children, a little girl of about 4 or 5, soon became entranced by Dean’s “seperated thumb” trick. She kept demanding he do it, and then squealing in delight when he did. Later she impressed us by shouting pro-Chen Shui-bian slogans and to passing villagers, earning shocked rebuffs from the rest of the children in the truck.

We were pretty high when we finally ran out of passable road, so we got out, covered the chicken with palm leaves, and set out for a suitable mountain pass. Just as we got set up for shooting, however, we were beseiged by a group of Taiwanese tourists. There were about 30 of them, and they turned the peaceful setting into chaos worthy of a night market in downtown Taipei. Some were yakking on cell phones, others poking around our stuff, and some staring at Aziman, who was dressed in traditional regalia. One woman took her kid over to take a dump right on the path, after which she threw some paper napkins on the mess. The clueless tour guide was spouting off about Atayal tribal culture, apparently unaware that he was in Bunun country. We sat and waited, muttering in a rather unsubtle fashion about how uncouth and rude the tourists were. Eventually they got the hint and left before the very real possibility of being thrown off the cliff became reality.

We got the shot in the end, but to our dismay when we returned to the truck, we found that the rooster had died from the heat. Though we paid for the chicken, it was still a pretty embarrassing thing.

Our locations were varied and sometimes surprising. We didn’t know what we were doing until we got there. Later that day we filmed in a millet field bordered by strangely bent trees, though we haven’t had a sizable typhoon in a long while. For one scene we needed a traditional drinking cup, and so Aziman stopped by the side of the road, disappeared into the forest for a minute, and then came back with a large hunk of bamboo, which he promptly cut into a traditional drinking vessel.

Saturday was the day of a large wedding, a major event for the village, so we lost all of our actors for several hours. Early that morning we got some shots in what we had thought would be a nice soft grassy field, but instead turned out to be a large patch of sawgrass. Naturally, I had chosen that day to wear shorts, and both my and Aziman’s legs were covered with red welts in short order, his more so as he wasn’t even wearing shoes (his son had conveniently “forgotten” his regalia that day). Apparently it was the former site of the village, a place they had lived for hundreds of years, before they were moved to their present location. I would have liked to do more exploring, but we simply didn’t have the time. Maybe some other time.

Instead of partaking in the festivities later in the day, we went out and got some extra shots of things that didn’t involve the actors, including a waterfall we’d passed the previous day. As we approached it, however, I noticed that there didn’t seem to be any water beneath the falls. Upon closer inspection we found that every single drop of water had been routed into pipes that led to an illegal fishery down in the valley below. The villagers had told us about the illegal fisheries set up on their lands and how they couldn’t do anything about them because they didn’t have the legal means to challenge them, but seeing it firsthand was revealing; the fisheries seemed very solid and above-board in their manner, not furtive at all, as you’d think an illegal operation would be. Apparently they’re confident that nobody will challenge them.


That afternoon we got some more footage of the actors in the millet field, followed by some river-crossing shots. That night, after we wrapped up the shooting part, we sat around in the courtyard in front of Aziman’s house with him and his friends drinking some Mongolian vodka that Katie had brought as a gift.

Poor Katie; she had to endure the slew of Sci-fi-movie related quotes and references Dean and I call conversation. Still, she took it better than most people, I have to say, and even got into the spirit of things.

“Norman Szabo” called me in the evening and said the Above and Below shooting was cancelled for the next day, so we decided to stay another night with the insects, who were ecstatic at the news. Actually, I was getting more and more used to sleeping there each night; unlike the sauna-like conditions of Taipei, the air was fresh and cool, the sky glowed with stars at night, and waking up to the broad view of the mountains and the valley was a breathtaking experience. I’m not sure if daily mosquito spray would be too good for me in the long run, though.

In any case, we had to get back, so we said goodbye and headed out. I was coming down with a cold and my throat hurt pretty badly, but the nice twisty roads, the sunshine and the views made it a pleasant drive.

Now I’m back at my old company filling in for someone. No sign of Whiny Woman, but plenty of unanswered cellphones and pretentious English usage to make me feel right at home, though the Vampires must be at a meeting. Already I miss Nantou.

Here’s a vidlet of the trip.

posted by Poagao at 6:59 am  

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