Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Apr 18 2007

Rumors of fireflies

As I sat in the office yesterday I came across a report of fireflies massing in the forests of Bitan. As my usual Tuesday-night activities have been canceled, after work I went directly home, picked up my camera, and headed to the river-crossing to Wantan, hoping that the ferry was still running. Most of the riverside restaurants were closed, giving the area a spooky, haunted feeling. Most people were inside, no doubt in part because the air was filled with dust from a storm sweeping the island. It left a gritty taste in my mouth.

I saw the ferry moored on the other side of the river, but as I approached the makeshift dock a woman’s voice called across the water, asking me whether or not I wanted to take the boat. I waved, and a tiny figure climbed into the boat and began paddling slowly over. A few fishermen braved the dust, sitting on the bank next to tied-up poles, watched by children and cats.

The Southeast Asian girl punting the ferry spoke with an accent, though she spoke both Mandarin and Minnan pretty well. She said she’d been here for five years and wondered why anyone would want to take pictures of fireflies.

As I walked into the wooded areas of Wantan, I was encouraged to see a few fireflies flickering about by the road, but as I progressed, they grew fewer and fewer. The spot Sandman had pointed out to me last year was devoid of the insects. I walked on, hoping to come across some small hillock or glen covered in their light, but I saw none.

The normally lonely, empty temple on the side of the hill was swathed in canvas and lit from within, as if it were full of revelers eating sumptuous meals. It reminded me of Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, where an abandoned country town comes to life at night with various ghosts and spirits.

My presence in the small village further down the road alerted the local Barking Unit, and people left their soap operas, coming to their windows to see what all the fuss was about. I was reassured that the dogs did not actually bite, but they followed me suspiciously anyway, until I was out of their territory on the other side. Occasionally I would come across a frog waiting on the road. I tried to move the first one off, but he wasn’t having of it, so I ignored the rest.

Still no sign of fireflies. I took some solace in the fact that, even if I did come across a field full of lightning bugs, I couldn’t really photograph them properly without a tripod.

As I walked, the dogs of each little house would wake up, bark, and follow me for a bit. This got pretty old pretty fast, and I imagined that all of the fireflies were probably at a meeting somewhere, or at a bar drinking Japanese energy drinks. The dust was making my throat sore, and the last ferry was at 9pm, so I turned back, passing all of the indignant dogs again, and back to the ferry. I took some pictures of Bitan from the riverbank, as well as around the area of the Dimu Temple, where a few latecomers were praying and meditating among the candles, before going to the makeshift restaurant to seek the ferry operators.

The Southeast Asian girl was summoned to take me back across the river, along with an elderly couple. I tried to take some pictures from the boat, but it was moving too much for a clear shot. The elderly couple chatted with the girl in Minnan, praising her language skills, which is basically code for “We picked up on your accent.”

On the other side, I walked down the deep, dark canyon of Xindian Street, noting the addition of a couple of elegant new apartment buildings along the way, as well as a new sushi bar I’ll have to try out sometime. At the end I bought rotis for dinner and made my way home across the bridge, which still held the scent of hot wood after a day in the dust-weakened sun.

Later that night it stormed. Summer’s here.

posted by Poagao at 6:20 am  


  1. No need to take the ferry. Just walk up the hill past the temple. As soon as you get past the last streetlight you’ll begin to see them. It needs to be a warm night though. They don’t seem to like the cold (like last night).

    Comment by Sandy — April 19, 2007 @ 4:06 am

  2. I love the picture shot from wantan. Watching that lively city by remote eyes.

    Comment by Ray — April 21, 2007 @ 12:26 am

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