Tough times in Qingquan
This weekend, a few friends and I made an overnight trip to the mountains of Hsinchu. We all had a fine time up at altitude -- barbecuing under an overhang in the rain, walking the riverside paths at night. But not all of it was fun and games, because we couldn't help observing that the people of Qingquan and vicinity are suffering from some very serious social problems.
It's not news to anyone that Aboriginal communities often have big trouble adapting to their changed worlds. But for me... well, certain truths don't become real in my mind until confirmed by detail. In this case, pathetic detail.
On Sunday morning, my friend and I walked to the store to buy some instant noodles, which are about the only thing you can find to eat in Qingquan. On the way we passed a row of houses -- attached concrete huts, really -- where a bunch of shirtless men asked us if we'd like to share some Taiwan Beer with them. It was 10 AM. They looked as if they'd just rolled out of bed after a long, hard night, and were set for another long, hard day. Just down the pavement, ignored and isolated, was a gentleman whose head had gotten smashed pretty badly in some kind of chaos. He was dripping lots of blood and it was piling up in a puddle at his feet. Perhaps the men at the other end of the pavement had had enough of his wisecracks. They certainly weren't rushing to help him.
Later, somewhere up a mountain road from Qingquan, we parked the car to take a look at the view. A scooter zoomed past us, upward bound, and we noticed that the driver was a boy of roughly eight. His passenger, and presumably his brother, looked more in the range of four. Big brother rode pretty competently, taking turns with a deep professional tilt. Perhaps no one in the brothers' house was awake at that late hour of the morning, and the boys had taken matters into their own hands and driven off to the store for some instant noodles. For a long time after the scooter had gone past us, the little brother stared back in our direction. To this four-year-old, his morning scooter ride was normal as could be. The real freaks were the foreigners staring at mountains.
Later yet, we stopped at a roadside stand and bought a couple of sausages. Then we ambled a small distance away to a sort of platform and ate our snacks off sticks. One of my friends, female as it happens, sat down on the edge of the platform, facing back toward the sausage stand. This provided an opportunity to a little boy -- seven, maybe? -- to pipe up with loud obscene talk. He wanted to know if my female friend had a lot of pubic hair, for instance, or whether instead she shaved it. The boy was surrounded by adults but no one made a move to shush him or at least slap him across the mouth.
Our boy motorcyclists and our foul-mouthed sausage-stand lad -- they seem doomed to become the next generation of men with smashed faces on hungover Sunday mornings.