Back when I was living in Newcastle, Australia, I went with my mum to a open air store that sold terracotta pots. It was little more than a converted car park with a gate around it. The owner sat out back in the office hut, so there was absolutely no person guarding this shop… but there was a Dog. And he was more than just a guard dog, despite being a German Shepherd – you know, the kind of dog you wouldn’t want to mess with – he was also the salesman. He came up to mum and sat with her as she looked at the pots, and guided her around the place. Eventually, when Mum had decided on something, the human owner begrudgingly came out and completed the transaction. But, basically the dog did all the work.
More recently, I was visiting Taipei, Taiwan, and I was taking this rickety old bus to Jiufen, this ye’ old little street filled with restaurants near the side of a mountainous valley, which was the inspiration for the street in Hao Miyazaki’s 2001 Oscar-winning film “Spirited Away”.
The stop for Jiufen is actually a little before the street itself, which despite it’s size, is quite hidden from the main street. So, I ended up going to the end of the line, which was this museum to an old gold mining town. Also of interest there are these Occupation era Japanese houses, and the former Japanese Prince’s residence.
Now, as some of you know, I’ve written a feature script about World War 2, and have almost finished a short film about the same subject matter (click here for more information), so I was really interested when I saw that there was a monument to a former POW Internment Camp. So, I followed the small sign down a very narrow alley, which then turned into these steps which seemed to go deep into the bowels of the earth.
I was going up and down these steps into suburban Taipei, and it wasn’t long before I was feeling lost. I arrived at this little waterfall and pond where there was this Labrador seemingly staring into his reflection in the water, like Narcissus himself. I went up do give him a pat, as he seemed like a nice dog, but once he saw me, he stood to attention, and gave me a look and then wandered off.
I didn’t think anymore of it until a few seconds later he came back and gave me another look. He obviously wanted me to follow him, and as he seemed to be going in the direction of the arrow that promised to lead to the monument, I followed him. And you guessed it, before long, I had arrived at my destination.
Being at the site of the Internment Camp was such an emotional experience for me, it really drove home to me that this was not just a story I was telling, this terrible event had happened to real people. At this site, there was a mine that the POWs had worked on. I learned that after the war, that the Japanese had blown up the mines with the POWs still working inside of them. I also learned that during the war, the local Taiwanese people had tried to help the POWs escape, however none of the attempts were successful. Also telling, the site of the location was just below a shrine to a Taiwanese god of war, and from the Internment Camp you could quite easily see the Prince’s residence.
The thing that struck me the most was the quote on the monument, “Freedom is not free”. Which you could either read as a statement that freedom comes at a price (i.e. we must fight wars in order to be free), or that despite being granted freedom, the former POWs had lasting scars, and were thus still imprisoned in their minds. Like I said, it was an emotional experience.
When I was ready to leave, who should greet me, but the very same dog!
I was really happy to see him. Interestingly, he guided me back a different route than the way we came, and he lead me to a vantage point were I could look out over the whole valley and the ocean beyond.
It was one of the most beautiful sites I had seen in Taiwan. When the dog had decided I had had enough, he started to walk me back to the original spot where I found him, at the pond at the base of the steps.
Was he a spirit of one of the former POWs come back? I’ll let your religious beliefs guide you on that one. But, he truly was one of the best tour guides I had ever had.
I did eventually get back to Jiufen. And walked down that beautiful street, and ate some of the strange food that I had only seen in the Spirited Away film.
It truly was an incredible day. So, to finish off my blog, I present you with a cat… doing absolutely nothing! Just as it should be!
Have you, dear readers, had any experiences like this? Please leave me a comment, or tweet me @hamishdownie
For more of my adventures abroad, please visit Flirting with Travel >>