Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Village Of The Cats

After eight blissful hours of sleep, we arose this morning and took a train from Taipei Central out to Pingxi. Or Pingsi. There is some ambiguity here, partly because of the difficulty of transcribing Chinese in a Latin script, and partly because somebody has been round the town applying little 'S' stickers over the X in Pingxi. Or little 'X' stickers over the S in Pingsi.

The main industries of Pingx/si are looking picturesque and organised pyromania. Tourists visit, photograph some of the ancient buildings, then set light to a lantern that then floats up into the sky in an auspicious manner. This looks very pretty, but I kept thinking of the Japanese scheme from the Second World War to rain incendiaries on the West Coast of America by attaching bombs to lanterns and sending them floating over the Pacific. But then we haven't heard about fiery death raining from the skies around Taipei, so I guess it's ok.
The P-town is quite pretty, but there's not much to do once you've set fire to a lantern and eaten an ice cream, so we took the train back up the line a few stops to Hougang. We were last in this part of Taiwan about four years ago, when we went for a walk and got lost in the mountains, but we'd never heard of Hougang until recently. Hougang has a 'cat village' which excited my wife. I was excited too, until it turned out the cats had no municipal authority or even a parish council of their own.

Hougang used to be the site of a coalmine, and there's still bits of the mine left, although there are some mysterious gaps in the history. None of the signs explain if the ruined building in the middle of town collapsed, caught fire, exploded, or was demolished by a bunch of cats in a comandeered bulldozer.

I reckon it was the last of those choices. There are enough cats for them to have terrified the locals into silence, and then removed all the evidence. Except for the massive ruined coal-sorting plant.

The village is obsessed with cats. There are little cathouses (feline kennels, not brothels) all over the place, the bridge they're constructing across the railway line is shaped like an enormous cat, and every other shop is selling cat-shaped cakes, postcards, and catfood. Everyone comes to Hougang to feed the cats, and I suppose it's a pretty good reinvention of the place, shifting from heavy industry to commercialised cuteness.
We wonder how they made the leap. My wife thinks it could have been a coincidence, or a concerted attempt to recreate Hougang as a place to see cats. I think it was the cats asserting their authority over humanity, using heavy earthmoving equipment. Whichever, it's awe inspiring to see their total dominance. Even the dogs in the town are docile and obey their feline overlords.

This must get a bit dull for some of the cats. It's a small settlement after all. One cat had clearly been sent mental by the isolation, and believed it was a duck. When we tried to stroke it, the duck-cat would quack furiously, then purr for a bit, then quack again. Living in a cat village is clearly not as easy as you might imagine.

Eventually, we fled to Taipei, away from the Village Of The Cats. I wonder how long it will be before the army of intransigent moggies follows us.


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