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Synapticism

An experiential journal of synchronicity and connection
In the cemetery outside Okunoin 奥の院

Cemeteries

I am fascinated by cemeteries, particularly those found in culturally Chinese places. Fear of ghosts means that most cemeteries are left to the elements, a condition that I am drawn to.

A Short Ride Around Western Taoyuan

A river running through Xinwu
A river running through the Taoyuan countryside somewhere on the outskirts of Xinwu.

Last October, while living in Zhongli, I ventured out into the countryside for a random bicycle ride on Halloween. Like most of my rides I didn’t have a route planned or anything, only a general intention of checking out the obscure Fugang Old Street 富岡老街 about 15 kilometers west of the city. Along the way I followed my intuition (with a little help from Google Maps) and captured photographs of anything interesting and unusual I came across. Featured here are more than two dozens pictures from this ride through parts of Zhōnglì 中壢, Xīnwū 新屋, Yángméi 楊梅, and Pingzhen in western Taoyuan.

South Taiwan Ride 2015: Pingtung City to Fangliao

Tudigong statue on the outskirts of Pingtung City
A Tudigong 土地公 statue on the outskirts of Pingtung City 屏東市.

After spending a day riding around Pingtung City I was ready to hit the road again. With no specific destination in mind—only an intention to head in the direction of Héngchūn 恆春, far to the south—I checked out of the vintage homestay I lodged at the previous night, stopped at Eske Place Coffee House for a delicious and healthy vegetarian breakfast, changed into cycling wear, and exited the city to the east. I knew almost nothing about where I was headed or what I might see on the third day of my south Taiwan ride in 2015. I only had one stop planned in advance: a hospital in Cháozhōu 潮州 rumoured to be abandoned. I didn’t know it at the time but I would spend almost the entire day riding through the historic Hakka belt of Pingtung 屏東.

Ruminating on Cyclical Time

A cemetery in rural Changhua
A rural cemetery just west of Changhua City.

New year’s eve, 2013: I take my bicycle out for a spin in the cool winter air. There is no rain for a change and I make the most of it, cycling from Wénshān District 文山區 to the edge of Xìnyì District 信義區 and the beginning of the graveyard ride through the Taipei Necropolis. Later on I ride out to catch the fireworks at Taipei 101 before calling it an early night. The next day I rise bright and early to take the high-speed train to Kaohsiung 高雄 for a friend’s wedding banquet.

No One Shall Be Alone in the Afterlife

Nobody’s ancestors
Grave markers in Okonuin for those who died without friends or family.

One of the more haunting sights in the cemetery outside Okunoin 奥の院 in Koyasan 高野山 are piles of unmarked gravestones, purportedly belonging to those who died without friends or family. It is strange to think that in death they may find more closeness than they did in life. You may notice several of the markers are wrapped in cloth, knitted caps, and bibs, a custom meant to draw the attention of the bodhisattva Jizo, guardian of children.

Walking Through the Cemetery at Okunoin 奥の院

In the cemetery outside Okunoin 奥の院
A few of the incredibly old gravestones in the cemetery outside Okunoin in Koyasan, Wakayama prefecture, Japan.

Today I had the good fortune to visit Koyasan, home of Okunoin 奥の院, the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi, a legendary Japanese monk, and the largest cemetery in Japan. It was a beautiful walk among the tall cedar trees of this high mountain valley selected for it immense natural beauty and topographic resemblance to a lotus flower. Along the way I captured this scene amidst the ancient tree trunks—stone markers, some covered with thick layers of moss, all looking as if they had been there for the last half of forever.

A Chinese Cemetery in Sabah

The view from the hilltop

These photos were shot while touring an old Chinese cemetery (or Kuburan Cina) outside of Tuaran in the Malaysian state of Sabah. It is a forlorn, neglected place: a hilltop encrusted with elaborate tombs in an elegant state of disrepair. Cemeteries are typically avoided by the local people, a consequence of the widely-held belief that anything to do with death will bring bad luck. Even so, these burial grounds are littered with rubbish and empty glue canisters—an indication that the cemetery entertains at least a few visitors now and then.