Singing to the sea

A short bicycle ride from Taitung city centre, I found myself the only person on the grey sandy beach, between crashing waves and screaming cicadas. It was midday and over 30 degrees. Swimming or sunbathing are obviously not a popular activity here.

On the coast path, an old woman in a pink hat and pink tracksuit wandered along alone. Further along, young people on bicycles were posing for photos in a twenty foot high picture frame, part of an outdoor art collection. Dozens of tourists were cycling in the midday sun – with sun umbrellas and electric assistance it should be added.

Apart from the pink tracksuit lady, the only other locals I had seen along the seashore was a man inside a dark temple fast asleep despite a fan blowing directly into his face, and a father, son and dog having a bath together in the communal pool.

Then  I heard a man’s voice singing a familiar tune. I recognised the words; they were Japanese. The sun-dried man, one hand in pocket and one hand on the microphone was standing facing a screen in a red building at the seashore. The building, owned by the fishing cooperative it seemed, was open at three sides giving  free air conditioning and free to look at.

Despite the slovenly appearance, the man sung with intensity;, his heart was in the words even if his body wasn’t. He was singing a moody ballad set in Japan’s mid-twentieth Showa period. Originally sung by a woman I believe, the song has some interesting lyrics including “Next time, I want to come back as a man”. The only other people there, four women sitting in a row at the back gave him a generous round of applause.

Later in the day, I cycled back to hear more. The lyrics if not the songs were all Taiwanese this time. The outdoor white plastic tables and chairs were all full of locals and the parking area full of scooters.


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