TAIWAN: “Where ‘Going to the Nightclub’ means visiting the Graveyard”

By Gregory k. Taylor

As you’ll find on most islands of the world–land is a finite commodity. Allocation and land development are considerations that government officials can ill-afford to squander. Overriding land use is usually reserved for housing, farming, and industry. There is, however, an inevitable allotment of set-aside land for burying the dead.

Most western societies, particularly America, still prefer to bury their dead in coffins and inter them the proverbial six-feet deep. If the body is cremated the pulverized remains are placed into urns, boxes, or coffins and either inserted into a crypt, tomb, or mausoleum or disposed of in a manner the family members so choose. Eastern societies, such as, Taiwan do use coffin burials, however, most use cremation as the interment of choice often with sarcophagi, false or otherwise, miniature or majestic, dotting the grave-site landscape. The method of burial is often commensurate with the size and heft of one’s wallet. The only limitation is the imagination and skill of the contracted artisan. What is conceived is often achieved for this crowning send off.

 From a distance perched high on a hill these look like houses

Superstition prohibits the Taiwanese from using words like Graveyard and Cemetery, so they employ the euphemism of “Night Club” when referring to such places. Family members on their way to the cemetery to visit a deceased relative can be heard to say, “we are going to the Nightclub.” Whimsical as this might sound, it falls into the same category of not giving a person a clock as a gift, which symbolizes death,

Family members on their way to the cemetery to visit a deceased relative can be heard to say, “we are going to the Nightclub.” Whimsical as this might sound, it falls into the same category of not giving a person a clock as a gift

, which symbolizes death, as in, time running out; or listing the number four on elevators because the pronunciation of the number “4” in Mandarin is identical to the pronunciation of the word for death. These are considered to be situations of bad luck much like the listing of the 13th floor on an elevator in America would be.

Ancestral worshiping while diminishing in irreverent China places like Taiwan still have a strong tradition. Wholly-owned teachings of Confucius as it relates to filial piety presumes even in death the hierarchical family relationship is inviolate. The living family members will continue to provide for the deceased family member. It is not uncommon to see food set aside at a table on certain occasions for the deceased family member. Traditional burning of money (apparently, this sacrifice goes only so far–reality dictates that fake money not real money be burned), clothing, and other offerings of valuables is a method of passing on to the deceased ancestor(s) the means for continued happiness and prosperity in the afterlife.

Beach Front Property

Author’s Note: While traveling on a highway south of Taipei city, I observed what I believed to be homes dotting the hillsides. I thought this unusual because the homes appeared to be like the homes one would see in the hills of America—that is, single-dwellings with surrounding front and back yards. This was a sight I had not seen, heretofore, in all of Taiwan. I asked my companion if this was the secluded hill area where the well-to-do Taiwanese live. I was told that those weren’t homes—they were graves.

 

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