When I went back to my parents’ house last month, I was able to retrieve some old pictures I had accumulated over the years. Some new-old images will crop up on occasion, mainly to help jar loose some memories and possibly some stories.
Here’s one I was quite grateful to have in the archives — an old shot of my grandpa’s dog, Ah Bai.
I’m severely disappointed in myself that I didn’t get more pictures of her, let alone pictures of Ah Bai and my grandparents together. But at least I had managed to get several shots of her head after all. In the above, I was struck by how distinctively “primitive” she really did appear, as if I had any question that the Formosan or Taiwan Native Dog belongs in the pariah dog grouping. Ah Bai was a little too squat and and had far too much white to be considered a “true” Formosan, but she was a tugou through and through, and my grandpa’s loving companion until her death.
Around this time of year, my thoughts often drift Taiwan-wards, even moreso than usual, because it was about mid-August when I first returned, and then early September of that same summer when my grandmother passed away. I had been too busy trying to get myself established in the city that I hadn’t yet had a chance to trek down to the country to see her one last time — and then one phone call later, she was gone.
In those somber days leading up to her funeral, we folded a lot of paper money and lotus flowers, and I had a chance to hang out with my paternal cousins and aunts and uncles for the first time in years.
Ah Bai lingered close and watched, processing the hubbub and the changes in her own sensitive, noble way. She was already appropriately robed in white and her own “burlap” hood, as the rest of us would be, for white is the color of death, and the various burlap garments (piled next to Ah Bai) signify our relationship to the deceased in Buddhist funerary rites.
Few of my shots were framed with the intention of capturing Ah Bai, but she was constantly there, and was surely a comforting presence after we all left. As one of my cousins said, it was the only way we could bear to leave grandpa alone after the ceremony was over and we all had to resume our respective workdays. It eased our conscience to know that even though grandma was gone, his home was not empty. Grandpa’s dog would share his private grief, and they would continue to have each other in the healing days to come.