While doing research for my master’s degree, I had to spend a lot of time in the mountains (oh darn). Because going to eight study sites at four different elevations, two times a month, took about three full days for each data collection session, I got to experience practically every lodging option that Taroko National Park has from 1000 meters up. This included the abandoned police station (not the hidden one), the youth activity center (where I once slept in a linen closet), the ski hut (no, you cannot ski in Taiwan), and the haunted temple.
There is a Daoist temple nestled in the mountains next to the stream at LuoShao, and it serves as a stopover sight for the infrequent travelers that come to stay there. I eventually worked up the courage to ask the giant of a man that takes care of the temple with his intimidatingly tiny dog if I could stay in the dormitory of the temple when I was doing research.
He accepted, and the price was right, so I would wander in after dark on days I did research, wash myself with a faucet and bucket, translate the latest homework assignment and otherwise carry on the life that is a master’s while working on the side. In the entire time I was doing research, I think there was one scheduling conflict in which I pitched a tent and the muntjac and I freaked each other out, and then there was the time two other people were staying there too. Riveting, I know. Most of the time, I don’t think the caretaker was even there.
On a trip in April, I was working diligently on typing up the 10,000 word essay in Chinese for my seminar, so I was intensely focused on my computer.
I heard footsteps in the back room of the dormitory.
I had always stayed in the front room since the back was essentially an empty square big enough to play badminton in, and there was never any reason I had to be picky about which of the 60 vacant spots were available. I was also fairly certain that the caretaker of the temple was not there.
I ignored the footsteps and continued typing about the various reasons that birds migrate and how that incredible trait likely evolved.
I heard more footsteps.
I figured it must be guests actually coming to visit the temple, so I scooted my things out of the way and continued through the process in which you write one sentence in a foreign language, feel accomplished and as though you deserve a break, then realize you have only written one sentence.
No one came in, and the footsteps really sounded as if they were coming from the back room.
I crept to the back door, and as in any horror movie trope, foolishly opened the door and did it as quickly as possible as if that would catch the monster by surprise.
There was nothing in the back room. I flipped the light on, and confirmed that there was nothing there. There were also no longer footsteps.
Back to the evolution of bird migration including the theory that the tropics expanded and with them the birds before the tropics cruelly left the birds behind, abandoning their nests to the temperate climates.
The footsteps started again.
I went outside to see if anyone was around, heart in my throat. I turned on all the lights that I knew about around the temple grounds, and still there was no trace of anyone. I thought the temple ward might be in the temple doing something, but all of the temple’s garage door shutters were closed, his car was not there, and all of the lights on were those I had turned on. The footsteps had stopped.
I went back inside not a little freaked out.
The footsteps were in the back room again.
Thinking this was possibly an echo, walked the length of the wall that the temple proper and dormitory shared, listening carefully, and then opened the door to the back room and turned the lights on again. I left it open for a little while, but then ridiculed myself as superstitious and closed it.
The footsteps started again.
Needless to say, I had a really hard time getting to sleep that night. I never did find out the source of the footsteps.