DIALOGUES OF THE HALF-DEAD:

HANK HU AND THE OGOS PROJECT

 

Deep under the sewers and metro tubes of Taipei lies the grim realm of Ogos.  Linked to Hades by a network of passages, Ogos, it is now believed, is visited nightly by the shades of the ancient dead: the Greeks and Romans who lived before the advent of Christianity.  And yet the ancient dead are not the only ones to be found there.  No, Ogos is a liminal region: many of the souls that stray there nightly are not dead but merely straying.  They are the souls of sleeping Taipei students--those poor students who every day study themselves into a numb torpor, the victims of a Draconian educational regime.  Under constant pressure of hideous exams, worked every day into a state near death, Taipei's students flop down every night on their beds and succumb to a fitful sleep--the troubled sleep of the unsatisfied, the sleep of youth unfulfilled.  The students' aching souls, once seeing their chance to stray, leave the sleeping bodies behind and flit to that other world below, the gloomy realm of Ogos.  There they wander in a daze, meeting other student souls and engaging in brief exchanges, sometimes in perfect Chinese, but more often in twisted English--the souls, as it were, exorcising deep below the city at night the difficult English vocabulary they've had to memorize in cram schools during the day.

     But is this understanding correct?  What, beyond this exorcism, might be the meaning of their brief exchanges?  Do the students' sleeping words reveal something of Ogos--a place no one may visit while awake?  Or do they perhaps reveal something of the workings of the human soul itself, something of our makeup?

     Enter Hank Hu.  This child prodigy, known by many for his pioneering work in catatonic linguistics, determined early in 2002 to investigate the mutterings of the wandering souls.  And with the help of generous grants from the Taipei city government and Academia Sinica, Hu has finally been able to fulfill his dream: to make actual audio recordings of the dialogues of these ghostly sleepwalkers.

     But how was it possible?  How record verbal exchanges between souls--exchanges that took place in the underground caverns of Ogos?  Here Hu's daring and ingenuity proved crucial.  His plan, which he presented to the city government in February 2003, involved drilling deep under the surface of the earth at fourteen different points around the city.  Where the drills actually succeeded in breaking into Ogos' subterranean passages, ultra-sensitive microphones would be carefully lowered.  Then, with time, the muttering of the sleeping souls would be heard.

     Hu had his critics.  Most said it was foolish to believe that the speaking of souls could be picked up by normal microphones.  Many foresaw a costly and fruitless experiment that would end only in ridicule for the city and any other organization that would fund it.

     Nonetheless the grants came through.  And after more than a year of planning and hard work, Hu attained his first success on the night of August 19th, 2003, when the first snatch of oneiric dialogue was picked up.

     "Will you dissuade him?" said one voice.

     "Yes, I will torment him," replied another.

     This initial success made headlines around the world.  Hank Hu's project was suddenly a matter of international controversy.  The skeptics remained unpersuaded; in fact their attacks only increased.  Ogos itself didn't come forward to speak in Hu's defense.  After that first exchange captured on tape, many nights passed with nothing: the realm of Ogos remained silent.  Hu's critics began to charge that the first recorded exchange was the result of a flaw in the system, or, worse, an obvious case of chicanery.  Then on September 4th more dialogue was picked up, this time various soul exchanges.  Hu was vindicated.  Since then, of course, there have been repeated successes, most notably the strange "Night of the Laurels" and then, very recently, the humorous song or poem now known as "The Epic of Ken the Garbage Man."

     The strangeness and variety of the exchanges recorded in Ogos is perhaps what strikes us most.  What can these recordings tell us about the wandering souls?  About the experience of oneiric wandering itself?  While the experts continue to debate, Hu has his own theories, and both his closeness to the project and his previous work in catatonic linguistics have given these theories a certain weight.

     The question that has repeatedly been put forward--that as to why the wandering souls of Taiwanese students should speak so often in English--was addressed by Hu early on, in a September 22nd interview with Time magazine.

     "I believe the souls are trying to exorcize English," he said.  "They're trying to get rid of it, like a body might reject an organ donated from another body.  English is a foreign language with a very different linguistic structure from Chinese.  It's very difficult for us to learn it, and these souls were shaped early in life by speaking Chinese, or Taiwanese, with their parents.  So the English they have to learn in school is resisted; it is an aggravation to them.  When they wander at night I believe they try to exorcise English by using it in strange ways, by spitting it out of their mouths in twisted and bizarre sentences."

     Another problem that has challenged researchers is the fact that so many of the souls' dialogues are so brief, usually being simply a question followed by an answer.  It was recognized early on that this was not the normal manner waking people communicate.  But still there is no compelling explanation as to why the wandering souls so often speak to each other this way.  Hu himself has no explanation for it.

     Still, these are relatively minor matters, according to Hu.  They are merely linguistic, or psychological.  The most striking aspect of the material recorded so far, he insists, is its strong connection with the myths of ancient Greece and Rome.  In fact there are numerous instances where names or words from Greek myth appear.  One of the most famous bits of discourse yet recorded is an eccentric retelling of part of the Homeric epic The Odyssey.  There is no reason such material should appear.

     "This is a very exciting aspect indeed," Hu said in a recent interview with Taipei Times.  "If these students were all studying Greek mythology during the day it would make sense, but of course they aren't.  Where then does it all come from?"

     Although he can offer no certainties, Hu has a hypothesis he's working on: "I've said many times that I think there's something major happening here, that what we might have is a demonstration of some kind of communication between the wandering souls of the Taipei students and the shades of ancient Greeks and Romans.  This would be extraordinary if we could prove it somehow.  Of course there's always been talk of the link between Ogos and Hades, but most have scoffed it off as mere popular fantasy.  Still, look at what we have here.  How can we explain all the references?  The centaurs, the laurels, the narrative of Odysseus?  And most interesting is the recent case where a soul actually introduces himself as Archilocus.  Where is all this coming from?"

     The world waits for an answer to that question.  To add to the debate and speculation, Hu's long-awaited first book on the wandering Taipei souls is due out next month.  It will be published in Chinese by Cheng Shang Publishing in Taipei and an English translation will be simultaneously published by Harvard University Press in the U.S.  The book is titled The Ogos Project: the First Six Months.  Our readers can be certain a review will be forthcoming here in the pages of Golden Thread.

 

Eric Mader,

Golden Thread,

January 4, 2004

 

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AppleMark

 

Taipei child prodigy Hank Hu in his office at

the Ogos Project Research Center.

 

 

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Recorded English Utterances of the Wandering Souls for the Period August 19th, 2003 to December 31st, 2003; Provided by Hank Hu

 

 

First recording: 10:14 p.m., August 19th, 2003.

 

"Will you dissuade him?"

"Yes, I will torment him."

 

 

From the night of September 4th-5th.

 

"Did you spit that on the floor?"

"I never spit on the floor.  You outrage me."

 

"Will we huddle in this small cave here?"

"Shut up!  Don't you smell the heady perfume?"

 

"Hey, for three dollars! Three dollars only!"

 

"Stop grunting."

"I'm an actor of gruesome roles.  I'm acting you now."

 

"He's a coward."

"He's really a savage."

 

"What is that foul statue there?"

"It's a statue of cruel Eric."

 

"Do you think he's massive and strong?"

"[answer unclear]"

 

 

September 19th-20th.  Called "THE NIGHT OF LAURELS"

 

"Why do you always put laurels on your head?"

"Because laurels herald my luck."

 

"Are you drowsy?"

"No, just clamoring for a piece of laurel."

 

"Where's the kindling?"

"In the laurel on my hideous head. Find it there, friend."

 

"Does laurel gladden your heart?"

"No, I'm not a ewe."

 

"Who's the owner of those rams?"

"That man who put laurels on his head over there."

 

"Why is he outraged?"

"Someone said he will be a laurel thief."

 

"Are you crazy?  You can't milk a billy goat!"

"In the name of laurel, I order you to be a female billy goat!"

 

 

September 22nd-23rd.

 

"He was roaring."

"No, he wasn't.  He was just belching."

 

"Why are you grinning like that?"

"I slackened her zipper."

 

"Are you chuckling at me?"

"No, I just thought. . .  you've gotten a little wider."

 

"Why are those men leering at me?"

"It's because of your clothes.  Look at your zipper."

 

"I gave him diluted lemonade and he was angry."

"I can't believe it.  He never drinks undiluted lemonade."

"Next time I will ask him first."

"Next time you can order him to make it himself."

 

"I watched Finding Nemo.  This is a story about the love of a father.  Actually I thought at first that this movie was a little boring, but finally I discovered that it was updating our discrimination.  A father should seldom show love to his son."

 

"Why are you praying?"

"Because it's not the rock above us that is at risk."

 

 

October 1st-2nd.

 

"She was groping around in the dark."

"No, she was trying to fix the chimney."

 

"Seventy-eight, seventy-nine, eighty. . . ."

 

"Why is he braying?"

"He's hanging from the wall, why do you think?"

 

"What are all these coals here?"

"It's because a girl tried to fix the chimney."

 

"Was he hissing?"

"No, it wasn't him.  It was the man who wears the laurel cap hiding in the pasture."

 

"That girl is out of your range."

"And you think she's in your range, huh?"

 

"Who is that vile laurel boy?"

"He's a vegetarian and his name is Hermes."

 

"Did you hear about the slaughter in that room?"

"Yes, they were doomed the minute the exam was over."

 

 

October 3rd-4th.

 

"We'll subdue that desolate place."

 

"Why is she a pitiless woman?"

"Look at her younger brother, you'll understand what is irresistible anger."

 

 

October 8th-9th.

 

"Mr. Teng is in a trepidation."

"It's because he has just broken the dragon glass."

 

"Does he have vigilance?"

Sure.  He has been trained by his wife for a long, miserable time."

 

"Taiwan is a godforsaken place."

"Only in school it's a godforsaken place.  We have to get out of school."

 

 

October 14th-15th.

 

"I tend my flocks by putting them in someone else's stomach."

 

 

October 29th-30th.

 

"Why are you spearing coins?"

"I'm under tax investigation."

"How many have you speared?"

"Millions and millions."

 

 

November 11th-12th.

 

"Why is he shuddering?"

"He just managed to escape from he pieces of dragon vase."

 

"Who's the corpse over there?"

"It is ex-Mr. Tang."

"Tang?"

"Yes."

"Was it his wife who hesitated at the vase store?"

"Yes."

"Why did she hesitate?"

"She says she had the sixth sense."

 

"The spit was flying through the door into the hall."

 

"Leaving Aeaea they found the wax wasn't enough and there were no bees on the sea.  Three Sirens came into their sight, but they had no idea how to solve the situation.  So finally Odysseus decided to sacrifice himself.  Tying a rope to his foot, he jumped into the sea, the unluckiest of men with no wax in their ears.  But two of his waxless crew joined him.

     "After passing the Sirens they pulled in the rope.  The body of one was all devoured, just a foot was left.  The body of one was dead from reaching the deadline of his oxygen containers, which are called lungs.  Odysseus only had a small bite on his thigh.

     "Then Odysseus suddenly became insane; he ordered them to turn toward the Wandering Rocks.  But as they came close the Rocks really wandered, so he turned south again.

      "They went into the straits to fight the two monsters.  And then Odysseus suddenly pulled out a huge ball of wax which he had hidden.  He threw the wax into Charybdis' throat, so that the seabed had to endure much weight.  Coming to the Scylla, he pulled out six big cats.  Scylla came out of her cave to eat the men, but her puppy heads started to go after the cats.

      "Once the cats were all eaten, Odysseus was upset.  He sat in the stern as they left the strait.  He was mourning the dead cats."

 

 

November 14th-15th.

 

"What is that Mrs. Tang doing recently?"

"She stays home.  Still brooding over her vase."

 

"What are the temptations in our society now?"

"Many think the underworld is better than heaven."

 

 

November 19th-20th.

 

". . .cross the trench in my heart."

 

 

December 3rd-4th.

 

[Note: The following poem was chanted by a large group of souls, and not once only but nearly three times in its entirety.  Near the middle of the third chanting of the poem some of the soul voices began to flag in their chanting and finally only two can be heard on the last recorded stanza, the poem's tenth stanza.  Although we have made many efforts, we can find no source for this poem, which seems not to have been composed by a Taiwanese.  Why the souls should have wanted to chant it, and to chant it repeatedly is still unclear.  We've entitled the poem "The Epic of Ken the Garbage Man."  --Hank Hu.]

 

Ken, Ken, the garbage man

His dad found him in a garbage can

This is the tale of Ken and Fran

Ken, Ken, the garbage man

 

Stan, Stan, old policeman

Found a baby in a garbage can

He yelled to the mom but off she ran

Stan, Stan, old policeman

 

Stan, Stan, old policeman

Took the baby from the garbage can:

"I'll raise him up to be a man,"

Said Stan, Stan, old policeman

 

Ken, Ken, the garbage man

He's the son of the cop named Stan

Stan found Ken in a garbage can

Ken, Ken, the garbage man

 

Ken, Ken, the garbage man

If dumping garbage is your plan

Then just call Ken cuz he's your man

Ken, Ken, the garbage man

 

Ken, Ken, the garbage man

If you've got garbage for the garbage can

Ken can take it if anyone can

Ken, Ken, the garbage man

 

Fran, Fran, born in Iran

Moved to town with her Koran

Ken saw Fran by a garbage can

He fell in love with Fran from Iran

 

Fran, Fran, born in Iran

Ran from Ken the garbage man

Said he smelled like a garbage can

Fran, Fran, born in Iran

 

Ken, Ken, the garbage man

Cried for Fran to his dad Stan

Stan told Ken to make a plan

Ken, Ken, the garbage man

 

Ken, Ken, the garbage man

"Why not study the Koran?

Then I'll learn the faith of Fran,"

Said Ken, Ken, the garbage man

 

Ken, Ken, the garbage man

Now he studies the Koran

All to win the love of Fran

Ken, Ken, the garbage man

 

Fran, Fran, born in Iran

She heard Ken quote the Koran

"If you ask me, Ken's quite a man,"

Said Fran, Fran, born in Iran

 

Fran, Fran, born in Iran

Married Ken and his Koran

They moved in with Ken's dad Stan

Fran, Fran, born in Iran

 

Ken, Ken, the garbage man

Fathered a boy with his wife Fran

Together they chose to name him Dan

Ken, Ken, the garbage man

 

Dan, Dan, Muslim postman

He's the son of Ken and Fran

He knows by heart the whole Koran

Dan, Dan, Muslim postman

 

Dan, Dan, Muslim postman

If mailing letters is your plan

Then just call Dan cuz he's your man

Dan, Dan, Muslim postman

 

Dan, Dan, Muslim postman

If chanting suras is your plan

Dan will help as best he can

Dan who knows the whole Koran

 

This is the tale of Ken and Fran

Of Ken and Fran and Dan and Stan

If you've got nothing for the garbage can

Then use this tale of Ken and Fran

 

 

December 15th-16th.

 

"The undead souls sob.  Loyal guards to Draco Malfoy."

 

"Who are those frail Orcs?"

"They're skin-deep friends of Bugtail.  Did you know it?"

 

"Why have you been in that cavern there?"

"Because I can't stand the din."

 

"They put my bag in the satchel, the leather one."

"They left your bag in the locker and took the satchel.  The satchel was theirs."

"They stole my bag."

"You lost your locker key.  They are not thieves."

 

"The southerly is trouble both on land and sea."

 

 "Who is that grim girl?"

"The pretender to your tender saber."

 

 

December 22nd-23rd.

 

"Why is the surface all red?"

"We're passing through the Taiwan Strait."

 

"Where did you store the cockroach antennae?"

"In the recesses of the moon, as you instructed."

 

 

December 30th-31st.

 

"She is the nectar girl.  Many men wallow in their dreams because of her."

 

"Why are you hacking the Christmas tree to pieces?"

 

"There was chaos in the town."

"Sure there was.  Whirlpools in the ground are not unusual."

 

"My name's Archilocus.  Do you come here often?"

"Get away from me."

 

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