There's always a village cur or two at the sheltered tip of the pier, lounging by the benches or sniffing the contents of plastic bags whose owners have cast hopeful rods over the murky straits. They pose the slightest of risks to visitors who must keep an eye on the ground amid a scene of welcome contrast to the walled city, lest their shoes greet small mounds from hounds that survive on the goodwill of a community at stake. On the lane leading to the town square, a pack of mangy beasts, including one with a limp, dog a lady who leaves parcels of rice and other morsels by the wayside with the force of habit and fondness of a mother who cannot escape her lesser nature.
There was time to wander around before the play of shadows in song. Swinging left from the pier, the road passes half-open shops with bicycles for rent and signs of resignation to the encroaches of mainland values. Leaky shacks tower over the water's edge, their gangways fringed by poles that serve as sleepy hollows for red-eyed starlings. Resident swallows, when not feeding in the coastal breeze, prefer to perch on a broken line of littoral boulders, one of which a visiting boy mistakes for an alligator as it rises from the tide to guard an island of granite.
We headed towards a quarry where igneous stones were mined to build a city of rock and woe. A detour to the temple of the local lord brought us to a knoll of bare altars, where a pale cat slinked away and betrayed our presence to the canine sentries of a house below the shrine. The road ahead, a rise flanked by gingers and fruit trees, is currently impassable to motorised traffic, for the quarry has swelled from a sinkhole for craned necks to an artificial wetland that laps the edge of the track and threatens, should it gain another inch, to spill over and soak the village on its way to the sea. A rookery that thrived in earlier years appears derelict, for the herons' boughs have drowned a second time in a hole with no way out but up.
The whoosh of broad wings drew our eyes from the pool to catch a trio of hornbills on a low sweep down the little-used road. From their avian highway, the birds braked at a small tree by the quarry before leading us on a merry chase to a fig on Butterfly Hill and a clump of bamboos by the main track. One appeared to be recently fledged, having a bill without the tribe's trademark horn. They reappeared on our way back to the village as wraiths in black and white over the basketball court that melted into the upper reaches of a sea almond tree. At least seven swung by with frustrating speed and random trajectories as the twilight drove us from the hill and the air buzzed with large dragonflies on the hunt for the night's first wave of six-legged flyers.
The stage, aglow with loud hues and the source of evergreen hits on the last night of festivities, drew the attention of islanders and itinerant fans who offered incense to domestic gods and celebrated the end of a torrid week with beer and boisterous joviality. While investigating the temple's quieter corners, we found the mutt with a bad leg in a side room, where a young helper revealed his name to be 'Pineapple'. An older volunteer, with the ineffective aid of a small slab of meat, attempted to persuade 黄梨 to raise a paw to palm. But as if weary of cheap party tricks and worn out by a week of nocturnal stimulation, Pineapple paid scant heed to the lame effort and lifted his pads only after much coaxing and with barely disguised eyes at a snooze by the wall. We turned tail as well soon after, but the feasting continued until all the grand fathers and godsires were shipped back to their beds in a chain of boats that plied the gap between a captive creek and a coast of dogged wonderers.