Shoaf Kepl Poets – Tainan City, Taiwan - Atlas Obscura

Shoaf Kepl Poets

By a roadside in southern Taiwan, a plaque describes a three-dimensional glossary of a language where words are numbers and numbers are words. 


Created by Geographer-at-Large Eames Demetrios, Kcymaerxthaere is a “parallel universe that intersects with much of our linear Earth, but with different stories, creatures, peoples, even laws of physics and qualities of existence.”  It has been likened to a novel with every page in a different place. What makes the Kcymaerxthaere project particularly interesting is that Demetrios installs informative markers and historical sites at the locations in our world that connect to his world, creating real world intersections with his imagined universe. For the months of August and September, 2014, Demetrios acted as our first ever Geographer-in-Residence and his Kcymaerxthaere locations continue to be featured all over the Atlas. To learn more see our introductory article here

The site here in Baihe, Taiwan is really the story of a language of a kind called a 158.  This is a language where words are numbers and numbers are words.  When most people first hear about these cultures, they assume that we are talking about the symbols of the numbers. And while those do have meaning (and indeed they had their own writing system more typically used for their numbers), the remarkable thing was that the meaning was in the number itself. So, for example. 60 of anything meant the idea “fish.” That could be 60 cars, 60 stones, 60 clouds. 26 of anything meant “the feeling of being about to solve a puzzle or problem.” So, to choose another word, if they saw someone drop 26 carrots on the ground, it meant the same as us seeing the phrase “the feeling of being about to solve a problem” written on the ground.

They developed an almost preternatural ability to count and as result, patterns and phrases and ideas were everywhere. A beach with multicolored stones was like reading a novel where the actual words were changing not just meaning but identity constantly.  

As another example: Even though to us a number like 6561 sounds both large and specific (it means “birds” in a 158), in their world, that could easily be the number of leaves in a view during a walk in the forest.  But more interestingly, because 6561 is 3 to the 8th (or 3x3x3x3x3x3x3x3), it means that if you wrote 6561 as 27 x 3 x 81 (which equals 6561) it comes across this way: 27 (predator) 3 (no, or a negative) 81 (trees, forest) – in other words, it is seed or fruit eating bird that lives in the trees.  But if you wrote 6561 as  27 x 81 x 3, the 3 (“no”) would follow “forest” and it would mean a bird of prey that lived in the forest (like certain owls).  [NB: With the use of fractions, one can get down to the species level but it is still a little tricky for an introductory overview like this and depends on the dialect.]

On one of the stones is carved a mystery solvable only be reading the glossary slabs between the two big stones. But you will learn about a pattern scientist neared Terrat Slemt Surphell–so well worth it. 

Right now the site is largely complete, but a couple of slabs need to be cleaned up, and we have not yet put down the gravel between the slabs so it may be a bit over grown. But tweet us some pix and practice your 158.

Know Before You Go

About 5 minutes outside the town proper, you come upon the site and pull over.

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