Walking away from it all in Taiwan

Doc - Sep 24, 2015, 5-51 PM

Taiwan is an island and its wildness is always only moments away.  When the stimulus of the city becomes too much, you simply walk away and literally step back in time.  One hundred years ago all of Taipei was covered with rice fields, a quiet simple life, island style.  Its difficult to imagine that life, standing on the steps of the World Trade Center, dwarfed by the landscape.  The building effectively block out the sky as they rise from the earth.  In the distance, the mountains beckon.

Doc - Sep 24, 2015, 5-55 PM

A busy urban street leads to a quiet country road and terminates at the base of a mountain.  There are 1200 concrete steps, chiseled into this mountain-straight up, no switchbacks.  I begin my ascent.  People of every age pass me on the way.  Their faces are relaxed. The pace is slow.  Some twirl hoola hoops, others stretch their tired muscles.  We are all quiet as we concentrate on the effort.  Temples dot the landscape.  Graves are carved into the mountain.  Incense burns, the air is saturated with the lushness that surrounds us.  From this vantage point, I look down and observe the older women with the lampshade hats tending the rice fields and terrace gardens.  A river gently flows in between.  I need to see this up close.

I chart my course and walk to this place.  I get closer, and crawl down to be eye level with the river.  Trembling, he approaches.  His voice quakes and in halting English he states, “You take pictures.”  Nervous, I haltingly respond, “yes its all so beautiful.”  I search his eyes; passion looks back.  For what I wonder?  He gestures with his hands and encourages me to look closely at each individual plant and its individual struggle to survive.  I kneel down and gently touch a small fern.  I see its tenacity to survive.  It grows between the rocks that surround the river bed, framed by its ancestors, their trunks as large as trees.  I look at the bigger picture.  Every shade of green is represented.  Reflections create a mirror image.  The beauty is doubled.

Doc - Sep 24, 2015, 5-53 PM

He continues,, “Many years ago, the people here used concrete to stop erosion.  It did, but it also destroyed the plants that the river needed for survival.  The plants died, the river began to die too.  Its better now, the concrete was replaced by this natural rock, the plants came back, the river began to breathe again. I’m a Botanist.  I have an interest in the plants.  I come here to watch.”  He draws me in further–connects as he discovers my profession as a Respiratory Therapist.  Immediately, I understand the enormity of his task.  He says, “you watch the babies get sick, you help them breathe, they get better.  It is the same with the plants.  Our struggle is the same, the end result is the same, we both offer hope for the planet.”

Movement here is subtle.  A gentle breeze waves a palm tree.  Closer to the ground, its force is softer, a small plant stirs.  The river flows, bubbling over rocks, etching the landscape, creating a well-worn route.  The river, the plants and the rocks all rely on each other for balance.  The simple truth is we are all on a path to achieve the same harmony.  At this moment, everything is as clear as the river

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Welcome to Taiwan

Doc - Sep 24, 2015, 6-00 PM

Eating noodles with chopsticks on the plane and doing a poor job, secretly wishing for a fork, but I want to experience everything.  I can see the leaf-shaped island of Taiwan.  I smile-my first solo trek.

The driver I hired is waiting.  He bows slightly and welcomes me to Taiwan.  His driving is erratic as he keeps up with the frenetic pace on the freeway.  Vehicles complete bumper to bumper for road space.  Further ahead, twisted wreckage blocks the road.  Traffic grinds to a standstill.  Emergency vehicles screech to a halt.  Momentarily, everyone pauses to gawk.  Just beyond, Police usher everyone back into the invincible rush of traffic and the competition continues.

The road narrows and the traffic intensifies.  There are no discernable lanes.  Everyone squeezes in, but there isn’t enough room.  Vehicles spill onto the sidewalk.  Pedestrians are squeezed out and forced to dart in and out of the chaos.

scooter two

Its late, but the city is awash with a neon glow.  Artistic, intricate Chinese letters adorn every store.  I am faced with a riot of color, each competes for my attention, but I can’t absorb it all.  My visual senses are saturated.  I close my eyes.  The radio croons out a song.  Inflections rise and fall.  I listen to the sound of language, the beauty of the human voice without the knowledge of words to blur the moment.

In the sanctuary of the vehicle, other sounds are muffled but ever-present, horns, firecrackers, barking and talking.  Like a mechanical toy that won’t stop, this city is never still or quiet.

I arrive at my friend, Glenda’s home. The door is unlocked.  Inside the apartment its quiet.  Simple lines of tile floors, wood ceilings with little variation in color offer peace.  Slippers lined up by the door, beg to be worn.  A couch is nestled in a corner, a blanket casually draped on its arm.  A reading lamp leans over casting a warm glow.  There is little distraction.  Clear thoughts are possible, as time slows in this place.

Glass patio doors block sound, but I’m lured by an inviting tile deck.  A brick enclosure surrounds the deck and provides a dual purpose.  It offers a peaceful transition from one home to another and a growing space for plants that are fussed over at home, but flourish here without the work.  The city pulsates just beyond these walls.

A neighbor perfumes the night with incense.  She notices me.  Her round, lightly tanned face defies age.  Like a well-worn path, her almond-shaped eyes crease into a ready smile.  She enthusiastically waves hello.  I cautiously wave back