we leave shortly after school. with nothing we can/t fit in the compartment under the scooter/s seat. it/s hot. not unbearable, but still slightly uncomfortable. i apply sunscreen liberally. we head west, toward the ocean.
past golden beach, i can feel it. i can feel the scenery changing around me. i, too, begin to change. or maybe i/ve been changing all along. no matter. we/ve driven past the city limits & i smile, conscious of the fact that i am in a place i have never, ever visited before. the air, no longer choking, feels cooler than the stagnant smog of tainan city. i watch the sun stuck stagnant in the sky.
i see an old bicycle parked next to a wall decorated with children/s drawings. a set of concrete stairs leads to the sea. i pull out my canon and we stop. i like to play photographer in this country. it all seems so much more beautiful from behind the lense. or maybe it/s the distance. the separation. between art & artist. between their world & mine. i feel so different here. so out of place. -at least here it makes sense, he says. here, we/re not supposed to fit in.
two men are examining a fishing net. one dons snorkeling gear. they are perched on the edge of stone structures designed to prevent typhoons from breaking off portions of the island. giants/ playthings. like a game of jacks that was abandoned at suppertime & has since been forgotten. i scramble down to the water, still wearing my helmet. the sun is getting tired & preparing to set. i don/t have time to miss this.
we/ve reached the end of the road. the eternal question: which way to turn. we choose left & find a fish market. i walk the harbor, capturing lives of aging seamen in 5x7 glossy colour. my eye theory stands. even in this place, devoid of the greens & blues i drown in back home, these eyes smolder.
we head back & follow the road right. we find a small beach. the sun is hesitating above the horizon. i watch my feet as they mark the sand. i can see the grains between my toes, but i struggle to feel. it/s all too perfect. i might be dreaming.
i walk barefoot across gravel & glass to the end of the pier. old men watch, chattering, fishing line in hand. i sit at the edge of the ocean as the horizon pulls night closer. to meet with the edge of the sea. i search for the dipper. it/s too early. circles. i feel connected.
we wander. we take side streets back & end up at the feet of a temple. magnificent. regal. beautiful in the way zion is beautiful. in the way that, -it doesn/t take your breath away so much as restore it. on our way back towards the city we see a group of people beginning to congregate in a dirt plot next to an arm of the winding canals. we stop, curious. men & women dressed all in white. they are positioning themselves in a large ring. they hold white rope or twine. circles. i feel connected.
a pile of stones & sticks & flowers (dried) & paper lanterns (red) & prayers (calligraphied) fills the center. about the size of a small bedroom. four men carry an altar on their shoulders. incense burns. they stumble, intoxicated with the word of their god. he is guiding them, directing them. they move through him & he through them. they chew beetlenut & drink sasparilla soda. a monk chants. drums. bells. music. fire. i close my eyes & watch the light from the flames dance pink & white through my eyelids. the music feels foreign, even for this place. i picture a man in arabia, sitting on a satin pillow in the heat of the day, charming snakes with his song.
eyes open & it/s no more familiar a scene. it reminds me of ceremonies in africa i/ve only ever seen on film. tall, lanky men drunk off rice wine, stumbling through cleared fields. piles of dried grasses waiting to be burned. the language seems just as strange. i don/t recognize a single word. it must be taiwanese. it/s all the same, really. taiwanese, cantonese, mandarin, hakka. eastern languages in general. chinese has always seemed somewhat strange & discomforting to me. as if a language from the desert. violent tongues.
we watch as they burn an intricate temple made of wood, almost half the size of the fire itself. as the flames envelop the details of the roof, flowers (dried) & prayers (calligraphied) are thrown on top. thousands upon thousands upon thousands. some spill over & hover in the bursts of heat. so close to the dusty ground, fluttering, they look like burning butterflies.
as suddenly as it started, it stops. they drop their twine, they gather their chairs & they file onto the steet. the fire, now alone, still burns fiercely. we quickly rush towards the flames, greedy to find something, anything, that might help us to understand. we find shreds of black prayers written carefully on rolls of yellowing paper. we observe. we document. we listen. we, too, flee.
the night air feels right against my skin. i let my feet slip down to hover close above the ground moving so quickly beneath us. arms outstretched, i breathe. the ocean to my left. west. it feels like home. i watch inland rice patties fly past. i, too, am flying. i see the moon. i close my eyes. circles. i feel connected.
a few words about miss chelsea elizabeth...
oregon-born, seattle-raised, bellingham-bred and franco-refined, she had moved back to the states from her affairs across the atlantic & now resides in columbia city with french husband & love of her life rémy. they spend most of their time taming the garden, taking care of their three chickens & two cats, and preparing the urban homestead for a new little chick of their own.
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