it was meant to be my adventure.
it isn/t usually. most often i find pleasure in sharing adventures with others. i like to watch their faces as they overcome physical obstacles. boulders. water in the creek that/s much too deep. the end of the trail.
but not this time. this time i needed to be alone.
i wish someone had told me exactly what it meant. typhoon. i wish someone had explained to me that typhoon = danger. because all it had meant thus far was an increase in rain & a (welcome) decrease in temperature. no one told me this one would be big. no one told me the north half of the philippines would be shut down as a result. that people would die. many people. that rivers would flood, dangerously so. that buildings would be ripped from their foundations & roads left tattered. i wish someone had told me exactly what it meant.
we left on tuesday. early. heading north on the 17. to taipei. we figured it was about 350 kilometers. maybe 400. it was warm when we left. overcast, with sun every now & then. but no rain. not yet. it came quickly. in torrents. cold, unwelcome. we put on our new raingear & gritted our teeth. it was bearable.
a few stops, a few more hours & a few hundred kilometers later we found ourselves in the outskirts of taipei. the city is vast. it sprawls on, spiraling out towards the ocean with seemingly calculated randomness. waves of skyscrapers, concrete arms reaching towards an endless blue. ugly beautiful.
we called snail. & howard. snail is an old teaching assistant. my first. and second. and the best. howard is an old student. one of the first. & one of the best. incredibly intelligent. wise beyond his years. we had had some of the most intellectual conversations of my entire trip. only eighteen. & yet i/m only twenty-two, he so pointedly pointed out. since danshui he had finally received his green card. he was leaving the country, moving to the states on thursday. i needed to say goodbye. to say thank you.
he was in danshui. he lived in beitou. we were south. far south. farther south than we knew. it didn/t work out. he had to taxi home. a long ride. i apologized, but it didn/t feel enough. i let him down. it was late. the mrt was closed. he was alone. past curfew. & here i was, his english teacher, keeping him awake in a dangerous city. i told him i would pay for his cab.
we found a park, a small park, a patch of green under the mrt tracks. a playground. a few benches. a nicer neighborhood. we set up camp. i in my sleeping bag & he in his sweatshirt. he wanted to share. again, i said no. he wanted someone to hold. again, i said no. i slept well.
the train always runs early. especially in a big city. in those early morning hours i dreamt of childhood & train tracks in spokane. the scent of my grandfather/s plaid flannel shirts, tobacco & vanilla & earth all mixed in with the rust & dirt of the tracks on a hot summer day. & the way the skin on my grandmother/s hands always looked so fragile, translucent almost, like tissue paper or the folds of a fresh sheet. i felt her comb gently through my hair, spun gold she used to say, on that ridiculous couch in their living room. & his hand firmly grasping mine as i walked along the rails, a balancing act just for him.
i awoke to sunlight & staring eyes. elderly men & women up for their early morning walk in the park. congregating around the two young whites asleep in a messy pile of clothes & backpacks & sleeping bags on the ground next to the slide. i found a patch of sunlight & grounded myself. yoga. with each breath i felt myself growing lighter. i was on the other end of the island. away from all the stress & drama of a chaotic work environment. the sun was out & i was free.
he befriended a young woman in the park. no surprise, all things considered. from the philippines. in taiwan as a nanny. at the park with the children before school. she asked if i was his wife. he laughed. just friends. she asked us (him) to breakfast. with the children. we accepted. we ate. we played with the kids. & we left, weary of outstaying our welcome.
we headed north, to yangmingshan national park. wound our way to the top & found hot springs. i spent the early afternoon naked with twenty-something women over fifty. at least. they chattered away in taiwanese. only one spoke any english & it was only a few words if that. they asked if i was married. if i had a boyfriend. if i was interested in taiwanese men. if this was my first experience with hot springs. when i left they asked if i knew how beautiful i was & told me i must come back. i smiled & left, weary of outstaying my welcome.
we found a trail & headed up. steps. hundreds. hundreds & hundreds of steps. at the top was a pagoda & the most magnificent view of taipei imaginable. beautiful. yet eery. it seemed so vast & yet so fragile from so high up. so far away. abandoned. void of all life. or at least human life, i suppose. i pondered the future of this great city. it/s face in a few hundred years. whether it will be worn. recognizable. or if everything will change.
we headed down the mountain & slowly wound our way back down into the city.
we were to meet with howard, calvin & snail at 3:30 in the afternoon at taipei main station. a movie & a meal later & it was time to part. too soon. much too soon. goodbyes always are.
we headed back to the mountains. hiked back up a thousand stairs & slept above the city but below the stars. i in my sleeping bag & he in his sweatshirt. he didn/t ask & i didn/t offer, though i knew he wanted to share. the wind howled through the wooden slats & up the spiral stairs. i slept well. dreamt of flying through the constellations, drawing lines between stars, bursts of light from blue circles & red squares, all the really important things that they never teach you about. the ones you have to find out on your own. lost myself in the arms of the milky way & my beautiful sisters. the warmth & grace of my mother. i woke, once again, to sunlight. i stretched. drank grapefruit juice & ate granola. i was ready.
we hiked up to the highest peak in the park. 七星山. xicingshan. seven star mountain. an extinct volcano. the highest volcano in taiwan, actually. 1120 meters. not the tallest mountain however. at 3952 yushan in alishan national park down south is the tallest actual peak. nonetheless, seven star is high up there. the view was indescribable. a 360 degree view of the park. of the whole northern part of the island, really. the ocean way out west. the taiwan strait. the east china sea to the north. the great pacific to the east. mountains, valleys, cities. the kind of view that, more than takes your breath away, restores it. brings you a certain peace. it was exactly what i needed.
our descent was quick. we wound our way out on a fresh road. east. towards the pacific. that great expanse of blue. diamonds strewn across a sea-blue blanket. aqua. deep. boundless. we drove until we found the ocean & we stopped. the sand burned my soles, but it hardly mattered. i was at the edge of the ocean. i could lose myself forever in a blue so deep.
at this point, however, i could hardly enjoy the beauty. i was so frustrated. this was my trip. this was my adventure. this was supposed to be my escape. i had already told simon no. i needed to be completely free. i was tired of being held back. of waiting for him to catch up. of guiding him. of playing babysitter & interpreter & driver & guide. i wanted to stop when i wanted to & go where i wanted to & not have to explain or answer to anyone. i needed desperately to breathe the ocean air on my own. but i had let him follow & i couldn/t very well abandon.
he knew. he could see the joy drain from my face every time he asked to stop. asked directions. asked where we were going. asked what time we would get where. asked what the plan was. asked what i wanted. so finally he asked if he was a burden. if i regretted his presence. as usual, i was brutally honest. he said he understood. he knew this trip was mine. knew he was intruding. knew i needed space. told me to take it when i needed it. if i needed a few hours of alone time, i just needed to ask. i explained my dilemma. that i felt responsible for him. that i felt he was incapable of handling this country on his own. of making his way back. across the country alone on a scooter. he can hardly make his way back to the office from the coffee shop down the street, let alone across a few mountain ranges & a lot of messy highway. in a language he hasn/t begun to understand. & yet, i was unhappy. & us staying together might mean the end of a friendship. if i needed a few hours, he repeated, he understood.
-i don/t just need a few hours, chandler. if we split, we split for good.
i couldn/t tell if his offer was genuine. if he wanted to part or if he was just offering. but at this point it honestly didn/t matter. i was next to the ocean, out of the oppressive smog of the city trying to breathe in the salty air & yet i felt suffocated still. there was no question. we parted quickly & formally. not much of a goodbye. i felt bad but i craved the freedom of being on my own. i needed to look in my rear view mirrors & see nothing but the open road layed out for miles behind me.
i headed south without looking back...
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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