Urban. Urban is Taipei, with all its department stores and trendy restaurants. Urban is the bars near the Xinyi Shopping District, and paying far too much for a beer. Urban is the hum of the MRT, and the buildings viewed through a freeway overpass.
Rural. Rural is Yunlin, where even the "local" 7-11 is a long walk away. Rural is the day market up in Yu Li, where the locals sip noodles beneath scant shade and sweat. Rural is the clack of the slow train as it passes through yet another town, whose name you won't remember.
Modern. Modern is that one place next to that one MRT station that has more Western things than the West has Western things. You can have some of the things if you've brought your credit card, but if you haven't don't bother.
Ancient. Ancient is walking over bricks in Tainan. Bricks that were placed there before the city where I was born existed. Bricks that bore the weight of horses before they bore the weight of cars. Bricks that have resonated with centuries of fireworks. Bricks that remember times long forgotten.
Crowded. Crowded is the doors of the temple before the first day of the lunar new year. Crowded is all of the bodies straining to get inside, to be the first to plant their incense before the idols. Crowded is also the starting line near the "Big Egg," with all the bodies likewise straining.
Empty. Empty is the industrial parks around Chinese New Year, the places where everybody works but where nobody is from. Empty is the fields east of Chao Jhou, where few bother to grow things, and fewer bother to travel. Empty is the old factories that speak of industries moved elsewhere.
High. High, of course, is up in the mountains. High, if you can get far enough away from a road, is a good place to be. People bring a lot of things to get high. They travel in groups, and they are wary of reptiles. High is not easy to get to, but it's much easier to get from.
Low. Low is the land near Bu Dai, the land submerged during the typhoons. Low is the place so low that many people have gone away, and the houses only emerge when it's dry enough, and high enough, for old bricks to remember better times.
Legal. Legal is the policeman waiting in Da Ren to catch me. He knows, I think, that I drive without a license. Legal is the cameras that lie in wait along the highway, and the men in bright vests waiting to flag me down. Legal is a real worry.
Illegal. Illegal is perhaps too many beers in, and perhaps something I had best not talk about. Illegal is neon lights, and the promise of something secret enough to be greater. Between legal and illegal there is only the slightest step, the slightest shift away from center.
Theirs. Theirs is everything I don't like about Taiwan. It's the attitudes, the provincialisms, and the languages I don't understand. Theirs is ignorance and superstition. Theirs is xenophobia and a jumping off to strange conclusions. Theirs is the herd, and the knowledge that I'll never be that type of animal.
Mine. Mine is everything I like about Taiwan. It's the attitudes, the provincialisms, and languages I do understand. Mine is knowledge and rationality. Mine is welcoming smiles and a shared comprehension. Mine is a friend, and the knowledge that I don't need to be that type of animal.
Letter to B and C from A
Paradise on Vacation 天堂在放假
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Driving from Taitung City and Back Again 從山區開回來台東市