Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Strike while the iron is hot

And when the days are slow. This is the week. It is the fall break before classes begin. This is the last vacation of note I'll have until January or February for Chinese New Year. We're being hit by a rather large storm system, so not only was my trip to Alishan a wash [rimshot!] but also classes and most work places are off tomorrow. There are no sick days by whim here; vacation is a federal affair. Literally. It takes the government issuing a national day-off to get people and most students not to come to work or school.

With only a few days before my schedule is once again in fuller swing, I am devoting this week to shipping all the things that need shipping: my laptop, my old roommate's stowaway goods, a couple books, some remote controls, and, well, we'll see what else I can dig up. I would try to do it all tomorrow, but I'll ride the emergency holiday and, God willing, send it all Thursday. There maaaay even be a spurt of blogging, but don't count your pennies yet.

As for Alishan. Although it wasn't too much more than a really long bus ride, punctuated by frequent rest stops, a smidgeon of hiking, an obligatory night of KTV, random delightful conversations with students (and one very unnerving question from one), the usual awkward silences from across the language barrier, a short BB gun battle, and, of course, hefty helpings of Taiwanese food -- although it was, according to the Offical Rulebook of Vacations and Leisure, a disappointment, I had a great time. It was cold and wet and unpredictable, and I loved it all. I even used the weekend to teach a few folks some smirking English irony: "At least it's not hot."

Life in Taiwan is like living in water. I have almost no idea what really lurks beneath the surface, but I enjoy my small pool all the same. Living here is like walking in knee-deep water. It takes great effort to move quickly, and is much more enjoyable to stride at the pace the water affords you. You can hustle and bustle and huff and puff and make good time and stay on point -- and all the rest -- but it's infintitely more exhausting. It's so much easier just to walk with the waves (never , of course, keeping your mind off sudden rip tides that will rip you off your feet).

If a bus stalls, the Taiwanese don't get too worked up about it. The women just start chatting, the men start speculating on how to fix the bus, and everyone, by all means, starts passing more food around. If the morning hike is cancelled due to rain, as it was this morning, you'll hear no whining or shuffling of anxious feet. People just sit, and sat, or stand, and stood, until they word comes to take the next step. Every room is potentially a living room. A delay is merely a vacation from your vacation, and every bit as enjoyable. In fact, I'm beginning to think delays are intentionlly part of trips here. They are the only sure thing I've seen so far.

The water lets you walk and then the water resists you and then you stop and then it flows and then you go. That's life in Taiwan. Maybe I've been out of the USA too long. Maybe it's the same there. Or maybe not. Either way, I definitely am a lot more flexible, and ever so slightly more peaceable, in the face of delays than before I came here.

At any rate, I was told we were heading to Alishan (Mt. Ali), but in fact we first went to Tong-Pu Mountain, to which I've never been, and then only passed through the actual Alishan area in order to get home in the typhoon. Alishan or no, I always love getting out of the city. The air is fresh, my breathing clears up, and the sights are always well worth the cramped bus rides. It's worth mentioning that buses here are not designed with my slightly-larger-than-typically-Taiwanese body in mind. I sat with my legs wedged at a 45-degree angle to my right almost the entire ride. But who's counting? It's just plain fun to stroll and chatter with Taiwanese friends and strangers out in nature.

Due to the rain, the usual tradition of seeing the sun rise Alishan's peak, was cancelled. No matter. The water changed course and we took new steps. Thankfully, I'd done that on my last trip to Alishan and the extra sleep was nice. Watching the sun rise normally involves waking up at 3 AM, taking a train to the top, and then standing there as in a splendorous oven warming up to have the beauty of Creation baked into your groggy face and mind and camera-clicking fingers.

Now, having said all this, perhaps the only thing I love more than getting out of the city, is coming back. A friend on the bus yesterday asked me if I prefer the mountains or the ocean. "The ocean," I said, and then paused. "The mountains," I corrected myself, and then paused. "I love the city too. ... I guess I just love being anywhere." And then all the under-appreciated might of cliches hit me like a wave, like an earthquake, like a traffic accident -- life is a gift. Thank You, O God, for this life. I am a sinner, life is good, but God is better.

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