Taiwan, last update

I should still be able to post the occasional ground-breaking, world-altering tidbit when I’m back on the mainland, but I wanted to get this posted while I’m waiting for my flight in Hong Kong. Somehow it just seems more appropriate to write one last bit about Taiwan before I’m actually back on the mainland.

Not much of any great humor happened during the last few days in Taipei, although I did learn that White Russians and precarious scenic spots don’t mix. Near to one of the small parks on campus there’s a field of large boulders that overlooks the city of Taipei hundreds of meters below. Actually, directly below the boulders there’s a road, then some trees, and THEN Taipei, but from where you sit, the road and the trees are barely visible. Danting, Xuebin, and I chose a nice flat rock to sit on which was higher than most of the others, thereby commanding the best view. We climbed up, got settled, and mixed a few drinks. And then a few more. I was soon noticing that, even though I was in complete command of my senses, I had lost much of my vaunted mountain-goat nimbleness and was having to steady myself when I descended. This was made all the more difficult by my having worn flip-flops. Danting kept telling us she was fine, but we still had to offer her a hand when getting up to our little rock. Too, there was a slight incline to the rock, and this had predictable results on the items we’d placed there. The first casualty was a small bottle of cranberry juice I’d brought up with me. I bumped it and it rolled right in between the cracks of two boulders. Sayonara, cranberry juice. Next was Xuebin’s cell phone, which slid from his hands and went off the rocks behind us. Fortunately, after spelunking with nothing but my iTouch for a flashlight, he found his phone hidden in some weeds, but only after calling out, from the depths of some crack or another, “Ah! There are bugs everywhere! And a HUGE spider!”

I left at about 12:30 because I was dead-tired and wanted to get down from the rocks before Xuebin poured any more booze into me and I wasn’t able to. I stayed there so long because it was everyone’s last night in Taipei, except for me. The moods in the group had been growing progressively darker over the days previous. Danting, especially, although still given to the occasional excited freakout over the mention of a book or movie she really liked (not unlike me, really, only I don’t express my excitement by jumping up and down and fanning my hands quickly like a pair of fairy wings), had taken to walking more and more by herself when we all went somewhere. Xuebin had simply gotten more vociferous. He had some choice things to say about the differences between Taiwan and the mainland which I won’t put down here because they involve some equally choice language. (If I clean it up, it won’t mean the same thing.) Everyone else simply sighed and shook their heads when the subject came up.

It came to a head when we were up on our rock having a drink. The view from there has a way of sobering any conversation, and if you’re already melancholy, it can silence conversation entirely. For a while we just sat staring at the lights of Taipei, which were set into the dark fabric of the night as though they were floating. Xuebin and I talked for a bit about random things—the relative merits of vodka and baijiu, my desire to eventually come back to East Asia to be a professor—but it was the kind of cursory dialogue that feels like a summing-up more than an exploration of new topics. During a lull, I looked over to where Danting was sitting. She had her head turned slightly away from us, but I could tell from the way she was dabbing at her face that she was crying. Xuebin is too Chinese to have asked why, and I already knew why (and wouldn’t have asked anyway, even if I hadn’t), so we both pretended not to notice. She didn’t talk at all for a good twenty minutes, leaving Xuebin and I to forge on ahead in our overly-verbose poets’ method of dealing with imminent departure. Danting brightened after a while, or at least couldn’t bear to sit quietly crying any more, and when Xuebin darted off to try to find something to open the bottle of wine he’d bought (he neglected to buy a corkscrew), Danting and I sat chatting about writers we both enjoyed, the trouble being that the combination of a language gap and too much vodka had made it nearly impossible to communicate who we were talking about. That’s not uncommon with Chinese-English literature conversations, though. The Chinese transliterate the names from English, and it can be VERY hard to know who they’re talking about. Eventually we just gave up and changed the subject.

Duan Ying showed up at about 11:00 or so and finished off what was left of the vodka and Kahlua, and we went through another go-round of “I can’t stand that we’re leaving tomorrow” tidings of woe. I left at 12:30 to vociferous protests from my friends, who I think were planning on just staying up on that rock until they had to go to their bus at 5:30 the next morning. It’s been that kind of experience for them, the kind you don’t easily return from, all the more so because few of them will ever be able to go back to Taiwan.

I think our last dinner there sums it up neatly. Xuebin, Danting, and I were eating some dumplings at a little streetside place and Danting was asking me about my impressions of the trip. I told her, then asked her what her favorite thing about Taiwan had been. Her smile faded and she glanced down at the table for a few seconds. Then, in a voice heavy with the special kind of regret that only comes when you’ve learned something profound, but will soon have to leave it, she just said, “Freedom.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>