Every time I go on a trip somewhere I look out (sometimes a bit too desperately) for that one stark trip-defining event. That moment I fell off my own luggage bag. That wall scrawled with the whisperings of a conscience weighed down by night-time sins. That stracciatella gelato. Kilimanjaro beer under a blanket of night sky. Legs hanging over a wooden jetty, writing a postcard, surrounded by mountains. Waiting in a cosy restaurant after closing, because the proprietor and his wife were a kind couple who weren’t about to let two homeless girls roam the streets of Salzburg on their own. Feeling my way up a hill in total darkness, feeling like an explorer of the wilderness, only to find out at the peak that I still had data connection.
These memories are important. They remind you, as you stare aimlessly at the computer screen and scribble laboriously in your work diary, days and days on end, that escape is possible. And necessary. Because, where else and how else would you get to feel all these wonderful feelings again?
S0 – Taiwan. Taiwan is a beautiful place. One tenth the size of Malaysia (I think), it’s like a good makeup compact – so many beautiful colours and textures squeezed into one tiny little area. Twenty minutes outside Taipei, and you’re looking at a sulphur spring shooting steam out of a dormant volcano. Although, technically, we didn’t see a thing – we only heard and smelled it, because it was a rainy day overhung with an opaque curtain of mist (which was also very beautiful in its own right). Two hours on, by high-speed rail, you’re off traipsing down tranquil earth pathways that snake through majestic valleys, overlooking the crystal blue running water of Liwu River. Then not too far off are two little towns nestled into the slopes of endless, rolling hills; one with a charming history of gold mining, and a display of grand, fortress-like abandoned factories to show for it.
In Taiwan, I felt safe and free. Nobody looks at you funny because your neckline hangs a little too low (oh, the number of times over here that I’ve wished I could hit someone in the face and tell him to watch some porn). In fact, nobody really looks at you at all. People stand in an orderly queue on the right side on the escalator, and get nagged at when they don’t queue for tickets. Night market proprietors don’t shoot you dirty looks when you decide not to buy anything. You don’t walk down a street anticipating that a motorcyclist might swoop by and take off with your handbag, or walk into a carpark wondering if you might ever encounter a rape and kidnap attempt. People are polite, don’t yell, don’t shove, don’t manhandle. And our taxi driver – what a sweet old man he was, buying us dessert to try just because we asked what it was.
In all the places I’ve ever lived there’s always been an easily observable occupational divide. People who man MRT/tube/LRT ticket booths, construction workers, porters, taxi drivers are typically (or stereotypically?) somewhat downtrodden groups of society – all the groups that make headlines in talk about the state of the economy and politics. Foreigners. The elderly. The poor. And you usually tell right off the bat. Unhappy faces, less groomed, working class accents, etc (or so I think). I’m not too sure how accurate this is (rose-tinted glasses perhaps) but Taiwan seemed different. The train lady could easily have been a bank officer. The noodle shop man could have been a fresh grad with a Masters degree.
Taiwan is a beautiful place. On our third day, we visited a beach (Seven Stars something). The sky was grey, as it was for the entire trip, and the waves spirited, continuously hurling against the pebble beach, splashing and breaking into angry white sea spray. There was a man parked on the void deck in the corner, strumming on his guitar, singing Mandarin oldies. And we stood there, my brother and the love of his life, my mother and father and I, wind tugging at our scarves, sharing a piping hot roast sweet potato. I remember looking around, taking it all in – the sky, the waves, the music, the crashing, the look of contentment on my parents’ faces – and thinking: yup, this is it. The trip-defining moment.