I took a midnight plane and arrived in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, three hours later. It was 5:30 in the morning when I got off the bus in the center of the city near my hostel and the hostel owner had let me know that no one would be there to let me in until 10. So with my 12kg bag on my back and my new leather bag on my front I walked along the quiet streets of Taipei as the sun came up. I was in a country where I spoke the language again. It felt weird. I asked someone where I could find wifi and noticed how large my hand gestures had gotten from my three weeks in Vietnam. A few times in my life I arrived somewhere and felt an instant connection, a feeling that I could live there, and Taipei now ranks high on that list. There was no one around, just me walking along a six lane street alone like that first scene in Vanilla Sky. I made my way to a 7-11 and bought a big bottle of water and two bags of peanuts, one regular and one mixed with dried sardines. I had to throw one of them away.
The map to the hostel wouldn’t open on my phone and I couldn’t find anywhere with wifi but I had memorized the address so I walked for an hour until some other people were on the streets so I could ask them. I ended up in a Japanese neighborhood with advertisements for whiskey everywhere and the smell of stale beer outside the bars. The area had a european feel; small alleys with nice old apartments that all had plants sitting outside. There was a cafe open around 6 so I ordered from the menu (all in Chinese that I could read and it felt so good) and read “The Kite Runner”, a book I had picked up at a the previous hostel, for the next 3 hours. It was a pretty small space, the walls were painted blue and white with a grill out in the open behind a counter with pastries, so it all reminded me of the cafes in Greece I’d seen in movies. I had only slept for twenty minutes on the plane so I actually ordered a regular coffee to set me on a path to stay awake for the next few hours. I don’t ever drink coffee. A few sips of it and I can feel the caffeine pulsating through my veins and it almost always leads to anxiety. But doesn’t coffee just smell so good? But I don’t want to drink decaf. I don’t like things that pretend to be something their not. Like vegan sausages. Who trusts those? Just eat vegetables.
I got into the hostel that housed only 10 people, all smiling at me, and walked around the city for a few hours. It was a very peaceful day, I feel so good here. The next day I woke up, and, knowing that I’d have to be back in a week for Felix’s wedding, bought a bus ticket four hours south to Tainan.
On the bus down to Tainan I started asking people around me how long it would take to walk to the hostel, and the man behind me offered to drive me to the general area. He had a son, about 8 years old, and the father kept messing up his son’s hair while the son laughed and pushed him. 77 hostel is on an amazing street surrounded by cafes in old historic buildings, one called “Liberal Cafe”, the other “Bookeater” and the one I’m at is “Fat Cat”. Its wifi password is “eatshitanddie”.
The hostel owner is named Celine, she’s a late 30’s beautiful Taiwanese woman, and she told me I just missed two other guests who went out to dinner, and they had plans to go see the new Star Wars. So she texted them and showed me the way. We had some mutton over noodles and headed to the cinema. There was Roman, a tall skinny French guy with a goatee, Gerald from Malaysia, and Justin from California. Justin and I got to talking and I found out that he never went to college, instead he moved to New York to start taking acting classes and then after two years he moved to LA to try that atmosphere to further his acting career. I could see in his eyes it was painful to talk about. I don’t think I really wanted to talk about it either. Actors. . .well. . . actors who don’t act anymore don’t like to talk about acting. When a lawyer decides he wants to become a doctor, or politician, or a writer, it’s all good. But when an actor leaves acting, they see it as “giving up on their dreams” or at least thats what the industry has taught them to feel. He worked as a security guard in New York while living in a basement in Washington Heights, then when he couldn’t handle the rent anymore he moved to LA, which broke his spirit and he hasn’t acted in eight years. It was strange to talk to him about it. He was so broken about it all. I saw some of my own burn out in his eyes and it made me glad to have left for Asia before I hit that level. I’ve never actually been to LA but theres a feeling in my gut that I shouldn’t be there, at least not yet. Theres still a great possibility of my going back and loving it again, but when the subject of commercial auditions came up we both shut our mouths and waited in silence for the movie to come on. But Justin is happy now, at least thats the energy he puts out. I can see behind the forced laugh someone who is lost and desperate for a change, and when I asked him when he’s going back to the states he said, “I hope never.”
Star Wars was a success, and I was glad it was pitch black in the theater when those opening lines started passing the screen because my smile was ear to ear.
I woke up the next morning around 7 and got lost after walking a few blocks until I found some breakfast sandwiches. There was always red splotches on the ground. It didn’t look like blood stains, there was a fibrous material in the stains too, it was weird. Huh. On the way back I was buying some water when I heard a screeching noise overhead. Where have I heard that noise before? That’s not a commercial plane. That’s military. That’s a fighter jet. No one else was looking up. Is this normal? That was another one. Two fighter jets over the peaceful best-food-town-I’ve-ever-been-in, Tainan. Celine and I chatted for a bit and she showed me some good places to hit in the city and I decided to go and check out the tree house near the old merchant houses. Tainan, like so many other places I’ve been to on this trip, was a massively important trading port. Everybody who wanted to have a part in the very profitable Asian trade market tried to gain control over Taiwan and there are still some buildings left over from the Dutch East India Company. Hey! Fun fact, wanna know what IPA stands for when you’re drinking beer? It means India Pale Ale. When the europeans were in India doing. . . well, you know, they wanted some good burr. But how to keep it preserved over that journey? Well hops is a natural preservative and decent flavor enhancer so they added a ton of hops to the beer, and that’s why IPAs have lots of hops, and lots of alcohol. The little things you pick up after working in the bar industry for five years. Anyway, some old government buildings from the trading port days had been abandoned and Banyan trees started growing in and around them. Banyan trees don’t have quality wood for anything, so they’re left to grow freely. They have long fibrous roots that hang down everywhere and offer considerable shade so they were known as good trees for philosophers to sit under and think.
It took me an hour to walk there so I started on the way back when I passed an art gallery, except it wasn’t really, it looked like someone’s house with painting supplies everywhere and people around a table drinking tea. The woman at the head of the table saw me outside and gave me a slight smile and nod, and then waved for me to come in. I took a look at the oil paintings, all of which were of bamboo forests and Chinese landscapes. She asked me to sit down and join them for some tea, which I happily accepted. My Chinese was piss poor due to lack of practice and I fumbled over easy sentences such as, “eight years ago I lived in Shenyang.” We chatted for two hours and then I went on my way.
There was a parade of some sorts happening and some guys in their early twenties started calling out to me in English and running over to pat me on my back and say the few phrases in English that they knew. One of them was chewing on something and when he opened his mouth everything was blood red. His teeth were completely red, there was some red dripping down his mouth and then he spit on the ground. Blood red, just like I had been seeing all over the streets of Taiwan. I later found out that it’s betel nut, something I had never heard of but is very popular in most parts of Asia, especially Taiwan, India, and Pakistan. It’s natural properties give you a mega caffeine high and sometimes it’s injected with methamphetamine for an even bigger energy boost.
Taiwan feels different, I can’t explain it. I feel very at peace here. I feel truly on my own, with no pressure to move quickly or see as much as I can see. When you’re traveling for five and a half months, not every single day can be a life changing experience, your head would explode. Just trying to say a few sentences in a foreign language is enough for most days. Orrrrr maybe it’s because I haven’t drank beer in a week.