Hong Kong's shimmering streets were left behind once again. The three of us (Heidi, Jan and I) boarded the bus from Central and drove the bridges and highways back to the airport. We had managed to get cheap tickets from the agents at Hollywood Plaza in Mongkok on Eva Air and headed to the airport excited to be heading back to Taiwan (and excited to show it to Heidi and Jan for the first time). Funnily enough we were the only "Gweilo's" on the plane. The lady at the gate actually told us that the flight to London was at gate 42 not 41. When we replied that we were headed to Taipei she seemed taken aback. I remember also the first time I ever went to Taipei I was the only whitey on the plane too.
Eva Air was incredible. Clean. Friendly. Modern. In just over an hour we were touching down once again on Taiwanese soil. This was my third time. I had missed it.
Landing in Taipei was a strange dichotomy... on one hand this was the Asia I loved deeply, and yet also the Asia that left me with recurring anxiety and panic for almost
2 years.... the earthquake.... the after-effects.. etc..
However.. this experience was nothing short of tremendous.. Catching the bus into town watching darkness cloud the streets momentarily until lamps and lights turned on to battle nights veil. Seeing the familiar shops. Family Mart. Welcome. The yellow taxi-cabs. The tofu stalls. We were dropped off on Fushing and flagged down a cab straight away to take us up to the crossing with He Ping. John was waiting for us and welcomed us all with huge hugs. It was fantastic to be back again in the apartment. Seeing Jared/John/Maria after 2 years absence.
Days passed in blurs. Chiang Kai Shek memorial.... White wine at PS Cafe.... amazing lebanese food at Sababa... drinks at The Fucking House... exploring the most amazing cafe's and bars in Gonguan... eating Mary Jane's pizza in Shida... buying lots of Dvds.... visiting Longshan Temple... eating sushi in the basement of the 101... drinking Delirium Tremens at La Bastille... eating phenomenal Taiwanese food at the buffet place off Jongshiao... developing rolls of film.... watching movies with John at home... drinking far too much... eating hangover breakfasts at The Diner surrounded by annoying American English Teachers.. finding the most
surreal bar which was decorated like an old Chinese theater entrance with the kindest family serving drinks and Taiwanese snacks.... walking from PS to the New York Bagel Cafe at 4 in the morning and falling flat on my ass on the slippery path only for Jan to laugh hysterically and fall the next second too.... eating the most incredible feast at the Japanese Tea House down a tiny alleyway with all the gang (Sheryn, Robbie, Ange, John, Jared, Jan, Heidi and I)... getting our morning coffee's from the sweet video store girl opposite our apartment... making playlists for the people at the Fucking House who loved My Bloody Valentine and Stereolab... sitting on the curbside drinking Kirin Ichiban with Jan talking.... eating Xio Mei while Jan dug into his Sushi rolls.. spending quality time with Heidi while Jan disappeared on his solo walks... Then the exhibition night.. another night of fun and reunions... friends... enemies... all gathered under the roof of PS cafe for the final Ghostkamera installment there.... great night... great reception... great memories...
And then it was time for another trip to Taroko Gorge.... the place that stole my heart when I went there with Tom
a couple years before. This time I was able to share it with my sister and Jan.
We headed to Taipei Main Station. Bought our tickets. Boarded the new "tilting train" which cuts the journey time by 2 hours. I listened to Amon Duul II the whole way down while staring at the ocean. Hualien was raining. Not the best sign. As we were walking into town a Canadian asked to tag along. We were all pretty tired but he turned out to be a great addition. Everyone grabbed some food and we headed over to rent scooters. No sooner had we started driving than the most INSANE rain on earth thundered down.
Rain and insane scooter rides on the knife edge of death with 3 feet of water spurting out from wobbly wheels and hail so hard that eyes had to shut in horror and lose track of oncoming traffic.... having to stop at least 4 times because the hail hurt too much on soft eyes... taking shelter under shop roofs while watching people getting sprayed by oncoming trucks.....pushing onwards... slowly... riding the white line on the edge of the road...
Then entering the gorge... memories
went back to when Tom and I did this ascent 2 years before... but the nature was all new once again.. and the fear/excitement was real and overwhelming... I raced forward trying to coax the falling dusk into staying a few more minutes... since his passing cloak stole the views that would comfort us in the oblivion of wonder..... he stayed.. for almost a half hour..and we drove pushing forward.... eyes open and mouths aghast at the insanity of it all.... stopping at staring at sheer drops and a raging river beneath... the small pagoda's in the immense emptiness... the trees dripping with new rain... the sky marred and beautiful... the clouds blanketing us.... the silence when even the birds are sleeping... the wind so noisy and forceful...
And we reached Tienshiang... and we slept... and awoke... and it was raining.. and we pushed on and scoured the hills and valleys for signs of life... and found little life but an abundance of treasures...... and we were filled with enough visual candy to last a lifetime.. the dramatic valley... the overhanging trees.. the river... the small villages further up the mountains.. the rope bridges and pathways... the mad chef
at the village... the incessant rain... evening pints at the 5 star hotel... cold nights in the dorm at the Catholic hostel... and we returned... to the city of Hualien..
to the tilting train that swept our casual bodies into its metal cabin and tunneled forward onto the unseen tracks and into the tunnels that were Taipei.... and we arrived back... kissed and hugged many friends... said our goodbyes...
Flew back to HK.... stayed on Elgin St with David and Robin... enjoyed 3 days of bliss in that wonderful wonderful place.... then with the heaviest hearts caught the bus to the airport sitting looking out of the windows, despondent.... sensing a loss we would only later understand.
And 13 hours later we were back to a cold world. 14 degrees, but more cold than that were the surly faces.. the rude jokes... the complete lack of customer service... the smelly carpets... we were back...
The days passed in insane fashion... going to see Alan Vega play a solo show... he was a dithering old fool... then catching a private show with SUICIDE in a 150 capacity venue.. Jan and I enjoying every minute of the 20 minute
set... then Jan flew back to Denmark.. I sat in south London watching Kaurismaki dvds and trying to remain alive....
And tonight I fly to Oslo... Yes I am happy at the prospects.. but also deeply sad at how life can twist from one minute to the next.. and how being in the East can fill me with so much Joie de Vivre.... so much excitement.... and now I am as downcast as these grey clouds that just follow me reminding me that in 4 hours I will be pushing a suitcase and bag towards the train station while the rain laughs at me spitting down.
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