In Taipei on August 2, 2011 at 10:04 am
Watch the kid out for a run on a Thursday evening. It is getting dark. He is pumping it down the local street toward the mountain.
Watch him approximate race pace. See how he realizes it’s been weeks since he’s trained in his toes shoes? He moves quickly and convinces himself that this will be possible to keep up for nine kilometers.
Watch him be stopped at a stop light. He expresses frustration. All he wants to do is run. Then watch the relief flood his system as his body tells him thank you, I needed the break.
Watch him on the way back, hoping he will not be sore tomorrow. Knowing he will. Leaping over dog crap on the stretch of sidewalk where the strays go with their rumbling bowels.
In Taipei on July 12, 2011 at 9:43 pm
There are something like six dogs. The one closest is a nasty mix of brown and black and curls his lips back to show his canines, the one kid on the playground who takes the game too seriously and ends up hurting somebody. The owner is old and yelling not-loud-enough-goddamnit out the door of his house. I am barking like a dog, turning in every direction to match the most menacing woofs with scarier ones of my own. I have long hair out from under my hat and black shoes like gloves and a bra of sweat on my tight white sleeveless shirt and big glasses covered in beads of sweat.
I am walking. The dogs are following. I am still barking. Next to me a scooter rolls up, slowly so the dogs don’t chase. The rider is a long-haired aboriginal-looking man. He yells at the dogs, scooting along next to me. Then he turns to me and smiles a big white smile with teeth that are personably far apart. I smile too. Me and him, we are unfazed, we mean to say. We mean to say we know the everyday bullshit, even if it’s getting attacked by dogs, puts no kind of lid on the day, the fluffy clouds so white in the blue beyond the palm trees among the graves. We mean to say yep, another pack of dogs trying to eat us. It won’t get us down, no way.
He rolls slowly down the hill and away.
Halfway back I am thinking about the man, relishing this little piece of human connection, this refusal to get sucked into the world of the dogs, their instincts driving them to anger at every unknown stimulation. Wondering how long his hair really was. Thinking about his smile of the far apart teeth.
And at this moment—this precise moment, when I have him in my mind’s eye—he comes into sight, his scooter parked outside what must be his home along the edge of the same street. He waves and gives another smile, also a knowing smile, one that says we have both been here before, haven’t we. I smile and wave, forgo the ni hao. I don’t need to speak and make the whole thing fake. These are not social formalities. These are data points that know their route, that smile at its spikes and unwilling curvature. Here we are, hey.
Here we are.
In Taipei on July 8, 2011 at 8:41 pm
The swiftness of your feet clicks in the calmness of the night. The streets are untrafficked. The few pedestrians move slowly, out for leisure, not business. The whole air hums with softness. You leap over the tree roots and through the bushes into the dust of the park’s broad gutter.
No one is in the park. Your footsteps click even more isolated here. Ahead there is a soft glow.
You emerge steadily onto the basketball courts. The overhead lights bathe you. The halts of sneakers on concrete and the grunts of players fill the area, but only just. Kids who are tall with toned upper arms pivot and shoot fadeaway jumpers. Swish. Kids in unmarked basketball jerseys with skinny Achilles’ tendons take the ball to the hoop. It rims out.
During the day, the courts are sadly bare. The occasional day-camp for disabled adults unloads, or a middle-aged man and a kid shoot two-handed from the free-throw line.
During the night, the courts slowly fill. Stakes take root and as the lights come on they grow. Kids who care about basketball, kids whose bodies are not those of kids, begin the pick-up games. A thriving culture comes from nothing, a center in the nothing of the night. Such energy at such a moment. Were you anywhere else in the city you would think it unthinkable.
In Taipei on June 17, 2011 at 10:54 pm
Q: Who is this guy with his gaze plastered on the cutting board, cleft by my fingers as I slice guavas, dripping its particles on the fruit below?
A: He is merely tired, he is merely pensive, he merely wants some fruit but has frozen at the prospect of summoning the energy it would take to buy it.
Q: Why the big glasses? Why the red bandana holding back the sweaty hair?
A: He is recently back from the woods, a rare sight in the city. He is dressed for practical things, not a thought to looking good, his values are the reverse of the pedestrians’.
Q: Can he please move? A statue thus scares away the customers, clogs up the byway, lends the night market a sinister fungus smell.
A: He can, he will, just give him some time. Some moments the batteries drain of charge and the body freezes, able only to maintain the static low-level function it bonked at. A restart will happen soon. He is not of this world for this instant, pretend he is not of this world.
In Taipei on April 12, 2011 at 10:47 pm
I think I’ve overtrained on the achieving-calm-where-anxiety-wants-to-reign front. I’ve been chased by multiple sets of dogs and I’m low on water and I’ve been running through terraced betel nut fields the location of which I’m super-fuzzy on, and all I feel is a little triumphant that I’m not flipping out, and a little disturbed that I’m not flipping out. It’s beautiful out here, for sure, but I don’t know where out here is, and at some point logistics become important.
There are roads and I’m finding my way to them, now I’m on them, but who knows where they lead. The people in this part of town look different from Taipei people, they seem a little more country, a little less used to white people loping through their territory.
I keep going straight. Might as well. There’s no nothing here but some hillside apartments, so the something has to be somewhere else.
I emerge, out of a lane that T-bones with a bigger street, with lots of cars. Rising ahead is a green mountain. Seen lots of those. Except the green mountain has these wires stretched up it pulling these little cabins. The gondola! Literally the end of the line. God I’m far away from where I began. And this is where I spent my last day with Mom and Dad.
My feet and legs ache. I’m covered in dry sweat, and my lower back’s all cold from the wetness still on my t-shirt. Relief at recognition and recent, deep memories and physiological exhaustion all at once. It’s just a gondola. For now, though, it’s not. It’s a unifier of perceptions, an object for the stuff within myself I need to get out, salvation and a relic and a healthy slap in the face all at once.
In Taipei on March 16, 2011 at 12:00 am
It is the kind of afternoon that seems to threaten you with a janky razor. The air is acrid and cool, the kind that mounts before a tornado on the low plains of the American Midwest. If there were leaves, they would alternate between blowing about and resting eerily on the concrete tiles of the sidewalk. You know it’s silly but it seems that something bad is going to happen. Your bones shiver. You keep putting foot in front of foot in front of foot. If you keep moving, if you keep limber and warm, how bad can it be.
Centimeters behind you, something strikes the sidewalk. It scares the shit out of you, your body twitching at the nearness of the noise. You thought nothing was near. You slow your steps and look back. It is something black, from a tree, like a pine cone. They don’t have pine cones out here, though. What the hell. Your feet go on as you gaze back. You hope that that’s the worst of it.
In Taipei on February 22, 2011 at 10:44 pm
An old woman pushes an empty cart along the right-hand side of the road, although she seems to have hardly enough steam to get herself wherever she’s going. Her baggy shirt is floral and festive and her pants highwaters. She has on crusty plastic sandals. Her skin is wrinkly beyond wrinkly and tanned firmly brown. Her eyes are squeezed shut, and it’s a miracle she can see where she’s going, as that she can go at all.
Behind her, a man in a business suit is trying to stop her. He is gesturing in her direction and calling out politely. And alas, too softly, for it turns out she is hard of hearing too. Immersed in her Herculean efforts to proceed, she has no perception left over by way of which to be hailed. The businessman, youthful and tall, a counterpoint in every way to this frail, tough woman, knows that this is so. Gingerly, then, with no other options, he tiptoes up behind her and places her wide-brimmed straw hat back on her bandana’d head. She traipses on, unfazed.
In Taipei on February 21, 2011 at 2:23 pm
I’m boring into the stone steps with the spot of my feet back of the big toe. My calves try to absorb the shock. My clunky shoes and my feet aren’t having it. I’m to where the two stair flights meet up, near their emergence into the hilly street. I’m nearly out of the woods.
Wait. The advancing stacks of stone get uninteresting for a second. There is a dude bent toward the stairs escorting a video camera on a stick up them. He’s traveling slow and smooth as if his project is weighty. He’s white, and he’s wearing a white, striped collared t-shirt. He’s like my age. He looks like an amalgamation of twenty people from my high school.
I toe past him in my goofy glasses, my backpack’s straps fluttering behind me like tails. He turns his head toward me and raises his eyebrows in silent greeting, his hands ever attentive to the camera. I do so back. Then I’m past him, not wanting to stop and satisfy my curiosity and ruin his enterprise.
In the steps before the street, I have time to think and wonder. Wow, is what I think. My high socks and hairy legs are going to be on whatever film that dude was making. I’m exhilarated. There’s something about being captured on film. I’m a star.
In Taipei on January 6, 2011 at 11:50 pm
Standing in front of a sign that says to refrain from contact with the birds in order to protect your health as the cold breeze sneaks under your shirt and refrigerates the sweat on your skin and two fishermen watch their stationary long rods not begin to bob at the scruffy edge of the river while their rubber-booted partner paces behind them and cars steer by across the river
does not equal
trying to compute the corners of the series of buildings that pass by as you set one foot persistently in front of the other and try to concentrate on the rippling beauty of the water
at least when it is this damn cold outside the aesthetic of stillness is outward and the aesthetic of motion is inward.
In Taipei on January 3, 2011 at 10:43 am
From behind branches you hear a belted song, or more like a chant, resonating on the mountaintop terrace. You are trotting persistently in its direction. As you clear the first few steps, even with your eyes down, you begin to see him. Walking leisurely down the stone stairs to the peak of the mountain is a man, shirtless, shoeless, potbellied, with tan skin and neglected teeth. In his right hand he is carrying his cast-off clothing. In his left, a soiled stainless-steel bowl. What emanates from his vocal cords is a little wavering if you listen closely. But it bursts from him, forte, and each note is true to where he is trying to put it, and for this to be, in the midst of trees, the city far below, is a gift from him, to him, and to you, too, and to each other soul near the terrace. It is terribly brief, because he and you are only passing through. Its echo, though, keeps with you, because there’s nothing else to hear.