Vacations are always kind of hard for me. I tend to go overboard with all the things that I miss out on the rest of the time. I tend to end my vacation needing a day to recover rather than spending my vacation doing nothing. This time, however, it was both.
I just finished the term at college, and I had a four day weekend, so I watched a lot of movies and wandered a few new places. This is the first time I started to wander Neihu, where I live, without looking for something in particular. I’ve looked for food, a barber, various stores, but never really just wandered, not knowing where I was headed.
Neihu is a different place depending on the time I go out. What it is in the morning is not what it is in the evening, or at night. I know a lot of places change throughout the day, but here a street can be empty, with every door locked, but at the right time of day it’s filled with shops and people. The difference between leaving work at 5:30 and 7:30 is incredible. There are so many more places open that I don’t always make it back to the places I used to eat at.
I finally made it up the mountain, too. It was weird. The first time I went up I stayed on the path, where it is paved all the way up to the temples. This time, I went across the first small bridge I found and wound up on a dirt trail. The trail was marked, and well worn, but there was no one else on it that day. It kept getting steeper until I got to where people had put in ropes to help you climb. Nothing sheer, but the ground under the trees is always wet and muddy. At the end there was a huge rock, overlooking the hazy reaches of Taipei and Yangmingshan, the mountain behind my house. It was awesome, a sight to see, and something difficult that I had done.
Then, I passed that rock and saw the paved trail leading down to it from higher up in the mountains. I must have found one of the few ways that wasn’t paved up there. If I had kept going, I could have taken a bus straight back home from the top of the trail. Sometimes the road is less traveled because there was an easier way around.
I did almost nothing on Monday, not a bad option considering the holiday didn’t seem to have any open celebration. It was Tomb Sweeping Day, the day when the family gets together to clean the graves of their ancestors. It reminds me of Dia De Los Muertos in some ways. Taking a day to look back at family who died isn’t something Americans seem to do much. Death is more of something that is dealt with alone, or with family. Not something we do as a nation, unless it involves the nation. Veterans, presidents, and those who died serving the public good all have their days, but I wonder why we never took the time for family.
Tuesday I got on the trolley and just took it to the end of the line. I wound up in a place called Tamsui, on the west coast of Taiwan. It was a little like wandering Mission Beach, with endless street food, tourist shops, bouncy houses, and a long wharf. I passed through an old Spanish fort, Fort San Domingo, and walked through Tamsui Old Street, where most of the small shops were. I crossed the bridge on the wharf and wandered the beach for a while.
I think the strangest thing I saw was the fort. It was nice, remodeled with some old artifacts in and around it. It had been made into the consul’s office after the Opium Wars, and stayed that way until after World War II. The downstairs was what you would expect, old furniture and books, walls of information on the people who lived here, but the upstairs is where everything went sideways.
The first room was all about love. Types of love, pictures of love, and a wall where people could write about what or who they love. The second room was all about happiness, how to be happy, and why we should be happy. The last was about relationships, the people that you love and make you happy. It wasn’t that it was bad, it was just completely out of left field.
The rest of the fort could have been in any country in the world, just change the written language and you’re done. Those three rooms though, I have never seen anything shift themes like that in the US or Mexico. Maybe it’s more common in this part of the world, but I’m used to historic sites being kept as they are, or being completely changed. This was a bit of both. It’s one of the best surprises I’ve ever come across.
I find so many things that are interesting as I wander, but it’s rare that they really surprise me. The simplicity of the joy of those rooms was amazing. Love and happiness really should come out of nowhere sometimes.