Strength Through Effort

The concept of making food amuses Old Style. In Chinese, the word for ‘to make’ is not used for food, but we do it all the time. We don’t necessarily create something, but we take a variety of parts and put them together in a way that makes something new. I wonder why we use the words we do, why we find it so necessary to have such a variety of words to say so few things. Maybe it’s an inherent desire for variety, or poetry. Maybe we just follow whatever is interesting at the time, and that affects our language.

Sometimes things seem normal here, almost to the point where I could be home, but there always seems to be something that comes from left field. Someone told me their favorite kind of meat is dog, something they ate as a child but you can’t really find anymore. There is always an immediate repulsion to the idea of eating dog for me, but can I honestly say it is worse than eating cow or pig? Is it less than the suffering of the people who work the fields for the cartels in Mexico or as child slaves in South America? Unless you are a true farmer, you can never know where your food came from, and unless the suffering is your own, you are just passing it on to others.

There has been a lot more time for me to think, any yet my mind seems to be misfiring. I was having trouble connecting basic concepts last week, and there always seems to be something important that I’m forgetting, right on the edge of my mind. When I remember it, it usually turns out to be irrelevant, or at least nothing I needed to worry about. Just monsters at the edge of my mind that dissipate in the light.

I was down in Hualien last week, when the mayor suddenly died. They had to replace him the same day for some reason, but there were also a lot of memorials that went up around the city. It’s strange how they treat the dead like someone they expect to come back often. I always thought it would be better to keep going, that the ones who stay close to their lives here are trapped by their attachment to life. It was similar to Dia de Los Muertos in Mexico, celebration and mourning, leaving gifts for the dead, and looking to death in a way I never knew back home. Death was always the monster in the closet, not something to be dealt with.

I took a tour up the river before that, walking on the paved road overlooking the Mukumugi River. Then we geared up as only an insurance company could demand, and headed back down through the water. I would have enjoyed it more if I only had the shoes. I grew up in the ocean, and a life vest is more in the way for me than anything. It was awesome, running across the rocks in my rivershoes, cliff diving a few times, 27 feet was the highest, and relaxing in the water. I hate tours because they slow me down, but it was a good way to see the river.

Back in the city, I wandered and ate, just looking around and being amazed at what I found. Hualien is awesome, a small city on the ocean, and I spoke more Mandarin there than in most of my time in Taipei. It’s harder to be lazy about the language there when the culture pulls you in. It’s not nearly as Westernized as Taipei, and the people are still amazingly friendly. It started to rain on my way back to the train, and some random girl offered me her umbrella. I don’t yet know the words to tell people I love the rain, but that’s what the desert does to you.

I think I’ve hit a turning point with my Mandarin. I used to start sentences in Spanish and end them in English while I was trying to speak, but in Hualien I started them in Mandarin and ended them in Spanish. It’s strange how the two languages flowed together. I always thought it would be hard to speak and learn languages, but my mind simply separates them into groups. I never really have to do more than try and the words come, or don’t, depending on how I studied. It’s almost more physical than mental, like changing how you walk. It’s not impossible, but you never really think about it once you learn. You just do it.

One thing I noticed was that I am more afraid alone than I am in a group. It’s easier for me to bypass the fear at least. Alone, I can try to speak, but it’s not easy to push past that social anxiety. If there are others around besides the person I am trying to speak to, it’s easier. The one thing I can relate it to best is cliff diving.

When I was out with the other teachers a couple weeks ago, there was a rock maybe 6 or 8 feet above the water that we jumped off of into the water. With the other teachers there, there was pain, fear, but no real hesitation. It’s easy to push past because I am being watched, and because if anything goes wrong I know there are people there to help. When I went back alone, I couldn’t push past that fear. I couldn’t jump. I was tired, drained from wandering the river and playing on the natural water slide the day before, but I couldn’t get my mind to bypass my body. In Hualien, I did it with no hesitation at 27 feet, but I couldn’t do 6 alone.

Fear is a good friend, one who always looks out for me, tries to protect me, but one I thought I had become good at ignoring when I needed to. It turns out, every voice is different when you’re alone. I wonder how much that voice has been affecting me, whispering in my ear when there is no one for me to show off to. I once though I had no real pride, but it turns out it is just so subtle compared to my fear. The quiet power that quells the demon.

I can be alone, I enjoy being alone, but I need to be able to fight my demons alone if I am to continue the live I am living. Fear will always be there, but sometimes our best friends are assholes, tearing us down more than anything else. I once read a story about Set, the Egyptian god. He was the god of the people, of strength by effort and trial. The west sees him as evil, but he stood by Horus’ side endlessly fighting the true evil of the world, even after cutting him to pieces. Fear will tear me apart, but that doesn’t mean it will kill me, and I know it will never leave me truly alone.

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