Traveling outside of Taipei is entering an entirely different world. Here, it is familiar, and it has been since I arrived. Beyond the edges of the city is a world of rice fields, bamboo forests, narrow streets, and old buildings with grass growing on the rooves. It reminds me of traveling outside Guadalajara in some ways, but it’s unlike anything I’ve come across before.
I went down to Alishan last weekend, to see the commercialized version of the world that has always been just out of sight. The indigenous people of any society seem to always be separate, living their lives in ways that are almost alien to the people in the modern world next door. It’s not to say they aren’t connected to our world, but often they are connected to both.
The culture of the tribes here is amazing, friendly and open. I can see where the Taiwanese people get that, even with all of the modern world pressing in on them. There isn’t much crime here, and people are amazingly friendly. Any time someone tells me their traveling to the States and ask for advice, I start with safety. Here, if someone is friendly, they just are that way. There isn’t much in the way of ulterior motives. It’s like a language, and they are fluent in kindness. They don’t really know the rules of kindness, they just flow with it.
The simple things still amuse me endlessly. I have seen construction workers standing in traffic, or eating lunch, but never both at once. The man wasn’t even facing the oncoming traffic. He was just eating with his chopsticks, watching the backhoe digging, but standing in the middle of the lane. An ordinary action in a very strange place.
We stayed at Ajong’s Place, a village style lodge in the middle of tea farms and campsites. It was beautiful, peaceful, and something more. It was comfortable, but not familiar. It felt almost as if it should have been a place I knew, like a forgotten dream. We were invited to have tea with Ajong, but I didn’t.
I wandered the village, just feeling the place. Maybe I should have gone, but my Mandarin is not conversational yet. The problem is that I won’t always be able to stand aside. To be what I want to be requires me to be in the heart of things. I have spent my life on the fringe, and I like it here, but there is another fringe to this life, the one at the center of all things.
People live their lives, and most people consider themselves normal. We talk about dysfunction, abnormality, and stranger things, but the truth is the world we know will almost always just be the world. I avoided the center of the world I knew. It was never a place I wanted to be, for innumerable reasons throughout the years. But entering the center of someone else’s world, that is something entirely new.
Sometimes people let you in, sometimes you simply take a place at the table like you belong. The social construct will always be weird, but who you are and what you bring with you is more important than how you are expected to fit into their world. I want to be able to find a place, then start testing the limits of what is allowed. There is nothing more fascinating than joining something that you never knew existed before that moment.
Just a side note, that spider was the size of my hand.