A Light Touch on Zhuilu Old Trail

I think the worst part of anxiety for me is the idea that there are no choices. The medical clearance for the Peace Corps has been stressful in the extreme, more so because of the language barrier. I was closer to the edge of total despair than I have been in a long time. When I realized why, all the anxiety faded.

If I don’t make it, I can stay in Taiwan, there are always jobs here. I can sign up for the Peace Corps in another country. I can wander for a while, or begin again in a new country. Options are endless. The lie of anxiety is that it knows the future. Anxiety knows how everything plays out, and you must believe it. The best way to get people to believe something is to make them afraid it’s true.

There was a party last week, and I stressed so much I forgot to write that week. It was fun, drunken, and memorable. I’m glad I went, and I was drunk enough to enjoy the KTV. A room full of singing drunks is endlessly entertaining. I made the mistake of trying to sober up by drinking the banana drink that didn’t taste like alcohol. It messed me up long after I wanted to be clear, but there really was no water available that I saw.

Most of my time has been spent at the hospital and at work. Getting bloodwork done. Picking up paperwork. Getting vaccination shots. There is always one more thing to do. I will go over my date, but only for one or two things. My nurse at the Peace Corps knows and said it will be fine. The bulk of the work is done, I just need to get the vaccinations. I must have passed the tests for mumps to get into Taiwan on my visa, but this year I didn’t pass. Just another shot, and another delay. A week ago, that would have made me panic. Today, it doesn’t make me happy, but I’ll get by.

I went back down to Hualien with the Guard and 10 Minutes last weekend. We walked Zhuilu Old trail some new friends. It was an easy hike compared to BeiCha, and in some ways more beautiful. Taroko Gorge drops off like a knife edge. It’s easy to feel fear looking down to the river, but the view is worth it. The trail used to be longer, but a landslide ends it at about 3 kilometers now. The end of the trail is boring, just a small place to stop before heading back.

The people are really what makes all the difference in the world. I travel with this group because of the sense of humor, the desire for adventure, and the new people I meet from everywhere. Estonia, Taiwan, the States, and Hong Kong were all represented this time. The jokes were often a little weird, dirty, or violent. I miss having people I can really joke around with. Teaching doesn’t allow for that kind of humor very often.

Humor, for me, is best described as holding something with a light touch. It’s not about offense, venting, or making other people happy or sad. It’s simply not treating things as untouchable. The line is always drawn by the people I am with, mostly because I was raised on sarcasm, wit, and irreverence. For this trip, that meant a lot of time spent thinking of old band names and trying to get songs stuck in the Guard’s head. It meant challenging my friends on the other scooters when we stopped at a light. It was a little light, a little dark, and just about perfect for a relaxing weekend.

We wandered Hualien after the hike, eating at the Rainbow Night Market and watching the New Year’s fireworks. I’ve never been that close to a big fireworks show before, close enough that my camera couldn’t catch it all. There were statues that looked like they were made by Tiffany and Co., lit up as bright as any celebration back home. I preferred it to Taipei because it was not for the tourists, or the corporations. There was no advertising or song and dance. It was simply a modern version of what has been celebrated for generations, a new beginning

We spent the second day at Wenshan hot springs, back up near the gorge. It’s not really closed, but not maintained after a landslide damaged the flow of hot water to the area. It felt local, like a place that people use and care about rather than a source of income. I kept switching between the hot pools and the ice cold river. I always prefer the change in temperature rather than any consistency of hot or cold.

There is amazing beauty in this country, in the people, the culture, and in nature. It switches between tradition and modern, old and new, without much warning. I don’t know exactly why I want to leave here, or even if I really do. There is comfort here, an easy life, one I could really love, but I left home to find what is uncomfortable, not to simply find a different warm rock to lie on. This place is better than I wanted it to be, and really what I needed after Mexico, but I am ready to move on and see what else is out there.

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