In Search Of Stillness
This is not Taipei – the air is too clean. Jack, Pia, Angela, and Stacy have offered to visit Jiufen with me. Jiufen and Jinguashi are small mining towns on the coast of northeast Taiwan, highly recommended by my guidebook. I’m looking for a slower pace than Taipei, some time in the hills, a bit of decompression. They’ll spend the day with me, then leave me on my own.
First, into the packed main alley. Jiufen hit the Taiwanese tourism lottery big-time after appearing in a couple of films. And of course, everyone packs into this single tiny, long and winding alleyway. Apparently no one wanders more than 100 meters from this alley, as if the rest of the village was non-existent. At least in this small portion of the small town, peace and quiet is not a worthy goal. But – did I mention food? They insist that I need to try Stinky Tofu again, that the stall here serves a much better version, but I demur. Once was enough. But other things? Of course.
We try a few items, then go in search of a hotel. I planned poorly, and my hosts do their best to find a spot. Close to Chinese New Year in a tourist town however, we keep striking out. Anywhere decent is booked solid. Sometimes my plans go awry. Eventually we learn that one sold out inn has a room at a sister property in the neighboring village. Angela cuts a deal with the owner; they will deliver my luggage and then pick me up tonight.
I could have figured this out on my own, but the help is appreciated. Once again, I learn a thing or two about hospitality from my Taiwan students.
More wandering. More eating. More laughing. Then the time comes to say goodbye. They need to return to Taipei and Keelung. Mixed feelings about saying goodbye. I have had an amazing time with them, but, introvert that I am, I need a day or two alone.
More wandering. More eating. Hotel. One mile outside of town, on the side of a hill, with a view, peace and quiet. Perfect.
I sit with Buddha a while, and try to find stillness.
After a breakfast of egg, noodles, pumpkin, and tea, I set off for a day of wandering. Armed with little more than a basic hand-drawn map, my only goal is to walk and explore. I make my way toward the ocean, then, for no good reason other than ‘just because’ I head back up.
I find a small temple. Quiet, peaceful, relaxing, beautiful, nearly deserted. Just one old man who seems content with nothing more than a spare acknowledgement of each other.
Outside the temple, I sit for a few minutes. And just sit.
Head cleared, I wander on. Up a winding road, unsure of which way to go. It’s unimportant since I don’t really care where I end up. I have no real destination or purpose in mind, other than to visit the large temple across the valley that I can see from my inn.
On the way, I stumble across the World War 2 Prisoner Of War Memorial. Taiwan was a Japanese territory for some time, and Allied POW’s served time in the mines here. A wall with all the prisoner names is sobering.
Eventually I make my way to the temple and I am pleased with my choice. Although Chinese temples have quickly become familiar, this one is gorgeous. Somehow a little more fascinating than many of the others I have seen. I wander each of the several levels, exploring all of the shrines. The fog that rolls in for a time is perfect. Almost cliche, but… perfect.
Lunch in one of the stalls next to the temple. A random rice, vegetable and pork dish. I don’t think many western tourists visit this spot, and I am obviously a bit of a curiosity to the other diners.
Onward and upward. I decide to walk at least partway up the mountain above the temple. Why not?
My route alternates between the road, and a combination stairway and trail. Up. And up. Clouds roll off the ocean, partly obscuring the mountains, then move inland. It’s all very picturesque and feels just perfect, as if nature has decided to feed my stereotypes of Asia.
Onward. And upward. I pass a few other hikers, but mostly I am alone. At the top, the view is tremendous. Ocean. Mountains. Low lying clouds partially obscuring the valley. Picturesque mining villages. A classic small pagoda lower on the mountain, just above the clouds, like a scene from a movie. There are other nearby, taller peaks but I am content to be exactly where I am.
I am often restless. I don’t sit still very well. My brain doesn’t do ‘still’ very well either. Not often.
But sometimes, I find stillness. Often, it is in the desert. But I find it here, and I am happy.
And then, not alone. A couple I passed on the hike up joins me at the top. At first, I am disappointed, but I quickly relax and am rewarded with a new friendship.
January and Stanley turn out to be wonderful people. We talk, laugh, and learn. We help each other get the requisite photos at the top.
I discover that January’s sister will soon be living near me, doing an internship for one of the big tech companies in Seattle. We start hiking back to town together. I ask them to have dinner with me. We get temporarily lost on the way back into town. I discover that I have next to no money on me; I left it in my hotel room.
Karma rears her head -I purchased a meal for a broke college student at the airport in Mexico last fall – and January and Stanley purchase my food. We laugh, we talk more.
And then – time for goodbyes. They are taking the bus back to Taipei.
In the dark, on the way back to the hotel, walking the steep path between small houses, I stop. I sit, and just… sit. Some stars. Some clouds. The tiny creek next to the path. Stillness.