Now that I have finished blogs about Maolin Village, Wanshan Village, Duona Suspension Bridge, and Duona Village (click the links to see each individual blog), I would like to finish this Maolin blog series by sharing a piece of writing I wrote for a class in college after just getting back from a trip to Taiwan in 2013, a time when I was especially missing Maolin. I hope this post does justice to the place I love most in Taiwan.
Ode to Maolin 茂林之頌:
The walls of my room are closing in on me, closer, closer, crushing down. The window disappears. Then the door bursts open, a storm of nothing but boulders hit my skull one after another like baseballs at the batting cages. The room collapses onto my paper body. BANG! BANG! The ceiling crushes me into a paper ball, in the darkness. A board with nails terrorizes my head, I can't pull it out of my skull, and the nails sink in. Poison in my brain. Have to work to eat tons of homework on me so that one day decent job and buy things for me and pay for their college and my retirement swimming pool up with the jones’ car second house but crappy major. I feel my stone necklace that shines bright and silver in the darkness; it reminds me of a better place.
The soothing rays of sun glitter down on my face and stomach, warming the thin layer of mud all over my body. The mud is cocooning me, forming a thin dirt shell, but my skin rejoices in a moist layer below the slowly drying mud. My fingers and toes twitch in the super fine mud-silt below, nothing but the softest substance possible in the human experience. A cold whiff of the crisp minty mountain air flows through my nostrils, then a deep breath escapes my lungs. My tongue tastes a silvery sweet bit of silt on my lips. The sound of the rushing river nearby relaxes my eardrums, and then they are offended by the slop of a hand. My eyes feather open to see the aboriginal boy next to me shift his hand in the chocolate mud. I think back to how I ever got there.
Riding on the back of a scooter is no massage therapy; with the weight of two people the shocks are worthless. Mao Lin, Taiwan: Tropical warm mountains with warm rivers and waterfalls, and an unforgettable old man. The old man’s house was open to the air, rotten food was thrown out onto the ground, and flies were everywhere. My upper lip rose slightly at the sight of it. No television, no A/C, no females, only a wooden couch, work bench, and his aboriginal friends huddled in his outdoor kitchen joking and laughing. It must suck to live here because it’s so far from everything, there’s only one store, if a typhoon comes then everything gets wiped out. This aboriginal village is built on a 45 degree angle down a mountain. There’s nowhere to get gas, the school only has 12 kids in it. There’s no one to talk to but crusty old people. A cigarette spilled out of the old man’s open mouth, along with a jumble of Taiwanese mixed with Mandarin, as he showed us his prized rocks. Stacks of baskets filled with black dirty stinky ugly rocks towered next to me. “Today you will help me gather these dragon bone stones,” he said.
A thick cloud of cigarette smoke filled the cab of the old man’s Jeep as its front tires dipped into a mountain stream, then relentlessly charged to the opposite bank. “A typhoon just cleared out that cliff, we search here.” One, two three, four, five, five of the rocks in one minute, he was fast. Can he really make a living selling these rocks? Do we have to spend all day with this crusty smelly fussy oldster just to repay him for the free food and place to sleep? Minutes seemed like hours, there were was nothing there. The old man waddled above the rocks bending up and down and up and down picking up a pebble after pebble.
After what seemed like eternity, my lips pursed into a smile as my hand lifted the first dragon bone stone that day, one of many to come. A rusty golden nugget sat in the center of each the black rock, like peanut butter at the center of chocolate candy.
Suddenly the old man had a halo above his head, his face was more youthful, his eyes wise and full of meaning. He knew something, a golden gem, not one of matter, one of how to live life. He and all the aboriginals here were enjoying life to the fullest; they were happier than any people on earth despite their obvious lack of everything that was supposed to bring happiness. They had nothing, but at the same time they had everything. They had mountains, rivers, tropical plants, food, houses, family, and friends. They were not conquering nature, they let nature conquer them. They worshipped nature, respected nature; they were nature: living harmoniously among the rivers and hills and boars and monkeys and deer and crawdads and mosquitos and trees and dust. They didn’t have technology, fancy houses, fast cars, fancy clothes; they had what God created for them: the earth, nature and all its beauty. That was enough to satisfy them. A scene flashed across my mind, a white man with longing blue eyes sitting in a chair in the old man’s kitchen, staring at the mountains for a lifetime.
Flying through the air, down, up, let go. Cold water stings, envelopes, diaphragm bursts with uncontrollable laughter in a mountain waterfall pool. Pressure in the shoulders, weight from the mighty river current massages. Jump, break the water surface, feet hit the mud below, jump up, break the surface, breathe, aboriginal boys laughing.
Fists clenched tight to the wire bridge, heart racing, wide eyed, finger snaps a photo a mile above the valley floor.
Headlamp, two glittering eyes in the cold water, net behind, hand in front, scare him in, shrimp king for dinner.
Hot steam pampers the nostrils and green slime caresses the skin.
Aim, whish, bullseye, aim, whish, bullseye, aim, whish, bullseye, aim, whish, bullseye, aim, wish, bullseye.
Hot feet, hot feet, a lost flip-flop, the only choice is to dive into the river.
Young aboriginal kid finds precious mud next to a stream, chocolate on the skin, soft and soothing, warm and gentle, flying in the clouds, weightless.
My thoughts return to the present. I stand up in a beam of sunlight; I can see trees and mountains through the window, my eyes absorb the beautiful spring colors. The door to the busy bossy sassy stressy messy man made world creaks open. Fingers are softly cradling the dragon bone necklace, I stroll boldly ahead, and my heart is free, wandering in Maolin.
We are US Expats that have extensive experience living, working, and travelling in Taiwan. In our day, we had to learn many things about Taiwan the hard way. But we have come to learn that Taiwan is one of the best places in the world for Foreigners to live. Our blog does not represent the opinions of every foreigner in Taiwan. We are just trying to help others learn more about this beautiful country.