I am walking down the street of Taichung, Taiwan. The surrounding buildings have captured my attention. Each one is unique and interesting. I am half listening to Rich. My senses struggle to synthesize the sights, sounds, and smells. We come to the cross walk. The crossing light looks different. Underneath the numerical countdown is a little guy. He is wearing a hat. He starts walking when the countdown begins. He has a groove to him. To our surprise when the number hits fifteen, the illustration scurries.
“Here in Taiwan pedestrians do not have the right of way.” Rich cautions as we enter the crosswalk. Ok sure. I don’t think about it again. We come to another big intersection. My focus is solely on the grooving crosswalk guy. I kind of hear Rich caution me but then all of a sudden I am eye to headlamp with a sports car and he is not stopping and just as Rich grabs my arm the car halts. “Dude! I’m walkin here!” (said in a Yonkers (New York City) accent]. I think. I am sure my face communicates just that. Rich sweeps me to the curb. This in itself tells you how close I was to getting hit by a car.
“Hon, in Taiwan you don’t have the right of way.”
“I’m suppose to stand out in the middle of the road and let all the cars go by?!”
He shrugs. I am dumbfounded. I don’t realize the impact at the the time, but a basic belief of mine-Pedestrians have the right of way in crosswalks-has been shattered.
The next day is a work day for Rich. We eat breakfast together among the Taiwanese CNY celebrants. I look around at the different tables. An elderly woman is handing her husband his plate. It is 7 am. At another table is a mom and dad with a toddler and baby. Their hair exposes the kind of night they have had. Groups come in, some zombie like, others chatty. I eat my lobster porridge guessing at their circumstances. Rich heads to work and I go back to room 2018. I have big plans. The hotel has provided a map and I have starred the Starbucks and an outlet mall. Before I know it, it is lunchtime. I have been skyping and texting friends and family. I get dressed and head out down the street.
The city is beautiful. The buildings continue to enthrall me. I notice there is not much traffic and note that this day is when they eat the holiday meal at the wife’s family home. So organized. America should adopt this orderly way of running the holidays. Walking is not easy. The sidewalk is divided. There is a wide path next to the road. Planters, light poles, and benches form a center area, and then there is sidewalk directly in front of the business. Family groups are out and about. I am the only single person walking. The members of these groups are carrying big shopping bags. I dodge and weave through the obstacles, scanning the horizon for a better path all the while.
And then there are the scooters. There are way more scooters in Taiwan than Hiroshima. At the stoplight there is a box at the front of the lane. This is where all the scooters gather waiting for the green light. When the light turns green there is the cutest acceleration noise. What you see isn’t cute. Because cars go faster than scooters there is this dangerous dance where the cars overtake them. Most of the time there are at least two riders on these scooters. Many times children are riding in front and behind the driver! On this day there were not many scooters on the road. They are all parked on the sidewalk.
So between the treacherous crosswalks, passing groups of people and winding through a menagerie of parked scooters, I was glad to get back to my hotel.
And there I stayed. I would skype friends and family in the morning. The hotel had a lovely gym and lap pool. I would work out, then clean up, eat, take a nap and watch tv. For the first time since I was in the States I could watch American news and movies. The time would fly and before I knew it, Rich would walk in the door at 5ish. I would have made dinner reservations and we would head out.
On the weekend we headed out to see the city. Many times it was easier to walk in the road. Every now and again I would be hit with a horrible smell. It was worse than the grease trap smell we sometimes run into back in Japan. Then I started to notice that some of the grates would have rubber mats over the top. The smell was as oppressive as the architecture was captivating. We end up at a jade market. Jade is a Taiwan specialty. The space reminds me of the holiday bazaars back home. Tables pushed together are loaded down with jade bracelets, medallions, and what appear to be religious items. The Buddha’s, dragons, pigs and dogs of all shapes, color and for beckon me. As we walk between the tables, the merchants and their families look at us with hungry eyes. Unlike the hotel, English isn’t immediately spoken here. Red and gold thread, accents and ornaments remind us that the Chinese New Year is still going on. I am taken aback at my own response to it all. I feel raw, vulnerable, unsafe. Numbly I follow Rich through the maze of booths avoiding eye contact, smiling meekly. When Rich haggles over a bracelet I want to run.
Monday rolls around and I just do my thing. I don’t leave the hotel. The time passes quickly. At 5pm the executive lounge has happy hour so I take my computer down and write. Guilt weighs heavy.
The guilt is not enough to expel me out of the hotel. Instead I go with my flow. I actually pay attention to my body and follow its lead. The mornings are spent lazily. Sounds of the vacuum send me to the gym. At one point I am skipping/dancing on the treadmill lip singing the Fight Song by Rachel Platten. Another day I treadmill/ watch the Democratic debate. I cool off in the lap pool. I nap. I watch movies and documentaries. I read the articles on Facebook before I share them. I meditate, pray the rosary, read the daily Lenten readings, color in my Mary Engelbreit coloring book. And then Rich comes home and we go out to dinner. To my surprise the less I resist, the better I feel. I go out but end up coming right back home, chastising myself the entire way home. Relief comes through writing. As I write my friend my travel plans, it hits me. I need to rest up. My inner self is forcing me to rest. A second belief is shattered-being busy is being good. The weight lifts and floats away.
Today is different. From the minute I open my eyes I feel like getting out. The jade market that we found last week is open and I know right where it is. The hotel staff greets me as soon as I step off the elevator. The sun is trying to break through the smog. I walk down a now familiar street. As I approach the crosswalk I stand next to the other pedestrians. We cross in a group. Like a little civic taking advantage of a semi, I shadow a native. A realization dawns on me. Walking in the town is not very fun for me. I can’t absorb my surroundings. The smell, the traffic, the lack of a clear path recasts a walk into a trek. It’s not fun. Truth sets us free.
I end up going a different way to the jade market than planned. I come across a beautiful garden area in front of an apartment building. As I walk down the street I see they are putting in a new sidewalk. I walk in the road constantly checking over my shoulder. I check my insides. All is calm. As soon as I can, I get on the sidewalk. I stop and look at the beautiful landscape in front of another grand apartment building. Breathing deep, my insides are at peace. By the time I get to the jade market I feel like myself. I am looking for the right souvenirs. Deep inside the building I come face to face with a woman who seems to be able to read my mind. She smiles and greets me in English. Eyes sparkling she says, “Please look at my things, they are each made by hand by me.” She has a small retail space. Each piece is unique. “You get my special price.” Not needing to haggle.
It has been revealed that the apartment building that crumbled here in Tainan, Taiwan, during the earthquake, lacked integrity. Holding on to beliefs that are untrue causes us integrity issues. As I write this, people very dear to me are suffering. CNN and Facebook inform me of the suffering of strangers. I hold all of these very close to my heart. Uncovering beliefs that are not true strengthens my heart’s integrity, enabling it to do the work it needs to do.