Shift

Text and photos by Mailé Nguyen, ETA 2018–19

Perhaps I traveled to Taiwan for closure—a proper goodbye. To remind myself of what I wasn’t missing. Or perhaps my convoluted reasoning had led me to believe I could find reconciliation with someone from my past.

I had come to Taipei alone. I prefer solo travel for self-reflection, and my first semester in Korea weighed me with plenty of thoughts to pick through. Even in a city as busy as Taipei, it’s easy to find peace if you know where to look. I found myself drawn to parks. Though it was January, Taipei was still warm, and the greenery was thriving. For me, walking through a park is the most effective form of meditation. I am able to turn off my swarming thoughts and simply observe the people and scenery, or I can revel in my anonymity and let my mind wander.

I tried to convince myself that I wasn’t in Taipei for anyone but myself. I had made a plan to visit Taiwan and I was simply following through. But my plans to come to Taipei had held a different weight months earlier, and it was that recognition that colored my thoughts and my solitude.

As I wandered through parks and night markets, I caught myself looking for someone. A person I could easily pick from the hive of black hair and olive skin. I had originally planned to meet them in the city, but that felt like lifetimes ago. I didn’t want to find them, but I kept looking. Get a grip, I chanted at myself again and again, as the intrusive thoughts continued to buzz.

The next day, I fled to Jiufen. The old town was an hour bus ride north of Taipei, and I was able to lose myself in the rainy Taiwanese landscape. It was still raining when I got to Jiufen. I was grateful for the metaphorical splash of water to the face, to bring me to my senses. The rain and subsequent fog added to the town’s mystery and intrigue. Jiufen’s jagged labyrinth of winding walkways offered much to explore. I didn’t mind hitting the dead ends or getting tangled at intersections. I let the old town rattle me in its streets.

I hazily drifted to Jiufen’s main attraction—a large tea house adorned with crimson lanterns. Supposedly, the tea house was Hayao Miyazaki’s inspiration when designing Spirited Away. The teahouse’s whimsy was only heightened by the ominous fog. The host led me to a table on the balcony while I waited for my tea. I sat in silence and absorbed my surroundings. When my tea came, I tried to follow the waitresses’ preparation instructions, but was admittedly perplexed by the plethora of pots in front of me. Despite my confusion, I quickly entered a similar meditative mindset as when I was walking in the park. The scene could not have been more perfectly set—a rainy day, sipping hot tea under a roofed balcony overlooking the foggy Taiwanese mountains.

I was utterly alone. Suddenly, I found peace with myself. I acknowledged the incessant swarm of thoughts, and let them become a passing hum. I stopped looking outward and started feeling inward. I took another sip of my tea, self-assured that my life was my own and no one else’s.

I had found reconciliation.