January 2, 2007

The sky is heavy with the smell of almonds in the vicinity of Taipei. Butterflies drop suddenly in the rain and fly on. At a junction of highways a driver stops on the white part of the road and takes off his sweater. The sky is getting clear. A peacock’s feather waves on a truck’s bumper.

What is different in Taiwan? The characters. The kind of trees. The cages in front of windows in houses and buildings. Scores of parked scooters, one with gloves still attached to the handles. Everywhere in Taipei are trolleys of noodles, soup and dumplings. At the jelly-stores, two wooden figures are tick tacking up and down on metal. When a garbage truck approaches an electronical Für Élise sounds as a warning.

Girls are walking with pets in their bags. Cats. An ermine. A rabbit. A man barefoot in sandals, both his big toes in bandages. A window is cut out, of a cheek, of a woman on a banner as big as a facade.  Coloured pieces of clothing on coat hangers next to a courtyard garden. A table full of fire extinguishers. The consonant-less singing of Buddhists in the open temple. Their bells and gongs. The incense. The yellow stamped cartons to burn.

On New Year’s Eve a half a million people are drawn towards the new 101 Tower. Above the enlightened names of hi-fi brands is glowing the number 2007. People form wide queues that taper to see in between trees and buildings as much of the tower as possible. Then it starts. Fireworks launch off the tower and circle around. People photograph and film it with their mobile phones. Turn and film themselves with the tower behind them. After four minutes it is over. Most of them sprint as quickly as possible to a metro entrance. No one kisses each other. No body wishes anyone a Happy New Year.

Behind high roads of columns and walls runs the kilometre wide Tamshui River. No houses look out over the water. There are mountain bike trails, sport fields and garbage. Being able to breathe again. Walk back from here. Say xie xie. Hold up an open hand.