A Walk in Taiwan

It's dark. A light rain falls from above. It's not enough to seek shelter for, so I put my hood up and keep walking.

The streets are sparse. Umbrellas go up. Everyone walks their own path; mine works its way between them all. I see a clear route winding around young and old, families and singles. Not one person or party stops me in my tracks.

Except one.

The store fronts are still open, although some shutters start going down. I can see a few workers still cleaning up in them. They will soon be free to go home.

I watch the street so as to ensure I don't step in anything that will linger around. I make a final bend for my last stretch to my destination. And then I see him.

What is he doing? It looks like he's assorting recyclables, but clearly he's not a city worker. Is this how he makes his living? How different from how I do. What's it like, to live in such a way? I want to know, but how to ask?

"Good night," I say, desperate for a way to connect in some way.

"What do you want?" He asks unpleasantly. "Can't you see I'm busy. Do you need something, interrupting me like that?"

"No, sir, just saying good night."

He goes back to his work; a job I cannot understand in the slightest. It looks too complex or chaotic to jump in and help. I don't dare.

"Mommy, Look! There's a foreigner over there." I hear a small child's voice a few meters away.

"Say 'hello, how are you?' Can you say it?" Her mom encourages her.

The little girl turns away, burying her face in her mom. Her mom smiles a friendly smile and turns to walk away.

I don't say anything. I'm almost at the restaurant. It's a small place with no menu. It's run by foreigners from Vietnam. One of them can speak Mandarin, the other can't. I ask for a bowl of Pho and sit next to a group of seven industrial workers. Our only common language is Mandarin, but most of them can't speak very much.

"Where are you from?" They ask the obvious question.

I say my country, but they don't understand; they've never learned how to say it. I think it's probably better this way; who knows what they'd think of me after they knew.

Their Mandarin runs out. One of them asks me a question in Vietnamese. I don't understand. They laugh. I eat my noodles.

They finish before me, but I leave soon after. I pass them on the road later and one of the boys yells out to me, "Do you want to be this guy's husband?" He motions to one of their drunk friends.

I don't answer. I just smile and turn to walk away.

It's still raining. It's still dark. I put my hood up again and keep walking.

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