2018 Fall Locations Taiwan Temple Exchange Thomas Kuklinski

“Talking About Water:” Nighttime Exploration on the Edge of Taipei

I woke up from an afternoon nap that stretched way too long into the evening. I drank a cup of coffee before I sat down, but I somehow managed to fall asleep with book on my face. It had been raining for a while now. The rain gave everything this slick sheen, reflecting the traffic poles and brake lights in my window. I didn’t feel like eating. I just laid in bed and listened to the rain.

All of a sudden I decided to go to the beach. I got out the door in five minutes. It was terrible weather, already dark outside, but I’d been stuck in the same square mile of Taipei for the last month. I had to get out.

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It wasn’t hard to get to the beach. I got on a crowded metro car and took it to the end of the line, away from Taipei. It started underground, rose above the streets, then fell into the middle of a highway. I got off in 談水 (Támsuǐ, literally translates to “talking about water”), a tourist town on the edge of New Taipei City. At this point it was already 10 pm. The metro station was crowded with people, taxis, buses. The air was a strange heavy mix of diesel exhaust, cigarette smoke, and salt air.

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Outside of the metro station, 談水 was deserted. There was a strange energy. It wasn’t raining, the city just felt damp and cold. For a while, it was just me and stray cats on the street. I followed them down alleys, around the back of Buddhist temples, until I got to the waterfront.

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The water had this uneasy glow — one of the most unnatural blues combined with hazy orange streetlights. The water was ugly and opaque and gargled as it hit the pier. I don’t know what the old men were planning to catch, but the waterfront was lined with fishermen. I spent almost two hours taking pictures of the water. It didn’t look real. The clouds trapped the light in, nothing had a shadow. Everything just faintly radiated light.

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I realized it was time to leave when my camera finally died. It was 2 am. The last train left hours ago, and there were no buses running. A taxi would have been too expensive, so I biked home. I wound up biking along the metro line. The streetlights were so bright here it was like I was biking during the day, but if I looked away from the trail it was pitch dark.

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Wet leaves soaked the trail. I wove my way in and out of puddles, remnants from the typhoon that just passed. The trail turned away from the train tracks and went over the river. It still smelled like the ocean, but here the water was an inky black. I kept biking, now along a highway, slowly snaking my way back into Taipei.

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By now, the sky wanted to lighten as the sun rose, but the clouds kept everything a medium grey. My phone had been dead for hours by now, and the isolation was liberating. No music, no directions, no messages. I was alone in a city of 4 million people. The further I got into the city, the more it woke up. 24-hour arcades and karaoke parlors let their last patrons stumble out. Bakeries started steaming buns. Delivery trucks took over the streets.

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As I got closer to my apartment, it started to rain again. The sky got darker as the sun rose. I got drenched within a mile of my apartment when a mail truck plowed through an oily iridescent puddle. The rain  managed to wash this off of me.

I got home at 6 am. I came home soaked and exhausted after this oddly cathartic experience. I washed the ocean, rain, and sweat off of my body and collapsed in bed. I was glad to be back in my apartment, back in my square mile of Taipei.

 

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