Today has got to be one of the most beautiful days I have ever witnessed. It’s the second day of Chinese New Year here in Taiwan, and the entire land is blissfully on vacation.
In traditional Chinese culture – which Taiwan observes more truly to its original loving intent than China does – on Chinese New Year people give out “hong bao” (red envelopes or 紅包) into which are inserted gift certificates or cash money. These are given to all the loved ones, especially from parents and grandfolks to their children and grandchildren. As I went to the bank the other day, I got a half dozen of these envelopes for free. So this morning I stuffed them each with 1000 Taiwan dollars (about USD $30) and stuck them into my biker jacket before setting off today.
As a peace offering, I set one on my upstairs neighbors door sill. I’ve recently been fighting with them because of all the damn noise they make at all hours of night. As I walked out of the building, I gave two to my landlords – keep them happy. I used my little scooter to run errands, stopped at some cafés. Got lunch. Came home and took a great nap. Late this afternoon I hopped on my gentle Blue Bird, a giant heavy cruiser motorcycle, and I intended a peace-filled ride into the countryside.
I turned errantly and intentionally got myself lost as the fields and unfamiliar villages passed by. It was that kind of day – to see what life would show me while rambling about. I wasn’t worried about being lost. The sun was still up, so at least I knew what the cardinal directions were. I could always just turn west and hit the coast highway to get home that way.
Along the way I stopped and gave a hong-bao envelope to a dark-skinned farmer grampa whose back was stunted from planting and hoeing the ground all his life. He was so happy. He held my hand and thanked me profusely. I told him to go home and buy his wife a nice dinner. His eyes opened suddenly and he exclaimed he would. As I sped off, in my rear-view mirror I could see he had dropped his tools where they were and he was already riding his little scooter back home.
I rode on. Egret birds on their graceful stilted legs pecked hungrily in the fields for tadpoles, tiny fish and bugs. I saw a lady praying at a countryside temple. Gave a hong bao to her and told her she was beautiful, and I told her to bless her family. She was so happy.
Close to sunset I passed a countryside rail road station and saw a young girl standing by the roadside with her thumb stuck out – the first and only time I have EVER seen someone hitch-hiking in Taiwan. She also had dark skin (which is rare for such a young girl her age). So she must have grown up in the countryside, perhaps been a farmer or laborer. She had one large bag and two smaller ones. I stopped and asked her if she had been waiting long. She said not too long. But I could tell by her manner she was being polite. She had been waiting long but was too humble to admit it. It was New Year, and it’s bad luck to make people be worried over your misfortunes. And for her to go hitch-hiking, face it, no-one hitch-hikes in Taiwan. So if she was hitch-hiking, that meant she was poor and couldn’t afford a taxi fare to where she was going.
I asked her if she needed a ride, and she beamed at me. “But this is a motorcycle!” I gestured with my thumb pointing behind me, “And there’s a seat in the back!” I set her large bag on my fuel tank in front of me, which I kept from slipping off by corralling it between my knees. She slung up her other two bags. We chatted over my shoulder as I rode us slowly down the road. She was a student in the small city down south, had just stepped off the train, and was on the last leg of her journey to a small country academy to see some friends there for the holiday.
She asked me where I was going. I told her I was lost, and I was just letting the road take me where it will. Today was the day for this kind of thing. She laughed and said that was so cool.
We covered the few kilometers to her destination pretty quickly, and she had me stop at a small store at roadside. I handed her her big bag, which she placed carefully onto the ground.
Then I asked her what her name was, and she said “Timo”. I said “I’m John,” took off a riding glove and held out out my hand. I held her hand for a moment and said, “Timo, thank you so much!” She looked surprised, and exclaimed she was the one who should thank me. I set her hand free and reached into my jacket for the last red envelope. I gave it to her using both hands – as is the tradition denoting full respect and attention to the person you’re giving it to. She was shocked and happy.
I said, “That we met today was indeed fate – a good sign.” She nodded and understood. I thought then to when I first saw her standing there by the road. Something told me she was one of the few “awake” people I had met in this beautiful land.
So here she stood before me, eyes shining, ready to walk on to her school down the village lane. But I could tell she wanted to do something, like exchange phone numbers. If I were a younger man, I would have asked her as she was indeed beautiful. But I knew that if it were meant to be, I would indeed meet her again. In my heart, I would cherish today forever for having met her.
She asked me where I was going. I pointed south, “Down that road, wherever it takes me.” She smiled silently.
I meandered south a while and then turned west to go home. As I sped on, I saw fields of freshly planted rice, pungent garlic and sweet yellow flower, whose oil is used for cooking here.
The sun was setting before me. A perfect show, and so breath-taking. In the sky before me was a huge reddish-orange cloud that looked like it was a cloaked giant spacecraft. And it probably was.
How beautiful. All of this that I witnessed today. Meanwhile Jimi Hendrix’s May This Be Love was playing through my mind the entire time.
As I sped on toward the sun, I turned my head to the sky and shouted, “Thank you!” many times.
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