Thursday, December 15, 2011

For my friend in Hualien, Taiwan (September 3, 2011)

On the way back from Qixingtan I was wandering around the open air fruit and veg stands on the outskirts of town, when you tooled up to me on your scooter with your oversized helmet and started engaging me in conversation. If you hadn't led me back into town I might've missed my train. At first I was a bit concerned and on guard because what sort of honest business does a 70something man have approaching a lone 20something female foreigner? But you took me back into town, near the station, and treated me to one of the best meals I had during my two weeks in Taiwan: tender pork intestines, simply boiled young octopus (what we called nakji in Korea), showered with slivers of fresh gingerroot and rings of green onion, and the famous local wontons, trailing skirts of wrapper in the fried garlic-sprinkled broth, and furthermore plump boiled dumplings (shuijiao) with flavorful, bright fillings. It's the kind of food that I love and treasure but that you saw as being "normal"; the highest compliment, if you could call it that, that you gave the place was that it was "reasonably priced." And we shared a large bottle of Taipi and chatted about your work in lumber and your time in Okinawa, our stream of Mandarin patter punctuated occasionally by isolated Japanese words. And I noticed your bracelet before you told me you were benshengren, probably (but still controversially) best translated as 'local Taiwanese,' and wonder whether you could trace your ancestry back to a particular tribe. When it was time for me to get back to the rental office and return my bike before heading south, you paid for our food and got on your scooter and I didn't notice you behind me until I was about to pay for the time I spent with the bike and in you walked and took care of it just like that, the most generous nameless friend I have ever met.

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