About 4:00 AM. Sometime in May.
The predawn silence is broken only by the high-pitched chatter of birds and the occasional whirring of a lonely taxi. Buildings tower over and stand watch on the sleeping city; silent sentinels keeping an eye on the forest of concrete surrounding us. We stand silently, sleepy-eyed on the corner, our hands out to hail a cab. Three or four of the night -weary cabs pass before one signals, coasts across the lanes and arrives at the curb where we stand. As we slide into the backseat we sheepishly say, “我們要到松仁路和信義路去.” (We want to go to Songren Road and Xinyi Road.) The cab driver looks over his shoulder at us and says, “好,” (Ok) through betel nut red teeth. With that, we’re on our way.
On the move, the sleeping city speeds by with no cars, scooters, trucks, or people to cause the usual congestion. The normally bustling roads are little more than dry river beds. The buildings lining the roads are little more than abandoned bee hives. A city without life is an odd place. A martian land of solitude and concrete set to a soundtrack of low, droning Chinese music.
Before long we arrive. Our driver is paid, and we continue on as the first signs of light paint the sky shades of orange, pink, and blue: the watercolors of dawn. Down the deserted road we walk silently, both of us understanding the tired states we’re in. Only the goal lies ahead: 象山-Elephant Mountain. The walk is a lonely one until we pass by a park populated by nothing but elderly people practicing 太極(Tai-Chi) and chickens pacing among them, pecking the ground for food.
Finally, we reach the stairs leading up the lush green mountain. Uneven, stone steps covered in morning dew, light green mosses and fungi show us the way. Upward they travel, cutting a gash in an ancient forest. Up we follow. Along the journey we are joined by snails slowly inching their way forward like tiny tanks and an assortment of insects that doubtless make this trek every day, crisscrossing the man made path dividing their home. Elderly people pass by on their way down the mountain and whisper, “早安,” (Good morning.) as if to not wake the sleeping city below.
Onward we press. With every step comes a droplet of sweat oozing from thousands of pores all over our bodies. As we near the top the steps only get steeper and steeper, daring us to climb forward. On a couple hours of sleep and no food we press on undeterred. As we round a corner we see our destination, a set of large, jagged boulders in a clearing. A perfect lookout. Closer and closer they come until we reach their cool flanks. With our spot picked, we climb alone onto the largest boulder and settle onto our resting place. Above us, only the sky. Below us, a boulder carved with the names and dates of hundreds of visitors carved on hundreds of visits. Below that still, we look out to see the sun peeking out and illuminating the place we call home: Taipei.
Colors dance on the lightly rippling and rolling clouds, shimmer off the countless glass windows peppering countless steel and concrete buildings, and setting alight the emerald mountains. A soft haze that has been covering the city begins to rise and dissipate as the city starts to wake from its slumber. A lumbering, bustling giant casting off its blanket and waking for another day.
We lie back and feel the rocky bed where we rest and the gentle breezing licking our sweat. We look out at the ever-changing painting below us, its evolving colors and movements. We take in the mumbling of the birds and insects and the growing sounds of our waking city. We smell the wetness of the undergrowth and trees that surround and protect us on our perch. We taste the damp, humid air as it warms and smothers us. What a beautiful city this is. What a beautiful world this is. What a beautiful life this is.
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