Ode to Jhunan

November 29, 2011 at 11:30 am | Posted in culture, outdoors, Taiwan | Leave a comment
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It’s not cold except when you move and the humidity clings to you. Wind breakers and down jackets are essential; a scooter ride is chilling and indoors there’s no heating. A hot shower or steaming congee is the only way to warm up.

Balmy, wet Philippine air curls paper and leaves condensed pools on the tile floor. The smoke from the industrial park is indiscernible in the rainy mist. Mountains appear through clearing air. Puddles evaporate and the atmosphere thickens once more. A few days and mosquito eggs will hatch. Birds chitter-chatter, feasting. At night the bats take over.

Green foliage gets greener. Wildflowers grow at the edges of rice-paddies and scrubland. Butterflies flit, avoiding stray dogs’ playful bites. The Red Man stares out over town, bare-chested, barrel-bellied, taller than the surrounding buildings. The god of fecundity, he seems out of place among the factories, better fitting the mountains beyond.

Food stalls change. Lychee and pineapple trucks appear every day. Dessert orders alter; no more warm tofu or sweet red bean soup. It’s mango shaved ice from now on. Air-conditioning soon follows. The streets feel grimier than ever as the heavy air clings to all surfaces, absorbing dirt spewed out by scooters, cars and 7-11 delivery trucks.

The road shimmers with heat mirages, but at night it’s cockroaches that glisten. Scurrying brown bodies cross the bathroom floor. Movement on the wall; a tiny gecko running out of sight.

Cumulonimbus tower where coastal flatland meets the mountains; stratus whisp away above the rolling waves. Shifting sand is in fact a myriad of tiny, see-through crabs hot-footing it across the burning grains. The huge white arms of windmills sway lazily. The weather has calmed. Surfers eat burgers and drink at the bar whilst families stroll the cycle route through the forest.

At the harbour, the sign says ‘shrimp monkey’ in English, Chinese, Vietnamese and Indonesian. Crunchy fried things and fresh seafood are for sale. A man buys three long silver fish and scooters off with them balanced at his feet, pointed noses sticking out on one side and shiny blue tails at the other. Strangely, Matsu, protectress from the sea, has her back to the harbour, instead looking west towards the Red Man. But she must still care as tour buses of devotees regularly visit her temple.

Listless, tumultuous gusts blow hanging clothes on balconies, knock over potted plants and free-standing signs in the streets; the typhoon hits the other side of the island and is barely felt here, except for a lifting of the mugginess.

Soon the wind will start to cool. Walking into the street will not feel like walking into a dirty, decaying greenhouse. For a few weeks the days will be glorious and the evenings cool. Then the clamminess will set in and it’ll be time for the electric blanket and ginger milk tea or hot and sour soup.


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