The collected writings of a Renegade Tourist

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The Church Common Room, 11:12 am

The praying has started. The two old men to my side have clasped their hands in front of their stomachs and are shaking them up and down. One of them is mumbling something unintelligible, the other keeps repeating the words halelulululujah espiritusususu over and over again. On the wall opposite the two men is an old TV and the grainy picture shows the nave upstairs with the congregation. They have their backs to the camera so I cannot see their clasped hands, only their upper arms rising and falling rhythmically in time with the ululations of their prayers. The voices floating down from above sound like a ghostly choir on the howling wind. My young son's reaction to this is clasp his hands and shake them vigorously, a bright smile on his face.

The Market, 11:17 am

There are people absolutely eveywhere. They’re all around me, moving in all directions all at once. Each person has their own goal but together they become like ants, milling about frantically. Scooters mixing in with the people, normally so nimble, this crowd makes them feel big and clumsy, and they creep along at the same pace as the pedestrians. There’s noise all around, the omnipresent murmur of voices, the buzzing of scooter engines, and the shouts of vendors. I can see my wife ahead of me, but the sea of people has filled the gap between us. Beyond her, the … Read the rest

Xinlun Park, 2:36 pm

PLIMATES. The text is still clearly visible on the otherwise worn old paint bucket. It's being used as a temporary-come-permanent flower pot. There's nothing strange about that, except the location. I'm surrounded by greenery, to my left the park with it's bushes and trees, and to the right - just beyond the fence - lies the river, weeds growing on the banks and in the shallows, clear blue water gurgling past. For some unfathomable reason, there's a large collection of potted plants arranged in rows along the sides of the path. It's a haphazard mix of pots; old buckets, Styrofoam boxes, and actual flower pots in all shapes, sizes and colors; with just as varied a mix of plants growing in them. It's so strange to see them here, despite being real living plants they almost feel artificial - sort of out of place in the landscape. I've already taken a bunch of photos but I'm not sure they can fully convey the feeling. As I turn on my camera to snap a few more, one question is at the front of my mind: why would someone - clearly not the gardeners - bring a bunch of random potted plants to a park? 

Taigang Hotspring trail, 4:19 pm

There is no trail! All there is, is a narrow ledge, barely wide enough for one person. To the left, a near vertical wall of rock, greenery spilling over the edge up above; to the right, a steep drop down to the swiftly flowing turquoise water, swirling and frothing as it passes over and around some big boulders in the stream, the sound of rushing water filling the air. A thin rope, attached at intervals to the rock, trails along the cliff side; no way of knowing how well it will hold. I grab on to it more for psychological support than actual safety. I don't want to stumble here, focus on placing my feet; step by step by step until the ledge widens. I can relax again and take in my surroundings; the gently rolling green of the opposite bank, the afternoon sun coming in at an angle, painting golden highlights on the tree tops. I stop briefly to snap a quick photo that doesn't quite capture the feeling, then continue onwards.

Taigang Hotspring trail, 1:50 pm

The trail is narrow, just wide enough for one person, with thick green stalks of bamboo growing along the edges. It creeps along the hillside, following the windings of the river some twenty meters below. The path is shaded, with patches of light where the sun reaches in through the sparse forest. A soft breeze rustles the leaves and keeps away the worst of the fierce mid day heat.

Shangshan Cafe, 4:41 pm

What my eyes see as fairy-tale-esque, the camera screen shows as flat. Three verdant mountains rising up in my left, one behind the other, their sides dotted with clusters of white tong flowers. The mists swirl around their peaks, alternately revealing the greenery for a moment then hiding it again. In front and to the right the valley opens up, lighter greens and more white flowers, another mist shrouded mountain in the distance. I take a sip of my tea then pick up the camera again, readjust the settings and put my eye to the viewfinder. Let's see if I can capture that magical atmosphere this time.

Dakeng Trail No. 9, 10:48 am

oise, vendors announcing their prices, groups of hikers talking to each other, old men listening to music on speakers rather than headphones. This is not what you expect when heading out hiking. A few other people, sure, but not an entire horde of merrymakers. That whole thing of going out in nature and getting away from the stress of city life is pretty meaningless here. I turn and head up trail number nine, hoping the crowds will thin out...

The Office, 9:57 pm

stripe repeating over and over. The beige floor and white tiles in the ceiling, florescent tube lights at regular intervals. Off to my left are the offices of the managers, frosted glass in aluminum frames separating them from the rest of us. The managers have all gone home, their rooms are dark and empty. I'm all alone here. I know there are people in the assembly hall and warehouse but they might as well not exist. There's always some noise in the office, a phone conference in one corner; someone walking by with a cup of coffee, a couple people chatting at their desks, the clatter of people typing emails; but now it's completely quiet save for the ambient hum from the server room. Half of the ceiling lights are off, my section still has light but the far ends of the room are enveloped in shadow. It feels so bizarre to be here, like I'm in an abandoned building but I know it's not. Like the daily routine has been put on pause and I'm here like an outside observer, seeing what's left behind when the workers leave. 

Mountain Road 竹29, 3:57 pm

The road is narrow, barely more than a car’s breadth, nature closing in on both sides, a ribbon of cracked and broken asphalt zigzaging its way through the forest. In a car I’d be taking it slow here, but now I’m going as fast as I dare, leaning from corner to corner, fully focused on the road ahead. Shift down, counter steer, accelerate out of the corner, green trees whizzing by. Shift up for the straight, just a few seconds, patches of blue up above then eyes back to the tarmac, ease it down for the next corner. Just me, … Read the rest

Wuliaojian trail 7:34 am

I don’t think my photos can accurately show how steep this is. It’s more like rock climbing than hiking. The trail is a jumble of rocks and exposed roots, polished smooth by thousands of hands, thick knotted ropes trailing along the sides for you to hold on to. Climbing is strenuous work: two steps forward, take a deep breath, step over a jutting out boulder, take a deep breath, grab on to some roots and haul yourself up, take a deep breath, a few meters of flat ground then at it again. This is exactly the kind of hiking that … Read the rest

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