A field of Taiwanese flags lay before their eyes, dancing in the breeze. Below, a group of Swedes rippled the bluer-than-blue river with rocks and pebbles and baby boulders. It was a gentle day, and as they walked alongside the miniature train track, they marveled at the intense amount of waterfalls in the area. Being in the adventurous category, they were determined to get to the other side of these waterfalls. What lay behind them? Possibly nothing. But, possibly magical pools of healing waters. Thus, they skipped across the bridge suspended in air by ropes, bobbing along in the gorge. On the other side they were met by another hundred waterfalls. As they rounded the corner, out from behind a purple bush of sweetness, came a hungry pack of dogs. One of the girls screamed, as usual. And the dogs ran for her, of course. Luckily, the Dad of the dogs wasn’t far behind, and in a matter of seconds he’d scooped them all up and locked the gate to their land.
An hour later, or rather hours, after scrambling up muddy banks and not-so-carefully carved stone steps, they decided the adventure was almost complete. It was time to retreat back to where they’d started and dip their tired toes, and maybe even their lethargic legs, into burning hot springs. After all, that’s what this country is well-known for. They were both more than aware of the fact that there was no-way on earth they were walking back. It was a trek fit for kings. They decided they’d try and score a taxi. It didn’t take long. Infact, that familiar beacon-bright yellow wonder was already waiting on their arrival. So, the girl who’s tongue was capable of muttering an assortment of the local lingo, blurted out their final destination, and before she could argue the price, her body had already accepted and nestled itself cosily into the back seat. And just as soon as the other girl had firmly closed the door, their journey had begun.
The driver was a normal-looking gent. He had a slightly weathered face and wore a hat that could be confused with a driver from the early 20th century in London. In other words, he looked the part. His tongue was rural. The girl had to sit sideways and block out all other senses. Here, the ear, was of most importance. She gathered all her strength and memory of the last month’s worth of knowledge and tuned in. It worked. The sounds and rhythms were flowing. It was strange. She almost wished she’d recorded it, but for the most part, she remembers it well. There was the usual back and forth, and then the not so usual-
Driver: Ah, so, lady, you studied Chinese on the mainland (China), didn’t you?
Girl: Uh yes, I did. Can you tell?
Driver: Oh yes, I can tell alright. Yup, Shenzhen. You two ladies met in Shenzhen, am I right?
Girl 2 with the unfamiliar tongue: SHENZHEN?! He just said Shenzhen???!
Girl: Um, excuse me sir, did you say Shenzhen?
Driver: So you friend’s a teacher, and she’s American right? I can tell.
Girl: Um..sir…how do you know that? What about me?
Driver: You’re obviously not a teacher, you’re a student. Are you from England?
Girl. NO! Scotland. Have you heard of that country? It’s north of England…
Driver: Oh, of course. You’re so tall, and that skin of yours, white white! But pretty! Ah yes, the land of the Scots…
( And so on and so forth…until…)
Driver: Can I ask you a question? Do you have a husband?
Girl: NO! (laughs) I’m only 25!!
Driver: Well there must be a boyfriend at least?
Girl: I wish!
Driver: Oh well that’s strange, because I can see two young men. Yes, two. But it’s not too clear. But they are both the same. They are the same.
(He continued to tell the girl she would be married by 28, have lots of money and be very lucky).
Driver: OK, I’m just going to take you to the shop to buy water…
Girl: Oh, thank you, but it’s OK, there’s no need.
They arrive at the shop and Girl 2 with the unfamiliar tongue jumps out. Girl is left alone with Driver. Girl goes to hand over the decided amount…
Driver: Oh no, 200NT is ok, please keep the extra 100NT and buy lots of water. Can I see your palm please? You see, this is how I can tell…Ah yes, last weekend. You drank too much whisky didn’t you? Your health was poorly afterwards. Please don’t do this again. Please go and buy lots of water and drink it immediately. Ah yes, 28. A special year- a lot of money and a husband. OK, bye lady. What a pleasure to meet you!
Girl: Uh, what? Sorry, um…ah…OK…ah thank you sir. Yes, so nice to meet you too! Really, thank you, thank you so much. Wow, goodbye!
And off the taxi flew, quite literally into thin air. Not even a puff of engine smoke, as if it had never been there. And the girl…the girl burst into the shop, shaking and smiling and wondering what had just gone down in the land of Wulai.
(They DID meet in Shenzhen. There may be a boy…maybe not…She did learn Chinese in China. She did drink FAR too much whisky the weekend before. She had to go to hospital for medicine.)
This world. The people you can meet when you’re least expecting it. The things you can discover or re-discover. The magic you can find just behind that waterfall…