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The International Writers Magazine: Death in Taipei

Thinking About Taiwan
• AnnMary Mathew
Strange things happen at thresholds. Different dynamics hold. For example: your regular doorway threshold. People often forget and/or remember things when crossing them; so it’s been proven.

“I remember when…”
“What am I doing in this room?”
“That reminds me”
“__ had an enormous __ , if I remember correctly.”

Memories like bedbugs: they come back over and over again. Some are dead forever, until they come back. When they come back, you realize you had thought that they were dead forever.

On the plane, crossing over the great continental divide, I had three cups of coffee for no reason, trying to get high. A reliable caffeine high. Got tired and strung out instead.

There are several buddhist ideas I still don’t undestand: karma, no more rebirth, rebirth, become a buddha, kill the buddha.

Meaningless gibberish (to me). Like Chinese.

The plane was headed to China, eg, Taiwan.

I had started from my home, New York City. Virgin America. Modern planes, cabins lit in purple, with black upholstery. Expected porn to be played on the little screens on the backs of each seat. I liked the napkins: regular geometrical designs on them. Modern in a good way. The passenger safety video came on. Modern in a bad way. Snide, sarcastic: uncalled for, especially for a safety video.

On the way to Newark there was a billboard advertising a new kind of lightbulb: “You will probably burn out before it does. No offense”. Offense was taken. “The first rule of advertising is to not associate your product with death”. Modern in a bad way.

The plane was heading west, which is time-wise means backwards. Back in time for 13 hours. Seattle, Vancouver, Japan, Taiwan. In Taiwan, I slept for 13 hours, having vivid, violent dreams.

In Taiwan we stayed with an old friend of ~’s. They hadn’t seen each other for 13 years.

There was an earthquake that very day. We were sitting upstairs at a restaurant. The walls of the place didn’t look too great. ~ opened his eyes wider than you would expect from someone like him.

“It’s a big one,” he said.
I had never been in a real earthquake. After the shaking stopped, and I stopped shaking too, I asked “what should be done”, in an earthquake.
~ said “Be at peace with yourself.”.
“Haha……… no, really. Get under a doorway?”
That sounded right to him. Actually, he was wrong. You are supposed to ‘duck, cover, and hold on’, apparently. Get under a chair or table, and hold on to the shelter. Create a “void space” for yourself.

We went sightseeing. Drove around Taiwan: temples and mountains, mountains and temples. Crematories in the temples. Halls for the dead.
Death is a dirty word.
It makes this a dirty world.

Over dinner there was more death talk. ~ had a friend who kept having dreams about all his dead relatives on a stage, telling him to come join them. He went to a Jungian psychologist, who told his friend to “prepare”. ~ talked about someone he knew, an older woman. She kept having dreams about her dead husband calling her, telling her that it was “so easy”. She lived for a long time after that though. “Maybe it takes that long to prepare,” I said.

Crossing over has always been associated with ferries.

~ and I left Taiwan by boat to mainland China. It was a ferry meant for 600 passengers, apparently only able to find 100 at a time. Dining hall, sauna, and coffee lounge were all empty. Grand staircase lit by neon lights. Dirty rags on the floor to protect the carpet. There was usually more staff in sight than people.

We had a very narrow cabin to ourselves. At the far end of the cabin was a red night light that passengers cannot turn off; it stayed on all night. I remembered a bar in Shanghai I had been to 8 years earlier: a prostitute passed out there on a bar stool, under a red light. I might have been remembering a scene from a movie. I remembered the thumping music of a Shanghai nightclub spilling onto the sidewalk on which I had been wandering alone at three in the morning. At the time, I had imagined a prostitute passed inside, out under a red light: something I had seen in a Wong Kar Wai movie.

We arrived in Xiamen, China in the morning. Dock workers in orange safety vests following docking protocol.
© AnnMary Mathew September 2013

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