I sit at a restaurant whose name I could surely pronounce if only I could read it. The eggs and shrimp are delicious (hǎo chī), a taste aided in no small part by the cost: US$3. Leehom stares at me from an ad outside the window, and a Chinese version of a Les Miserables song filters a unique color over many memories.
Loneliness has taken me here — to Taiwan, to Taipei, and out of my apartment on this warm and breezy evening. I set out at 9:30pm with my Chinese study materials, searching for a place to sit and ingest some protein (I have finally gone to the gym today). Having been turned away at 10:00pm from one Café Gratzie, whose sign boasts its service through midnight, I undertake an exploration of the Guting neighborhood instead.
Roosevelt Street hides many things, especially at night. Most shops close by pulling metal doors over their storefronts, effectively disguising their identities. To me, the occasional Chinese signage above is no help. Daytime landmarks are erased. I find a 24-hour media center, but it is too expensive and the food is too greasy. Green, healthy food can be difficult to find here. I visit a 7-eleven, found on and between even street corner in the city (Starbuck’s reputation in America is a poor contender for this lime green bulwark). I scan every cold section for a protein drink, but find few convincing pictures, and fewer convincing Englishs.
I visit Shida, the night market area, trying to find a place to study. “Kāi dào jǐ diǎn zhōng?” I ask — “open until what time?” It turns out that most cafés and restaurants, including one provocatively named Insomnia, close by 11:00pm. It is even difficult to find a comfortable bench outside, as the smokers here are ubiquitous.
But it is all very well. The attempt to learn Chinese has exhausted me. I have practiced speaking with Pimsleur Mandarin Chinese II recordings on the 45 minute commutes to and from work every day. I have also begun learn to write basic characters, a real challenge for my left-handed self. Adopting a pseudo-authentic style, I maintain stroke order but often reverse direction, especially on horizontal lines. Perhaps no one in the world will write Chinese quite like me. This could explain why I am always tired. Today was my first real vocal practice since arriving on the Beautiful Island — not like me.
The aloneness and loneliness feel much the same. They remind me who I am. I am the same soul in a different place. The same longing for camaraderie persists. It is always the night. The desire at the end of a hard day’s work to lay my weary head on another’s chest. To be seen and known even in the darkness and the quiet. Of course God is there — but everybody knows we need a person in our lives. Surely, some may have little need for such intimacy, and a lack of such desire is perfectly legitimate; but those of us that need, need one another. The only thing “not good” about Adam, even while his relationship with God was untainted, was his nevertheless being “alone.”
Whether what I seek even exists, it is better to see the new day. It is back, back, for showers and sleepers.
Delicious (Hǎo chī)
How late are you open? (Kāi dào jǐ diǎn zhōng?)