When you first look at Taipei it appears to a jumble of concrete, an unhinged collage of brick, sheet metal, and confusion. To the unaccustomed eye it looks like chaos. But if you look deeper, just like when we inquire in the storm and confusion of our own lives, there is unexpected beauty and more often than not, surprise.Taipei is unbelievably dense for an American with its scooter littered sidewalks, narrow alleyways, food carts full curious aromas and always and everywhere people. People who walk with a slower cadence than the average “I got to get there now” American. It takes time and a not small amount of mindfulness to recalibrate to the yin amble of the sidewalks and the two-wheeled yang of scooter speed in the streets..
The alleys here are completely different from those in the States. In America we avoid alleyways, they signal discard and danger, they are not the kinds places we would willingly seek out. It’s different over here. In Taipei the alleyways are were you find the mom and pop cheap eats, the old tea shops perfumed with decades of delicate oolong steam escaping from tiny clay teapots, and the tiny “everything store” that really does seem to somehow stock almost anything you need for daily life.
The alleyways are where life unfolds with a kaleidoscopic variety, where life unfolds curiously like another version of the American Dream. These business and small enterprises are a perfect reflection of the person who created it. If you want to do something, create something, sell something, then bring your initiative and do it. I’ve seen storefronts here go out of business, and within a week, the space gets remodeled and opened as a completely new enterprise. The entrepreneurial spirit here is vibrantly alive.
Throwaway spaces that might gather weeds or trash in America are home to potted vegetation. There is a quiet attention given to creating spaces where the eye or spirit can rest for a moment within the rapid transit, scooter free-for-all, cell phone distracted life of any population dense city.
For me, this might be not just the most charming, but most most needed aspect of the city. These little spaces that are not thrown away, the uncountable little parks with playground ground equipment for children, tables for old men to play games, and benches tucked beside Banyan trees for couples to have a moment for themselves.
It’s a most poignant reminder, to find and inhabit those moments of quiet and rest, even if they are for just the span a couple of breaths. To find the stillness within the activity of life, and abide for a moment to allow that quietude into the frenzy of everyday life.