It’s the last big fireworks of the night and this rack is the biggest, with three tiers of firecrackers ready to be shot out over the audience. The announcer starts the count down and we in the crowd count along with her, three, two, one. The rockets start spewing out from the rack, streaks of orange passing over us, and the sound of explosions somewhere behind us like we’re in the middle of an oven full of popcorn. Where I’m standing the rockets seem to be firing right at me, the orange trails just passing over my head; it feels like I’m a soldier under fire. Every once in while a firecracker will actually fall into the crowd, exploding close by, sending sparks flying. I can feel one hit my leg, another hits my left arm, and a one even pings off my visor in a disconcerting way. Despite this I’m not scared, I feel secure in my protective gear. It is a visceral experience.
I’m dripping with sweat, the mask makes it uncomfortable to breath and my visor is fogging up but trying to do anything about that now would be far too dangerous. A cloud of thick smoke is enveloping the crowd, the rack of firecrackers, which I know to be just a few meters in front of me, is all but invisible and people further off in the crowd have disappeared completely. The incessant sounds of explosions fill the air and from the smoke comes burst of orange and flashes of lightning as the firecrackers detonate. All I can do is weather the storm and take it all in.
Despite the south Taiwan heat I’m fully covered: thick jacket, gloves, full face motorcycle helmet and two towels wrapped around my neck to cover all the gaps. I’m sweating like a pig but I can’t take any of it off, the protection is necessary for what is about to happen. I stand in a crowd of people and in front of me is the rack absolutely full of fireworks, ready to be set off any minute now. My sense of anticipation is palpable as I watch intently while the final preparations are made…
The dreariness of my evening commute has been instantly dispelled by a marvelous sky. A pale blue background, bordering on yellow, richly strewn with tufts of cloud like pieces of cotton on a blue tablecloth. The clouds lie in shadow but are lit from underneath by the setting sun, painting them dark grey on one side and a brilliant hue of pinkish orange on the other. The contrasting colors make every little wisp of vapor stand out against the background, making the clouds seem bigger and fuller, while at the same accentuating the orange light, making it look as if the entire sky is filled with a brilliantly shining fire. It is little moments like this that make the drudgery of every day life bearable.
The gorge is like a deep fissure in the ground, carved by the water over thousands of years. The walls are uneven, shaped by the flow of the water, with patches of moss growing here and there. In front of me is the waterfall, a stream of white water that comes crashing down into the creak below, throwing spray high into the air and filling the cave with mist that makes it nearly impossible to take a photo. I let my gaze follow the walls upwards to the small hole high above where the stream flows into the cavern. As the water tumbles over the edge it breaks into little droplets, forming clouds that billow in the air like smoke, in time with the rush of air and whoosh of the water as it comes down.
It’s not a proper thunder shower yet but the rain is still pretty heavy, big drops pelting me as I go along. Speed always amplifies the force of the drops, normally it starts to feel painful when you go above 60 kph and now I’m already doing a little over 90; every single drop hitting my chest or legs stings like a bullet from a BB gun – it’s like riding through a barrage of machine gun fire. As if the pain wasn’t enough, the thin rain jacket is woefully inadequate, I can feel myself becoming wetter with every second. For whatever reason, maybe it’s because I’ve recently been reading a Finnish World War 2 novel, I react to the deep feeling of misery by repeatedly swearing in Finnish: Saatana Perkele, Saatana Perkele
The two fishermen on the beach warn us that the current is strong but I ignore them and follow my friend as he steps into the water. A few steps out, the river bed drops away abruptly and I sink down to my chest, my watertight backpack floating up behind me like a cork. The water is cold and I can feel the current tugging at my body, wanting to pull away and send me down stream. A feeling of trepidation flashes through my mind for a brief moment but disappears when I see my friend fearlessly continue forward, so I push on with determination. As we round the slight bend in the river I look up to the right where a smaller side stream comes cascading down the cliffs to join ours. Further along the little creak, the water flows over the edge of the high, jungle clad cliffs and comes crashing down into a small pool, sending spray high into the air. This place is imbued with a combined sense of danger and beauty and here and now, at this very moment, that is all I need.
At the end of last year I started publishing a bunch of old post that I had written while traveling around in South East Asia but kept unpublished for nearly a year because I thought about turning them into a book. I finally published the last of those old post back in May and with this I want to make it clear that no more are coming. The South East Asia Photo Album is complete, you can check out all the “photos” under the appropriate category.
The sun has just started to set, it’s noticeably lower in the sky but still bright and warm, shining right at me. My hat shields my face from its rays but I can feel its warmth on my bare chest. It paints a broad streak of silver on the water’s surface, like a glimmering road across the tops of the waves, from the ever shifting waterline on the wet sand all the way out to the horizon. I stand a few feet out in the water with the waves washing over my ankles, watching that strip of silver as if mesmerized by the way it sparkles, drawing in my eyes until I see nothing else. I feel the cool breeze one my my back, I feel the sand being washed out from under my feet as I sink down into it, I hear the wooshing of the waves that, though not loud, drowns out the sounds from the people around me. It is a strange thing this, this urge that makes me kick off my shoes and go stand in the water, this instinctive need for meditation that only the ocean can fulfill.