Old red bled into brown everywhere around me. Lantern tassels, incense smoke, and fern fronds swayed to the tempo of the erhus and flutes on the temple intercom. I heard Taiwanese dialects bouncing off all the open space two stories below.
On every side, bare beams, ornate eaves, and carved banisters connected praying towers dedicated to different deities. Cicada song came in waves and one gecko announced himself from somewhere behind ceiling tiles. Sometimes, wooden chips indifferently spelled out fates on marble floors.
I was indoors, and I wasn’t. Through two doorways and across a balcony, I made out an uninterrupted square of the green outside, standing even higher than the temple. I lost myself in solitude for an hour and my sweat cooled in the shade. I refrained from leaving the memory as bytes instead of emotion and when I rose from my meditation cushion, the impulse to force this into an immediately shared moment had subsided into butterflies of disbelief that a year and a half after landing on this island, I could still be using the words “new,” “first,” or “favorite,” when so much of what I fell in love with hadn’t changed any.
When I find shade in this country, it is sleepy and timeless. The sun is warm and wet. Always, the cities and villages offer their own blends of smells that disappear quickly like plum rain showers but feel old as the buildings I find them in. Daily life has become hyperreal as if color-graded and film-scored into being. It’s the same emotional and physiological impact, but on simple walks to the cornerstore or on train rides out of town.
Loose hours are reality painted. I fall over myself trying to engrain in my memory the truths a crosswalk embodies, impossible conversations between buildings and haze, or moments I hang suspended between strangers I know everything and nothing about. The moments exist in full. They’re weightless, unrushed, accompanied by more friendly detail than my five senses can completely sort out. All at once, smell, taste, sound, touch, and color are more than the sum of their parts. I become speechless, the period at the end of a sentence, processing the magnificence of what a few simple building blocks have created in front of me.
Am I alive? I think so, but every time the world meets me where I am, I’m met by another brand of beauty that makes everything before it seem dim in comparison.
I can’t pinpoint the coming or leaving of these moments any more than I can say where home begins and ends. In these sacred spaces, is it the place, the people, or whatever holds them together that removes the friction from the mundane? For the past year and a half, laundry has been prayer, buying soap is profound, and waiting for traffic lights to change is an exercise in oneness. Often the sheer miracle stops me where I am, and I’m laughing because it’s the only thing left to do.
Back when I kept calendars pasted everywhere, I thought that having nothing left to ask for was agony, but I’ve found that in suspended pockets of time it becomes the greatest gift. How could so many truths fit into one moment when only conversations ago, question marks were smothering me into submission? How many more times can fear be cleared from the room, its smoke dissipate, and I realize it’s not a room at all but a panoramic view of what my intuition has been aware of all along?