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Friday, February 04, 2005

The sound of rain

I think this is one of the unifying factors of my time in Taipei, maybe the only thing that has remained consistent from the time that I arrived to now - the sound of rain.
March 2003 seems a long time ago, the month that I arrived here, and that version of me seems a distant memory as well. Back then I lived in a busy nightmarket neighborhood, right near a large university...a place with bars and cafes and youth, as well as a large number of foreigners like myself. I stayed out until 2 or 3 on a regular basis, often not going to bed until 4 or 5. I had a large group of friends and no interest in learning Chinese.
One year ago seems far away as well. I had just returned from a visit home and was just getting excited about learning Chinese. I was in between apartments, and thus crashing at a buddy's place - just about my only close friend then. We played hoops every night, went out every now and then on the weekend, and hung out with his girlfriend.
Now I live by myself, have a few close friends and a nice group of people I enjoy spending time with. I also have a girlfriend I spend as much free time with as possible. I've gone from being able to say about ten words in Chinese (after living here for a year!) to being able to hold conversations and read a decent amount of text. I go out to clubs maybe once a month, and am usually in bed by 10:30 or 11:00...And in the time between my friend leaving last Feb and meeting my girlfriend at the Dragon Boat Festival last July, I had 5 months of nearly complete isolation - in the sense of having almost no social life outside of my class of preschool kids and their family, and frequent solitary trips to coffee shops to study. I've heard change is good, that it keeps you from falling into a rut and getting bored with life, and I suppose that is my motivation for these polar fluctuations...either that or I've gone through a delayed and somewhat awkward process of maturation.
The rain has been with me through all of it. One of the most vivid memories of my first month in Taipei revolves around sitting in my bedroom at about two in the morning, working on a book and hearing the rain coming down on the metal roofs outside. The other is similar...coming home late at night, the rain coming down, soaking me before I get home, the streets empty but for a few cats heard rather than seen (cats I could always hear from my bedroom window, jumping onto things, fighting with each other, screeching for no reason that I am aware of). There is something about the rain here, and the sound of it...perhaps because of the sheer amount of asphalt and the puddles always glistening in the streetlights, the trees that grow from the streets, the metal...the rain has a rhythm. It is a rhythm at once soothing and maddening - one that embraces and one that appalls. Even the sound of tires on wet roads, heard at 6 in the morning on a trip to the bathroom, giving an early warning of what is soon to be faced, is not altogether terrible sounding...but the repetition of it in February and March...morning after morning...
I have been thinking a lot about Taipei and my relationship with the city, no doubt because my time here is running short. I will miss a lot of things, and a lot of things I won't miss at all. The rain - that is a tricky one. For the time being, though, I have to be honest - tomorrow I will be in Cambodia, and I won't miss the rain a bit.

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