Month: July 2013

Strange Days

I looked up at the clock in the Taipei airport, and the hands read 4:30. The polished floor reflected the pale, greenish fluorescent light, which for some long-forgotten reason always reads “night” to me. Intellectually, I knew “morning,” but without a window to see, my gut fought my brain and I felt ready to retch onto the smooth tile. I looked  down at my shoes and saw that they were no longer on the floor, but were planted on the moving walkway. That explained the unexpected dizziness, at least, but how did I get there?

The first shift in momentum became apparent as I trudged down a deserted road in the middle of a blizzard. Isolated from the freezing wind and snow by a giant parka, ski mask, goggles, and heavy snow boots, I could only hear my breathing, the staccato drumroll of gusting snow pelting the side of my hood, and the occasional emergency snow plow trundling by on tank treads. Before me was a naked expanse of frozen road, punctuated by the bundled-up form of my girlfriend, who I was escorting to a job interview. Perhaps because of the severity of the weather, I was acutely aware that the job she was seeking was in Kuala Lumpur, where this kind of frozen misery would be a quaint memory. For the several miles to and from the interview, I found myself subject to the specific terror that precedes an invitation to completely alter one’s life.

It is odd how that terror never quite goes away. It’s a piñata crammed full of what-if, what-could-be, what-could-have-been, and sprinkled with hope, regret, curiosity, and prejudice. In the months leading up to the move, it seemed extremely important to make sure I was moving for all the right reasons. Did I want to see the world before I became to old and decrepit to do so? Yes. Do I have an abiding love for heat and humidity? No. Do I enjoy tropical fruits? Yes. Cool. Two out of three is decent. But I figured if I just surrendered myself to the process and let it sweep me along, I might end up in a wholly alien place with no goals set or idea of what I might do there. Since I was the plus-one in the equation, the anxiety of feeling like a hanging chad threatened to make me into one. The week or two before was even worse. The urge to explore and the desire to stay safely at home (and to steal my girlfriend’s dog to keep him safely at home) clashed, sending me into a spiral of depression from which I still have not fully recovered.

At about one o’clock in the morning, I sat in the international terminal of SFO having a moderate panic attack. What the fuck am I doing here? I kept asking myself. I a nearly broke sometimes-writer and was in line to fly to a far-off land where I could live like a rich person for a couple years, and yet my feet moved as if I was on death row. I handed the woman my ticket, staggered down the boarding ramp, and sat in 54H as if it were the electric chair. Next to me sat a young couple who spent most of the twelve hours from San Francisco to Taipei either sleeping or making out, and the longer the flight went on, the older I felt, until I was about 300 miles from asking them to get off my lawn.

As a side detail, and perhaps a warning to all future travelers, twelve hours is a long flight. Some say to have a good dinner before you fly, noting the old cliches about how much airline food sucks. My advice is to not do that. You might have a nice farewell meal, but it’s coming out of you on that plane.

Anyway, staring at my orange shoes on the moving walkway, delirious from sleep deprivation, I glided past a window and saw the sun peeking over the horizon. Well! I thought. It’s got to be– certainly that was east, right? Or did the windows face west? What direction does the sun move? Which direction am I moving? All very good questions.

They always tell you never to stare at the sun, but when seeing it rise lets you know you’re still on this planet, questions of how you got where suddenly seem extraneous.