“That’s what you get for driving a foreign car,” said a local man, holding an empty bottle of water in one hand and a cigarette in the other. As he stared at our silver Chrysler Grand Caravan, he added with a smirk, “My Taiwanese car never had a problem.”
The toothless man was sitting in a dump on the dirty cement, between 5 large green trashcans and a multitude of white recycling bags. Tall mountain peaks surrounded us while flies hovered over our heads. Metal barrels filled with food scraps – fish bones, leftover meat, and even a dead shrimp just sat there, staring at me. A beige dog hid under a bin, almost fainting from the heat and smell.
We had been driving for an hour already from Sun Moon Lake, in the blasting sun with the air cooling us down. Three hours away from Taroko Gorge, our final destination in the mountains of Taiwan, the car broke down. Right there, in the middle of a dump.
The man talked to us in Chinese, not understanding why we didn’t speak the language. His name was Liu. He proudly said that he was the recycling man of the little village of Qingjing between two puffs of his cigarette.
Liu makes as little as 66 cents for every bottle, can, paper, or plastic he recycles. He leads a simple life and is proud of it. “Taiwan is a beautiful country with beautiful people,” he said, while going through a bag of bottles. “You should talk to everyone in Chinese so you learn our language.”
Unlike in the capital Taipei, most citizens of Taiwan don’t speak much English but always try their best to communicate with foreigners, until the point of even using sign language. Liu kindly gave us empty detergent and bleach bottles to fill with water to cool down the engine of our car.
Even with his nice gesture, we weren’t able to get the car running again. Sitting on an island full of litter, I wondered if we would end up spending the rest of the day laying down on the floor like the poor stray dog.
Hungry, tired and cranky, we found a place to sit down and eat nearby. In the midst of such a pile of garbage, we found not only a market with exotic fruits, but also a Starbucks.
Qingjing is a tiny town inhabited by minorities of Mainland China’s southwest border. With its peak at 1,750 meters high, the village has now become a tourist attraction for its pure green scenery. Why Howard Schultz decided to build a Starbucks there is beyond me, but I’m glad he had the insane idea to do so. If not I probably wouldn’t be here today to tell the story.
We waited there patiently for the car mechanic to arrive. Soon after, he showed up in a tiny bright blue pickup truck. Dressed in a jumpsuit, the mechanic was also a local and did not speak much English. He worked quickly to repair the car, using any scotch tape or piece of scrap he could find to patch up the broken part of the engine.
The sleeves of the mechanic’s shirt were rolled up half way and his arm showed off a dazzling Rolex watch. The watch, probably several years old, had many rows of diamonds on the dial to boast his accomplishments. It is customary in Taiwan to buy a fancy watch when a man starts to make money. The more successful a man gets, the more diamonds he later adds on to it.
People in Taiwan are satisfied with the most simple things. They live plain, yet sophisticated lives. They are warm-hearted, courteous, and accommodating. But no matter how much the mechanic tried, the car would still not run properly. Liters of rusty water continued to leak out of the radiator.
After waiting for five hours in the dumps with Liu, a minivan came to pick us up and brought us finally to Taroko Gorge. As we boarded the gray van, Liu looked us straight in the eyes with a smile on his face. “We will be back next year,” we said, thanking him for his help.
“I will be waiting for you,” he answered, while getting back to work.
Photo credits: Michelle Bijo
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