Every year my family has a reunion in a small town in Pennsylvania where the “core” of the family lives. One year, when I was about fourteen, we decided to go. My mother has recently begun researching our heritage and felt it would be good to become reacquainted with that side of the family– “that side” being the family of my grandmother. We ended up terribly lost and arrived three hours late.
Fortunately, nearly everyone else was late as well because none of us could find our way to the park. It was during that trip I invented the “Wireback curse” to explain our lateness. The Wireback Curse, like most other fairytale curses, was placed upon the family when one of us angered the ‘wrong sort of folk’. Perhaps s/he failed a test set up by a witch in disguise or s/he angered some sorcerer by refusing to marry him. Who knows what that person did, but every descendant of theirs has been cursed to wander for the rest of their days with no sense of direction. In fact, we will always wander in the opposite direction of our intended destination. Basically, if we are the navigator on your road trip and our instinct is to go left then you should probably go right.
Luckily our curse isn’t the sort that requires us to learn our lesson, but one that requires us to accept it. Once we accept it we will be free of it, sort of. I don’t know; I’m not a fairy-tale teller. My point is getting lost all the time isn’t always such a terrible inconvenience. Granted I did spend a week taking a twenty minute walk to the train station instead of the eight minutes it should be, but at least I got to see the river. I’ve learned to budget extra time for nearly every activity I plan because I know I’ll likely get lost. For this reason, it’s always something of a triumph for me when I am able to find my destination quickly. This also means I have a tendency to show up early to nearly everything. I guess I’ll just never be the cool kid who rolls up to the party late.
A few days ago I took the train to Taipei, hoping to meet up with a friend there. I learned when I arrived that he needed to spend the night working and felt he didn’t have the time to go out. We’ve all been there. Being the cool guy that he is, he offered me a few suggestions on where I should go while there. “You should check out the night market in Songshan,” he said. “Oh, and while you’re there, you should go see the Rainbow Bridge, too. There’s a map in the Songshan MRT station.” I had a couple of hours before the last train home and I didn’t want to waste the trip up there, so I took his suggestion. I’m in a foreign country, I told myself. I should be taking advantage of every moment. I should be intrepid and move forward. Carpe Diem! And other upbeat, positive sayings you write in a travel blog.
I should note here that I don’t have a phone with a data plan. This means I need to rely on a) my terrible sense of direction b) pixelated pictures of google maps I take on my phone before leaving my apartment and c) the kindness of strangers to find my way. Getting to Songshan was easy enough. Take the red line to CKS then hop on the green line and ride it all the way to one end. Once there you’ll find a map that conveniently lists (in English) the nearest night markets and any landmarks a tourist might want to see. Both the market and the bridge were fairly close to the station, which was good for me as it meant I would have more time to, well, get lost before finding my way back to the train/MRT station. Before leaving the MRT station I snapped a picture of the map, knowing better than to rely on my memory*.
I found the night market within minutes. I was ecstatic. I could spend forty-minutes wandering around, looking at stands, eating food and taking terrible pictures no one will ever see before I needed to leave to find the bridge. Perhaps my navigational skills were improving! Then I started getting a little over-confident: The curse wasn’t real. I understand directions, I just wasn’t confident enough before.
I whipped out my phone, and examined my map to find the street I needed to find was unlabeled. Okay, okay, no problem. I’m relatively resourceful, I can find another way. Well, the street I needed to go down ran perpendicular to the market. I mentally rotated the map in my head to make sure I knew which direction to turn. I just needed to go left! Perfect. Great. I looked left to see a giant temple where I thought the street should have been. Not so great. Why wasn’t this temple on the map, anyway? The temple had a plaque. A plaque! It was historical. Tourists love that stuff. Maybe my map reading skills weren’t so great.I looked at the map again, was I just confused about where the exit I had taken actually came out of the train station? Do I have my scale wrong?
Whatever, I was used to this. Sometimes it takes me rather a long time to find my destination and sometimes I don’t find my intended destination at all. Here’s where the lesson part of my post comes in, the part where I spit out some zen nonsense about the ‘secret’ to staying calm while lost– something about your “perspective” being the problem. It’s not the problem that’s the problem, it’s your perspective on the problem that’s the problem. Just kidding. Anyway, I had been wandering around for twenty minutes when it occurred to me I might not have time to see the bridge. I needed to head back. I felt a little disappointed, but if there’s anything I’ve learned about getting lost it’s to appreciate the experiences you do have, even if they aren’t the ones you intended. Sure, I didn’t get to see some Rainbow bridge, but I did find another park. I got to pet some dogs. I ate some great food. Today was a good day.
I walked back to the station and checked the time of the last train. Twenty minutes. Suddenly I became very daring. I’m not sure why, but I turned around and walked briskly back through the tunnels of the train station and found myself back at the night market. I wandered up and down streets before accepting I should probably give up. Instead I walked back to the night market again. Hoo-boy, was I being reckless tonight. I liked to li ve on the edge now, apparently. Who knows, maybe I’d even arrive at a party ten minutes late next time someone invited me.
I peered at the temple on last time, as if a path would suddenly appear. At this point, some of the food stands that had crowded the temple were packing up and one rolled away to reveal a small alleyway. I swear I heard chimes in that moment. I checked my watch. I still had fifteen minutes, maybe I should go through that shady alleyway. There it was: a set of stairs with the best color combination in nature—ROY G. BIV. Breathlessly I bounded up the stairs and across a walk way before finally setting foot on what I felt, in that moment, was surely the greatest bridge in existence. Look at how the walkway curved! This, this was worth missing a train for. This felt like a testament to the notion that determination leads to success. It was exhilarating.
If you are wondering how the story ends,** I did make it back home. I ran through the MRT station to the train station, collecting the stares of strangers as I jumped through the train’s closing doors. Out of breath and laughing, I sat down and grinned the whole ride back.
** I totally know how to get there now if you’d like to go
*Wow, you actually made it this far? No, really? It’s like 1,400 words.