Biking Around Taiwan

So, this is it. Freedom is sitting in the shade on a hot day, river flowing by with its invitations, cool breezes blowing by with their sweet kisses. Freedom is biking down a winding dirt road with betel nut palms on one side, pineapple fields on the other, map loosely in mind, mountains up ahead, and perfect weather of blue sky, billowing clouds, no rain, and luscious breezes. The chirping cicadas know, as do the frogs and salamanders who, as their mating season is short and time is of the essence, make the most of it. Freedom is biking south without knowing where I'll sleep or what I'll eat, but having all I need on my bike, and inside of me. I can handle it. Like walking into the wilderness for a week to sleep in my hammock and mosquito net, water filter pumping cleaned river water into my mouth, fresh berries licked off my fingers, wild mint crushed into my meal. It's getting sick or having others around me get sick, and knowing what to do. It's speaking another language using just three words, and my entire body. It's landing in a new place and knowing how to figure things out, from experience. It's that sense of confidence that every scar directly witnessed, grew from, and speak of: the tales behind the wrinkles surrounding my eyes, my darkening sun-swept skin, the callouses on my feet and hands, how I favor my right leg but stick my left hip out, and how I'm always massaging my right wrist, elbow, and shoulder. This freedom came from experience, with all its soaring cliffs and steep drop offs of trial and error, love and pain, joy and suffering. Freedom is dedication, too: practicing yoga every morning for such subtle yet noticeable growth that accumulates over the years like scar tissue, adipose tissue, muscle tissue--- the striated layers like the sandy loam along the shores of the Yellow River, toned and primed, worn and patterned after year after year of monsoons, flooding, dry season, wet season--- farmers following and living by these patterns, and praying to the ineffable Divine, the Great Mystery, therein. 

So, this is it. Lying on some rock in some river, body naked, wet, and hot, having biked, hiked, swam, ate, shat, and slept, watching the clouds roll over to cover the sun, birds flying home as a typhoon rolls in, knowing I stay here for tonight, and continue riding south tomorrow. My heart sings with the cicadas as I waft my gratitude and prayers downstream, my eyes gazing upwards then inwards, breath and heartbeat entraining to the roar of the surrounding waterfalls, with all their minute drip drop high low subtle yet complex harmonizing symphony of liquid reverberations. 

(Excerpt from day 7 journal entry)

I biked (and train-ed) around Taiwan in 19 days. My goals were to have fun engaging my external environment, find inner peace within, and investigate dharma, or my relationship with both, in a fresh way. I feel empowered from this trip, powered by a rhythmic simple engagement of pedaling, stepping downwards over and over again, one step at a time, from the east coast southwards, then north up the west coast. This was the least planning I've ever done for a trip, yet the most assistance I've ever received. My uncle helped prepare my bike, and provided input for much of my route, including suggestions for where to visit and sleep each night. 

After leading with Where There Be Dragons in China all summer then embarking on this bike voyage, I feel even more comfortable with engaging the unknown with curiosity, and confident about my existing skills. I spent less than $100 USD on my trip, my greatest expenses being food and the train, which I caught from Su'ao to Xin'cheng, Tai'dong to Gao'xiong, then Tai'zhong to Tai'bei. I slept in a different place each night, with only one night in a hostel. I spent most other evenings sweating under my mosquito net somewhere gorgeous, or comfy with a fan and bed while visiting relatives in three large cities: Hualian, Gaoxiong, and Taizhong. Here, I went out for longer day trips, establishing deeper relationships than when simply biking through without stopping. 

I fell deeper in love with Taiwan's tropical lushness, diverse landscape, friendly helpful people, delicious and affordable food, and abundance of modern day conveniences, wild places of protected beauty, and traditional cultural connection. I loosely followed bike route 1, the primary bike route that circumnavigates Taiwan, with well marked lanes and bike rest stops every few miles. 

The east coast is Taiwan's most wild beautiful area, with ocean, mountain, forest, and diverse indigenous influences. I especially loved hiking and swimming in Taroko's marbelline turquoise-watered gorgeous gorges, and swimming and exploring amongst the ocean rocks just south of Hualien. The west coast, being colonized first, is more industrialized and urbanized, but replete with traditional cultural treasures, such as ancient temples and old fortresses. 

Taiwan is best circumnavigated in October, not the hottest part of summer, as I did. This was the most uncomfortable I've ever been. I rested from 11 AM to 2 PM each day, to avoid the hottest parts of the day. But, biking along the coast for most of my route, I was still exposed to loads of direct sunlight, inducing endless sticky sweat, and a heat rash. 

I wrote the previous day's synopsis during each afternoon's rest period. This memoir is for myself, but also to share with friends and family, and especially for those who dream of embarking on similar adventures. If you can't do it on bike, then try motorbike, train, or car. Regardless of what journey you're currently on or contemplating, I wish you 一路順風, or swift (powerful yet gentle) winds that guide you on your path, to unexpected blessings unfolding with each fresh sunrise, and peaceful sweetness with each restful sunset. 

Love and gratitude, 

Day 1- Taipei 台北 to Fulong 福隆
From Taipei's Wanhua 萬華 station, I take the train to Fulong. I bike down the coast from there, stopping at a quiet pavilion behind Fuling Elementary School 福林國小 to set up my mosquito net and rest for the night. Many fishing ports and temples of all sizes line my route. I follow bike route 1, which circumnavigates the entire island. I spend my evening chatting with a schoolteacher who lives on campus (typical for rural schools), who attended UCLA this summer for an internship, and is passionate about social justice in education. There's a little lagoon behind the school, a circle of stones that encloses a lovely nook, with ocean water flowing in and out. I float around at dusk, gently buoyed by the waves, brushing against stone and seagrass, watching the sky change from red, to purple, to black, with stars emerging one by one. 

Day 2- Fulong 福隆 to Toucheng 頭城
I wake at 2:30 AM to three massive cockroaches scurrying in my sleeping bag, suffocatingly humid tropical heat, the red crescent moon rising over the ocean, and the roar of cargo trucks rocketing down Hwy 2, my route for the day. I bike mostly during the morning and afternoon, stopping frequently to visit temples and the ocean. The large rock formations are exquisite, borne of tectonic action. During the hottest part of the day, I hide in the shade of banyan trees and large stones overlooking the ocean, reading Chinese medicine material, planning my route, eating, and napping. I swim at Wai'ao 外澳 beach, where I am one of the few women sporting a bikini. Most other women swim fully clothed, although there's a growing contingency of thin brown bikini-clad young surfers (albeit mostly male and sans bikini), who are in the next section of the beach. I spend the night at a tiny 300 NT hostel in Toucheng, where I am relieved to have AC, a bed, no cockroaches, shower, and the place to myself. I'm delighted to find vegetarian food here, and proceed to impress the chef by eating four servings of food.

Day 3- Toucheng 頭城 to Taroko 太魯閣
I learn about the importance of attention to detail, today. I wake at dawn, scarfing last night's dumplings as I pack, then setting off just as the sun starts hitting the rooftops. It gets more industrial until I leave Bike Route 1, and change to the coastal path, the slower, scenic route. I get to the wrong train station at the right time. Everyone says, "Don't bike the Su'hua Road (蘇花公路). Take the train." This avoids the treacherous windy mountain roads with steep uphill grades and downhill drops, no shoulder, big trucks, ample rockfall, and huge cliffs to fall off. All Taiwanese trains carry bikes in bike bags, but only some trains carry unpackaged bikes, like my own. The ticket price is half the cost of an adult. My train from Su'ao Xin Station 蘇澳新站 to Hualien Xincheng 花蓮新城 left at 10, but I went to the Su'ao station instead, not noting the extra "xin" in the station name, missing my train by minutes. I had to wait for the next train at 3 pm, five hours later. 

I arrive in Xincheng in time to stock up on mantou (steamed buns), nuts, and dates, then bike up to Taroko National Park during sunset along Route 8, which fits the same dangerous description as the Su'Hua road. What a terrifying and sexy road. The road follows the river the whole way up, with towering cliffs and soaring skies. I sing through all the tunnels, sweat pouring down like a waterfall, panting, tired. 

I camp at Lushui campground on a picnic table (to avoid cockroaches), a free campground with flat ground, and lights all night long that still can't cover the brightness of the stars and magical Milky Way above, roaring Liwu River below, and ecstatically chirping cicadas all around. 

Day 4- Taroko 太魯閣 to Xincheng 新城 
Constant hunger, creaky knees, and a painful rash where my undies rub against my thighs have become a thing. I rest today, scarfing mantou and tofu, biking downhill commando in my sheer pink skirt back to Bike Route 1, stopping frequently to explore, hiking all the longest trails in Taroko that don't require a permit, finally settling into a sweet nook amongst rivers and rocks above the Shakadang trail, past where the trail ends but the river continues, where I plunge my sweaty sore body into the brilliant turquoise waters, swimming upstream for a waterfall massage, then getting pushed downstream again, lying on my back, watching the pure blue sky and elegant stones that soar upwards to infinite.

Some police stations, temples, and schools offer free/ cheap places for bikers to sleep. You just go in and ask. I spend the night at an old hostel that's part of a church. I fill the empty space of eerie white walls, echoes, and rows of empty beds with conversations with my aunt, uncle, and brother. People usually bike in in groups instead of solo, and certainly not as a skirted young woman. (I wonder who else has circumnavigated Taiwan by bike, wearing a floral skirt and sports bra?) I enjoy the freedom of solo travel, but it can also get lonely. I'm grateful for regular contact with my inspiring and humorous brother who has long distance biking experience, and for my supportive family, particularly my aunt and uncle, who lent me their bike, fixed it up for the trip, helps me craft routes and evening plans, and are always available via cellphone. 

Day 5- Xincheng 新城  to Guangfu 光復
I'm getting used to waking around 4 and leaving by 5, to beat the heat. I visit 七星潭 (Seven Star Beach), which has beautifully polished stones and pebbles of round perfect shapes, and ride along the coast on 193 before getting on 11 丙 to connect back to 9, which Bike Route 1 is currently on. I don't dally much today, reluctantly sticking to the main road, as the sky quickly darkens with rumbly grumbles, and sporadic bursts of thickening rain portend of the coming typhoon. Because I'm on big roads for much of today, I ride terribly close to scary huge trucks spewing black fumes. As I ride south past the Hualien metro area, there's more farmland, with banana trees, coconut, palm, papaya, betel nut, pomelo, and a host of other tropical fruit trees, and rice fields whose wateriness reflects beautifully the mountains of central Taiwan to my east, and the ocean mountains to my west. 

I'm carrying a little free map that I picked up at a tourist station at the airport, which gives me a general picture of Taiwan, and major routes and landmarks. Tourist stations in different areas give more detailed maps of each fresh area I enter. For the first time in my life, I have a smartphone with a phone card. I use Google Maps when I need more detailed directions. But street signs are usually very well marked here, with directions for where to stop for water, food, restrooms, beautiful scenery, etc. When in doubt, I just keep riding south, with the ocean to my left and the mountains to my right, and the sun where it ought to be at that time of day, as gaged by the shadow my bike casts upon the Earth. 

I land at my uncle's house right before the storm hits, and will stay here resting and eating a lot, until the typhoon passes. They live right across from the Hualian Sugar Factory, where tourists come to eat the best sweet ice in Taiwan, and stay in old Japanese-style houses that used to house the factory workers. The area is surrounded by mountains, with Ami tribes people on one side of town, and Han people on the other side. 

Day 6, 7- Guangfu 光復 (Hualian 花蓮)
Here, I ride a motorcycle for the first time in my life, and rocket around the mountains, in love with this new mode of transport. We drive down to Ruisui 瑞穗 and Yuli 玉里, which I would have biked through had I continued on bike route 1 (on road 9), then visit Jade Mountain National Park 玉山國家公園, entering the 中央山脈 central mountain range, with dramatic clouds weaving through stern rock faces, Iike in ancient Chinese paintings, and tropical birds swooping through the canopy. 

Day 8- Guangfu 光復 to Danman 膽曼
The air hangs thick, sweet, and heavy as I bike through the clouds up and over the 海岸山脈 coastal mountain range via road 11甲, pushing uphill on my lowest gears to the top of the mountain 8 km up, then coasting downhill the rest of the way, fat and happy, singing love songs to the mountains and ocean, to reconnect with route 11, and the magnificent grandmother Pacific Ocean. There's usually a bike lane, and occasionally lovely protected lanes, separated from the rushing traffic by a parallel row of shrubs. I enjoy ample rests stops and scenic vistas as I bike across the Tropic of Cancer, and notice even more coconut trees and tropical fruits with the warming temperatures. I land at a friend of a friend's house: a coconut farm converted to a grumpy yet kind-ish retired business woman's solo palace, in time to watch the sun set over the Pacific from the cozy nook of an oceanic turquoise lagoon, once again nestled in salty water ringed by deliciously sharp stones, regaled by the crashing symphony of high tide rushing up to passionately kiss the shore, over and over again. 

Day 9- Danman 膽曼 to Dulan 都蘭
I spend all morning in the lagoon clambering amongst the rocks, dancing contact improv with the ocean and stones, finding rhythm and stillness between moving and being moved, surrender and control. I don't start biking until 3 PM today, so stop less frequently, to get enough miles in. There's a bike lane the whole way, but this part of road 11 goes above the ocean, sometimes with less of an ocean view, and more detested traffic. 

I ride up and down hills, breathing deeply on the ascents, and loving the descents. There's more coconut trees, rice paddies, and animals: water buffalo, cows, frogs, and monkeys. This precious island houses miniature animals unique to only here. I land just after dark at the Dulan Police Station, which has a free camping area right next to it, with cockroach-free platforms, warm showers, clean drinking water, and a joyously celebrating large family that takes up the other two tent platforms. I am serenaded tonight by cars, neighbors, frogs, crickets, cicadas, the ocean, and then by 1 and 5 AM, epic rain. 

Day 10- Dulan 都蘭 to Gaoxiong 高雄
I bike along the ocean to Xiaoyeliu 小野柳 park, getting increasingly irked by the proximity of cars. Xiaoyelu has many unique rock formations, with cute oval holes in the large grey stone formations bordering the ocean that looks like rice grain porcelain, and vibrant striations in red and gold stones like a miniature oceanic Grand Canyon. These remind me of handmade Taiwanese teaware, which tends the be "cuter" than Chinese teaware, sometimes with handprints intentionally left in the clay, like the holes in the stones, or pores on ancient faces. I wander around in the rock maze, find a nook between the striped red and holey grey stones where the crashing ocean light splashes me, and serenade the sky and waters with my flute, before continuing south to catch the train from Taidong 台東 to Gaoxiong 高雄, to avoid the bad weekend traffic, a second typhoon, and a stretch of steep mountains that crosses between the western ocean and central mountain ranges. I spend the next few days at a family friend's home. 

Day 11, 12- Gaoxiong 高雄
I hike up Shou mountain 壽山 with monkeys and banyans galore, drink homegrown tea, admire lovingly handmade ceramics, and discuss Buddhism and Daoism with old friends one day, then travel down to Kenting National Park 墾丁國家公園 at the bottom of Taiwan, the next. At Kenting, I pray at all three terraces of the oldest Earth God (土地公)temple in the country, my heart full, feeling the ancient action of placing my palms together in reverent  prayer, incense floating upwards to implore and appease the invisible yet highly present gods of so many names, yet none. I watch monkies swinging through the canopy from the highest tower in the park, wonder at banyans climbing straight up stalactite and stalagmite lined caves, and swim in the churning warm waters at the southernmost tip of the country, where the river meets the ocean, the waves swirl ferocious yet gentle, and the sharp rocks hide miraculous reefs below the waters. I feel excited yet sad to tomorrow leave the gorgeous eastern shoreline and start heading north, and deeply grateful for everything. 

Day 13- Gaoxiong 高雄 to Zhugang 竹港 (Tainan 台南)
North of Gaoxiong, there are fewer monkeys and coconut trees. Tainan is the oldest city in Taiwan, with all its cultural gems. Having left the Pacific Ocean on the east coast, I now head north up the west coast along the Taiwan strait, which faces China. I visit a more modern Buddhist temple, Foguangshan 佛光山, which has schools and projects all over the world, and a big golden Buddha statue sitting atop a hill, surrounded by stupas and smaller golden Buddha statues. I particularly love the oldest Confucius temple in the country, which was built during the Qing dynasty, then modified during Japan's rulership. Unlike the awe-inspiring splendor of Foguangshan and Buddhist or Daoist temples, Confucian temples are very simple, with a wooden name plaque to represent Confucius or other respected officials, instead of an ornate statue surrounded by all kinds of other gods. Many old brick and wood temples grace this side of the country, along with martial ramparts and walls, with noticeable Japanese influences. 

I spend the night in a rural village, in the corner room of a traditional three-room house, with three walls facing a courtyard. Most of the houses in this village are like this, with small gardens between houses surrounded by larger fields, two temples, and one Chinese medicine doctor. Mostly older people live in these farming villages. Young people move to larger cities for work and modern conveniences. I watch the golden sunset from the larger temple reflected on the waterways and fields, then walk around after dinner, weaving through the network of small brick pathways between houses. In the evening, people walk, bike, and motorbike to visit each other, sitting in their courtyards chatting quietly, drinking tea, and eating fruit as the sky changes from red to black, sparrows soar and dip over the fields, birds fly home, bats swoop out, and frogs, crickets, and cicadas sing of the end of summer, and harvest season. I am filled with peace, and a strong sense of place. 

Day 14- Zhugang 竹港 to Youche 油車
Bike route 1 continues by following road 17, paralleling the Southwest Coast National Scenic Area, with an abundance of fisheries and protected wetland areas. Miles of still waters reflect the rising sun, with shimmering gold and red specks dashing across the water's surface, highlighting long legged birds fishing for prey, and occasionally a fish leaping out of its comfort zone to grace the morning sky for a quick held breath, before flopping back into its watery home. 

After Dongshi 東石, the Scenic Area tapers off into factories again, with increased cars and air pollution. I start following Google maps' walking route, to bike straight to Taizhong. This takes me off the big main car-filled road, and onto small windy roads that go straight through fields of corn, peanuts, sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkin, rice, and other vegetables. There's more monocropping on this side of the island, as well as chemical use. As I continue north, I see more roadside trash, chemical factories, other factories, animal abuse (pigs, chickens, and ducks squashed in tight smelly jails), and strip clubs such as "好妹妹" or "Good Little Sister." The sweetness of my morning pastoral biking contrasts sharply with the disgustingness of my afternoon. This section of Taiwan reminds me of the middle of the USA: lots of uniform farm fields and factories on a mostly flat plane. I bike faster. 

I spend my evening at some stinky factory town whose name translates as, "Gas Car." After watching the big red sun setting from behind a fence under a large sad pig jail while eating my dinner of overcooked yet expensive noodles, I sleep for free on a gym mat in the hot exercise room of a generous little school right off highway 19, where the six gym fans' loud whirring drowns out the roar of the passing cargo trucks, and golden dragon and tiger masks, big flags, spears, and fighting sticks guard my dreams. 

Day 15- Youche 油車 to Taizhong 台中
Today feels like the most challenging day of this trip, as old injuries swell up in renewed pain, and I navigate around more and more cars while biking into the epicenter of the second largest metropolis in Taiwan. Road 19 is pretty flat, though drivers must slow down for all the unpredictable people, cars, animals, motorcycles, and bikes sharing small lanes amidst shops, temples, and homes in the rising cityscape. I wear my bandanna around my face for the first time this trip, to protect my lungs from the noxious car exhaust fumes, and duck into side streets or 7-11s to simply breathe. 

I land at my distant aunt's home, next to a river. She's a traditional culture enthusiast, like me. We visit a moxa factory and try all of their products, hike up Bagua Mountain 八卦山 to watch the sunset and admire Phoenix tree flowers, and eat dinner at an adorable traditional Taiwanese diner, with large bowls of a main carb dish for each person, and various small bowls filled with local seasonal foods prepared with simple yet elegant flavors in small square wooden dishes that fit perfectly onto a bamboo tray. 

Day 16, 17, 18- Taizhong 台中
I visit Lugang 鹿港 to see traditional Chinese architecture in an old village that reflects what Taiwan was like during my grandparents' time. Modern rectangular tile buildings stand alongside Banyan and other trees cracking through the brick, concrete, and wooden skeletons of old buildings, with dragons and other sacred beasts marching across curved temple rooftops housing old temples with fading paint and ancient wood darkened over hundreds of years of thousands of prayers via incense and chanting, palms pressed together, eyelids lowered, lips humming. I hold my breath to tuck in my tummy while squeezing through small openings between walls and alleys, to the still backdrop of chanting, birdsong, cars, and wind, greeting familiar plants rising from the cracked pavement, the natural world composting the old village, alongside construction projects doing the same. 

We head up into the mountains for the weekend, where my aunt's spiritual teacher, or Fashi 法師, lives. She takes active interest in my being a young bicultural traveling Chinese medicine student and western herbalist, asking many questions that make me simultaneously pleased and shy. I witness sangha in action: a small, dedicated group of Buddhists regularly studying together, with a teacher. We sip rose tea until midnight, while discussing the modern psycho-spiritual applications of an ancient text. I lie on my back and belly holding relaxing asanas while listening, feeling curious, content, and grateful. 

We hike up Baxianshan National Forest Recreation Area 八仙山國家森林遊樂區. It's along Hwy 8 in the middle of the country, which I would have reached from Taroko had the road been open. Instead of switchbacks, Taiwanese mountain trails usually have stairs that just go straight up the mountain. I gingerly hike up, noticing stabbing pains in my right ankle, and the balls of my feet, to greet the surrounded clouds tantalizingly covering and uncovering jagged peaks. 

I visit decadent hot springs both nights in Guguan 谷關, a sweet hot springs village atop a huge gorge with a teeming river, below. I visit Yidou 伊豆 hot springs the first night. 350 NT gives me access to either a woman's-only nude pool, or a group pool with different temperature pools, a waterfall, steam room, and various water-massage jets. I alternate between all the options, angling my body at water jets for a deep tissue massage, breathing deeply whilst practicing qigong in the steam room, soaking in the hot tubs like a fat happy tired Buddha, and then napping naked on a sofa in the ladies' area. We visit a more expensive hot springs hotel the next night. The room has a bed on one side, and the hot springs area partitioned off behind a curtain on the other. Being an island borne of geological action, Taiwan is abundant with diverse hot springs. I drive us down the mountain that night, carefully navigating slippery dark windy mountain roads while discussing depression and motivation with Fashi from a Zen Buddhist perspective: 

苦集道滅: 面對它, 接受它, 處理它, 放下它
Face it, accept it, process it, release it

Day 19- Taizhong 台中 to Taibei 台北
My final rides for this circumnavigatory exploration of Taiwan are simply to and from the train station. I catch the train from Taizhong to Taibei, watching the landscape roll by from the comfort of my train seat while hugging my bike, this borrowed friend that's been my companion, transportation, home, luggage carrier, and everything on this trip. I contemplate all the adventures we've shared, and how lucky I am that we navigated around three typhoons, and experienced no flat tires or other logistical difficulties, beyond aches and pains in my own body. 

My favorite days are the quiet days when there are few cars, and a nice cloud cover to keep me shady. When hot and uncomfortable, I focus on speed, and getting to my destination. When cooler, I can better enjoy the journey, like that day I rode from the Central mountain range through the Coastal mountain range to return to the ocean. With such spaciousness, I verbally converse with the landscape and myself, connecting deeply with both.  

I encounter another biker, a young androgynous Taiwanese beauty, as I enter Taibei. She started her circumnavigatory trip then turned around to change bikes, as her rented bike's tires gave out just a few cities away. I briefly share my own adventure, then shout the standard enthusiastic, "Jiayou!" words of encouragement as we bike off in different directions, I completing this circumnavigatory adventure and biking off to my next adventure, and her adventure just beginning. 

After nineteen days around the island, it's surreal being back. I'm different, but everything here is pretty much the same. Taibei has cooled down a little, with some completed construction projects, and some fresh construction underway. My family doesn't seem to notice that I just experienced this epic adventure of a lifetime, beyond constantly critiquing my charcoal-chocolate sun-kissed skin color. I move slowly, resting and celebrating, dancing on my favorite wooden platform by a lily pond during sunset, and walking around barefoot, relishing the feeling of my mobile ankles, knees, and entire body simply walking again. 

What just happened? 
Who was I before; who am I now? 
What's next? 

The full moon rises over the mountains, over the pavilion where my parents had their first date, and over the Pacific. It shines through the walls of the skyscrapers and farm huts, through the eyelids of the sleeping, and through the lenses of those watching, and not. I look up from this rock overlooking my favorite river, one of many rivers, one of many moonrises, feeling and watching all of them, my breath rising and sinking my ribs, chest, and belly, heart thumping love songs to the earthquakes and volcanoes that gave birth to this landscape. Bangdong green tea infuses its medicine into my handmade Kunming gaiwan, as Yunnan temple incense unfurls Chinese medicinal aromatic songs into the sky, unraveling the tightly wound patterns and memories of untold scars and celebrations, sunrises and sunsets. Coyote trots by and Guanyin Bodhisattva winks, as Owl releases a feather, like a transient drop of tea, black calligraphic paint stroke, or autumn leaf, onto the passing wind. It lands in my hand.