(Initially about) The fauna and flora of Taiwan


Taiwan has many beautiful flowers, and bees too. There are also trees, and every now and then one sees mountains. The air is quite dirty, though. There are also many dogs roaming the streets that bark at people with long noses. Some of the dogs are green.

What really bothers me about this story is … why am I so desperate for answers? Why do I have so many questions? Is it because of my education – religious environment where one was regularly preached to by those who were supposed to know? And if you didn’t know, you could go to hell! I mean, no one could ever use it as an excuse that they didn’t know! You were either one of the lucky ones who knew, and therefore could go to heaven, or you didn’t know, and was therefore temporarily condemned to eternal torment in Satan’s hell. I say “temporarily condemned” because there was always the possibility that you could acquire the necessary knowledge before you breathed your last, and as one of those who then knew, you could enter eternal utopia – not because you were a good person, or because you died while saving your neighbour from drowning, but because you knew!

(I promise I’ll come back to the fauna and flora.)

Round about ten years ago I wasn’t sure of what I knew anymore. I panicked for understandable reasons. I had to start from the beginning to sort out what I knew, because even though I was no longer sure about heaven or hell, I still thought you were in quite a predicament if you didn’t know certain things.

This resulted in me not following the conventional priorities over the past ten years of someone with my socio-cultural background and tertiary education. I decided that I couldn’t give immediate attention to such mundane things as financial wealth, position and status in the community, and whether or not I might end up in the madhouse one day. All I knew was that I didn’t know.

I met many others who apparently knew, or just pretended they knew, or for reasons I’ve never been able to figure out, did not care whether or not they knew. I, on the other hand, was in a position where everything I had known had lost credibility. I therefore had to postpone all conventional priorities until the day of liberation when I could finally announce that, after years of uncertainty, I finally knew again.

Very soon I was confronted with a harsh reality. Banks that are so kind to lend money to ignorant young students, grocery stores, and the owners of rooms and apartments simply refuse to wait for payment until you know or understand what you believe is necessary to know or understand. Everyone wants money now, whether you know what you need to know, or not.

That’s how I ended up in Northeast Asia. Here I am able to earn money without pretending I have the type of “knowledge” I previously possessed. Here it is good enough that you look different, that you come from another part of the planet, and of course that you can speak English. What a paradise! I’ve been wandering around for years in this part of the world in my apparently endless quest for answers.

To not acknowledge that there are advantages to ignorance would make me a liar, though. One advantage is that one can reflect your ignorance in your appearance. Indulge yourself a bit by standing on a sidewalk in the town centre and staring at passers-by. I surmise that the well-dressed pedestrians with clean-shaven legs and faces can explain in well-articulated sentences what they know. The other part of the crowd, those with furry legs and cheeks and dressed in old jeans and dirty T-shirts, will probably fail to explain what they don’t know in long boring monologues.

Now, here’s where ignorance comes in handy: If you find yourself in this second group, and people look at you and think you look like a homeless person, you can simply drop your shoulders and tell them you know how you look, but it’s because you don’t know! In some cases, they’ll understand, and they will sympathise. Other people – who one can only conclude have always known – will not understand and will probably never have any sympathy.

There is a third group: Characters who don the fashionable uniforms of people who have answers to key questions and who therefore know, but who stare uncomfortably at the ceiling when they are required to make a definite statement in this direction or the other.

By the way, the factor of financial resources, which allow people to buy a pre-assembled and pre-packaged uniform that would give them the appearance that they possess all the important pieces of information can never be underestimated. The same is true for community. If everyone in your group wears the same uniforms and recites the same rhymes, the likelihood is slim that anyone in the room will ask awkward questions – except of course if one with a dirty beard and a T-shirt that advertises shoe polish stumbles into the coffee shop, and accidentally plonks down at the wrong table.

* * *

A more liberal attitude towards your appearance, and other advantages of living in the Far East such as eating Chinese takeaways every day, cannot be overlooked. I nevertheless look forward to the day when I had gathered enough knowledge to again be able to proclaim: “I know.”

There are always alternatives. I can say that I give up or try to convince myself that I don’t care anymore. This could just make it possible to use my time and energy to pursue wealth and material comfort, although it would surely require a transformation of incredible dimensions. The odds are always that I would be confronted later in my life with the fact that, despite appearances, I still don’t know. For me this is a great dilemma.

As I already mentioned, the grocery store, the bank and the landlord don’t really care whether I know or not. As long as I continue to stuff cash in their hands, they remain polite. This is not a desirable situation for the long term. I must either quickly get to the point where I can declare convincingly enough that I possess the most important knowledge (and that I therefore know), or I need to get my hands on more money I can legally call my own. In the latter case, I would be able to buy more time in order to formulate questions better, and to find an appropriate set of answers.

The ideal result is that, without blinking an eye or staring at the clouds, I can declare that indeed, after years of ignorance, I know again – though it would not necessarily be the same as what others think they know. I would again be able to grow my beard, and I wouldn’t feel compelled to dress in a more or less fashionable way, even if I could afford it. Why? If people then comment on my appearance, and speculate about my ignorance, I would be able to straighten my shoulders with a renewed sense of pride, and politely inform them that I might look like a homeless person, but I know.

Now, about those green dogs …