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In the blue sky drifts air of freedom
Amidst green mountains live innocent people
Upon green streams are beautiful reflections
Alishan, the beauty of Taiwan, glorifies the name Taiwan.

Prologue

Just before my 32nd birthday, I resigned from a prosperous and highly paid job as an executive in a foreign company. Despite my boss’s attempts to dissuade me from quitting, I knew in my heart that a momentary pause in my life was what I needed. I felt I was at a fork in the road and in order to figure out which direction I wanted my life to take, I needed to get away from the world of fierce commercial competition.

Other than the support my wife offered, my friends and relatives grimaced at the sudden news. Others felt I was foolish to give up such a successful and prosperous career and yet, despite all that, my mind was at ease. I knew that in the course of our lives, in order to gain, sometimes we must first sacrifice.

Previously, I had been an amateur reporter, and had written travel reports and prepared articles with character interviews for some newspapers. This prior experience in travel coupled with my passion for photography made it apparent what my next move was going to be. With the time off, I planned a journey with my camera to capture, in every corner of Taiwan, the scenic beauty and cultural essence that makes up this nation.

The intended trip, however, didn’t happen. It’s funny how life sometimes just takes its own course, despite our intentions. In the two weeks leading up to my journey, I happened to spot an online ad in search of a reporter. The reporting job entailed visiting eight communities in Alishan. The reports produced from these visits would be used by the local government as material for promoting tourism in Alishan.

I noticed that the start of this position would be shortly after my break began. I decided to send them some previous articles I had written, along with some photographs. Two days later, I received a phone call inviting me for an interview. It turned out to be a successful interview and I was given the project. In the following month, I had to visit and interview eight local communities in Alishan. That is, I was expected to take hundreds of photos and come up with 40 articles of various topics, totaling about 30,000 words.

Reading has always been a favorite pastime of mine. I have long fantasized about the free schedule of writers or reporters, who tend to spend their time in one corner of a coffee shop nibbling on their pen or typing out their inspiration on the keyboard. Due to circumstances over the course of my life, I did not become a professional writer or reporter. There were times when I thought of changing my career even after years of devotion to my job. It wasn’t until this transitional period that I was finally able to fulfill my dream of being a reporter, and this opportunity gave me more joy than when I was admitted to either college or graduate school.

As a child, I had always been intrigued by Alishan and all of its mysteries. Its sanctity and symbolism of Taiwan left a great impression on me. Now that I had been given this chance to explore it, I was ready to unveil all of its wonders and mysteries. The anticipation of my trip reminded me of how excited I use to get as an elementary school student going on a field trip.

A series of articles entitled “Approaching Alishan” reveals to readers the hardships, danger, happiness and touching moments during my trek up the mountain. Also, incorporated in the articles are my understandings of life acquired through personal experiences. I hope readers can be moved and inspired as much as I have been throughout this journey.

Departure

When life is no longer loaded with work, Suddenly, even the air smells particularly fresh. Perhaps it is the freedom. I am making my way on a path to Alishan mountain.

It was a Friday; the last day at my job as CEO had finally arrived. I spent the next couple of days resting, and the following Monday, I departed for Alishan on my new journey as travel reporter and photographer.

Taiwan’s second highway is also known as the Formosa Highway. Compared with the Chungshan Highway, or First Highway, the newly-designed Formosa Highway features a wider and smoother pavement. With a view to balancing urban and rural development, the Second Highway runs through well-known getaway destinations, from Dasi in northern Taiwan, to the Sun Moon Lake and Alishan in central Taiwan, and downward to Kenting in southern Taiwan.

I began my solo drive along Formosa Highway, on Monday morning at 6 a.m., at the first glimmer of dawn. However, instead of making the routine drive towards my company, I headed in the opposite direction. The bondage that was once my job had finally been broken and what remained quickly faded in the distance in my rear view mirror. I still can’t describe my mood of leaving that day.

Local Snack

Since graduating from college, I had remained devoted to a very busy career. The time and effort I had spent developing my career had made the years pass by almost unnoticed. I had switched jobs a few times, but the end of each job had always been followed immediately by the start of the next one, so I never had a break. Even weekends and holidays were spent doing work related things. I had never been able to entirely detach from my job.

On the highway, I did not speed, nor was I sleepy or giddy; I felt as if I were flying in the sky. The view along the road appeared particularly vivid and bright. Each mountain and town appeared to have another kind of significance.

After a three-hour drive, I arrived at a town located at the foot of Alishan Mountain. I was not yet tired and was still feeling rather good.

In the town was a market where fish, meat, and produce were spread out on the ground on canvas, or simple wooden tables. The voices of the vendors rang in the air as they promoted their produce, while customers busily made their selections and bargained. Still, in the midst of all the clamor, the market retained a feeling of warmth and friendliness as people greeted one another and sometimes stopped to chat with one another.

I swung by one of the stands and bought some breakfast to energize myself for the day ahead. As I ate, I observed those around me. It was about 9:00 a.m. Those who had to rush to their offices had already made their purchases and left. Those still lingering in the market appeared to be housewives, who had nowhere to rush off to. In the growing hubbub, the bustling market appeared energetic.

Time at a market in a remote town seemed to flow in slow motion, contrary to the tense and fast pace of tightly-scheduled life in the urban jungle. Everyone in the market walked leisurely. They shopped leisurely. They picked their produce leisurely. And they even bargained leisurely. Even I had my breakfast leisurely, thoroughly enchanted by this beautiful scene that seemed frozen in time.

Then it dawned on me. Had I not quit my job, I would have been at the office preoccupied with unavoidable meetings, pending documents awaiting review, and numerous projects needing to be completed ahead of schedule. Instead, I was at the foot of Alishan Mountain soaking in the charm and magic.

While looking around aimlessly, I seemed to enter a time tunnel and travel back to my hometown in my childhood at a time when I was shopping at a market with my grandma. I moved through the crowded market from one stand to another, holding my grandma’s wrinkled hand and picking up my favorite snacks.

Before gearing up for the mountainous regions, I had my car re-filled. Guided by a signpost, I arrived at the first stop on this journey—Taiping.

The name “Taiping,” which literally means peace, is perfectly coined for this region, since it suggests to its visitors the beautiful image of world peace. At the first stop on my journey to Alishan, the name “Taiping” evoked for me rich blessings and a feeling that everything would go well.

In the upcoming article, I will share with you 36 curves of Taiping, memories of a passionate principal, an unforgettable lunch at an elementary school, and tea fragrance and a junior tea ceremony master in Taiping. Don’t miss it.

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