This is the first part of a series which explores the relationship we develop with our surroundings, and seeks an answer to that profoundly elusive question of exactly what makes our home feel like home. We often become so familiar with our habitat that we take it for granted. Yet once in a while we can snap out of the daydream, look around us and realize just how lucky we are to be where we are. “Love Where You Live” is all about this process of falling in love with your home again. We kick off the series with a beautiful photo diary curated by Zongzi, a local Taipei resident who decided he didn’t know enough about his own country and set off on a three-month tour.
玉山 日月潭 環島
There’s a saying in Taiwan that to truly call yourself Taiwanese you have to accomplish three things: climb to the top of the tallest peak of Jade Mountain, swim across the Sun Moon Lake, and cycle around the circumference of the island. No doubt it takes admirable determination and physical prowess to achieve this feat, but there is a sentimental element to the endeavor too. It’s about exploring where you live, becoming acquainted with your surroundings. How many of us are guilty of taking our home for granted, chasing after the exotic and new, and forgetting to appreciate what is right on your doorstep?
Seasoned mountain climbers are left to tackle the Jade Mountain and the Sun Moon Lake is criss-crossed daily by pleasure boats rather than hardy swimmers, but taking a tour around the island is becoming quite popular. Whether by bicycle or motorcycle, the trip takes roughly ten days at a pace. Even President Ma Ying-jeou undertook a cycling tour of the island in the run up to his presidential campaign, and the promise to build new cycle paths is written into the manifesto of all hopeful political leaders.
Zhong Fanyan, known by his friends as Zongzi after the steamed sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves commonly found in street markets, decided to take on the challenge and learn more about his island beyond the confines of the city. Travelling light, he set off on his motorbike with a small pile of savings in the bank, three sets of clothing, a hat, a pair of sunglasses, two cameras, an I-Pad and a notebook. He didn’t plan a route; he would simply keep travelling until his money ran out.
Like many young people of his generation, Zongzi grew up in Taipei, a capital surrounded on all sides by lofty mountains that peer down at the eroding corrugated rooftops with an enticing yet intimidating gaze. But his first taste of freedom was after graduation when he spent one year working in a hotel high in the mountains of Nantou county in central Taiwan. “The mountains there were indescribably beautiful; they became my inspiration to explore Taiwan. I wanted to become more familiar with my own home, to get to know it. I yearned to soak up the natural scenery and to experience the local life.”
In his notebook he wrote down every single thing he saw and heard on his travels. And he documented the journey with many photographs. Although these images don’t have the glossy finish of professionalism, they capture someone attentively exploring his surroundings with wonder and curiosity. Spending so much time alone, he developed the habit of talking to himself, sustaining an inner dialogue that became completely normal after a while. With so much freedom, he learned how to live according to his own whims and impulses, to follow his own passions. He believes this practicing this habit helped him to realize a much healthier way to exist.
On his journey, Zongzi said that Lanyu Island was the most unforgettable place of all. “It’s only a two hour boat journey away, but it feels like a journey back through time. You step off the boat and there’s this primordial atmosphere of serenity and calm. The Tao indigenous people who live there look more like Filipinos than Taiwanese, and they’re so kind-hearted and warm. Their lifestyle is simple and pure, very closely bound to nature. Taiwan has the highest density of convenience stores in the world, but a 7-Eleven was only opened here on the island a matter of months ago. Pigs, goats, cats and dogs roam freely on the streets. I ended up staying there for a week, because I couldn’t bear to tear myself away.”
Taiwan is split in two down the middle by a mountain range that reaches up 4000 meters into the sky. On the East you can watch the sunrise, and on the West the sunset. But Zongzi witnessed something he’d never seen before – the full moon rising over the sea. It only happens several times each year, but when the full moon rise coincides with the sun dropping behind the mountains behind you, the sky glows with color. He recalls that the instant he was this vision, “I had this feeling that my whole life was completely free from any regret or sorrow, a burst of pure happiness and contentment.” Several of his shots capture this magic – coral pink and orange bursting onto a dusky blue canvas, stars glimmering effervescently in the dark sky, cloud formations caught frozen still in their perpetual motion.
As he watched the sunrise from Yilan on his 52nd day of roaming, he suddenly decided to go home. He’d ridden over 3000 miles on his motorbike and had worn himself out – the symptomatic exhaustion of the restless traveler. What amazed him was that on an island as small as Taiwan, which is only one seventh of the size of the UK, you could travel so far and still not see everything. Upon his return he instantly ached for the feeling of freedom which he had renounced. But there is much more to experience and many different ways to explore Taiwan. Zongzi is thinking next time that he’ll go camping with a tent, exposed to the elements of nature even more.
Have you spent time delving into your own neighbourhood instead of escaping to far-flung places? What do you feel you gain from it in retrospect? And what does the word ‘home’ mean to you? We’d love to hear what you think.
If you would like your own story to be featured on The Ritual, then get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org! We’re always on the lookout for more tales of adventure and curiosity to share with the world.