It’s raining late Saturday afternoon in Ji’an, Hualien County, after our 3-hour train ride from Taipei. When we arrive, I notice a sweet but tenacious fragrance that transports me back 15 years to Ah-Ma’s front yard in Nantou. My mom tells me the fragrance is from the white osmanthus flowers outside our door.
We walk around Ji’an, which is covered with fields of taro leaves shooting above the water, and surrounded by green mountains covered with wisps of clouds. It reminds my mom of her childhood village.
On Sunday, we visit Taroko National Park. Here, the powerful Liwu River carved a deep gorge into the marble cliffs of the Central Mountain Range. It’s the home of the Taroko tribe, one of many aboriginal groups who inhabited the island for thousands of years before my mother’s ancestors came 400 years ago.
We follow behind dozens of tourists, who are armed with iPads, smartphones, and selfie sticks, all wearing sky blue helmets to protect from falling rocks. At the Chingshui Cliffs, I catch my first glimpse of the Pacific, resplendent in turquoise even on a rainy day.
It’s early Monday morning in Ji’an. I slip out of bed and into my Saucony running shoes, reenacting my DC running ritual. I follow a bike path heading out of town, past grazing water buffalo, through taro fields, then along a rapid stream carrying water from the mountains.
This is the Hualien I will remember – scenes and scents no iPhone photos or Insta-poetry of mine can capture, just the asphalt under my feet, my lungs drunk on the humid air as I miss the final turn on the way home.