Dutchman gorges himself on Taiwan’s beauty

By Joost Vanderbilt

I have a way about me. I like a thing done well and done consistently that way. I like principle and those that adhere to it. This is the case in my private and professional lives. I say grace and I say it with meaning. I say I will be at the meeting on foreign revenues at 6:30 a.m. and I’m never late. I like a plan. I like to stick to it. Some ask me how, with that temperament, do I combat boredom. I reply that any other way is needlessly disruptive — for myself and others.

So it came as a surprise to friends when I told them I was heading to Taiwan. The choice of country was no shock. They knew its history, economy and culture. They asked, however, where the country fit in my oft-expressed plans. These schemes are followed rigorously — I arrive to them as I do a 6:30 a.m. meeting.

It didn’t — a revelatory admission.

I had seen a report on Taroko Gorge. That was sufficient. Plane booked. Plane lifted. Plane landed. Then the east coast and that gorge. Then too Qingshui cliffs. I slept late in Hualien. I ate at its night markets. I felt the ground rumble as it does when a lorry passes and realized I was in an earthquake. I went again to Taroko the next day. I couldn’t keep away. I had scheduled myself to be in Tainan.

It is the color sweeps in the rock that stole me from my ways; the blues and rich whites, verging almost into silver. It is the roads that slither through the rock and alongside the river. It is the sheer audacity of the plan: to maintain a road system through typhoon- and earthquake-shattered landscape.

I left a short while later. I could afford only a short time in the country. Taiwan was a short-term blindness from my overarching gaze on the plan. A good time. Ultimately, though, it was a break from my habit. As all holidays must, it ended. I consoled myself with the fact that the divergence was brilliant but that’s no reason to ignore temporary blindness. Still, I expect a passing image of Taroko, like that in a magazine or a billboard, to quickly revive popularity in that briefest of habits: the rejection of the plan in favor of rock, river and rise.