24-Dec-2003 -- This confluence had already been successfully visited and I had no intention to visit it again when I left Japan a couple of days earlier to spend Christmas in Taiwan. However, when I started to go confluence hunting in Japan almost a year ago, I decided that the next time I went to Taiwan I’d try to visit the two points in the sea just off the northern coast. I used to live on la Ilha Formosa, the “beautiful island”, as the first Portuguese sailors who saw it in the early 16th century named it. I was at the end of 13 month’s travel that took me overland across two continents from the Atlantic to the Pacific. I was tired; I needed some rest before going back home. I flew to Taiwan, fell in love with the island and its people, and stayed for two years.
Two years ago one of my best Taiwanese friends died under very mysterious circumstances on a trip to China and I promised myself to visit her grave in Puli the next time I visited Taiwan. I had arrived on the island three days earlier and, on Christmas Eve, Cameo (a long time Taiwanese friend) and I left Taichung in mid afternoon. It was sunny and warm, as is often the case on this part of the island during winter. As we were approaching Puli, I realized that the devastating earthquake that made world headlines on 21 September 1999 by killing more than 2000 people (now called the ‘921 quake’) had caused more extensive damage to this area than any other parts of Taiwan. The landslides had heavily scarred the forested slopes of the Jiojio Fong (ninety-nine hills) west of the city.
I have a pretty good memory of the ‘921 quake’. On that day I had taken an early flight from Manila to Kaohsiung completely unaware of what had just happened during the night. After landing in Kaohsiung I took a train to Tainan and realized that things were not going as smoothly as usual. Army convoys were heading north and many trains were delayed. It was only after arriving in Tainan that some friends told me about what was going on. The next morning I was taking a shower when a huge aftershock struck the island. I was naked and wasn’t sure that running outside the house was the best idea. I stayed inside the shower.
We drove directly to the Buddhist temple on the northern side of Puli were Cecilia rests. It’s a massive tall building resembling the central keep of a medieval castle and nestled high in the mountain overlooking the city. There is an altar in the center of the main hall surrounded by dozens of walls inside which hundreds of 30cm by 30cm square marble boxes are lined up containing the remains of the deceased. The priest welcomed us and took us to the second floor where more boxes could be found. He took a ladder and climbed it to open one of the boxes. Inside was Cecilia’s urn with her picture. The priest left. It was a very heartbreaking moment and Cameo and I remained silent for a few minutes overwhelmed by sadness. Then we burned a few sticks of incense and said some prayers before going back downstairs. The priest offered us some fruits and we set outside the temple. The sun was setting over Puli.
Before going back inside the car, I turned my GPS on and realized that we were only a few hundred meters west of N24 E121. Although it was now getting late I decided to go and take a look. We drove along the mountain on a narrow road heading east. After a couple of hundred meters we turned north before ending in a cul-de-sac within 800 meters of the confluence, probably near the same spot as Greg Michaels when he successfully visited that confluence two years earlier. It was too dark to go any further and it was better that way since I wanted this confluence – which also happened to be near the geographical center of Taiwan – to be associated with Cecilia’s smile and memory rather than an isolated tree in the middle of the jungle.
The last time I saw Cecilia was on 10 October 1999 at CKS international airport near Taipei. I was then leaving Taiwan on a sunny and warm Sunday afternoon for Japan and was waiting for my flight to Osaka. At that time she was living in Taipei and we had decided to have a last drink at the airport before my departure to Japan. She was a tall and beautiful girl, looking half Chinese half Gypsy, with long hair cascading down onto her shoulders. She was nicely dressed with her usual sportive appearance. We had often been hiking together in the mountains east of Taichung. She paid for the drinks and I promise her that the next time we’d meet it’d be my turn. We said good-bye. She was 25.
Requiescat in pace xiǎojiě.