A Narrow Angle texts
Yes, I have a map. And I have it with me when I arrive at the intersection of a three-part, six-lane road with a two-lane road, which then branches further into two dual carriageways on the other side of the crossing. This makes for roughly twelve x six crossing possibilities. Also, the city highway is elevated on pillars fifteen metres above the crossroads. I have been here before, though I haven’t approached from this angle. After ten minutes trying to figure it out, I still haven’t solved the mystery of which way to go. I start to doubt my sense of direction, which is usually not so easily faulted. Then I understand that the highway — as if set in a parallel world, a parallel unconnected level of metropolitan agglomeration — is just not represented on the map, even though it is in plain view, and spills over very audibly onto the level below. It is simply an overlay, perhaps on a different map.

Lucid Tea
One evening I go with a friend, a Chinese woman, to visit a tea-house in the hills north of the city. After a subway ride we emerge from a station in the Taipei periphery to take a taxi into the hills. A group of taxi drivers, all grinning broadly, greet us: a skinny Chinese girl with funny hair in the company of a tall, half-elegant long-nose. It seems they’re immediately thinking of some kind of prostitution. One of them almost reluctantly agrees to take us for a ridiculously high price. The muffler of his car is broken, so the fumes turn inward, making for a toxically perfumed ride up the winding road. The driver speaks Chinese to my friend, but repeatedly utters the staccato English words ‘Yes’ and ‘Sir’ in quick succession, squeezed between other words — it sounds like a mild fit of glossolalia.
We choose the third tea-house we come to. It has a good view over the city, and a few crickets chirping in the small garden. As we leave the taxi, the still grinning driver wishes us a great evening. We start talking and drinking tea at 10pm, then order some food, and more tea. The talk gets more intense. After a while my thoughts grow miraculously lucid; all sorts of complex connections untangle before me. I share all these thoughts with my friend, who constantly asks for more details. The intoxication feels as strong as with cocaine, only it builds up much slower. After each of us has downed several litres of very strong green tea we suddenly realise it is 4am. We decide to return to the city to try to get some sleep. My consciousness remains highly lucid for a couple of days.
The Mushroom
Two days in a different city, its skyline a bit worn down, with traces of recent fires, warped plastic façade elements flaking off buildings, a burnt out KTV sign at the top of a rotten concrete tower. Walking down the street with an artist friend, we come across a peculiar kind of shop, its name alluding to a ‘Magic Mushroom’. Through the window we can see a number of machines, their unfamiliar elements suggesting an obscure purpose.
We enter to check out what the place actually offers and are greeted by a middle-aged man in a white laboratory coat. In answer to my friend’s mocking questions he explains to her (and she translates to me) that he uses a unique magic mushroom to heal any problems in your body. To channel and accentuate the energy present in the (dried) mushroom, he uses some computer chips. The chips are stuck into the meat of the mushroom, and the resulting bio-cybernetic chimeras are embedded into resin. Different sizes are available — from small amulets to chunks of at least thirty centimetres in diameter. We can hardly believe what we see and have to make an effort to suppress our laughter. The man smiles and invites us to try it out. We see a girl of around ten — presumably the shopkeeper’s daughter — totally glued to one of the machines. The device’s small cockpit is covered with a drawing representing the human body, and contains a number of LEDs for different body parts. A light pen is used to select the body part to be healed. The chunk of mushroom emits a red light and the girl leans her forehead against the resin surface. She seems transfixed. Dangling wires connect to a box at the back of the machine. There are about twenty of these units in the place. The man is totally convinced about his product, and so repeats his invitation. It is a scene directly out of a 1980s science-fiction movie. I remember the Aum Shinri Kyo. We politely withdraw.
Color Death
It had been a day punctuated by outbreaks of people screaming in public, some for mysterious reasons, others because they might have gone crazy long ago. That night I walk home in the company of two Chinese friends. We follow the grid of Taipei, going along a main road. As we approach a corner where a side street cuts into a residential area we hear some more repeated screams. I’m prepared for another lunatic, or another homeless person. Instead, when we arrive at the corner, we see that a taxi has crashed sidelong into a line of parked cars and we hear the sound of running footsteps fade down an unlit alley. The screamer, apparently the taxi driver, collapses in front of our eyes, yet he still has his cellphone out and is trying to call the ambulance or police. One of his sandals is torn and hangs loose from his right foot, the other is missing. Just as he crashes to the ground I see the pool of blood that is forming, pulsing out from the stab wounds in his chest. Immediately I know: he is lost, impossible to save. Police motorcycles and an ambulance arrive like lightning. What strikes me is the cashier from the 7-Eleven on the corner who comes out onto the street with a roll of kitchen towel (wanting to staunch the man’s bleeding, or to clean up the pavement?), and the supermarket’s neon sign reflecting in the immaculate bright red pool of blood. The lady turns away, the reflection stays and intensifies.
This thing happened after a week of colour intoxication, around Chinese New Year, when shops put overwhelming quantities of red and golden, magenta and yellow goods on sale — posters, figurines of zodiac signs and paper money to be burned — all in colours and lights of utmost intensity. In that palette blood red appeared like a terminal colour. On the next day we learned from the news that the man had died during the night because too many internal organs had been pierced, but that the murderer had been caught.
A few days after returning from my second trip to Taiwan I gave a lecture in the University of Frankfurt. During this lecture I noticed one of the students being particularly attentive and interested. Again a few days later, this very student, a woman from Uruguay, sent me an email asking for an interview. We met. At the end of our talk she asked me why I had looked at her during the lecture. It turned out that she was using the interview as a pretext to check out whether I fancied her. After that meeting I did not hear from her again, and the interview was not published. Two months later the professor told me that the woman’s cousin had come to Germany and abducted her, taking her back to Uruguay for an arranged marriage. It seems she had wanted to escape her relatives and a pre-programmed life by trying to find a husband abroad before they could find one for her at home. I feel sorry. All the more so, since I have even forgotten her name.

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