When I was in college, I hitchhiked all over Taiwan. It was a great way to see things and meet people.
One day I was going from Hualien to Tienhsiang, and got dropped off near the coast where the road enters the mountains, spectacular scenery you have to see to believe.
There is a cliff there that I really wanted to climb, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find another rock climber. People didn’t even know what rock climbing was. Why should you go to all that effort to climb up, fall off, and smash your brains all over a rock face? Well, yeah, but it’s fun, you see.
On the day in question, I walked up to a place where I could really admire the cliff and sat down to study the face. About a pitch, at most a pitch and a half, I guessed. The setting sun put the face in relief so I could see details I hadn’t seen before. Fantastic. More and more interesting.
But when the sun set, I realized I was still over ten kilometers from Tienhsiang, and it was dark. The nice thing was that there were no cars or trucks on the road, so it was serenely quiet. Uh, no cars or trucks on the road. Hmm. One of the prerequisites for hitchhiking is you need cars or trucks. Hmm. Okay, let’s start walking.
An hour later, I still hadn’t seen a single car, and I was getting a bit hungry and tired. Then I heard a sound, a motor, something coming, and in the right direction! From the sound I could tell it was a truck. Great! Truck drivers enjoy company and always stop. So when the truck came close enough, I started walking backward and thumbing.
But the truck didn’t seem to be slowing down, so I started waving. It still wasn’t slowing down, and just as it was passing, I realized I really didn’t want to walk another hour, so I ran and jumped on the running board. I stuck my head in the window and very politely asked the driver to take me to Tienhsiang. It is on the way, after all.
But something strange. The driver’s eyes bulged, his mouth opened, he nodded, but he didn’t say anything. Never mind that, I opened the door and climbed into the front seat. Now, most truck drivers enjoy having someone to chat with, to break the monotony of driving, but this guy was different. I tried to strike up a conversation, but he wouldn’t say a thing to me. He kept his eyes glued on the road. Okay, some people are shy, they don’t like to talk. But he seemed tense, nervous in a way, and I got the impression that he didn’t even want to look at me. Kind of weird. Well, okay, I just watched the black shadows of the mountains in silence.
When we reached Tienhsiang, I said, “Here we are, this is as far as I go.” He seemed relieved, but he still wouldn’t look at me. I opened the door and jumped out. Almost as soon as I hit the ground, before I had a chance to thank him, he floored it and roared off. I watched in amazement for a while as he sped up the road.
Many years later, I happened to mention this strange encounter to a friend who’s also a driver. To my surprise, he threw back his head and guffawed. When he could control himself, I asked him, What’s so funny? He said, “That driver must have thought you were a ghost! Think of it, out in the middle of nowhere in the mountains, miles from any houses or buildings, this shape that looks like a human wants to get into his truck. If that’s not a ghost, what is it? There were very few foreigners in Taiwan at that time, and he had probably never seen a foreigner up close. He never imagined a foreigner would flag down his truck in the middle of the pitch black mountains, so he was probably sure you were a ghost! You thought he was weird, but he thought you were spooky! He probably didn’t stop until he found a temple hahahaha!”
That would explain it, but allow me to assure you, I am flesh and blood, living and breathing. Does that make anyone feel better?