Mr. Brown Boulevard

Chishang, Taiwan. Early morning.

Mr. Brown Boulevard is a narrow, elevated road that zigzags through a patchwork of rice paddies in Chishang, Taiwan.

Chishang is located in Taiwan’s East Rift Valley. It’s famous for growing rice (the best in Taiwan, apparently). Dahlia and I booked a room in Chishang by accident. We thought we were booking a room in Taitung. It was a happy accident.

I stumbled onto Mr. Brown Boulevard while hastily revising our travel plans. The eponymous road—so I read—was named after Mr. Brown Coffee, a coffee company, a sort of Taiwanese Folgers. Mr. Brown Coffee shot a commercial along the road years back. It had since become a tourist attraction.

During the day, Mr. Brown Boulevard was a parade of tourists—trains of quad-bike enthusiasts, schools of children running and playing, couples holding hands, umbrella-welding women in bright, flowing dresses sauntering, stopping to strike the occasional pose—the selfie sticks out were out in force that day. Everyone was headed toward the same tree, a lonely tree with bad posture. It was leaning into the road, as if fatigued by all the attention.

Perhaps the tree had had a starring role in that coffee commercial (I never saw the commercial). In any event, I wasn’t going near it. To risk a broad generation, Taiwanese see a crowd and think, Ooh, there must something good over there. I see a crowd, and I think, Far far too many people. Whatever it is, not worth it. And then I walk swiftly in the opposite direction.

Dawn. We got up early to walk the length of Mr. Brown Boulevard. Dahlia was reluctant to get up so early on a weekend. I promised her there would be coffee—and a beautiful sunrise over the mountains, with streaks of orange and red, a blazing fire lit over purple mountains, all reflected on the tranquil waters of a rice paddy. It would be awesome, in the true sense of the word. Fingers crossed. I may have oversold it a bit.

It was cloudy that morning. A thin mist rose from the valley. It was quiet. No tourist buses, no tourists. Almost no traffic of any kind—the occasional bicycle, a scooter or two. A elderly woman tending her garden. I let The Dog of Destiny off leash. She scampered about while Dahlia and I strolled hand-in-hand.

For a brief minute, we did catch a glimpse of the rising sun. We stood watching as light painted the clouds and a nearby mountain peak. We looked out over the water with the Dog of Destiny huddled between us, our little family. It wasn’t exactly what I had promised. It was close enough.

We shared the glimpse of sunrise with an elderly Taiwanese couple. They were riding tandem on a one-person bike. The man peddled, the woman sat behind him, feet dangling just above the pavement. She smiled and waved.

“Beautiful,” I said, pointing to the red glow. The elderly man nodded and said something in Italian. I had no idea what he actually said, not that it mattered. His kindly smile said enough.

I said to Dahlia, “I hope some day when we’re old and gray we’ll be riding together on a bike just like that, with the sun rising, somewhere in the world, somewhere just as quiet and beautiful as this.”

Dahlia cuddled up next to me. I put my arm around her. She put her head on my shoulder. She sighed and said, “Yeah, but you’re going to be the one riding on back.”

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