I’ve been in Taipei, Taiwan, for a few days. I’ve got a routine. By day, I do my desk work, go to the gym, then back to the desk until around 1845 hrs. After that, I hit the streets, eat cheap, find a place to write, drink coffee, listen to music and keep on grinding until near closing time. Then more walking and, finally, back to the hotel room.
Walking around here, checking things out, it occurs to me that I’m in the right place, doing the right thing, not wasting time. When I look around at all the lights, traffic and people, it all seems eventful.
I’ve tried but so far have been unable to make life off the road nearly as meaningful. In Los Angeles, I drive around at night and install myself at different coffee places, trying to feel I’m somewhere like where I am now. Sometimes I can get it but most of the time, I can’t.
Many years ago, the best part of my day was walking back from my job to the apartment. It wasn’t that the workday was over but the feeling of freedom being between the two points. I used to have a few different routes, all of them several blocks out of the way.
One afternoon in 1981, I was at Ian MacKaye’s house. Black Flag had spent the night and were leaving for their next show. I watched the van pull away and thought of them as wild men, sailing on a mad sea. I tripped on that as I walked to my night shift. Wherever they were going, to whatever situation of unpredictability awaited them, I wanted to go, too. It seemed a much better way to die, compared to the minimum-wage flatline I was heading to.
A few months later, I was in that van. I lucked out. Real life would have been way too much for me to hack.
Here in Taipei, I have very little interaction with people. I point at what I want for dinner, smile and nod, get my change ready in advance for my nightly bottle of tea from the 7-Eleven, as the guys behind the counter seem to be quite impatient.
For the most part, I exist among people here almost invisibly. I look into windows of restaurants and tea houses and see Taiwanese versions of people I see anywhere else. The nervous girls and the lonely boys, hypnotized by their phones, elderly often sitting alone, looking at a newspaper or staring down, the just-off-work, tie-part-way-down alphas, prowling for who knows what — martinis, blood. They’re all here.
There are a lot of street-food vendors. The smells are amazing. Crepes, curried meat, garlic — all are omnipresent and all you want to do is eat.
Tonight’s designated spot is a Japanese place blocks away. A great, steaming heap of yakisoba for 6 bucks. A 50 percent tip seems to confuse them but I just smile and say, “It was really good! Thanks!” It pretty much all tastes good to me out here.
I’m resolved to get to as many places as I can. It’s never easy but always worth it.
I like the reality of being out in the world. A place like Taipei makes me work, trying to understand it. The feelings of isolation, of otherness, are not at all unwelcome. Actually, they make me far more observant. There’s a lot to see anywhere, of course, but when you’re in one place for any length of time, repetition can dull your senses. This is what I fear, sleepwalking through life. We do it all the time.
In the gym earlier, I was watching the BBC weather report for Asia and ticking off all the cites on the screen that I had been to. Kolkata, Dhaka, Kathmandu, Thimphu, Ashgabat, Tashkent, Astana, Kabul, Bishkek, Almaty and so on. I’m resolved to get to as many places as I can. It’s never easy but always worth it.
I watched comrade Trump arrive in Tokyo today. Before Air Force One touched down there, he made a brief stop in Hawaii, which gave members of the citizen comedy brigade an opportunity to greet him with “Welcome to Kenya!” signs.
How long is this trip? Twelve days through five countries? That’s a long time and a lot of terrain for Trump to be immersed in so much unfamiliarity.
At the Yokota base outside Tokyo, he addressed members of the military. “Our brave warriors are the last bulwark against threats to the dreams of people in America and Japan and all across the world. You are the greatest hope for people who desire to live in freedom and harmony and you are the greatest threat to tyrants and dictators who seek to prey upon the innocent.” After describing their job so well, you would figure his statement would have led to Trump being shackled and sent to “Gitmo.”
I was at Yokota about 10 years ago. Before I arrived, I was able to get to Shinjuku in Tokyo, to my favorite record store there, Vinyl Record Store, and found a copy of the “Alright Boy”/“Who Can Tell” single by The Afflicted. Score!
Looks like Trump will be in Hanoi. I wonder if his daycare handlers will steer him clear of the Hoa Lò Prison, otherwise known as the Hanoi Hilton, where decades ago, John McCain was getting his bones broken while Trump was rubbing his ouchy feet stateside.
By covering as much ground as my means and schedule will allow, I’m trying my best to remain open. People are great. All over the world, they are beautiful and live with purpose and dignity. They love their children and laugh and try to get through as best they can. I must somehow keep finding ways to be part of that, for it always to mean something to me. I learn and relearn this over and over. Respect. Profound respect for people, for different cultures to be aware of, different ways to adapt to. It’s not always easy to hold onto it all. This is why I travel.
Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the playlist for his Sunday KCRW broadcast.
More from the mind of Henry Rollins:
Make America Filthy, Hungry, Broke and Stupid Again
Ask Yourself What Side of History You Want to Be on
Don't Let the Trump Show Distract You From What's Really Going On