Wordcarpenter Books
 

Fiction Philosophy

Zeitqualia
 

Preface

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Despite two people taking different paths through life, it is possible for them to reach the same conclusions using different reasoning. For example it is common for brothers to take different paths through life: one taking a somewhat domestic path to provide security and to lay down roots, and the other brother taking a path of swashbuckling adventure and reckless irresponsibility to provide inspiration and enlightenment and to create an original life philosophy. Two extremes that logically led to the distance that grew between us when Doppel was overseas working and traveling for more than fifteen years. I on the other hand remained in Toronto working at a local newspaper trying to save money and build a life. Varying degrees of success kept me there longer than I expected all the while knowing my brother was off on some grand adventure. I both ridiculed and envied the life he had chosen, causing distress when viewing my own life and accomplishments. Soon there came an opportunity to visit him. And this is an account of that time. 

 

PART ONE
Chapter One

Taiwan, Republic of China, 1999

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Most people believe they'll live out their lives ‘til old age but it doesn't always work out that way. I was diagnosed with a disease that was both untreatable and fatal. Not much I could do. I knew the symptoms and had a good doctor, so I accepted it as my fate and then reviewed my life and made some changes. First was my job. Hadn't liked it for years and needed an excuse to leave. Figured this would be a good enough excuse. I had only told my mother about it but no one else. (The only symptom others would notice was my swollen hands). Didn't want the pity or the burden to carry on with that hanging over my head. It was my business and that was the end of it. What was most revealing was how I felt about my life. I didn't like work and had grown tired of Toronto and routines. There were so many things I wanted to do before my time was up there was no way in hell I was going to stay at my job. So I put my stuff in storage and bought a ticket to Taipei to see my brother. Actually, truth be told, he's my identical twin brother.

The reader might wonder why I hadn't told him about my immanent death but that was one of the reasons I went to Taipei: to tell Edward van Normann about my situation. Of all people in the world, my death would affect him the most.

I might want to begin by establishing the reasons for this document. Firstly, I wanted to capture my emotional journey with my brother during our time together to try to find solace from my life in light of my early demise. As emotional as it was for me, it was just as turbulent for him. The other reason is to record the main points of a book Doppel (as I called him) had written and published himself. He said it was a summation of his journal entries that he titled The Viking-Poet Handbook. I read it all in one night and dismissed it as mad hyperbole, but somehow and for some reason I didn't know, it lingered in my mind and pried into my thoughts. It upset me at first; causing me to be more forceful in my dealings with others.

Like me he had been a philosophy major at university, but unlike me he had kept on with it, reading the big names and applying their ideas to life to see if they valid or not. In the process he developed his own life philosophy he called Zeitqualia. When I informed him he would be having a visitor he immediately send me a copy of the book he titled The Viking-Poet Handbook.

The book was never meant to be published. It was Doppel's personal effort to come to grips with who he was and what he believed. It was the supreme distillation of hard-earned conclusions that began when he was studying philosophy at university. He had always been a bit of a maniac so I wasn't that surprised that it was an extreme attempt at being a disciple of Friedrich Nietzsche. But I would also say it was Pirsigian - an effort to establish a system of morality (like Robert Pirsig) that bites holes in the traditional moral commandments of our era. Most of all, the handbook was brave and honest, and that's why I liked it.

Of course he had sent it to me so I would read it and discuss it with him, which was all right with me since I did want to understand it. I also wanted to know how he had come to believe in it. I wanted to hold a mirror up in front of me and see my own true thoughts on the matter.

The Viking-Poet Handbook has a narrative story as well as interspersed poems and aphorisms, and was about fifty pages. He warns in the Forward about the content of the handbook:

 

Distanced from academic argument, I labored ahead and discarded all that was unneeded, digesting all that fit into my own web of belief. Truth expressed herein is seen and understood and adopted for the betterment of self despite the currents of injustice and delayed fruition in our zeitgeist.

 

When I first read these words, I could tell he had been reading Nietzsche. We both took an existentialism course at university so I knew the language and could sense it in the undercurrent of his tone.

Wisdom is the main theme in the opening chapter, but there is a ruthless undercurrent to the sharpness of his words. It's like an "enter at your own risk" feeling that makes you go on carefully, making sure you don't miss a step. It starts out with these lines:

An artificial handle holds until you splash literate,
First instinct shoves the fruit of spent skepticism aside,
Liberation from the overseer reminds the soul of empowerment,
And all of life's conundrums land into an open palm.
 
Some understand but don't do,
Some want to do but are unable,
Some begin with an open field,
But loose balance from the middle.
 
Confidence comes from fullness,
Centeredness springs from balance,
Experience dictates endurable perspective,
But talent wins all wars.

Maybe my twin brother had found Taiwan a fit for him, and this book was his song of celebration of that discovery. Maybe Taiwan had given him the space to become who he is. My feeling was that having that YAMAHA 135cc motorcycle of his had something to do with it. After seven years in the melee of Taipei, if you read some of Nietzsche's more empowering work you can end up in a pretty extreme corner with a severe need for expression.

 

 

Chapter Two

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He had changed. I could see it in the strength of his person but I couldn't tell what it was that had changed. I hadn't seen my brother since he left for Asia but I could sense a new aspect to him, and since I was his identical twin it bothered me that I wasn't able to identify what it was that had changed. I found out soon enough but that was near the end of this story.

It was certainly in character that he didn't meet me at the airport. Just wasn't his thing. Think he said he was teaching. But I found his apartment up in the mountains just on the outskirts of Taipei, a penthouse with balcony.

"Stüffle! Long time bro." Brotherly hug. "Look at you, all clean shaven and clean cut." Doppel had long hair and a goatee, almost a hippie. They must be pretty desperate for English teachers if he has a job. Or he's a damn fine teacher.

"Well it's all relative. Never seen your hair so long. Look, you have some white in your beard." He seemed taller somehow, bigger. Had more gravitas.

"Must be thirsty after that always-lovely twelve-hour flight. How many movies did you get to watch?" Shook my head.

"One I suppose. Read instead and then slept. Those earphones hurt my ears."

"Argh! Gotta toughen ya up a bit, non? Taiwan is full of earphones that hurt your ears. Lots of things are barely functional, just part of life here."

"Never seen so many scooters and motorbikes in my life. Seriously, I saw a family of five on a scooter."

"Sounds about right."

And so it went that night during our visit, but after a number of beers and talking, I was preparing for bed when an earthquake hit.

"What is there a subway going under us?" I said.

"It's an earthquake. They happen all the time here. No big deal." Casual. But I was riveted to the couch amazed at what an earthquake feels like. After about ten seconds the shaking gained momentum and sent the fear of death in me.

"Shouldn't we..." I ran to the doorway at the balcony but was convinced the apartment was about to buckle. I grabbed the threshold but went back to the couch.

"It's a long one. Wo!" The shaking lasted twenty seconds, the last ten seconds really swaying.

"You're saying that was normal?"

"I enjoy the earth shaking under my feet." Hardly rattled from what I was to learn the next day, one of the world's worst earthquakes of the year. "It wasn't until it had been going on over 15 seconds that I thought the house might cave in.

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Tired from the plane ride I slept in the next morning. Doppel had gone to work but was back within the hour.

"Von Schöngait, everything is shut down because of the earthquake," he said. "No work today or tomorrow for me. Schools are closed because the city has lost power, so there's only one thing to do." Using my nickname for the first time in years, I knew he was up to mischief.

"And what's that?"

"To take a road trip."

"Road trip, what are you talking about? Are you sure there's no work?"

"With the schools closed and no one out on the streets, it's a chance to ride into the mountains and try to help out with the rescue effort in Puli. That was the epicenter of the earthquake, about 200 kilometers south in the middle of the island."

I looked outside noticed a complete lack of traffic. In fact there was an eerie silence that was out of place.

"Um, you're talking about motorbikes right? Well I don't have one."

"Well you're in luck. I have my old one sitting out there that I haven't sold yet. Works fine. Front shocks are a bit stiff but it runs well and it's comfy." Like Doppel I rode motorcycles but I hadn't been on one in ten years.

"Does it have valid papers and a license plate?"

"Don't think they'll be any cops out there ‘cause the streets are closed. The highways are closed. Besides, they don't pull over foreigners here. I've been pulled over maybe five times in the time I've been here and every time when they see I'm a foreigner they've let me go."

"And why's that?"

"Because they can't speak English and don't want to lose face. Besides, it's too much paperwork for them."

I wondered how long it would be before power was restored, but it didn't matter. Doppel was one of those guys who didn't think about tomorrow. He was a man who saw only the day in front of him formulating a way of making the most of it.

"I must say I would like to take a trip on the bikes together."

"We'd probably take the Central Mountain Highway right through the mountains. Could be some aftershocks."

"It's closed?"

"Yep. We could help the international rescue crew that is supposed to be landing today in Taichung. Most of the crew is from Europe so it would be fun to see some Europeans for a change. It could be a good adventure. What else are we going to do?" I knew he was more interested in riding the highways as the aftershocks hit rather than rescuing anyone trapped in buildings in Puli.

"I can't think of any reason why we shouldn't," I finally said. "Any idea of the severity of the quake?"

"I heard it measured 7.6 on the Richter scale. Not small. Apparently there have been over a thousand deaths reported."

"7.6!" It was only then that I realized the seriousness of this Act of God. It may take a couple of days before things were up and running again.

"You in?"

"Yes, count me in." What else am I going to do, wait to die?

"Bring warm clothes. It could be a few days, this trip. You never know. Bring that book I gave you so we can talk about it during the trip, but by all means make sure you bring enough warm clothes. Mountain riding can be chilly." September in Taiwan is hot. More hyperbole. "Do you have sunglasses?"

"I do."

"Good. Crucial piece of equipment. And I think I have some gloves." Doppel packed all that we required for the road trip: compass, sleeping bags, gloves, bungee cords, water bottle, map, wool sweaters and other items. Motorcycling in Taiwan had taught him what he needs. Packed the items neatly into his knapsack.

"I heard that the body count is higher than a thousand. It's something like 1500 dead." Just then, as we both stood on the bridge, an aftershock hit. It lasted for four or five seconds.

"That's creepy," I said.

"There may be a lot more of those before the trip is through. Should make the riding more of a challenge."

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Doppel had just purchased a second-hand YAMAHA DT 175, and on/off road motorbike with knobbies and big fender.

"Snagged it for a steal. This American teacher left the school and gave me the bike to sell but I kept it ‘cause it's so much fun to ride. I shot him some cash but he didn't care. But seriously, that bike you're on is great. I've ridden it for seven years. Very reliable." It was a full-size bike but it was only 135cc. But it fit well.

"Power interruptions have happened before from past earthquakes and typhoons, and they tend to take a few days to get back online, so my intuition tells me that it could be the rest of the week before I have to return to work."

"Sounds good bro. I'll be following you."

"I'm glad you're here my brother," he said. "Ready to push off?"

"Yes, all set."

We rode through the empty streets of the capital. Market stalls desolate except for skinny dogs nibbling at leftovers from the previous day. Streetlights were without power and stores closed. It was surreal. Finding a gas station open, we filled up and then left for Highway 112. In minutes we were outside of the city, forest patches thickened that spread out over the growing steepness of the mountain steppes. Rocks and broken branches littered the road. Doppel stopped at the end of a bridge and waved me over.

"Listen, there will be lots of fallen branches and debris on the road so take it easy. Stay well behind me so you can see what's coming up, okay?"

"Will do." Swift current below the bridge could be heard above the engines.

"This road leads to the Central Mountain Highway which should be closed so the traffic will be non-existent. So let's relax and cruise baby!" The sun was reaching its midday arc.

"Wait. I need to take my sweater off." I put it into my knapsack that I had bungeed to my back seat. I then glanced at my watch. "Yes, it's time."

"There are people trapped under fallen buildings in Puli and they need our help!" We set out on the highway south for the epicenter.

  
 
 
 
 
  

 

 

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