I rode with one eye on the
road and one eye on the old villages and pagodas I passed, steep precipices
enticing a fever of recklessness within me. Fresh mountain air and a sprinkle
of rain against my face, I carved my corners through hazardous civil
engineering and saw why the Portuguese called Taiwan ‘Beautiful Island.' The
road was now showing severe signs of earthquake debris but Doppel and I cruised
through damp tunnels past barking dogs and swift streams. The obstacles on the
road didn't slow us down because we rode in third gear, dodging the rocks and
broken boughs with poise.
A Robert Browning line came
into my mind:
My stress lay on incidents
Development of the human
Little else is worth study.
This was Doppel's primary
dictum, and why he chose to spell out the moral code for membership to the
Viking-Poet Club. For example it is strongly recommended to locate in a foreign
country so that a new culture forces you to adapt yourself to your new
environment. This begins the process of tapping into your instincts.
Viking-Poet members choose books over television, art and philosophy over
science and technology, and continually strive to build their knowledge about
all facets of life. A member should have the inherent equipment to survive in
all corners of the world without the help of others so that not one place but
rather the planet itself is your home where you are comfortable in all
geographies. He states that top-level task of all members is to earn wisdom
upon completing an exploit in which he has freedom of movement using
self-sufficient means. Execution of all exploits must be done poetically.
And while endeavoring in an
exploit, members should remember the Viking-Poet Club dictum: "Become who
I slipped it into fifth gear going down a hill and
curving through a small village passing a huge temple painted with green
dragons, and Gods holding their long beards in their hand. We stopped there to
"Anything you want to say
about exploits before I move on to the next chapter in the handbook?" I asked.
"Well, yes. Some basic
stuff. First, what is an exploit? It is an act or a deed, especially a
brilliant or heroic one, from the Old French word esploit. In Latin it
is explicitum, neutral past participle of explicare, which means
to unfold. The verb of explicare is explicate: to make clear the meaning of;
explain. To unfold. So you see an exploit is an action whereby something
unfolds that also explains, perhaps something about the character or the nature
of the deed. Regardless, at the end of every exploit is something gained and
"That's not in the book."
"No, I didn't put
definitions in the book. It's too time-consuming."
"Well, yes. Every exploit
needs a primary objective that serves to satisfy one of man's natural
instincts. When perpetrating the steps toward the completion of your primary
objective, it should be executed with the utmost incorporation of your own
style that can be interpreted as ‘poetic motion.' When completed each exploit
should yield wisdom, a moral or enlightenment that you can apply to the rest of
your days. As an absolute master you should tackle exploits that yield insights
that you can use to paint your canvas."
"Life as a work of art. As
in painting on a canvas?"
"Indeed. Strong strokes of
the brush." When his tank was full, he screwed on the cap and parked beside the
temple. There was a large Buddha in the middle of the temple with incense
I call the key to the Viking-Poet Club that all prospective members are
told is: all individuals are given the same opportunity to live a life that
"That's the key. What's the
first principle? I think I remember reading that there was something about a
first principle." We stood beside each other looking at Buddha.
"The marrow of strength
is born from the healthy expression of instincts. That's the first
principle, though I like to think it's to promote ones originality at all
costs." He looked like he was making a comment about a pebble in his shoe.
"See, there is an art to be had in all aspects of living, so that all Viking
seekers are artists in how they do what they choose to do. Flourishment
of self comes from the self-affirming enjoyment of overcoming obstacles that
litter our path."
"That's very proactive of
you," I said. "Doesn't it also say somewhere that the first warning to members
is: always beware of time-stealers."
"You did read it. I
was hoping you had."
"What exactly is a
time-stealer then?" We both moved into opposite corners of the temple
courtyard, he stroked his chin and pondered a definition.
"Time can be defined as a period during which
something (as an action, process or condition) exists or continues: an interval
comprising a limited and continuous action, condition, or state of being;
measured or measurable duration. So you could say a time-stealer is something
that takes away potential action." Doppel seemed to find this of interest. "I
suppose one could also say time is a unit of duration as a basis of poetic
"I would say it is the
length of the period required for or consumed in performing an action," I
"Ah! In the words of Henri
Bergson: ‘...life is a matter of time rather than of space, it is not position,
it is change; it is not quantity so much as quality; it is not a mere
redistribution of matter and motion, it is fluid and persistent creation.'"
"An exploit as a creative
"Speaking of rescue action."
We both bowed at Buddha at the same moment.
Out on the road the turns
were tight because as the landscape didn't allow for wide berth, tall bamboo
shoots sprouted in every given space, steepness a sight of awe. In the middle
of nowhere was a village built around a creek with small homes supported by concrete
stilts dangling over the water. Vegetation thick off the road, ferns so tall
they look like palm trees; even the most zealous jungle trekkers couldn't
penetrate the foliage. But it was the roar of the water under the overhanging
concrete homes that made it so unique.
the road and over a ridge we found an odd sight. Nestled atop one of the
tallest mountains was a university, a colony of academia perched in the middle
of the range. We rode up to the school but couldn't see anyone.
"When one yearns for peace
and quiet, quiet can be very quiet," he said. "For someone who is a tad scared
of heights, this has to be the highest university in the world."
"It's a far cry from the
atmosphere of a big American school with its fraternities and pub crawls."
"This is monastic solitude."
Hua Fan University was built
in the plain functional style indigenous to the Chinese, resolute in its
purpose to indulge in the art of teaching. What was most striking was its
"What do students do up
here?" The dorms were quiet and halls barren, a stagnant pond unmanicured, like
a ghost town. We sat on the small terrace and looked out to the expansive
"Recently built, it's here
for the overflow of students from the island," said Doppel. "It's for all those
students who didn't get into one of the big ones around Taipei. Only 30 percent
of those who graduate from high school get into post-secondary education. There
simply aren't enough schools."
"I guess you'd either excel
in this noiseless setting or go crazy."
"That's why the keen ones
study English, to try to get into one of the under-attended schools in the
"Or this one. Leave it to
the Chinese to build here. They seem to be a very determined race."
"No one can ever accuse them
of not being industrious. May not have the cream of the crop but they might
nurture a philosopher or poet or two. Hiking could enliven the instincts."
"'Life is short, but truth
works far and lives long; let us speak the truth,' to quote Schopenhauer."
"Didn't he also say
‘symmetry is rhythm standing still?'"
"I'll take your word for
it," he said.
"You mentioned instincts.
How exactly would you define ‘instinct?'" I could tell definitions were tough
for him because he took them so seriously.
"Instinct is a natural or
inherent aptitude, tendency, impulse, or capacity. As an adjective its to
instigate, to incite; impelled by an inner or animating or exciting agency; profoundly
imbued instigation; to implant as animating power. Instincts are largely
hereditary and unalterable."
"A blueprint for behavior."
"That goes back millennia.
Sure. The instinct in man is what governs our behavior during our earliest
years of development. And it should continue to aid in more complex
decision-making in adulthood. It's a suitcase full of inclinations that contain
an entire system of built-in action. An integral part of our biology."
"And you argue in your book
that the repression of instinct is the source of all psychological problems."
"True. Man today, who I
refer to in the book as ‘the 21st-century man,' epitomizes that
repression of instinct. Ignores his instinct; thinks it's base. That really
gets my goat."
"Yes, there's a chapter
about that in your piece."
man thinks mountain bikes are for children and thinks anything to do with the
‘spirit' or ‘philosophy' is a form a mental instability!"
"Ignores all that he doesn't
understand and hasn't read a novel since high school." Doppel nodded.
"Measures his life as a
countdown to cashing in his pension."
"Fluent in the games people
play with each other using deception and manipulation."
"Always follows rules.
Believes everything he reads in the newspapers."
"Completely unable to
understand the ‘NOW' in time." This one made us laugh finally.
"Lives in constant fear of
the unplanned, like a typhoon."
"Avoids debates. Distrusts
those of higher education."
"Has never gone through the
metamorphosis of boy to man."
"Does not have any opinion
that differs from the general consensus. Prefers to follow rather than lead.
Acts primarily to please others."
"Regards his time as
something to get through and endured rather than to be valued and enjoyed."
"Measures all activities in
monetary terms first, and thinks instinct is the urge of lust."
"Believes Affirmative Action
is fair." That broke him up. When he was laughing it was the first time
the deep sadness of my condition hit me. How I would miss this.
"Sounds like we both know who we're talking about."
Just then a helicopter flew
"It's flying in the
direction of Puli," he said, checking his compass on his wristwatch. "I think
we're close to Wushe." The sun falling into the west sky.
"Where are we staying
tonight?" I put on my wool sweater.
"Who knows? We'll play it by
We eased out the clutch at
the same time but he took the lead.