She turned to Mr. Emerson in despair. But his face revived her. It was the face of a saint who understood. ‘Now it is all dark. Beauty and Passion seem never to have existed. But remember the mountains over Florence, and the view.’” (E.M. Forster, A Room With A View).
What is it that’s so stunning, so startling about a view? What makes us suddenly, after the initial onslaught of picture-taking and breath-catching, wax poetic and think about things far bigger than the mundane minutiae that compose the majority of our daily thoughts.
I think it’s good to think with a view. I do this often. I’ve wrestled through quite a few life decisions by clambering up somewhere somewhere higher – the roof of my house, driving up the crest of my town’s tallest hill. I suppose it’s because when we’re in a place that’s physically higher, looking down a the hustle and bustle we’re so used to being a part of, we’ve somehow When we’re up there, the wind whipping our hair about and our eyes squinting to catch the very tip of 101, shrouded in fog – or when we gaze down on a clear night at the glittering nights of a vibrant city – we suddenly feel so small, and so big, at once.
For obvious reasons, you feel small. After all, you’re staring at the looming expanse of the second tallest building in the world, with the entire glittering city spreading around it. You see as tiny pinpoints the headlights of cars, massive billboards and windows reduced into little glowing squares of light. You suddenly realize that you’re merely a miniscule part of the place you inhabit, the tiniest part of a puzzle that contains infinitely more pieces. As you sit there, watching your view, a million others are eating, working, drinking, having sex, crying, dying-their tangled stories mysteries that you will never know. And as you think these thoughts, and look out at the view, almost physically feeling yourself shrink in size, suddenly – your pride, your haughtiness, your lofty thoughts seem to drown in the vastness of the view. The petty problems that you thought were so important; the inflated view of who you are and the space you’ve carved out for yourself in the world. It all seems to vanish, if only just for a moment. After all how could they survive, in that instant when you realize you’re so small?
For obvious reasons, you feel big. You’re on top of a mountain. (or roof, or building-top). You’re most likely standing at a higher location than 99% of the current population around you. And I suppose, if you believe in that kind of thing, you’re just that much closer to God. And maybe He opens your eyes, and you experience or a brief moment the ecstasy of being immortal. Or maybe it’s just that, as your eyes scan the glittering expanse in front of you, you realize: there it is. There it all is, waiting, for someone. Waiting, in fact, for you. All the alleyways you could explore, all the restaurants you could try. All the places you could live, all the different locations you could work. All the people you could meet, all the lovers you could love, and it’s all. right there, in front. of you, ripe for the taking. And you want to, because suddenly you’ve realized: there’s really quite a lot of possibilities for you to take, and paths for you to tread. And even if you were to fail, there’s only about a million more.
This view is one of my favorite ones – I try to do it every few weeks – it never gets old. Even those who’ve climbed it a hundred times can’t help but be stunned anew each time, because it’s 101 – the symbol of the city we’ve chosen to walk and cry and laugh and live in – rising right in front of you. A brisk 15-20 minute walk up a set of steep stairs, and when you reach the huge boulder reading 象山, clamber up, and gaze out. Then I think you’ll know what I mean.
Elephant Mountain 象山
MRT: Elephant Mountain MRT 象山
Tip: Some sections of the Elephant Mountain stairs are not lit up at night, so take that into consideration if hiking in the evening. Make sure to bring bug repellant, regardless of what time of day you are visiting.
Read on: Here’s my round-up of the best Taipei hikes that can be done in a single day.
photos c/o black-budda