Myriad experiences keep Briton running
Jake ThompsonNext month when Marathon World magazine publishes the best places in the world to run I imagine they won't be including Xinjuang District in New Taipei City. They'd be wrong of course.
May 11, 2012, 11:46 am TWN
Sunday morning with the already hot sun just beginning to peek over a newly built 20-story apartment complex, I make my way down the stairs to be greeted by one of my neighbors — Mrs. Lin — burning wads of bright yellow ghost money. Charred paper wafts out of a small metal cage as I head out into a hot Taipei morning with Mrs. Lin's prayers lingering behind me.
Turning left down a side street thankfully free of cars this early on a Sunday, I smell the bustling street market before I get there, slowing my pace to negotiate the chaotic scenes of sweat-drenched vendors yelling special offers while customers lose patience haggling in the oppressive heat. Market smells come at me in a barrage as fish flap in shallow trays and chickens screech their last requests from darkened alleyways.
With the market receding behind me I pick up my pace as I enter the grounds of Xinjuang Baseball Stadium where old men hunker over chessboards in the shade of overhanging concrete bleachers oblivious to a world of iPads and angry birds.
I run past a murky pond where children take turns pitching hunks of bread at sunbathing turtles as if lined up on a night market stall, past a group of serene looking old men doing Tai Chi with razor sharp swords while old ladies waltz gracefully together beside a sun-bleached basketball court. Up the steps past the main entrance are a gaggle of junior high school students dancing awkwardly to Korean pop music on a portable CD player, nervously watching their reflections in the heavy glass doors.
Down the steps three at a time and across the street where a crew of middle-aged construction workers are starting their day with cans of warm Taiwan Beer, cigarettes and mouthfuls of betel nut. Around the corner and across a busy Zhongzheng Road, I'm into the Riverside Park and almost collide with a pack of Lycra-clad cyclists, heads wrapped in bandanas, Taliban style. I follow the river onwards for six long miles before crossing Chenglin bridge to start the journey back.
Two hours after setting off, Dahan Bridge finally comes into sight and the opposite side marks the end of my Sunday run. No bridge has ever looked more beautiful to me as every muscle in my body cries out to stop. Climbing to the top of the bridge I'm exhausted and consider walking the last few hundred meters. A young guy on a scooter roars past pumping his fist and shouts “jia yo” (keep going).
I set off running again with newly found energy.