Xi Men looked at Mr. Chen placing down the firecrackers on the floor.
“Mr. Chen,” Xi Men said.
“Mr. Xi. I am preparing the firecrackers so you can play in a while,” Mr. Chen smiled.
“My apology for being very ignorant about this. I have never lit up a firecracker before. Would you mind to guide me?” Xi Men asked.
“Oh! No worries. A lot of my guests have never lit up a firecracker before too. I always show them how,” Mr. Chen smiled.
“Thank you very much,” Xi Men smiled, and relieved he is not alone in this.
“Here, let me show you…” Mr. Chen took up a firecracker and then he started explaining to Xi Men.
Standing slightly further from Xi Men,
Xiao You looked at Emily who is standing next to her, “Yes, Emily?”
“What is Uncle Xi Men doing?” Emily asked.
“If my guess is right, he is trying to learn how to light up firecrackers,” Xiao You smiled.
“OH? Uncle Xi Men has never played firecrackers before?”
“Nope,” Xiao You said.
“Is it because it is illegal in Taiwan?”
Xiao You laughed. “No… it is because he never had a chance,”
“Never had a chance?” Emily asked.
“Yes,” Xiao You smiled and then she looked at Xi Men already staring at the firecrackers as explained by Mr. Chen.
“Must be because he is too busy with his work, that is why he never had a chance to play,” Emily suddenly said.
Xiao You laughed. “Now, yes… but when he was younger, when he wants to play firecrackers, he can only stand and see from far because his family didn’t want him to get injured. His family protects him, so he didn’t get to play these,”
“Just like you do to me, mommy?”
“Parents always protect their kids. I didn’t want you to be injured too,” Xiao You smiled. “But if what Uncle Xi Men do later is safe, you can go with him. I am sure he will protect you,”
“So you mean when Uncle Xi Men lit up the firecrackers, I can go near too?”
“Yes, but you have to protect yourself too, okay? Don’t go too near to the firecrackers, alright. Remember to run before it comes and hit you,” Xiao You said.
“Alright, mommy. If I get hit… is it going to be painful?”
“Of course,” Xiao You said.
“Ah? Then maybe I stay with you, mommy,” Emily said.
Xiao You laughed. And then at the corner of her eye, she saw Xi Men suddenly walked to the middle of the lane and puts down the firecracker.
“Hmmm… let’s see what Uncle Xi Men is doing,” Xiao You said.
And Emily turned to look at Xi Men.
“Like this?” they both heard Xi Men asked as he turned to look at Mr. Chen.
“Yes, like that,” Mr. Chen confirms.
And then Xi Men lit up the fuse of the firecracker… and then small sparks are seen.
Xi Men quickly stands up and runs away, to where Mr. Chen is standing at.
The firecrackers start blasting and making beautiful sparks.
Emily stared at it in awe.
Once the firecracker died,
“Mommy! It is very nice!” Emily said.
Xi Men and Mr. Chen turned to look at Emily when she said that.
Xi Men smiled. “Emily, you can stand here and see if you want to,” he pointed to the spot next to him.
Completely in awe with the firecrackers and forgotten about the possibility of being hit by the flyaway firecrackers, “Mommy, can I go?” Emily asked, as she turned and looked at Xiao You.
Xiao You smiled. “Yes. Be careful, alright?”
“Thank you mommy,” Emily said and she ran to Xi Men.
“Xiao You, join us,” Xi Men said.
“I’ll be fine to see from here,” Xiao You smiled.
“Alright,” Xi Men smiled as he then talks with Emily.
He then headed to the middle of the lane and placed another firecracker while Emily stood back.
Xi Men lit up the firecracker again and then he dashes to Emily, holding her as the firecrackers blasted and both of them enjoyed the sight.
And Xi Men repeats the same process over and over again.
Emily cheerfully clapped and Xi Men laughed upon seeing her being so happy.
Xiao You smiled to see how well her daughter mingled with Xi Men.
She took a deep breath, her eyes strayed and her smile fades for a brief while, to only have the smile back on her face when another firecracker lit up by Xi Men blasts off and the smile grew wider when she sees both Xi Men and Emily enjoyed the entire experience.
Two days later,
“Let’s go sweetie,” Xiao You said, ushering her daughter to exit the room.
“Mommy, where is Uncle Xi Men?” Emily rubbed her eyes, as she walked out from the room.
“We will be waiting for him at downstairs. I have told him we will meet there,” Xiao You said, closing the door and makes sure it is locked.
She then turned and grips onto Emily’s hand, as they descend the staircase and heads to the direction of the living room.
“How come sunrise is so early in Taiwan?” Emily asked. “It is only 4.45am and we are heading out to the beach…”
Xiao You smiled. “It varies according to season. We just happen to have come at the time the sun rises at 5am,”
As they entered the living room,
“Hmmm… nobody at the living room?” Xiao You asked, looking around with Emily. “He probably hasn’t come down…”
There is a glass panel at the door of the living room which leads to the patio outside of the house, but more than half of the glass panel is covered by some decorations by the B&B owners.
However, with Emily’s height; which leads to the right angle of her sight; can nicely see who and what is outside of the door thru the uncovered part of the glass panel.
“Eh, Uncle Xi Men is outside!” she pointed at the door.
“Where?” Xiao You asked, trying to peep at the glass panel of the door.
“Just right behind the door!” Emily said as she lets her hand go from Xiao You’s hand and then she headed to the door, and then pulled it. “Uncle Xi Men!”
Xi Men, just like what Emily has said, is standing at the patio, looking out of the B&B, which is facing the sea; straight to the horizon. Just like a poet looking for inspirations in life.
He turned his head in response to hearing the call, immediately looked at Xiao You along with a quick brief smile, and then he lowered his head and eyes to look at Emily.
“Hi Emily, good morning,” Xi Men smiled.
That brief moment of him turning his head to look at her with the fringe covering partially of his left eye’s sight is enough to make one’s heart flutters.
He then lifted his eyes and looked at Xiao You, “Good morning, Xiao You,”
“Good morning, Xi Men,” Xiao You replied.
“Both Emily and you can wake up on time to catch sunrise, which is pretty early. I am impressed,” Xi Men smiled.
“I’ve already woke up at 4am,” Xiao You smiled. “Only Emily has problem waking up, had to drag her out of the bed,”
Emily pouted and Xi Men laughed at that.
“Mommy… you know the bed is very comfortable…” Emily said.
“You can come back and sleep after the sunrise,” Xiao You said.
“Okay!” Emily said. “But then… I might be too alert to sleep…”
“We’ll see about that,” Xiao You smiled. She then raised her head and looked at Xi Men.
That brief moment of her lifting her head up to look at him with a genuine smile on her face, is a sight to die for; and the blood in his body suddenly became warm.
The cold morning is no longer cold… for him.
“Are we ready to walk to the beach to catch the sunrise?”
Xi Men’s eyes strayed for a millisecond at that statement that ‘wakes’ him up, “Sure, let’s go,” he smiled.
Three of them stood at the beach, feeling the cold breeze that greets them and the rough waves crashing onto the rocky beach.
Boredom already kicks in for Emily, as she has started yawning and then looked around the beach in darkness, finding nothing interesting.
Xi Men had his hands folded on his chest as he stared straight to the sea.
And Xiao You admires the sound of the waves on the peaceful morning.
It is totally dark, when a tinge of blue and purple colors is slowly becoming obvious.
Xi Men’s eyes caught the colors’ appearance; he then slightly raised his head up.
And seeing what he did from the corner of her eyes, she turned her head to look at him, before she also raised her head to look at the sky.
In short few minutes, the sky gradually turns pink and then orange.
And then the sun makes its appearance ‘from’ the sea.
“Emily, the sun is up,” Xiao You said.
Emily lifted her head to look at the sun, and she smiled.
The sky is now filled with orange glow, and slowly, the sun finally rises ‘above’ the sea.
“That’s beautiful,” Xi Men uttered.
Xiao You turned to look at Xi Men. “It is,”
Xi Men then turned to look at Xiao You and stared at her for a while, before he finally said, “Thanks for allowing me to see this. I don’t know when I will be able to see this again…”
“You will. In less than 3 weeks. At Alishan,” she smiled.
He stared at her for a while, “We are going to see sunrise in Alishan?”
“Yes, one of the must-sees when you are there,” she remained smiling.
He smiled at her. “Alright,”
Xi Men, Xiao You and Emily hired a cab to go for a tour to view and explore the coast along the sea. They will stop at all tourist spots along the way.
Inside the taxi,
“Mommy, look at the sea! It is very beautiful!” Emily pointed.
“Yes, sweetie,” Xiao You said.
“So blue…” Emily said, referring to the color of the sea. “Mommy, Hualien is indeed a very beautiful place,”
“I know. I love here too,” Xiao You smiled.
“Let’s come here again if we have the chance to come to Taiwan in the future!” Emily said.
Xiao You smiled. “Sure,”
Xi Men smiled.
“In front here is a small hill where you can climb up to the lookout point, and you just have to follow the steps to go up, the view from the top is magnificent,” the taxi driver suddenly said.
“Oh, okay,” Xi Men and Xiao You replied at the same time.
They exchanged glances, and then smiled awkwardly.
The taxi driver stopped, and parked its taxi at a designated spot.
“You see the entrance here, right? Just go up. And take your time,” the driver smiled.
“Sure, come, Emily, let’s go,” Xi Men said, opening the door.
“Okay!” Emily said, getting down at Xi Men’s side.
Xiao You opened the door at her side and she gets down.
And they headed to the entrance of the trail.
All of them stared at the steps in front of them that will lead to the top.
“It is all steps like staircase. Do you think you can go up?” Xi Men asked Emily.
“Shouldn’t be any problem. What about mommy?”
Xi Men turned to look at Xiao You. “Are you going to be okay with these steps?”
Xiao You smiled, “Of course. If I can’t, what should I do?” she asked as she took a step forward on the wooden staircase that leads to the top.
“I’ll carry you up,” he uttered. “Piggy back is the right word,”
Xiao You and Emily looked at Xi Men.
“Seriously?” Xiao You asked.
“Yes,” Xi Men said. “I can’t be dumping you behind, right?” he smiled.
“I am fine. This is just the beginning. You might need to piggy back Emily first though,” Xiao You smiled, putting her feet forward and slowly took her steps up the hill. “Let’s go,”
“Sure,” Xi Men said, looking at Emily following Xiao You, who is leading the way.
He is the last to go up.
Xi Men, who walked up last, has been following Emily whose steps had inadvertently became slower and Xiao You is already few steps ahead.
He didn’t plan to ask Emily to speed up to match to Xiao You’s pace, well, after all, she is just a kid; he just decides to take the steps as per Emily’s pace while at the same time, watching out and taking care of Emily just like an adult would, and letting Xiao You go on her pace.
It is a windy place, and climb.
Since it is a hill they are climbing, the tall white feathery-feel ‘imperata cylindrica’ grass which grew on the hill and without exception, are along the side of the stairs; sways with the wind and would occasionally sways to the direction of them.
When the tall white grass sways to Xi Men’s direction he would extends his hand out to push or blocked the swaying grass from brushing his face.
“Uncle Xi Men, are we there yet?” Emily turned her head around to look at Xi Men, who is obviously nearer to her, compared to Xiao You.
“No…” Xi Men raised his head up and looked. “We are still far from the lookout point. We are just probably half of the path…”
With his head looked up, Xi Men saw Xiao You had taken few more steps up and turned to the right as the steps shifted direction. With the few steps she took, the tall imperata cylindrica had basically blocked his view of Xiao You.
“Urgh…” Emily stopped and at the same time, Xi Men had already climbed up as well as stopped at one step before the particular step Emily is on.
“Are you tired already?” Xi Men asked, looking at Emily.
“Yes, Uncle Xi Men, very, very tired,”
“Do you want me to piggy back you?” Xi Men asked.
“Yes, please,” Emily leaned against him.
Xi Men laughed as he looked at her leaning against him. “You could have told me earlier,”
“Urgh… I thought we are almost there, Uncle Xi Men,”
Xi Men squats down, “Come,”
Emily walked to the back of Xi Men and Xi Men carries her up on his back as he stood up. “Are you comfortable?”
“It is okay, though… suddenly not very used to the elevated height because you are so tall…” she tightened her grip around Xi Men’s neck.
“It is like that, Emily,” Xi Men smiled. “No one has ever piggy back you before?”
“Grandpa,” Emily said. “But I think that was very long time ago… maybe when I was 4 or 5.
“Oh,” Xi Men replied as he continued climbing the steps.
“Now I am bigger and heavier… so no one wanna carry me anymore,”
Xi Men laughed, “Makes sense. Your grandpa might break his back if he still carries you today,”
Emily laughed. “Then I hope I am not going to break your back, Uncle Xi Men,”
“I am not as old as your grandpa, you know. I am still energetic and young… maybe not so young, but still younger than your grandpa. So my back is still strong,” Xi Men smiled. “I am still strong enough to carry a heavier person, maybe like your mommy,”
“Hmmm… mentioning of her… mommy seems to climb up pretty fast. She was just a couple of steps in front of me and now she is gone. Where is mommy?”
“Your mommy has already disappeared,” he laughed. “She looks like she is very energetic or has no problems walking a lot. I assume she walks a lot in Toronto?”
“Mommy walks me to school everyday, before she goes to work. Her workplace is few minutes walk away from my school. So we walk everyday,”
“Oh?” Xi Men asked.
“Yeah, everything is so nearby, we walked most of the time. But this is really exhausting. I guess walking on flat surface has no problem… but not something ascending like this all the way,” Emily said.
“It is okay. I will carry you up to the lookout point,” Xi Men smiled, as he continued to climb the steps. After taking few steps and a turn of angle, “Eh, your mommy is in front,”
“Mommy!” Emily called out.
Xiao You has apparently stopped at a side and is already panting for air.
“Are you alright?” Xi Men asked, as he reached her.
“Very tiring,” Xiao You said, and then she laughed upon seeing Xi Men piggy-backing Emily. “And you are already carrying my daughter,”
“Piggy back is the right word,” Xi Men smiled.
“Mommy, can’t stand the steps! Very tired!” Emily said.
“I know, sweetie,” Xiao You said, and then she turned to look at Xi Men, “Thank you for carrying her,” she added. “You can go up first, I’ll come up shortly. I just need to take a breather,”
“I can drop Emily at the lookout point, and then I come back down and get you,” Xi Men offered.
“No, no, no, it is okay,” Xiao You said. “I will be okay,”
“Are you sure?” Xi Men asked.
“Yes, go… go,” Xiao You said, flings her hand at him, asking him to leave.
“Umm… alright, I go up first then,” Xi Men said.
“Bye mommy, careful alright,” Emily said.
“Alright sweetie,” Xiao You smiled, looking at Xi Men already taking a few steps up.
“Uncle Xi Men, are you tired?” Emily asked.
“I am, but still bearable, why?”
“Well, I was thinking why both of us are tired, but you are not,” Emily said.
Xi Men laughed. “Because I am a guy, I have more energy and higher level of endurance… and stronger too,”
“Oh,” Emily said. She felt that Xi Men has gotten a bit more faster in climbing the stairs compare to just now. “Hmmm… you are faster too,”
“I will put you down at the lookout point. And then I will go down and get your mommy. Will you be alright staying alone there just for a while?” Xi Men asked.
“Oh, yes, I will be fine, Uncle Xi Men,” Emily said. “Thank you, Uncle Xi Men,”
“If you saw a stranger, do not follow him. If anything, just call out loud. I will come back and get you as soon as I could,” Xi Men said.
“I will stay put there, Uncle Xi Men, I am 8, not 5,”
“Because you are 8 and not 12, I am more concerned about leaving you alone. Sometimes I think you are way too young to be left on your own even just for a few minutes,”
“I promise you I will stay put there until you come back with mommy. Believe me, Uncle Xi Men. I am very independent,” Emily said.
“Really?” Xi Men asked.
“Yes, Uncle Xi Men. Don’t worry about me. Worry about mommy,” Emily said.
Xi Men smiled.
They finally reached the lookout point. It is very windy, and the view is really magnificent, just like what the driver has said. The sea at one side, the land at the other. So beautiful.
“I’ll go down and get your mommy, alright?” Xi Men said, as he puts her down.
“Alright, Uncle Xi Men. See you soon,” she smiled.
“Scream for me if there is anything,” Xi Men said.
“Okay, Uncle Xi Men,” Emily said.
Xi Men practically dashes and jumps down the wooden staircase to get to Xiao You in record time.
Xiao You has just finished taking her breather, and about to take her first step when she sees Xi Men running down the wooden steps of the staircase.
“Eh?” Xiao You asked, looking at Xi Men.
“I come to get you,” Xi Men said, as he stopped in front of her.
“I told you no need, right?”
“Your breather will only last you a couple of steps before you will stop and take another breather again. I am coming over to rescue you,” he laughed. “Come, I piggy back you now,” he turned and squatted, waiting for Xiao You.
“Umm…” Xiao You said. “Really? Is it really… umm… alright?”
“Of course. You needed me,” Xi Men said. “I can only piggy back you. I can’t carry you in my arms, you know. I can’t see the steps with you in front of me,”
She laughed. “But seriously, I can do this on…”
“I hope you don’t want to leave your daughter up there at the lookout point on her own for too long as well,”
“Come on,” he offered.
Xiao You is defeated. She took his offer. He carried her up on his back effortlessly.
“Hmm… you are heavier,” Xi Men said.
“If you are comparing me to Emily, of course!” she exclaimed.
He laughed, and he climbed up the stairs again. But because this is his second time climbing up the stairs, and that Xiao You is heavier, his steps are undeniably slower.
“Thank you,” Xiao You said, wrapping her hands around his neck so that she didn’t fall to the back.
“No worries,” Xi Men smiled. “Has your husband ever carried you like this?” he asked.
Xiao You’s eyes strayed. She turned her head and looked out to the sea, as every step Xi Men took; she had a better view of the sea. “No,” she said.
“I see,” Xi Men said.
“So, have you ever carried your fiancée like this?” she asked.
Xi Men is taken aback with that question. He had forgotten he is engaged, and since he had switched off his phone since he reached Hualien, Amanda would not be able to reach him, that is if she called.
“No,” he replied.
“Well, I believe she will have more chances in the future,” Xiao You smiled.
Xi Men just smirked.
It will never happen.
Xi Men and Xiao You sit at the lookout point and looked out to the sea, while Emily enjoyed taking photos with Xiao You’s compact camera, so she is walking around.
“Can’t believe the whole week ends tomorrow,” Xi Men said.
Xiao You smiled. “It definitely flies fast when you are vacationing, or enjoying the time,”
Xi Men smiled. “I enjoyed this trip,”
“That is good to hear,” she said.
“Especially to go with you and Emily,” he blurted out.
Her eyes strayed.
Immediately noticed what he had said, “I mean,” he quickly add. “Both of you made me stop thinking about my work, and also make me a better Taiwanese,”
Xiao You smiled. “This is only Hualien. I don’t think Hualien alone will make you a better Taiwanese,”
“I didn’t say I am at my best. I just say I feel better than what I already am,” Xi Men said.
A small laugh escapes her mouth. “Alright, you win,”
“You make Emily very happy too,” Xiao You said, as she looked at her daughter busy taking photos.
Xi Men turned and looked at Emily too. “She is a cheerful kid,”
“She is,” Xiao You said. “But thanks to you, she is happier now,”
“I didn’t do anything,” he said.
“You did. Playing firecrackers with her,” Xiao You smiled.
“Oh,” Xi Men said. “It is practically my first time too so… I treat it that Emily accompanies me…”
“Actually, in general, you don’t have to specifically do anything to cheer her up. She grows up without a father around. So sometimes she just needs an adult that is about the same age as me to take care of her and play with her, she will be content,”
“I hope you mean father figure?” he turned to look at Xiao You.
She smiled. “Something like that,”
“Well, Emily is happier. Then what about you?”
Her smiled fades slightly, “What do you mean about me?”
“Are you happier too?”
“With this trip to Taiwan, or with this trip to Hualien?”
“Whichever you wanna answer me,” Xi Men said.
“I am happy to come back to Taiwan, especially bringing along Emily,”
“And what about Hualien? Specifically with me around?”
She looked at him and gave him a brief smile. “Didn’t you say I only have to pick one to answer?”
He smirked. “I am curious about the other too,”
“Thank you, Xi Men,” she replied. “For making Emily happier,”
His smirk faded, and in a split second, he plastered it back to his face. It is not an answer he had expected from her. But that is her answer she gives him for him being around in Hualien with her. “My pleasure,” he said.
“Be careful when you go back tomorrow. Take note of the train you are going to take. You might end up taking the wrong train and heads to the wrong location,” she said.
“Do I look so bad to you that I will take the wrong train?” he asked.
“Well, I know you have never taken a train before, and your virgin train ride is with me and at least I am the one telling you when to get down. So, I am not sure if you can survive the train ride on your own, so it is better I told you and give you a heads up about what to expect,” she said. “I am not responsible for making you lost somewhere in your country because you took the wrong train,”
He laughed and she smiled.
“I will take note,” he smiled. “And… I will see you again in Chiayi… 2 weeks from now?”
“Sure,” she said. “Do you want some souvenirs from Kenting or Kaohsiung?”
He laughed. “It is okay. I am still a Taiwanese, so I don’t really need souvenirs. Thanks,”
“Alright,” she smiled. “Anyway, I think we have rested enough, we should go down. Thanks for the piggy back. I can walk down on my own this time,” she stood up.
He smiled. “No problem,”