Yesterday, Ron and I celebrated our fifth anniversary. Our first date was on Dec. 13, 2004 after a Bob Woodward lecture at our graduate school. The two of us headed up to Taipei 101’s observatory deck to mark this momentous occasion (our first date, not the Woodward lecture). Ron had intended to propose to me on the deck when I visited him in December 2006, but his plans were waylaid when I rushed over there by myself the day after I landed in Taipei (Ron thought I wouldn’t think it was romantic if I had to go up there a second time. He was wrong!). So I told him he could re-propose to me on our anniversary. He did and then we wandered around, freezing our butts off (the observatory deck was like a meat locker) and enjoying the night views.

Taipei 101 night view

And then the most amazing, profound part of the evening happened. We saw Taipei 101’s tuned mass damper.

Taipei 101 Damper
Taipei 101 Damper
Taipei 101 Damper

Dampers are basically giant counterweights that keep skyscrapers from swaying too much when they are buffeted by strong winds, typhoons or earthquakes. Taipei 101’s damper weighs 730 tons. According to “Popular Mechanics,” it is 18 feet in diameter, can sway 5 foot in any direction, is made of 41 steel plates and cost $4 million.

Above two photos from Wikimedia

As Ron and I stood there quietly contemplating the giant golden orb (the Mandarin for “damper” is 阻尼器, zǔ​ní​ qì​, by the way), several thoughts occurred to me, which I quickly jotted down:

“The damper exists for one purpose only: to keep everyone in Taipei 101 (and, indeed, in much of Xinyi District) from dying in event of some natural disaster. It is something it does well, and proudly. The Taipei 101 damper may have been tarted up with golden paint and glittery cables, and its form has been printed on flimsy souvenir canvas bags and made into tatty plastic key chains. But the damper knows who it is. It knows what it is. No gimmicky marketing campaign can take that away from the damper.

The damper stands for the force in all of us that keeps us from yielding too far when our lives are inevitably hit with strong winds or seismic shifts. And when our own shortcomings threaten to lead us away from our true path in life, the damper is once again the core that keeps us from being thrown off-kilter. But this only happens if we allow ourselves some degree of flexibility. The damper succeeds in protecting us not because it is rigid, but because it can shift five feet in every direction — and that ability represents the potential all of us carry within ourselves.

The damper is generous. It’s one mission is to help people — people who usually take it for granted. But the damper does not care. It has purity of intention. The damper is not just the core of Taipei 101. It is the essence of happiness. Every morning I need to wake up and ask myself: what is my personal damper?”

When I got out of bed today, I thought, “Today is the only December 14, 2009 that I will ever have. It is precious. What will I do with it? How will the damper within me help me achieve my goals?” I ate some muesli, chased our kitten around the apartment, worked on an article and sent it in. Then I went for a walk, had sashimi for dinner and now I am sitting in a lovely cafe furnished with vintage school chairs from Germany, listening to “Set Yourself on Fire” by Stars. When I go home, I’m going to transcribe an interview, do some reading in Mandarin (I just started studying Chinese again, this time with a tutor) and try to keep myself from downloading season one of “The Tudors.” All in all, it’s been a good day.

2009 has been a year of ups and downs for me. I got married to the love of my life and began to solidify a beat in a reporting job I enjoy greatly. I’m happy, but there are also times when I am overwhelmed by fear, uncertainty and sadness.

But that’s OK. I have the damper in my life now. My days will be filled with purpose, not self-pity, from now on. Damp-er, damp-er, damp-er!

I’m kind of being tongue in cheek here, but I do believe that the damper has a lot of wisdom to impart to all of us… but only if we are willing to listen.

(If your life has also been changed by a tuned mass damper, please vote for me in the Taiwan Best Blog Awards once every 24 hours! And a huge, 730 ton thank you to everyone who has already voted.)