Waking up early, getting on that airplane. This airline ain’t anything special: Dragonair (why the initials are KA, I do not know), which is some sort of subsidiary of Cathay Pacific. Anthony buys a bottle of Bombay Sapphire in the airport, it’s really cheap. Some good celebrations later on. I’m really grumpy, and arriving in a not-too-impressive airport in a city that looks really blocky and uninteresting, bland… well. The bus is a little garish, with those huge curtains that are brocaded and appear as decorations on many a tacky Chinese tour bus – some people love it, but I hate it, and I purposely take a seat that isn’t blocked by the curtains. Christina is our tour guide. She apparently went to school at McMaster, in Hamilton, where I used to live. She’s picked up all these horrible mannerisms from her time there, such that she talks like a dumb blonde. Who happens to be Asian. I was watching Full Metal Jacket the other day, and the whore in Hanoi talked like her, “me love you long time!” She had this co-worker who didn’t say too much, I think he was what we would term a trainee. I suspect he had more experience in tourism than she did, but she spoke English, which was a great difference. This was her first time, and she didn’t know too much about anything. “Sun Yat-Sen… he did something or other,” or later, “I forgot to bring my notes.”
She only mentions Sun Yat-Sen because we stop at his gardens. His Memorial Gardens, with the big Memorial Vault-looking building, and then the National Concert Hall, some other big building, and a makeshift fair in the back. Plus all the actual gardenwork, which is pretty nice. We take pictures everywhere (ten minutes in every spot) like good tourists should, and then we go chase after change from the vendors because we’re hella thirsty. At least I am – and Nord is like, how did you get your drink? Hehe. There are all these kids, singing nasty horrible songs, but it is pretty cute. Obviously the crowd loves it, though I think they didn’t want their eardrums to burst by atually deigning to sit in front. They just crowd around all the sides. After some long, hot tourism (better explained by the pictures) with the gardens, and the changing of the guard (lots of big steps and clack clack before setting feet in place, and taking 20 minutes like any good changing of the guard), and the getting back on the sweet, sweet air-conditioned bus. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the SARS temperature monitors that were set up. LIke the Hong Kong airport, these tested for heat radiating from your head. The difference was, the airport had scanners that caught the temps from far away, and here, you had to put your face up to this contraption and hold it there till it beeped. It screwed up for some people, and I think Laura’s head was a little above temperature. Sketch, but she got in. She did not have SARS.
Well, whatever. The good thing is that we get to go and rest in the hostel (the Chien Tan Overseas Youth Activity Center) for a little bit – which should be exciting. We pass by this huge pagoda type building that is massive. The story is told that after Chiang Kai-Shek set up his little empire in Taiwan with the help of American soldiers, they needed a place for these soldiers to stay, along with their families. So, they took this old temple and made it into a wonderful beautiful place to stay. BUT… we’re not staying there. Past the pretty lake, and the pretty fountain, there’s this ugly monster. It’s ugly, and we’re going to stay here. A girl, pretty in the strict Victorian sense walks by, apparently from an American missionary family, and I say hello. She says hi, but her father shoos her along, and she says, “sorry, we’ve got to go.” Then upstairs, where I am rooming with John Blake, Anthony and John Kneeland. I take the bottom bunk, Blake takes the upper. So here we are in this crappy mosquito-laden room with a shower-on-the-floor, which nobody is used to. Ugh. But the only good thing: a massage chair, that gives awesome massages for pennies. It’s illegal in the United States, as it has a tendency to catch fire. Catching fire while having the greatest massage of your life (aside from having one from your favorite girl)… that’s a fair enough tradeoff. Funny enough, the Temple University Choir is also staying at our hostel, a few floors down. They are singing in Taipei and in Kaohsiung, as well as in Hong Kong. Anthony knows one of them. I talked to one, and we said we should “hang out” but that never happened.
We stop at a restaurant, at a hotel like always. This one is a buffet, and I eat my smallest meal of the entire trip here. It was pretty gross. Funny how the style of food, just changed a little, makes me not want to eat at all. I’m used to Hong Kong-style cooking, because many of the cooks in Vancouver (also my relatives) cook in that style, and not this more bland Taiwanese style. However, it’s kind of a fact that Taiwanese fried dumplings are really good, at those roadside stands that we never had a chance to stop at. Yeah. Walking down the street with a few of the guys, we stop at a 7/11 (really, 7/11 is our lifeblood in Asia). We ask this annoying German guy and his more American-sounding Asian friend where we can go (this after we fail to find out anything from the cashier). Drinks are cheap, so I busy myself looking around for that kind of thing rather than asking those two dimwits (who in the end didn’t really know anything, they just wanted to find out what us Americans wanted to see in the city… playing games, geez) what to do. Outside, we go farther down the road, but there doesn’t seem to be too much. The city is kind of plain all the way around, and again, I’m not impressed.
“This One Time, At Taiwan.”
I swear, this is what all the tickets and posters say. They’re plastered everywhere, and they’re incredibly tacky. Not that I don’t appreciate the attention, because they’re loving it. When we’re in rehearsal, everyone is incredibly attentive in the tiny auditorium (they really don’t know how to make nice performance spaces here… it doesn’t take that much money to clean it up.. i mean come on! give me a bucket and I could clean it as well!). Anyway, we’re at this activity center, and we’re singing with this choir that’s very very average. Good thing we’re not singing those hideous folksongs. It’s terribly hot, because the lights are really close to us and they’re just melting! Performance time. But they love our songs! Way more than the Penn alums did, because they’re used to that caliber performance… this audience was a lot more countrified. They’d never seen anything like it (as they kept on telling us) and admittedly, all this attention from all those Taiwanese girls in the other choir was good. For Bobys and Kneeland, that is. They were almost splooging their pants on stage. I didn’t really like them all that much, but yeah – I did give out my e-mail address left and right and pose for cellphone pictures. Stupid cellphone pictures.
That night we ate at another hotel nearby, the Holiday Inn Asiaworld. It was a really late dinner, and the Caucasian couples at the dinner tables already were almost frightened-looking when our whole crowd rushed and attacked the buffet. The food was OK, manageable, but I didn’t eat very much. The whole Taiwan thing was kind of a sour experience for me… not because anything was bad, but just because I didn’t like the entire place that much. Gave me the wrong vibe. Even Christina, who insisted on pictures with everybody. Smile, she said, as she gave her camera to Brandon to take a picture of us. Argh. I’ll miss you all right. I’ll miss you being an entirely terrible tour guide and not telling me anything about Taiwan that I didn’t know before I came here. Geez. We had a bunch of Taiwan beers, I had some Carlsberg, and Anthony had his Bombay Sapphire, and come midnight, we had my little birthday celebration. Of all the things that happened that night, all I remember is shouting “bitch please” in the hallway, and yelling Bitterman every five seconds. I’m sure Laura wasn’t too happy that night. Not happy at all. Well, at least some of the time. I woke up the next morning in sweaty clothes, a peeling back (from the sun burn I got at Ocean City) and mosquito bites all over the place. The shower was a welcome respite from itching. Apparently, that’s what happened to a lot of people too.