“It has been a long strange trip,” said Chris when my part was all done. It all began though in July 2014.
“America made me rich!” The Taiwanese-Japanese said again.
“What did you do?” I asked, accepting another beer.
“I was a bartender,” he said.
“I sold beer at a store before I came here.” I was drunk and it seemed like a connection. The random kabobs I was eating were alright – not as good as I had hoped at least.
“Ah, I love Americans,” he said before drinking more.
Later there were four of us, Chris, Guy, myself, plus this Japanese-Taiwanese man. He was showing us around. Down some stairs and through a hallway of club lighting. Fine, but also provocative girls approach us. We were apparently in the wrong place and were firmly told to leave.
Our friend yelled back, waving money in the air. Guy tried to apologize. A brief confutation ensured and we were quickly out of the place laughing drunkenly. We found ourselves under a bridge eating sushi and drinking more Taiwan beer. I remember plates of raw fish, some on rice, some not. The Japanese-Taiwanese man was paying for everything, and he kept ordering.
I was at the point where I didn’t remember how we had gotten to the sushi place. Guy was speaking Chinese, and Chris, Japanese. He also just fell out of his chair. The Japanese-Taiwanese man picked him up and slid his chair under him before refilling his glass. In Taiwan, you drink beer from big bottles using little glasses.
Chris looked at me and said, quite slurred, “Help me.” He may have said something else but, well, my memory is blurry. Guy and our host left to go find, a bathroom?
“Let’s go!” I said and we stumbled to a taxi. At the entryway to the hotel, I realized we’d forgotten our laundry. Actually, laundry had been our entire reason for being out at all that night.
Hell that was just one night. Quite a lot happened in the nine months I spent there. It was supposed to be a year but a bad accident ended it all three months prematurely.
I kept a journal while I was there and many events are still fresh in my mind. Like Saint Patrick’s Day, or when I threw that computer off a roof.
I’ll start at the beginning but order doesn’t always prevail within me. I’ll call it the Honeymoon Phase. Hell, I used phrases like “It’s going to be beautiful and perfect…” and other ignorant cliché ways of talking about something in your future you have no understanding of. So yeah, I like the term “Honeymoon Phase.”
It was hot! Fucking hot! Taiwan in the summer is hot. It was also more humid than this New Englander had previously experienced. A few important things happened in these first few days. I did the expected: met some friends and we explored. My friends Casey and my new pal from New York, whose name I’m forgetting right now, though I do recall him bringing up two super losses too many times… Well we did the stuff you’re supposed to do in a new place.
That first Friday I missed the rest of the group going out, so I went out on my own and got seriously hammered with a bunch of Taiwanese/ABC (or, “American Born Chinese”) in a bar in the popular bar and club district near Taipei 101. That was actually where I got invited to play in the flag-football league, which I would end up doing.
Those two weeks of the training were a bizarre combination of bliss and stress. I still vividly remember my stress dreams before the days of our teaching demos. Days full of lessons, trials, and the truth of a company that offers up a fairly mixed image: wealthy, but demanding much from you, while offering up little certainty. We dealt with the stress with some, culturally enlightening excursions, to put it mildly.
Fulong beach was a large light-sand bar you walk out to on a bridge. Mountains slope into the water. Large temples were seen cut into their infinite green. We were quite a few people and were led by a couple who had lived here for a year. We serenaded locals on lays chips containers and someone’s guitar.
There was Beitou, too. This is a hot spring town up the red line in Taipei. If you don’t mind being naked while surrounded by other naked men – mainly old naked men – then the hot springs can be a nice place to relax. Before the hot spring, Chris got to show off on some tradition drums. Later we were led by an enthusiastic old lady demanding that we use her favorite hot spring.
Your concern over being naked didn’t last long once your heart tries to escape your chest when you lower yourself into the water. I had to do controlled breathing to calm my heart rate as the heat shocked my body. It hurt. It became tolerable though, for a time, but when I was done, I was done. Chris went in for a second time but quickly followed Guy and me out.
That day ended with beef noodles and an invitation to be commercial actors. We thought it might be porn but were probably wrong. Either way, nothing came from that.
Our last night of training was a bizarre jumble of locations, but the morning I remember clearly. We got on a bus nice and early to be shipped out of Taipei towards the northeast coast, Yilan specifically. Chris was going to Yilan too. Our friends Adam and Alison where going to Luodong, which was a larger city just to the south of Yilan.
The mountain villages were creative and beautiful, with their terraced farms and winding roads. The mountains ended in tunnels and when those ended, it was rice patties until the ocean. Lush green squares in the summer: the shallow pools rice grows from. First impressions are important, and lucky for me, Yilan made a good one – visually at least.
“This is the worst job in the world!” Lazan said.
“I’m leaving for a better job in Taipei,” said Gaz.
“Here’s another beer,” Ruan added. “Now you have one minute to drink it!”
The next month or so was spent forming quick relationships with those Taiwanese I’d work with. I also spent a lot of time with Chris and the current teachers at my school. They pretty much assured us that it was the worst job in the world. Then Ruan and Lazan did quit. We fit in a KTV night (Karaoke marathon) and got to help Ruan and Lazan say goodbye to their apparent oppression.
Ruan and Lazan quitting was important, because it marked the quick kill of the honeymoon phase. It would highlight the deficiencies and fallacies of the school and the community I now worked and lived in ways I had previous been able to ignore. Setting up a period of time that in hindsight was short and seemed to be nothing more than a blur of stressed routine. The emphasis on short – it did end.
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