the luxuries i’m afforded

If someone ever tells you that the food in Taiwan is no good, I want you to punch them flat on the mouth for me, OK? Because, honestly folks, the food in Taiwan is freakin’ awesome. Take your hand, form it into a fist, pull back your arm, and clock ’em on the jaw while saying, “I strongly disagree with you.”

Before I go any further, sometimes you just have to share a song. This is one of those songs. I can think of at least three short films set to this amazingly trippy number. That fast crossfading on the b-b-b-bah course… oh man.

I’m pretty sure I crashed the hotel’s wireless router for my floor on Saturday night. I was simultaneously trying to download the latest O.C. and “preview” some new music – and the link just went down. It was acting flaky for about an hour after that, and I couldn’t get a solid connection again until Sunday morning. This is the first time I’ve brought my normal “bandwidth habits” on the road with me, so to speak. I usually just hold off on my downloading while away – but this trip was long, and Ben suggested I just bring GrabIt! with me and be able to enjoy new tunes as if I were at home. I thought it was a brilliant idea. I then also went one step further and started BTing some US TV shows… so I’m confident I’ll be giving the hotel a nice consistent bandwidth spike for these 11 days.

One of my worst I’m-in-Taiwan fears has come true – I’ve come down with a cold while here. Now, it’s nothing horrendous, more of the annoying head-clod type. But it’s enough give me reason to sleep for all but 6 hours of my Saturday. I don’t think, as I did earlier, that this is just a reaction to my cigarette binge; I rather think that this bug was waiting in the wings… being suppressed by my normally indomitable immune system, which it caught weakened and sleeping after the cigarettes. So I walked over to the local drugstore (I found one that sells Western medicine) and picked up some Panadol. Now, my Latin’s a little rusty, but I know that pana means “all” or maybe “every,” and I think dol means “pain” or maybe “sickness.” So, using my SAT root-word reasoning skills, I decided this was the medicine for me. Turns out I was right, there’s an insert in the package that has some English – and the pills are an all-cure cold/flu type thing with some vitamin C to boot. I started taking them, maybe that’s what made me so sleepy yesterday. I’m hoping they can knock this thing out over the weekend (of which there remains only today, but I’m still optimistic).

I’ll tell you something about me, I like to whistle. You can ask me wife, I whistle all the time. Whereas most people sing along to songs while they drive, I whistle along. Apparently, Chinese legend says that whistling after midnight (or maybe just at night, I could have misunderstood) is perceived to be “calling ghosts.” So, every time one of my local buddies catches me whistling happily after the sun’s gone down – they shush me and say, “ghosts!” I just thought that was cool, so I’d mention it… it doesn’t really round out a paragraph well, but what can I do?

Another cool thing that’s happened to me on this trip? OK: somehow, I befriended the night-shift housekeeping manager at the hotel. He’s a round man in this mid-thirties, and looks consistently beat down. Whenever I see him, he’s always dressed for work, which, being cleaning, means a scrubby tucked-in t-shirt, grungy pants, and some thick-soled work shoes. His hair is always damp from sweat and disheveled, and he has always, and I mean always, got a fat mushy mouthful of chewed up betel nut, his teeth and tongue stained dark red. He often stops by the bar after a couple hours on shift, always chewing betel nut, and orders two tall mugs of orange juice while he enjoys a cigarette.

One night, I was sitting at the bar as he made his usual appearance, and he started talking to Tracy and she introduced me to him. The bar staff call him, and all the other maintenance workers, A-Pe, a word in Chinese which means eldest uncle on your father’s side, but they use it without the actual blood-relation (I think we all have an “uncle” or “aunt” that’s really just a parents’ friend, right?) Anyway, he pulled out his little bag of betel nut to refresh the spent wad, and jokingly offered me one. Tracy then mentioned to him, in Taiwanese, that I had in fact tried betel nut on one of my visits here. This made A-Pe perk up in disbelief, and then he really pushed the betel nut on me, I suppose thinking, “I’ll see if this white boy is what he says he is.” So, reluctantly, and because I was the center of attention, I took the nut, asked for a cup to spit in, bit off the nut’s “cap” and spit it into the cup, and tossed the whole leaf-wrapped thing into my mouth with a loud crunch.

A-Pe was dumbfounded. He stared at me in disbelief, red-tainted mouth hanging open. He spoke to Tracy, “He’s like a professional!” Tracy translated, because A-Pe speaks not a word of English, but I laughed out loud as I mashed up the green thing. Now, I’m convinced that, after trying it multiple times, betel nut does absolutely nothing. Yes, it’s true that minutes after biting into it you feel a wave of heat wash over your body, but from my experience it only lasts less than a minute. I have felt none of it’s “keep you awake” properties that the locals tout. Regardless, this simple act of sharing A-Pe’s betel nut has made us fast friends. Now every night A-Pe offers me betel nut. I’ve only taken him up once more after that first time, mostly because I felt bad for always turning him down – but he knows I’ve been feeling sick. He offers me cigarettes, which I’ve also been turning down, and he asks me questions through Tracy. He’s a very, very, nice man… and I have the feeling that a story on his life would be ultimate interesting. He’s very jovial, always smiling and laughing, and very physical, always putting his arm around you or slapping you on the back. I’ve come to really enjoy “talking” to him. His favorite questions for me seem to center around how many Taiwan beers it takes to get me drunk – he has this theory that he can out-drink me.

One night, A-Pe walked with me downstairs as I went to meet someone in the lobby, both of us chewing betel nut from the bag in his pocket. At one point, he turned and pointed to me, saying “you,” then pointing to himself and saying nothing, then pointing to the bar where we’d just come from and saying “Tracy,” then raising an imaginary bottle to his mouth and tilting his head back to gulp down the imaginary beer within it. I got the meaning immediately: A-Pe wanted to take me drinking (and of course bring along Tracy so that we could converse). I gladly accepted, in my terrible Chinese, with “hen hao, mei wenti,” or “very good, no problem.” So, sometime this week, when A-Pe’s got a night off, I’m going to have a drinking contest with him. Don’t think for one moment that I don’t realize the awesome bloggable opportunity this presents. A drinking contest with a working-class Taiwanese man that I can’t communicate with? I plan to take pictures and turn it into a small novella.

It’s opportunities like that which make me realize how lucky I am to have a job that enables me to experience this kind of things. How beautifully unusual, and worthy of fond memories, is a chance like that? Maybe some would feel otherwise, but just being able to have such an otherworldly experience makes me glad to be here. I guess my college debt is good for something.

After watching the last two O.C.s I downloaded, I’m realizing that that dang show is nearly ahead of me. I mean, in the last one, they not only played the new Cribs, but they played a track off the Of Montreal album that I got not four days ago. I so want a job soundtracking that show.

Is this as big a deal as it sounds to me? Guess some folks think so.

Good… afternoon… or some shit… I can’t figure this time zone thing out for the life of me.

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