Call Me Makahala

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Because of the time difference, I had difficulty determining when to celebrate my thirty-first birthday, either using Taiwan time, which means today’s my birthday, or Seattle—or for that matter, NYC—time, which means tomorrow’s my birthday. To simplify the decision, I’ve decided to celebrate my birthday for two days. That way, whichever one is the “correct” day, I’ll have it covered. I’m thinking of traveling to Asia for my birthday more often (well, I was thinking about it until I remembered the flight. Have I talked about that yet?). Unlike last year’s birthday, this one is unimportant. I’m not sure why decade birthdays have such a milestone feel to them—it probably has something to do with the digits on our hands and feet—but they do. After receiving many AOL-based e-mail greetings (which were quite good—who says AOL can’t do anything well?), I managed to call my family this morning and basked in their birthday wishes. For the record, the call was for their own good: I did not want them to feel guilty for not talking to me on my birthday. This had nothing got do with me and my desire to feel special. Nothing at all.

Getting back to important topics, we slept through the night yesterday, finally shaking off the jetlag that has kept us in a bewildered state for most of our time here. It hasn’t made my trip bad, just dreamy, as if I’m searching for something and can’t quite put my finger on what it is. Thanks to Doolies’s parents insisting we accompany them to dinner, we woke up from our ill-thought out late-evening nap and headed to a fancy French restaurant on top of the second tallest building in Taipei. While the restaurant did not revolve, the five-course meal made the room spin a bit afterwards. The food was decent but the décor and view made it an enjoyable evening. Waking up from the nap was painful, but because of it, our time clocks should finally be reset, and you won’t here me bitch about it anymore. Well, at least not until I return home on Sunday. Then I’m sure you’ll hear lots more complaining while I readjust to the right-coast time. Aren’t you the lucky ones?

I jotted down a few more notes to talk about today. They weren’t as expansive as yesterdays, or as interesting, but I’ll get to them in a moment, first a recap of the day. We enjoyed a warm and mostly cloudless day, a bit of a difference from the “artic storm” that descended on the east coast, which resulted in Doolies’s sister missing her flight here. We visited the National Palace Museum, which included a collection of ancient art, calligraphy, early writings, jade, pots and pans, paintings, and Buddhist relics. The Palace Museum is located on top of one of the many hills that surround Taipei, and the air is clear. For the first time since arriving, I breathed fresh, invigorating, non-toxic oxygen while outdoors. (The indoor air quality is much better thanks to the many air conditioners, which I’m sure only add to the outdoor pollution.)

While I enjoy visiting museums, there are types of art that interest me more than others. For example, I can’t stand pots and pans, and related artifacts. I don’t know why it is, but every time I visit an exhibit that has a vase, a pot, a pan, or something similar, I begin to look frantically for the door. The same things happen when I see anything ceramic or, and this is the worst, clothing. I’m sure it’s interesting (whatever that means—I read that interesting, like bad before it, has taken on a negative connotation, making my million-definitions for it less probable) to the clothing whores out there, but to me, I can’t imagine a more fitting torture for all the bad things I’ve done during this life than to lock me in a museum housing the entire history of clothing, from fig leaf to space-age jumpsuit, and force me to explore and read the histories until time itself feels pity and halts.

There were many good exhibits in the Palace Museum, including fascinating histories of calligraphy, writing, and early painting, and a wonderful collection of Buddhist statutes. Thanks to the no-camera rules, I wasn’t able to take many pictures, but if you’ve been to a museum with an Asian exhibit, you’ve probably seen a sampling of what the Palace Museum offered. That is, unless you’re a certain Asian studies person, who I’m sure would have found every last artifact of incredible historical and artistic value.

Now, I must talk about the bad part of the museum. I’m not referring to the jade thing-a-bobs or the large collection of ritualistic cook pots (I really can’t make this stuff up); I’m referring to the restaurant. There’s a small, modern coffee shop in the main part of the museum, but if you want to eat, there’s only one place to do it: a small building with the badly lettered restaurant sign. After getting up at the reasonable hour of 8am, we decided to breakfast at a different bakery. Doolies once again indulged her Apple Milk whimsy, and while they didn’t have a chocolate filled croissant, I was satisfied by a creamy pastry and another fried pork sandwich. The pork part was completely accidental. I thought it was a fried chicken sandwich, since there’s nothing like fried chicken in the mornings. We brought the food to a nice little park near Doolies’s home. Along the outer curb of the square park, they installed large, low U-shaped bars. If not for these bars, the park would have been inundated by mopeds. They’re like roaches here, filling every space along the sidewalks and streets.

After breakfast, as a small birthday gift to me, Doolies and I spent many hours reading. I’m halfway through my second book, and I’m beginning to think that I didn’t bring enough to read. We might have to go searching for an English bookstore before our flight on Sunday. The new book, Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is a light read. It goes by fast as movies go by fast, with a good story, archetypical characters, and fast-food style writing. It’s enjoyable, but except for the wonderful futuristic setting, there’s not much meat there. There’s something releasing about reading. When I’m in Seattle, I spend many hours alone, and although I love spending time with Doolies, it’s hard for me to remedy my needs to be alone with my desire to be with Doolies. Reading (and by extension writing) gives me the time alone, even if I’m lying next to Doolies doing it.

By the time Doolies’s father dropped us off at the museum, it was lunch time already, and we were hungry. The museum restaurant had a mildew smell, which should have tipped us off, but we were hungry. All the servers wore masks, probably to protect our food from their germs. As you’ll see, it didn’t work. We ordered a vegetable plate and a duck dish. The food wasn’t terribly impressive, but we were hungry and finished the vegetables and some of the rice. For drinks, they served lukewarm tea. I was thirsty and figured since the water was boiled, what harm could there be. Innocent are the babes that run through the fields barefoot. Innocent, I say. After lunch we took in all the exhibits the museum had to offer, and decided to take a walk to Taipei’s answer to Universal Studios. We never made it there, but from what Doolies and her father said, they filmed many Kung Fu movies in the studio (they weren’t able to tell me if the Master Teachers fought there, although I did, of course, ask), and, this is where during the telling Doolies’s father became very excited, they took your pictures after dressing you up in costumes, like a king and queen, or, I’m postulating here, Grimace and the Fry Guy. Halfway to walking to the studio, I felt a rumbling in my stomach. I thought that I would be able to make it to the studio, and I concentrated on that goal. After walking for another ten minutes, I began to realize that (a) we didn’t have a clue where the studio was and (b) I needed to use the bathroom, and I needed to use the bathroom bad. We walked for a few minutes when I made my plight known to Doolies. I hightailed back to the Palace Museum, leaving Doolies to fall far behind me, and made it (barely) to the conveniently located bathrooms.

I was in there for some time, and Doolies, not realizing why I walked so quickly to get back, began to get worried. She was waiting outside the bathroom, and I heard her phone ring while in there. I assumed everything was okay and she would wait there. But Doolies, you have to understand, gets paranoid sometimes. After fifteen minutes, she left the bathroom area and began backtracking, thinking I had somehow slipped past her. She was getting frantic at this time (I’ve recreated this part from Doolies’s account) and began having crazy thoughts. She was thinking of having me paged, or calling he parents, or the police. Whatever would David do, a white man who doesn’t speak English, alone in Taiwan? While frantically trying to figure out what to do next, I finished my business—and it was a long, painful business. Doolies wasn’t outside the bathroom like I expected, and she wasn’t by the Confucius statute outside the building either. I figured she probably went searching for me in the other buildings, and decided to wait her out. It would have been silly for me to wander aimlessly. I knew she’d be wandering since that’s what Doolies does, wander aimlessly. I finally found her running up the stairs leading to the building, sweaty and confused looking, waving her cell phone in the air with a worried look on her face. I waved. And an innocent American tourist was saved from drifting through the streets of Taipei without his beautiful Taiwanese escort. Doolies has since given me 1000 TK (new Taiwanese dollars) to carry around, and has instructed me, on the off-chance we get separated, to find a taxi and tell the driver to take me to the hotel that’s across from her parent’s condo. She feels better knowing that I won’t be wandering the streets, a confused white-man. What she has forgotten is that I tower over the inhabitants of this fine town. My stomach has since recovered, although it’s been delicate for most of the day. I don’t know if there’s anything worse than museum food. I don’t care what country you’re in. Captive audiences and no competition can do that. Long live capitalism and competition!

While driving to the museum, I observed a few more facets of the life here. This is a young city and it bustles with activity in the mornings. The mopeds are a sign of its youth. There is a great deal of energy when you look at the streets, the markets, and the shopping areas. Those thoughts seemed much more profound when I wrote them down—this was before I spoke about my bathroom activities. Oh, and about the title of today’s musing, it was the name of a Buddha at the museum. I was a little tipsy from the tea’s caffeine and my mouth was running in overdrive as I joked about the exhibits. “Call me Makahala” was (in my brilliant estimation) one of my more clever comments. Doolies never did.