Friday, November 7, 2008

A Red-Carpet Welcome

Lynne's Bed in Taipei

My friend Lynne and I experienced many delays on our flight from Seattle to Taipei. We had been traveling for 20 hours without sleep when we were greeted at the airport by a group of cheering students from the place where we would be living. The vans transporting us seemed quite decrepit and had absolutely NO air conditioning. We were given the best seats in each van: the front passenger seats. These seats were directly under the small metal fans that had been bolted to the steel frame above the windshield in each vehicle. The fans moved the air, but it was so hot and muggy, they did not really cool anything.

Both vans pulled up in an alley beside a cement wall with broken glass embedded along the top. One of the girls pushed an intercom button next to a red metal door, and we were all buzzed in. The girls pulled us upstairs while our luggage was driven away with the vans. We were herded up three flights of narrow stairs to an apartment. All we wanted was a bed; we could even wait until morning for a shower, but no, there were even more people crowded into the living room of this apartment at 12:30 am, singing a special welcome song to us and plying us with tea, fruit, cookies, and cakes. We would later learn that we were being given the red-carpet welcome as honored guests, but all we really wanted to do was get some sleep.

Finally, a gentleman named Peter, who spoke intelligible English, entered the room. Peter informed us that we were in the church student center of which he was the manager. He lived in the apartment where we were sitting. The students living in that building were day students at NTNU and all spoke some English. We would not be staying in the student center; we would live in an apartment around the corner with the Yeh family and 8 night-school students, who didn’t speak any English at all. The church leaders were enthusiastic about helping us learn Chinese, so they took great pains to give us an environment of total immersion. Peter droned on for quite awhile, and then he invited us to give speeches. He suggested that we encourage the Chinese students to study English with same dedication that we were giving to our study of Chinese. Lynne and I looked at each other and then at Peter; we told him we really just wanted to get some sleep. Peter’s wife then pressed us to eat a cookie before we left so we wouldn’t wake up hungry. As we nibbled on the cookies and pretended to drink the tea, the students sang their welcome song to us again. Finally, we were dismissed to go home with our new housemates.

We learned that we would be sharing a small bedroom furnished with a metal bunk bed, two small wooden desks with folding chairs, two arm chairs, and an end table with a fan on it. Lynne took the bottom bunk, leaving me the top. When we opened our suitcases to get out our pajamas, there was no place in the room to walk. The beds were just boards covered with a straw mat, a pillow, and a towel in lieu of blankets. An English-speaking Malaysian girl from the student center came to help us settle in; she told us that since no one used sheets in the summer, we needed to shower every night before sleeping or the ants and cockroaches would be attracted to our sweat and infest the beds. The jolt of adrenalin produced by that statement woke us up enough to shower before we tumbled into bed. We had been going for a full 24 hours without sleep, but the board bed was hard and my rear was sore. Despite my fatigue, I did not sleep very well. All too early, it was morning, and we were awakened by music that sounded like an ice cream truck at a little before 6 am.


Linda McLaughlin said...

Wow, that was quite a welcome you got and probably not exactly what you were expecting. But then, how would you have known exactly what to expect? I'm enjoying the posts.


Teresa said...

Hi Linda,
Thanks for your support. Looking back now, I wish we had had more knowledge of Chinese culture before we went there. We were being feted and honored, but we didn't appreciate it at all. I feel bad that we were rude and ungrateful, but we really didn't know any better.


murat11 said...

Ah, the source of the sleeping / showering advice to our merry, if arachnophobic, scribe...

Teresa said...

Yes, and I understand that the bugs in Malaysia are even bigger than the fauna in Taiwan and Hong Kong because it's further south. Of course, the Chinese do like to compete in telling exaggerated stories, so maybe they are all equally horrific.

Chris's problem is that he understood "going native" to sleeping au naturel when it really means "when in Rome, doing as the Romans do..."