Let me tell you a little something about my third night in Taiwan.
As a precursor, I should try and offer a brief explanation what I'd been doing up till that point. First night in Taiwan, after baggage, customs and taxi I arrived about half past midnight their time. I'd been on planes or Tube trains for approximately seventeen brazillion out of the last twenty four hours. By this point I was basically running on fumes and the promise of a bed at the end. I literally have two minutes once I've crossed the threshold of my host teacher's apartment before I'm welcome-wagoned by the Neighbours (another two teachers) and Neighbour #1's Girlfriend (another teacher, from up in the next town). It's getting close to one am by this point. Taiwan to all extents and purposes has been asleep for three hours. That seemed like an incredibly sensible idea to me. But there was beer, and I very much wanted to make a good impression on my colleagues, so I stayed up and chatted until about three. At this point either my internal/external monologue volume control broke, or they realised that the haggard drunk before them had once been a man, in the UK where there were such things as sleep and sanity, and headed off to allow me to resume human form in peace. Perhaps they too realised it was three in the morning and work was a thing the next day. I wasn't really compus mentis at this point, so I didn't dwell on the problem. Anyway, I had to be up for twelve the next day to get to the Changhua school for observations and introductions.
This is the view from Host Teacher's balcony.
Thursday was a busy-ass day. I ended up meeting most of the Changhua teachers for my school, observing two lessons in between bouncing around from apartment viewing to apartment viewing, my School Manager acting as translator and driver. In the evening, after stopping at Subway for dinner, I went and met some dudes with Host Teacher, for a poker game. Being a subscriber to the Lies Make Baby Jesus Cry school of poker theory, I wiped out pretty miserably after a couple of hours and some jet-lag exacerbated misdeals. Anyway, there was more beer, and some kind of horrible Taiwanese vodka-whiskey hybrid presumably synthesised with the single objective of punishing goofy English teachers, and we crashed down into Host Teacher's building early morning, stopping off at a friend of Host Teacher's for a nightcap, before Host Teacher graciously offered to bus me down to the school so I could meet my School Manager at 11.
On my second day I had my medical, which mainly seemed to involve me filling out forms and assuring people I really had never had tuberculosis, epilepsy, Bloaty Head or cancer of the sad while they filled capsule after capsule of my delicious Western blood those insect chappies seem to dig so very much. Then School Manager drove us over to Homei, my new school, where I was introduced to and instantly forgot the names of all the Teaching Assistants, as well as finally meeting Action Zoologist with whom I'd exchanged e-mails. More admin-type errands and viewings happened, and in the evening, after a slight diversion from schedule due to one of the kids needing ALL THE STITCHES after apparently breakdancing into a desk* and splitting his lip I observed Action Zoologist's class. After a long day I very much wanted to get my beer on, and hit Flamingo's (not actually a gay bar) and New Johnnie's with a goodly crew of teachers. Banter of the joshy lolstereotype sort was embarked upon, but with a trip to Taipei for training looming, and my cash diminished by medical fees, admin and poker fail I decided to head back early. I hit pillow about three again after shooting the shit with Host Teacher a little.
* yeah, I don't even either.
When I woke up, the Battle of the Somme (Jay-Z Remix) was way the hell up in my grill. Some kind of artillery piece which sounded like it was just outside my bedroom window (kind of an impossibility given I'm on the 9th floor) was being accompanied by about twelve bars of some corny Asian pop song on repeat and the kind of enthusiastic whistling you don't hear except during street parades and football matches.
I at first thought it was some kind of 'YEAH WE'RE NOT FUCKING DEAD ALRIGHT HIGH FIVES ALL ROUND' parade after the Japanese earthquake and tsunami that morning, but after the 19th Taiwanese Fusiliers didn't roll on after ten minutes I decided to venture onto the balcony and see what the hell.
Seems vaguely sinister, but man, you should've heard the music.
Religion was going the fuck down. At five in the morning. You heard me, dog. As Neighbour #2 was kind enough to yell across to me from her adjacent balcony from which she and Neighbour #1 were observing the festivities with weary acceptance, some sort of palanquin bearing god, a god or someone from that general crew was visiting a Yamaha shop. Of course! This was clearly a big deal, as illustrated by the road-choking crowd, the party wagon and of course the entire contents of the Changhua missile silos.
I had been warned at some point in the last two days that the Taiwanese loved explosions and sparkly lights like, more than a friend, but goddamn these people were super-hyped about that palanquin. Fireworks were all over the road in a way that would have made any Health and Safety department back home cry into their camomile tea. The palanquin bearers, for some reason clad in bright yellow jumpsuits, even did a little dance, putting their whole palanquin in, out, in, out, and then shaking it all about before rocking on off down the road, carrying most of the party down the street with them. Fireworks have been going off on their way out of the town for an hour and a half now. Those palanquin bearers must be getting tired.
Apologies for the photo quality, that red and yellow blur is the palanquin midst Hokey. Or possibly Cokey.
But yeah, the first truly alien experience of Taiwanese culture. I feel like I should get a sticker or something. That kind of shit would just not happen in the UK. If any religious group short of Jesus Christ and the Dirty Dozen themselves rocked up and started a street parade-cum-Hokey Cokey shop-blessing dealio at five in the morning they'd be out of the country on their ear before you could say 'ASBO'. Of course, the day starts a lot earlier in Taiwan, so I guess it's more akin to stopping off at the chapel and getting your hymn on before work, which is still pretty out there these days but understandable. But EXPLOSIONS and MUSIC and YELLOW JUMPSUITS? Sounds more like a The Darkness music video. Certainly an education, even if the lesson is only get yourself a pair of earplugs, stat.
(I guess not promising fireworks was kind of an oversight.)
"Fuck this noise, Party Wagon's partying on, bros!"