If I had to name this weekend anything, it would probably be “Proof of Concept.” Or maybe “Baptism.” Those of you keeping up to date on my blog may think I’ve become a full-fledged member of the Church of Latter-Day Saints. Let me explain:
As of Friday morning, my Saturday was completely open. I had no plans, no things I had to do, so I decided to exercise. I had recently discovered there is actually a sidewalk from my apartment on Jijin Rd. to Maijin Rd (where my school is, where a large Walmart-esque shopping mall is, where many things are). So I decided to jog to the shopping mall, get some groceries and walk back. Besides awkwardly pulling out a wad of cash from my shoe, this went fine. Proof of concept: I can jog around my neighborhood for exercise.
Next I wanted to go swimming in a proper pool. This guy I met through LDS (who is also helping me with Chinese) recommended this one place. I’d gone there before to make sure I knew how to get there and see the cost and hours of operation. So after Skyping my friend Matt and being distracted by an HBO showing of GI Joe: Retaliation (I have no idea why but I could not pull myself away from the TV to go swimming while it was playing) I was out the door and hopping on a bus to downtown Keelung. Then a 30 minute walk to the pool (I could bus it but I’d rather walk than wait). I think it’s funny I go through all this trouble now when a year ago it was too hard for me to walk FIVE MINUTES to the pool in Dillon Gym. (I’ve chalked up all my laziness at Princeton to all the assigned readings for classes burning my mental energy and relegating me to nothing but a food-guzzling bedbug capable of watching Netflix.)
I enter the natatorium*, which looks super dreary but I’m so excited to actually swim I don’t mind, and follow a trail of old ladies to the women’s locker room. After changing into my suit I head to the deck. I’m kind of self-conscious I’ll draw stares. In America some people think black people can’t swim. I already draw stares here in Taiwan when I’m just walking down the street, so probably people will stare here at the pool. On man, a lifeguard, is staring at me, but it seems benevolent. As I get closer to him I notice a prosthetic leg. He asks: “American?” “Yes I’m from Chicago.” “Ah Chicago!”
I’m sure the lanes have some sort of speed distinction, but I can’t read Chinese! So, as always, I remain ignorant to everything this is going on around me. I find a lane that doesn’t have too many people and plunge in. Immediately, I feel relief. While I’m swimming, I think about it: I’ve plunged, dove, slid into a pool at least probably 5,000 times. If you’d asked me at 5:50 AM in the throes of high school swim season I would’ve said: “No way. Jumping into a pool does not feel good at all.” But you know what, it does. It always has. It’s the before that doesn’t feel good, like getting a shot. The nerve before a race. The lethargy before a practice. The fear of the icy cold contrasting with your 98.6 degree Fahrenheit body in during a morning practice in January. But the thing itself is good. I plunge into the pool, feeling my toes slide across the white tile, feeling the water engulf me, and I feel good. Baptism.
It’s a 50 meter pool. I didn’t have any set or anything planned so I just swim aimlessly and think. A few times I stop at the wall. Once a group of old men smiled at me and gave me an OK sign. Then the lifeguard comes** up and says: “You’re pretty fast.” “I use to swim for a team.”
I swim for about 50 minutes until the pool closes to the public. When I get out of the pool, the lifeguard points me in the direction of the women’s sauna, so I figure I should be a good sport and go in even though I’ve never liked saunas. Like hot tubs, I think they’re too hot to be comfortable.
If the pool was a baptism, this was the baptism by fire part. It felt like I was dying of inhalation burns. I was convinced my lungs would swell and drown me. But there were other ladies in there STRAIGHT CHILLIN’. And I didn’t want to back out literally 3 seconds after I came in. So I sat down and stretched as the other ladies were doing. But every movement, including those of my lungs, induced searing pain. I could breath slightly more bearably if I smiled, so I must’ve looked crazy if anyone could see me through the steam.
Leaving the sauna, I ran into my favorite person: the lifeguard! (Actually though, he is awesome because he made me feel very welcome at this pool.) He told me he was a coach at this pool and he was in the 1992 Olympics! No way! I showered and changed and headed back into the streets of Keelung ready for the next adventure and knowing I would be back soon.
Peanut butter and jelly is supposedly a good snack after physical activity, so I decided bubble milk tea should be in that same realm. Fast sugars and slow sugars (I think tapioca balls are slow sugars). There’s a drink shop right outside the natatorium so I go over and stand by the cashier’s counter for about a minute before this glaze-eyed guy working there notices me and comes over. He doesn’t speak any English, but I know how to say milk tea in Chinese. I just wish I knew how to say bubble milk tea because I notice he makes it and there’s no tapioca balls. I think: Oh well, at least its milk tea. But as I walk away sipping it I realize it’s not that good. I think at the beginning of my time in Taiwan, I thought all milk tea was the same. But there are definitely distinctions between the good and the bad. I chuck it in the first trash can I see, one of probably only 4 trash cans in Keelung (this is something that bothers me – the lack of trash cans in a place that has a trash problem, i.e. people just chuck their trash everywhere. Maybe with more trash cans this would’t happen?).
I decide to get back to Keelung Harbor and hang out in a coffee shop there and finish reading Gone Girl***. And as I’m reading I glance at my watch and see the time slowly approach 7pm.
Sister Price and Sister Knight – the two LDS missionaries I met on a bus and have since been having discussions with about the gospel – invited me to a Baptism as 7pm in the church. The church is right opposite this coffee shop. Part of me wants to go to experience it. Part of me wants to keep reading. I feel I may be out of place watching these random kids get baptized, but then I realize they invited me for a reason and if they didn’t want me to come they never should’ve mentioned it. Eventually I decide to check it out because WHY NOT****.
So I was sitting in a chair. I noticed some guy staring at me, but I’ve come to accept this as things that happen on the regs. He says something in Chinese to Sister Knight or Sister Price (I can’t remember which is which. They’re always together and people always address them as Sister Knight and Sister Price) and she tells me I was at his drink shop earlier today and I was like “OH YEAH!” It was the glazed-eyes guy. He still looked kinda not all there. Not like he was doing drugs, but just like a not all there kinda person. Maybe he’s sick and on some Nyquil or something? Who knows. Anyway, I smiled because I thought: Lol, is this a sign from God?
Anyway, the Baptism was quite interesting. I don’t remember if I’ve ever been to a Baptism before. It was quite interesting. There was some singing (I hate singing. I like other people singing but I hate myself singing unless it’s just to myself, so it was frustrating when they were like “hey here are the words in pinyin, sing along!”) there was some testimony, and best of all, there was some plunging in water. Baptism.
Sunday I had plans to join one of my Meetup***** groups for a 50 km bike ride in Hsinchu. This, again, was Proof of Concept. I wanted to see if I could handle a long bike ride because I want to do triathlons but biking is the thing I’ve never really trained to do. I left my house at 7am to get to Taipei by 8am to catch a train to Hsinchu by 8:30 to get on a bus to the coast that arrived at 10am. By 11 we had rented our bikes and were on the trail. It was quite nice. We planned to go 26 km, stop at a beach, and bike back. Along the way we stopped several times for bathroom breaks, pictures, food. Part of me just wanted to blast through to the end, eat, rest, relax, and then blast back. But groups behave differently than single particles. So we had a fairly leisurely bike ride out. At the end-of-line beach, two other meetuppers and I went swimming in the ocean (Baptism?). It was nice just to float there. I was already dreading the ride back. I thought it would be boring having already seen it all, but the sun began to set, casting a different glow to the scenery. The mud flats, the mangroves, the crested waves, they were all equally beautiful the second time around. And I pushed myself going back; I wanted to get a real work out.
Having gotten back to the bike rental place, I expected to relax. The hardest part (50 km bike ride) is over, right? NOPE. Public transportation. Everyone was at the beach for some festival? Or maybe it’s just because it was a weekend. Anyway, traffic SUCKED. In the bus, we were literally packed like sardines. Eventually we got back to the train station and I thought: Okay, worst parts over, right? WRONG. Someone had told me I could take the train straight back to Keelung instead of going to Taipei where they were all going. So I did this. And I ended up on the local train that stopped at every local stop from Hsinchu to Keelung. It took 2.5 hours. 7pm to 9:30pm I was on that train. (I think it’s equivalent to going from Linden Station to 95th with the transfer at Howard for all you Chicagoans who read my blog. I don’t know know as I’ve never done this, but I just imagine.)
At first, I didn’t mind at all. I was standing, but I was finishing up Gone Girl******. But then I finished Gone Girl and the train was still way too far from where I hoped it’d be for an hour of train riding. So I got frustrated. I regretting going on the bike trip, or at least not leaving sooner, or abandoning the group early on in the return so I could maybe get back to my apartment before midnight? I was pissed and I realized this is not the way to be. You know, I don’t think I’ll convert to Mormonism, but one of the sisters mentioned that when you feel good, when you have a positive spirit, “it’s the spirit of the Holy Ghost.” I was feeling Holy Ghosty earlier in the day, but this train ride was turning me into Negative Nancy. The sisters have also encouraged me to pray, so I’ve done it some and I can tell you, you sound really dumb if you pray and say things like “I want this. I want this. I want this.” You feel a lot better when you say things like “Help me to do this because I want this to happen and I’m gonna try to make it happen but I’d like it if you could help me.” So I decided I was going to turn it around and write a blog post while I waited instead of getting angry. So that’s what I did. Sitting in a train, some baby staring at me, me reeking of salt water and sweat; I did something with my time instead of toil and saying “whoa is me.”
But it still took forever to get back to Keelung. And once I did I was feeling the trifecta of cranky: I was tired. I was hungry. I had to go to the bathroom. I could wait at the bus stop and hope a bus came quick, but I didn’t want to make food at home. I decided to grab a bubble milk tea and get some McDonald’s French fries.
The bubble milk tea place RAN OUT OF BOBA. That should be illegal, but I didn’t let it get me. Ain’t no body gonna rain on my parade.
Behind me in line at McDonald’s were two annoying, obviously smashed French guys that later went in to use the women’s toilets I think because they were too lazy to find the men’s bathroom. But ain’t NO BODY gonna rain on my sweat and seawater parade!
On the bus (finally on the bus!) back to my apartment, I sit down. A couple comes in and tries to decide where to sit. They exchange some words, look at me, laugh and look at me again and I think: Oh God, why all the rain clouds? And I hear him utter what sounds like “Africana,” but maybe I was just being paranoid*******. I wanted to say “Meriguo,” which means American as in “I did not just come here from West Africa,” but I was too chicken. Also he might have started speaking to me in Chinese and then I’d have to stand there with my hands in the universal “I have no idea what you’re saying” shrug. Instead I just kinda stared at the guy for a few seconds, looked away, and decided to live in sweet ignorance believing he didn’t say something to his wife about me and Ebola. AIN’T NOBODY GONNA RAIN ON MY—
“Where are you from?” he says.
“America,” I reply. I’m happy he asked me instead of just assuming.
“Ah…” he says and says something to his wife in Chinese. They both laugh.
We all get off at the same stop.
“Do you live here?”
“Yes.” I point to the Kymco shop.
“With your family?”
“We live there.” He points inside a row of high-rise apartments behind the Kymco shop. I nod, and he says “Bye bye!”
I get home and I feel exhausted. I can’t move my legs. My feet ache. My eyes are tired. I’m covered in sweat and salt water so I can’t just fall into my bed. I crawl to the bathroom and stand underneath a stream of cold water, too lazy to turn on the water heater. But at least I didn’t let anything rain on my parade.
*The first semi-random, semi-for-effect verb-tense switch. But will it be the last…
*****Meetup is pretty cool. I would seriously recommend it.
******Seriously, stop reading my blog and go read that book.
*******I think with dark skin and African features, the first thing people might think when they see me is Ebola. That’s alright. I think when SARS and H5N1 was a big deal that’s what people thought of SE Asians in the U.S. I understand. But also, WHY DO HUMANS SUCK?
****Seriously, stop reading my blog and go read that book.
*****I think with dark skin and African features, the first thing people might think when they see me is Ebola. That’s alright. I think when SARS and H5N1 was a big deal that’s what people thought of SE Asians in the U.S. I understand. But also, WHY DO HUMANS SUCK?