By Joshua Dent
It was a fairly typical weather day for March here in “The Jongli.” The sky was a bit overcast which is also normal.
The early a.m. temps were hovering around 15-16 degrees Celsius. For those of you not familiar with Celsius, that means for me at least that shorts and a sweatshirt would be comfortable.
I was really excited about today however. I was headed to “Monkey Mountain” in Kaoushing. I have been hiking hundreds of times back home in Arizona. But, the reason I was so excited was that you can actually see monkeys right next to you on this trail.
My opinion is that part of being male is that ,around the time of your 13th birthday, it is only natural that you will start to adore monkeys for the rest of your adult life.
For me, it isn’t even the monkey’s ablity to swing from tree to tree while eating banannas all day. It is actually even more simple than that.
I will always smile from ear to ear if I see them put their hands under their armpits, and make those fantastic monkey noises.
I think this strong emotional tie I have to the traditional monkey stance was further cemented by my father many years back.
My Dad goes about 5’7 and to say he gets stressed out easily is a major understatement. However, he often has an inept ability to pull of some comedic brilliance without trying.
We were “celebrating” my brother’s wedding for the week in San Diego when we decided to go to the zoo the day before the wedding. The Dent’s are no different than any other family. After one week of group travel, we can be at each other’s throats a bit.
But, “Larue”, which is his middle name, pulled out a brilliant trick that afternoon. While the entire family was walking through the San Diego Zoo pretty irritated with each other at this point, he calmly walked up to the gorilla cage. He didn’t say a word to any of us as he did this
That was when he started making the monkey noises and parading side to side while chanting at the gorilla “You can’t get me!”
It was one of the funniest things I ever saw. This 57 year old man, who also happened to be my father, parading back and forth chanting a a gorrila. I feel like I will still be laughing at that years from now.
Back to “The Taiwan,” I was feeling pretty stoked about heading down to “Monkey Mountain” for the day.
One of the most amazing parts about coming 15,000 miles away from home is that all of those your nasty and old habits that you hoped you were fleeing from, they seem to all pop up ONE by ONE.
Some of them are good memories like the monkeys. But, others are not so hot, like “Online Dating,” especially for long distance.
I was taking a 3.5 hour train ride to meet a complete stranger who I had only exchanged a half-dozen emails or so with and spend the afternoon hiking in the wilderness with. For some, that might seem like extremely bizarre bevhavior. It really didn’t even phase me to be honest.
I had been doing online dating off and since I was back in my early 20’s. It even ranged back to the days of dial-up AOL chat rooms. That was when you were lucky to get a picture before you even saw the girl. That is because it would take 25 minutes for the picture to load on your screen.
But, Taiwan’s dating culture is extremely different so far for me. It is a pretty safe gurantee that most girls here will pretty much do anything to be friends with a Westerner.
It is different from American standards since “friends” actually means friends and no other shenanigans. I expected Becky to be like most of the girls I met here so far. I was pretty certain that she would treat me like a king for the day. And, I could decide from there if I want to pursue futher friendship with her.
When I got to the train station, she was just as I anticipated. She was actually very tall for a Taiwan female. She was maybe even the same height as me if not taller. She was also VERY attractive.
Like I said, I knew going into the day that it couldn’t really go “that bad.” We had abut an hour long car drive to get acquainted. I was kind of disappointed to be honest that she didn’t have a scooter like the rest of Taiwan.
Her English was really really good. She actually spent two years studing at NYC University. So, it actually saved me from having to struggle through my awkward Chinese. I was also feeling quite comfortable with just being able to get to know somebody in the local culture while speaking English.
We took a few quick pictures with the Budha statue at the beginning of the trail and headed up to see the monkeys.
That was when I started to get excited. I knew that within a few minutes I would be side by side with monkeys. The trail itself is more like a steep set of sidewalks. It is far from the hiking I am used to in some Arizona’s most rugged terrains.
It was still really nice after being here for 5 months to actually get out and enjoy the wilderness a bit. I am still scared to drive a scooter. So, that unfortunately leaves my weekends a little bit more limited.
But like I said, your same patterns come back with you no matter how far you run away from home. It was no different this afternoon. This isn’t a bad thing either.
The fresh air, and a little bit of solitude away from the constant steady stream of traffic noises that I ALWAYS hear in “The Jongli” gave me some time to get into “I Can Conquer The World” mode. I can’t tell you how many business plans have been thought about on the tops of mountains. But, I normally let doubt creep in by the time I get back to my car.
From the date perspective, it was fine. I am not the most outgoing person on a first date anway. And, she also seemed a bit nervous about speaking English with me. I just had that general feeling of it would be a great afternoon but not much more than that.
We got not more than 100 yards into the hike. That was when we were greeted by our first group of monkeys. They were rather tiny monkeys.
It still seemed really cool to be standing 50 yards away from a bunch of monkeys. You get that same chance at the zoo. But, without any zookeepers or gates in sight, it just made it seem that much more awesome. It is just a completely unique experience .
For my standards, it was a very short hike. We did get a constant stream of monkeys to observe.
That was when Becky and I decided to go have lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant in the neighboring city Tainan.
I had no idea the embarassment I was going to create for the both of us when she suggested this idea. So, I went with a “Sure” when asked if that was a good idea.
That was when we walked into a very tiny Vietnamese restaurant. It probably only had a maximum seating capacity of 15-20 people.
That is no problem to me. Those are normally the restaurants with the best tasting food.
So, we sat down in the closely grouped seating arrangement pretty much side by side with this older couple that was sitting at the table next to us. The seats were tiny bar stools that were very low to the floor like in the movies.
Without having a clue of how to read the menu, I told her she could go ahead and order for me. She tried to explain to me what she ordered. But, I really didn’t know what to expect.
Moments later, trouble was on the horizon for both of us. The waitress brought two gigantic bowls of soup to our table. They were filled with some sort of giant fish stick looking items in the soup.
I took the cue from her as to how to eat. I realized that she was pulling the fish out of the soup with chopsticks.
That was when I went into panic mode. I had recently started to progress pretty rapidly on my chopstick ablities. But, I would still say I probably only went from about a 5 year old to an 8 year old in ability wise.
I believe I even started to sweat a little bit from my brow. She actually looked right up at my big ass dome at one point and said, “Are you OK?’
I immediately blamed it on the food being “SO Spicy!” That was a God Damn Lie. I knew chopsticks were in my future.
I really wanted to show her that I could use the chopsticks. She told me 3 times before I started to eat that it was ok to use a spoon.
I kept smiling and saying “Yeah” in my stoner voice like I always do. I couldn’t give up. I wanted to show off my skills. These giant fish sticks were pretty tricky to eat with chopsticks.
To me, they seemed awefully slippery. I made a couple of minor drops as I tried to pick them up a few times. But, I finally figured it out. I thought I was on cruise control from here on out.
That was when I got too cocky for my own good. I don’t even remember how it happened. But, I picked up this thing I keep calling a piece of fish. It wiggled its way right out of the chopsticks just before it got to my mouth.
The debauchery was ready to begin at that point. The fishdropped right into the biggest bowl of soup I had seen since I was in Taiwan.
It was still filled to the brim with sauce. It somehow dropped in the soup, and completely splashed the 55 year old lady sitting next to me.
I just thought to myself “Oh Shit!” I really didn’t know what to do. In Taiwan, they pride themselves on not getting angry in public. So, I again followed the cue of my friend sitting across the table from me.
I am certain she saw it happen, and she knew why the lady had to suddenly get up and “use the restroom” It was because her jacket was covered in soup sauce.
But, she just looked at me with her big brown eyes, and said “It’s ok.”
I just thought to myself it is really good sometimes to be a Westerner in Asia. In America, I probably would have had to kiss that ladies ass for hours.
Dating is not perfect in Taiwan by any means. I actually find it even more confusing than dating American girls. My general conclusion is that they do actually believe in love still . And, these girls will do anything to fall in love with an American.
But, after I ruined the poor old lady’s jacket, and embarrassed the hell out of both of us, it was time to head back to the train station for my Jongli departure.
One of the weirdest things about dating here so far is that the first date will NEVER end with a hug. I have been on so many dates before in America where I absolutely couldn’t stand the girl I was with. The date always ened with a hug, and “I’ll give you a call sometime.”
I learned quickly that they don’t like that at all. Becky dropped me off at the train station. I didn’t realize it until later that she probably looked my way wanting the hug. I think I had been scarred by actually being “denied a hug” on the 2 other dates I had been on that I just assumed I would say BYE, and that was it.
However, today was a little different. I actually got a scratch on the back, and a “You Take Good Care.”
I was back to the Jongli. I just had this weird feeling when I left that if I ever do move down to Tainan that I would go for her. But, it just seemed impossible to manage a relationship on the island four hours apart.
We shall see if we meet again.