Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Surrounded by Captain Clueless

(Though the following photographs were taking while trekking around Bagan’s Htilominlo Temple, the writing is about the frustrations of returning home to Taiwan and life abroad)
The last straw came while changing apartments in Taiwan. There are these little shopping carts that each apartment guard station has and when you move-in, they load them up and push tthem to the elevator. Watching these guards pack the shopping carts is total comedy until it is actually your stuff. There is no thought process at all. They put a box clearly marked water glasses on the bottom and toss a wooden chair on top, or throw a sports bag on the bottom and then stack a tettering box on top hoping to return and get the ten smaller boxes one by one instead of just taking two minutes and packing them properly for one trip.
Because it means more to do twice the work and look busy, don’t you know that?
Oh, by the way, did I say last straw? Let me go back…the following events all happened to me during a 24 hour stretch of time while changing apartments here in Taiwan.
That first morning, I got into a taxi and the driver pointed to a little sticker on the dashboard reading: Buckle Up, or Pay Up! (There is a fine of almost 250 U.S. dollars for not buckling up) He taps the sticker again with his finger then pokes me in the ribs. I look over and the driver is not wearing his seat-belt. “What’s that?” I ask the man in Chinese. “HUH?” He grunts back. I tap on the sticker and poke him back in the ribs. “You,” I say in Chinese. He taps the sticker again. “This is for passengers!”
I look at the man dumbfounded.
I get out of his taxi and go to the one behind it. He won’t let me inside. He points at the taxi in front and says, “There’s a line. You must take the one first.”
I flash him my money and ask him politely if he’s working. He shakes his head.
I go to the third taxi and he won’t let me in.
I stand on the curb watching three couples get into the taxis ahead of me then wait for the fourth cab to pull up, open the door and get inside. The driver is fiddling with the dashboard TV, the sound is so loud it’s deafening. I give him the directions, but he’s now messing with the GPS. The meter is running and he is trying to type in the address. I’m literally crossing the street with two suitcases I don’t want to carry. It takes five minutes while I’m simmering in the front seat. Finally he turns to me, apologizes for not being able to figure out the GPS, floors it, and clips a passing motorbike with the taxi grill.
Because I’m surrounded by people without common sense, don’t you know that?
The elevator in my new apartment building is so dark I can’t see the buttons on the wall. Here in Taiwan, apartment holders carry small key chain locks that must be swiped against elevator scanners before it can be used. This means I have to always fish around for the thing in my pocket then bend over to find my floor, straining my eyes in the pitch black dark.
Because that’s style. Style is more important that substance, don’t you know that?
Late for school, I ran into the Starbucks for a quick breakfast sandwich. The guy behind the counter looks at me, follows my finger down to the croissant, takes it out with tongs and tries putting it into the oven… “Nope! Here’s my money on the counter. I don’t need a receipt. In a hurry!” So he turns and walks all the way down…and I mean… thirty paces out of his way all the way down to the delivery tray and lays it there for me. All the while I’m following him saying, “No, please just put it in my hand…right here…Hey! I’m here, remember…”
Thirty paces later I have it in my hand.
Because that’s the take-out counter, and it says in the Starbucks rulebook that customers pick up their orders at the take out counter, don’t you know that?
The laundry room on the outside balcony of the new apartment has a built in dryer/washing machine, which is nice, but once again screws me. Why? Well, it cannot be opened during the dry cycle. If you set the dryer for twenty minutes, the door can only be opened after that time runs out. All the buttons are in Chinese as well…which… confounds me. Let’s say you want to pull out a pair of socks half way through… you can’t.
Because that’s the rule, and you have to follow the rules no matter what, don’t you know that?
I made the classic Asian blunder that afternoon and stopped in a department store. People who have traveled here know what I’m talking about. Surging relentless mass of black mopped heads. Elbows flying. People gawking. Blocking escalators mid-conversation with friends. Standing in front of elevators in groups of ten checking what floor they’re on. Banging you with their shopping cart and not apologizing. Walking with their head sideways staring off into space and running over your kid. Totally clueless. I mean, you have never seen a more collective cluster of mindless sheep, than visiting an Asian department store.
My favorite moment was this cleaning man who had managed to somehow push his little cart into the massive sardine packed crowd and laid two cones out for sweeping. People were banging into him, knocking him over, walking on his toes, pushing him aside, yet he continued to sweep up nothing. I mean, there was nothing on the floor for him to sweep but there he was, head down, just going through the motions.
Why…? Because that’s his job and he has to do it, no questions asked, don’t you know that?
(The following photos were taken at Thatbyinnyu Temple)
The electrical outlets in the new apartment keep shutting off. The west wall is connected somehow to the hot water on the east wall shower which is also connected to the dishwasher in the southern kitchen. (Oh yes, I have a dishwasher!) Which means, that if at any time a lethal combination of somebody taking a shower plus a dishwasher load plus anyone plugging a cell phone charger into the wall means…all power in the apartment is shut off.
Because, as the electrician pointed out to me, this keeps people from using too many home appliances at one time, don’t you know that?
The guards at the new apartment are really swell. I’ve been coming in and out with bags full of things…a shoulder duffle bag full of laundry, a paper bag of groceries…and every time I do, they rush to help me carry it. Doesn’t matter that I don’t need help, am moving at full speed through the lobby, or that it has twice caused us both to trip and drop my groceries on the floor, breaking my milk carton.
They continue to do it.
Because they are the guard and they must help me no matter what, don’t you know that?
There’s no hot water in the apartment. Nope. A breaker in the electrical board keeps snapping back like there’s a busted circuit. I’ve been living here three days. So I call down to the front desk because I’m irate and they send up the technician. It’s ten o’clock at night so I know they are serious. This dude proceeds to bang on my door, step into my apartment without saying a word, pass by me toward the balcony with all of his tools, then start smashing these circuit breakers with a hammer. Oh yes, he’s wearing a tunnel flashlight strapped to his head so he looks very official. An hour later there is still no hot water, but he does step into my kitchen and take a phone call, screaming into the receiver and laughing and carrying on some private conversation at the top of his lungs at eleven o’clock while I’m standing there pointing at my daughter’s bedroom until… yep, you guessed it. He wakes up all three of my bleary eyed girls.
Because he’s on the job standing as a guest worker in someone’s house in the middle of the night, why not scream into his cell phone, they’re not his kids, don’t you know that?
So that was my day in Taiwan, pretty awesome. Oh, and by the way, the temples of Htilominlo and Thatbyinnyu were awesome too.  Sounds like I need another vacation, doesn't it?

1 comment:

  1. That's so funny Brian. You've had a bad week. Why do you have so many bad lucks?