You might think that given my ignorance of the local language (I’m trying, I really am) I would be tolerant of others trying to speak English. Whilst I have never really found that bizarre policeman in ‘Allo ‘Allo particularly amusing, I do enjoy the odd accent induced innuendo or strangeness. Last night I was subjected to a range of locals laughing hysterically at my attempts to speak Mandarin. So I need make no apologies for this post. Today I was subjected to a training course on the UK’s newish (anti-)bribery act, informing me not to accept bribes lest I be fined and imprisoned for evermore. The inevitable question is what constitutes a bribe and what is acceptable business behaviour. In the UK the meeting would have been extended by 30 minutes or more as people invented the most ridiculous, contrived situations to test the patience of whoever was providing the training.
“What if my mother worked for our biggest supplier and bought me a Christmas present? Do I need to declare that?”
Anyway, I digress. The giver of the training was local to the small town of Asia and insisted on pronouncing bribery as Burberry. I didn’t hear much of the following 30 minutes as my mind wondered about the UK’s new Burberry act. I was pretty sure I hadn’t seen anything on the BBC website but I was left wondering if, when I return home at Christmas, I am required by law to wear at least one piece of beige tartan. Do let me know …
Have you ever taught your child to ride a bike? It’s difficult on a number of levels. Mental: how do you explain how to balance on a bike. When you think about it, it’s fairly ridiculous balancing on two narrow pieces of rubber. What words do you use with a 6 year old (in fact anyone) to explain what is a fairly complex feedback loop between brain, eyes, hands, legs etc.. Try it – some homework for you – post a list of instructions on how to ride a bike (and balance, steer, pedal won’t do). Then there is the physical: children’s bicycles are deliberately manufactured to be at the most awkward height, seemingly no matter what the stature of the accompanying adult is. You end up trying to run, no, sprint, in a weird sort of crouched position. Maybe we should introduce it for the London 2012 Olympics. The 100 metre dads and daughters crouch sprint. I’d like to see Usain Bolt run that in under 10 seconds. I’d also like to see the track you need because it sure as hell ain’t a straight one! If you bring the two things together, mental and physical, the two are inversely linked. The faster you go the easier it is to balance and the more stupid you look. OK, so now I’ve introduced the parameters let me tell you about the last time I was in close proximity to somebody teaching their child to ride a bike. It was in Cambridge, England in December and it was about 4 degrees centigrade. I laughed as I watched my friend “crouch sprint” around a disused tennis court and in the process getting something of a “dab” on, despite the unpleasant south, south-westerly. Fast forward 10 months and I find myself in a not dissimilar position. Only this time we’re at about 25 degrees centigrade and 40% humidity. I give you the result:
The 100m Crouch Sprint
Getting a "Dab-on"
I decided it was time for a proper traditional Sunday roast this weekend, my first since we got here. I managed to procure some Bisto gravy granules and some Paxo from the international supermarket. It’s best not to look at what you pay for these simple pleasures, let’s just say that certain parts of the meal were strictly rationed. The safest meat option appeared to be chicken provided that you ignore the weird black skinned ones that look about as appetising as, er, well … a black chicken. Scanning the shelves it seemed that the roasting chickens in Taipei are not quite as sanitised as the ones from my beloved Tesco. I am far from squeamish and fully understand where my meat comes from, but I am also from a generation where you don’t actually need to get your hands dirty when it comes to butchery and meat preparation. I have vague recollections of seeing my mother up to her elbows delivering a plastic bag full of gizzards from the insides of the Christmas turkey, but it was still difficult to work out how the thing ever walked and honked.
Back to Taiwan and my quest for a succulent bird (careful). I had noticed that, apart from the black skinned ones (I’m really not a racist), they all seemed to be “beak on” with their heads and feet firmly attached. An Eastern delicacy maybe, but I was after British traditional. I carefully selected a clucking beauty with some English labelling that appeared to have been prepared to the standards that one would expect. Eggs for the Yorkshire puddings, some roasting potatoes and I was ready.
Picture me in the kitchen snipping open the packaging and like a children’s Jack-in-the-Box or maybe one of those joke shop snake-in-a-tin things out popped two feet and a head with a couple of beady eyes trying to stare me down. I leapt backwards a couple of feet cracking my head on the freezer door before realising it was just the way it had been packaged and the thing wasn’t actually alive! Just when I thought this might signal the end of my attempt at recreating a little bit of British Sunday tradition in Taiwan, my father-in-law stepped in (fortunately he is staying with us at the moment). I don’t want to get myself into trouble but I would suggest he is (just?) from a time when you had to hunt, kill and butcher your own meat. So whilst simultaneously applying a cold compress to my head he selected the largest knife from the block (the one I never use and don’t know how to) and lopped off the offending head and feet.
By this time I had regained my sense of perspective and chased my vegetarian wife around the flat with the severed head. I couldn’t find the right tendon/ligament/nerve to pull to make it’s beak move so I stopped short of putting on a chicken puppet show for the children.
The Sunday roast was delicious and enjoyed by almost everybody. The offending head and feet have now left the building. I think I could do the surgery myself next time when my father-in-law is no longer in the building. No photographs, sorry.
I was out doing the weekly shop in the local supermarket when I saw this sign that intrigued me.
So I went to check it out. It was a bit like Santa’s grotto, I suppose an All Hallows’ Eve take on it. You go in there and men and ladies just swear at you using the foulest profanities this side of Beijing. Fortunately, my understanding of Mandarin profanities is still surprisingly limited so I wasn’t in the least bit offended. On second thoughts, there weren’t any men there at all, just ladies. I think I may have wandered into the ladies changing room … no wonder they were all swearing at me.
Wasn’t too sure if this was a warning (man inside, beware of the man) or an instruction (man up if you come in here). Anyway, it turns out I wasn’t MAN enough for these facilities.
One Step Away From Chaos
This post has very little to do with Taiwan but I thought I’d share my experiences. My daughter had her 6th birthday party last weekend followed immediately by another party for one of her friends. At the outset, I was relieved that she had made enough friends in our short time here to have a party. The guest list read like a United Nations Conference or a list of misspelt nouns. The problem with a 6 year old is that you don’t know which it is – unfamiliar foreign name or weird 6 year old spelling. So the invitations were sent out to Kaat, Tear, Bananarama, Koala and others with a strong sense of impending failure and disappointment. It turns out these are all perfectly valid Dutch, Canadian and Singaporean names and I needn’t have worried. So with a healthy 80% hit rate on attendance we were all set for a fun couple of hours in charge of 10 or so complete strangers, most of whom didn’t have English as a first language. All this really means is that they speak English better than me and can translate on my behalf into any modern language. Aside – how inadequate do you feel when you are using a 6 year old to translate on your behalf?
It’s a bloomin’ minefield after that. Party bags – where do you buy cheap plastic toys in Taiwan?! Parent protocol (do they stay or go). Do you allow siblings (who have absolutely nothing to do with your child) attend? What do you do in the absence of soft play areas? It appears you can’t just throw money at the problem!
I’d like to tell you that I dusted off my old magic set and erected my Punch & Judy tent and provided hour after hour of spell binding entertainment but I’m not that kind of dad. I ran around a bit hitting people with balloons but that is the limit of my creativity. We just threw money at the problem(!) and took them all to a nice traditional American restaurant for high fat, high sugar nourishment. It seemed to work, the adults had their own table (sadly in the same restaurant) and we left them to it. It was messy but it was mess that I didn’t have to clear up. And no tears.
So how do we stack up? The second party was themed (pirates), included organised games that required preparation and also a small craft workshop. But then they didn’t have food and their party bags didn’t have iPads in them. I’d say we will stack up OK when we get discussed at the next Mother’s Meeting.
Sorry, I haven’t been keeping up recently. To all you avid blog readers (hi Mum), I did warn you that I am not terribly reliable. Sit back and enjoy my latest tale of woe.
We are currently residing in luxury in temporary accommodation at the very top of an ivory tower with built in slaves, dancing girls, a petting zoo and doors that go “whoosh” like Star Trek when you go through them. Well for the price we are paying we should get that but we have at least got walls, doors, some rooms and flushing toilets. And it is quite large. The problem is, we get ejected from this space in around one weeks time and we have nowhere to go. This is not for the want of trying. We’ve viewed every property in Taipei that is within walking distance of the metro and the school, top floor, 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, maids room, jacuzzi bath, swimming pool, gym, children’s play area, English speaking concierge, free helicopter to Hsinchu City every day. Are we really being that fussy?
We’ve agreed on two properties which loosely meet our specification, we compromised on one or two things but we’ll cope. The only problem is each time we agree we get gazumped. Once we even got shown an apartment that the landlord had agreed to rent to someone else. Would it have killed him to have mentioned this at the outset? I guess that’s reverse gazumping or maybe just the natural order and morally correct.
So, if you are trawling the BBC website and see a story about some absurdly healthy looking refugees in Taipei City, you can tell your friends that you know them. At least it has stopped raining today!