Chris was in the fetal position in his oxygen/mozzy tent when dehydration dragged me awake, mouth first. While getting a cup from Chris’ mini-kitchen a cockroach tried to mug me. My lightening reflexes of terror saved me from a six-legged kicking and sent the beast scuttling off down the side of the counter. Chris’ corpse in the oxygen tent, my churning guts and that antennae waving fucker reminded me of those face huggers from the Alien movies.
Chris wasn’t dead. We worked inside until lunch. Lunch was Halal Thai food. The restaurant was open during Ramadan; it even had a 15% discount. There were pictures of the owner with, who I assumed were, famous Muslims, a prayer room in the basement, a calendar from the Chinese Taipei Muslim Association and little hotel-counter flags from various Muslim countries including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and of course…Australia. After the tension of that morning we were both being very delicate with each other. We discussed Tories and privatisation, a couple of British devils that we’d struggle to disagree on. We’d had two late nights and early mornings, not enough food, more than enough beer and we were doing a lot of work without leaving each other’s company for longer than bowel movements. In any argument it would have been hard to know who was right and who was just been a moody cunt but at least the coconut beef was creamily good.
I thought about going home, to Zhunan. It can take up to two hours to make it back from Taipei and I had a children’s play to teach on Monday morning. But, it did seem a waste not to interview anybody from our list while I was up in the city that Sunday. Chris wanted to so I agreed. We decided to go for ‘the Cyclist’. For us, a cyclist has a two wheeled label under their arse. It would be easy to know if we had the right person. In order to join up a couple more dots and connect some more people we wanted to go to the park in Banciao where the Falun Gong campaigner practiced. Perhaps this would be some kind of energy hub. We could recharge our batteries with magic, magnetic fields, Chi and the nature fizzing around the park.
We took the MRT to Banciao. We discussed the Catalan bull fighting ban and blood sports. Chris thought it was sad to lose that rip-roaring, rib-goring bit of culture. I sympathised with the culture but found it distasteful. Chris sympathised with the bull but he’s a traveler, geography student and Michael Palin look-a-like so finds loss of culture distressing. We changed to a different MRT train. All our talk was linked into the utilitarianism we’d been debating the night before. Where should the line be drawn? How much personal happiness should we sacrifice to increase the overall quantity of joy in the world? Should animals be counted? If not should severely mentally retarded people be counted? Should people be allowed to have sex with severely mentally retarded people if both appear to consent? These questions and ideas were seeping out of the gaping hole in my chest. This stranger-meeting-mission had sent some of my cynicism and intolerance bursting out of me like one of those face-hugging aliens that killed Chris in the morning. And if I lost that precious bit of hate…then what? Would I have to make an effort with everyone I met? What could I fall back on when things got tough? Meanwhile, Chris was probably still thinking about that ‘Cheaper to Fuck Them’ post.
We got to Banciao. We didn’t know where we were going. We looked at the Banciao map and listened to the Falun Gong campaigner from the digital dictaphone on my PDA. A pretty young woman came over to stare at us. She was attractive but with a girl’s shapeless figure, the most perfectly designed human to help us. Any sexier and her help would’ve been uncomfortable and anything less appealing would’ve set off my pride. You see I’m not completely reformed, but at least I was starting to read myself a little better. She listened to the recording and thought it was a telephone at first and was too busy trying to communicate to listen to us.
It took her a lot of listens to believe what she was hearing. She showed us the rough area on the green splashed Banciao map. She placed her finger in the middle of some grey, next to some white.
‘That’s not a park,’ she said, ‘I’ll have to check.’
Her little-girly face screwed up with a frown and her lips smudged together. She asked at the MRT information desk and came back like the wind had set her frown forever.
‘Yes, it’s that place. I’ve just come from there and there’s nothing there. It’s not very nice. It’s not really a park. Why don’t you go to a different park?’
‘We want to go where that woman practices Falun Gong,’
‘So is there an event there today?’
We tried to explain the project.
‘Perhaps you’re one of the people that we’re looking for,’ I said.
She quickly explained that she wasn’t and got out of there as unexpectedly as she had arrived telling us to keep a look out for ‘the roller skaters’.
Despite this warning I knew that there would be something spiritual about the place when we found it. Once there I’d bubble up like a pan on a hotplate. We went in the opposite direction and then the sky pissed on Banciao for about 10 minutes, we watched an umbrella-toting woman getting ready for the green man at the crossing. She tottered back and forth in high heels and a knee-long summer dress. Chris asked for a gust of wind. We waited, she started to cross, we waited, nothing. The gods had forsaken us. We walked under verandas to a bus station. A woman was belting out an odd sounding song with the single line of ‘ami to fo’ but sang in different tones and with a real melody. It’s Buddhist.
The rain meant that our only landmark, roller skating ones, were probably not there. After the rain stopped we made it to the park. It was small. It was also a different park. The wrong park. There was a lot of water. I thought that the Falun Gong energy came out of the mini-mountain-fountain. Our walking pace was down to about half speed. The place had a roller skating ring. We walked across it and played the recording to a trash collector. It took us a couple of attempts before he realised it wasn’t someone talking over the phone.
He sent us toward Taipei County Hall. We spotted a mother with her roller skating child. We had found the place. A concrete roller skate ampitheatre. No green. No water. No Chi. No magic. No power. But there were two cosplay girls and a photography team. I was the most reluctant but we decided to remove somebody from the original list and take the chance to talk to the cosplayers. They were reluctant about us. ‘The Cosplayer’ warmed up as we talked.
After ‘the Cosplayer’ I could feel the electric current in my blood again. Not recharged by nature but by 17 year old in unusual clothes. Now we wanted to grab ‘the Cyclist’ and we were walking at warp speed. We paced along to the Banciao First Stadium. A cyclist was doing loops in front of the stadium. We missed him a couple of times. Chris got into his path and hailed him as if he were just some kind of shaky taxi. The man was not a disappointment.
We went to Banciao station and I got a train home. It was the slow train, the local train. I’d had fun those three days but I knew I would be happy to get home and collapse. I was standing up for the first half of the journey south. I could hear people guessing at how tall I was in Chinese. There were a lot of people on the train and most were polite. But some people edged through the crowd and up against me, as if I was too tall to be able to notice people. They wanted to show their friends what a big fucking freak I was. Some pointed, finger extended, reaching out to the white giant. Two late teens were prepping themselves to ask me. ‘How tall are you?’ They never asked. This was all the other side of Taiwan life. I’d found out strangers did actually have feelings but some passengers assumed foreigners didn’t. And although it was shorter and a bit malnourished that alien creature of cynicism and intolerance crawled back inside of me.