The big end of the year banquet was held at the Taipei Convention Center. On a Sunday I had to be at work at 1:30pm. The previous Saturday I had had quite a late night. Ashley, Derek, Benji and I went to the night market and then wandered around the streets of Taipei. By "quite late" I mean, we had several small adventures until about 3am. So I crashed at their place in Taipei. Woke up at 8 and stumbled towards the train that would take me to the bus that would take me home so I could dress and go to work. On the way to the train I passed by then entrance of Taiwan Normal University. There were scores of students streaming in. Did I mention it was Sunday morning?
I got to my work. They put us on a short bus. The interior of the bus was decorated with strings of plastic flowers and grapes all of which had accumulated an oily dusty film so the grapes looked kinda mouldy.
We pulled up at the convention center. Straight away I'm pulled aside by my boss along with Mike, a tall Irish Catholic Canadian I work with. I knew this would happen. The day before (Saturday) as I was leaving work, one of the Chinese Teachers said "Teacher Helen. I can show you something?"
"Ok." Then she pulled out an Iphone and I watched a 50year old woman in a Hess uniform doing a cross between TaiChi and cheerleading. "Are you ready? Go! Banciao-Tucheng Hu hu shen feng! Bacnciao-Tucheng, Wo hu cong long! We are the heroes we are the best!" -rhythmic clapping interlude- "Banciao. Tucheng. Jiayo! Jiayo!"
I'm not really sure what it means. Banciao-Tucheng is the name of the district that my branch is in. Hu means tiger and it is going to be the year of the tiger in a couple of weeks. Jiayo means "let's go". Then she said to me "you will do this at the banquet. you will teach everyone dance."
"Who is everyone?" "Banciao-Tucheng". At least 600 people.
So, I was ushered into the corner of a corridor on the ground floor of the immense convention center. My boss started taking my jacket off me. I was given pair of yellow silk pants and a yellow silk jacket. I was introduced to the woman I saw on the Ipod, a big bald guy from another branch who looked like a skinhead genie in his blue silk pajamas, and a girl in yellow who towered over me in her three inch open toe heels. The woman used to study Bejing Opera. It is where her inspiration is derived from. We practiced our dance and our cheer. 15 minutes. Still none of us knew if we were to be on stage or not. We were taken up to our seats in the Mezzanine. We sat down. We were told that when the MC says "Banciao-Tucheng" we do our cheer. From the aisle. Maybe the theater seats 5 or 6 thousand.
It is huge. On stage was a banner that stretched from floor to ceiling. It read "Be Modest and Grateful". A Taiwanese man, a little hip hop, a little OC came out on stage and he bounced around and told some jokes that must have been funny but I don't know what he said. Then Huey the Hippo stumbled on stage. The Hess Hippo Huey. It is possibly the worst designed mascot ever made. It is awkward looking. He has no lower jaw, and I heard there are no eye holes for the person in the suit. Huey is blind. The MC hopped over to him and took his hand and led him to center stage. I'm not sure if Huey was dancing or having a seizure.
Then the spirit competion began. It got weirder and weirder. I tried not to look at the 30 foot screens that flanked the stage because sometimes the camera would settle on me in the throws of my discombobulated cheer.
The cheering was followed by two hours of awards, speeches, sing alongs and tribute videos to district managers. And Chinese zither music. That was cool. And a middle school recorder band. That was not cool.
Then dinner. lobster and abalone and sticky rice and pork and eel and scallops and shrimp and jellyfish and chicken and and and...
but of each dish I was lucky if I could grab a small bite off the lazy Susan that serviced the 13 people at my table. It was all tasty.
During dinner there was entertainment. On a stage at the top of the room people sang karaoke. The MCs also anounced raffle prizes and led some games. One game required a Native English Speaker and a Chinese Speaker to play a guessing game as a team. The MC would show one person an English word or phrase and they then had to explain the meaning of the word or phrase in English to the other person. Piece of cake. I volunteered along with Eddie a guy from my work. I'm pretty good at these things and watching the people go before me I thought it would be easy. <"Taiwanese people like to eat it. It smells bad."-"Stinky tofu".> "you put money in it and give it to people at new years"-"red envelope"> <"It is the subway in Taipei"-"MRT"> Then it was my turn. Eddie thought our chances would be better if he were the one to see the paper. "It's a phrase. It means you really have confidence. You say it when you have confidence. you can do it"-"ahhh.....a phrase?...'You gotta believe'?"- "no, You believe in yourself. it is 9 words"- "is it english?"-"YES" we fought for a little longer. We gave up. the answer "Where there's a will there's a way." That's 7 words Eddie! Not that knowing that would have helped me any.
The next day it was raining. I walked to work. It's funny how you take things for granted, your body, your bike, your car, your home, until something is wrong. Then the awareness of that piece of you becomes acute and worry sets in and reminds you of it every minute. My bike had been giving me some trouble lately and I was going to take it to the bike truck when the weather cleared. There is a man in a blue truck who parks on the side of the road. The back of the truck is full of bike parts and lights and tubes and stuff. He sits in the truck smoking cigarettes and reading the newspaper until someone rides by and needs something from him. He's fixed my tires and sold me accessories for ridiculously cheap prices. He fixes it right there on the side of the road and he is very thorough. Thursday was a beautiful sunny day. Great day to take my bike in. If only I had a bike. It was gone. Alas. Alack.