Taking the 11-bus

I have the most vivid memories of the trips to Taiwan from summers around high school. We came for the first time in thirteen years, and I met relatives who hadn’t seen me since I was three or four. Then we visited at least once afterwards before I went to college.

My relatives and I didn’t understand each other, oftentimes. One of my relatives scolded us for not learning Chinese. I recall many fancy restaurant buffets where we were completely out of place in shorts and T-shirts emblazoned with “Hawaii” on them (we did a stop there to visit my aunt before arriving and thanks to my cousinlets who are around my age, were gifted with quite cool T’s).

I felt awkward and out of place. It was sweat-drenching hot. I was grossed out by the squat down toilets and the lack of plumbing in my father’s abandoned old house. I began to feel extremely self-conscious. Partially, I think it was just what I was used to– feeling out of place and self-conscious at home in school (I was nerdy and unforgivably, unfashionably, unashamed of my nerdiness). Partially, I really felt stared at wherever we went. Taiwan was more formal than the US at the time– girls generally in skirts, and ladies generally in heels in public. I actually tried at one point to blend in, wearing skirts given to me by my aunt, which were rather akin to the school girl’s uniform at the time. However, as soon as I opened my mouth, it was obvious that I didn’t belong there. I was even awkward with chopsticks.

I was also probably extremely self-conscious partially from being photographed a lot by my uncle who has an acute case of shutterbug, which seems to be a genetic thing since I seem to be leaning in that direction, and at least a fair smattering of cousins seem to be as well.

Anyway, Taiwan was also my first experience living in a city. There were bridges to cross the street because to try to cross the street at street-level was asking for a rapid unpleasant death under the wheel of scooters and cars who understood red lights to mean that they needed to turn or dash across the intersection REALLY fast. My uncle’s apartment in Taipei is fairly luxurious as far as space and location go according to my standards as a former New Yorker now. However, back then, I felt cramped and grumpy in the dirty city of Taipei, where they sky always seemed grey with smog.

So going to Tainan, staying at my grandfather’s house was a different world. My grandfather’s house had a garden, a fish pond, a hutch for birds, and lots of family. My grandfather, as I remember him, was tall, slightly stooped, with a clear deep voice, and excellent English. He also sang Beethoven for us in the original German, and was excellent at it.

He found me bouncing on my cousin’s bed one evening regaling my younger (but to this day, far older cousins in the ways of cheeriness and ensuring a steady supply of sweets from popsicles– bing bang– to candy) cousins with my rendition of “Beautiful Dreamer” (which I cringe upon remembering and realizing that I think the aforementioned shutterbug uncle may actually have video of this and various other slightly embarrassing moments from that trip). He introduced us to his collection of karaoke laser discs and videos, and each of us picked out songs to sing.

My Grandfather’s venue was the park. So, he took us (much later than his usual constitutional in the morning since we were sleepyheads) on a walk to the park. He called it taking the “11 bus” and laughed when I was disappointed that we weren’t actually taking a bus, since the “11” stood for our two legs. He was in his eighties, I think, and we had a tough time keeping up as we walked together to the park through Tainan. I remember monkeys in the trees, but no one else seems to and their existence has been denied by some of my relatives. We walked past an orange rink of sorts where people ballroom danced, and these little kiosks where people sang karaoke. Apparently, circulating the park, there were at least six of them, and they had different types of songs– popular, Japanese, Taiwanese Folk Songs, Chinese songs, etc.

We all ended up at one with yellowish tiles and gave our renditions of random American popular songs… I think my brother sang “Pretty Woman” or “Hotel California” or something like that. One of my other cousins visiting from the states sang “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”

This kiosk was familiar– I think perhaps we stopped by this one for Japanese Karaoke, but I’m not sure.

Anyway, we would play at the playgrounds, and my aforementioned popsicle-supplying younger cousins would attract stray dogs. I think there were three stray dogs that followed them down the concrete slides and over to my aunt’s house where they were left waiting at the front gate as my cousins and aunt snuck out the back.

Over Chinese New Year, I visited the park with my aunts and cousins, and people don’t sing karaoke there anymore. It was much quieter, and a bit less lively. Maybe we weren’t early enough for the dancers, but the karaoke set ups are gone. It was still fun though we drove, and it wasn’t the same without my grandfather’s brown smooth hand holding onto mine to cross the street (even though I was a teen, crossing the street back then, you still really wanted to be holding someone’s hand).

It’s a very old park– my aunt said it might be around 100 years old.

Pavilion with the seven-cornered bridge. We used to run across this– supposedly bad spirits can’t follow you around all those corners.

An old gate.

Yellow bamboo.

I find the mix of vegetation really cool.

I climbed this tree, which was ancient, and really great to climb up, but as usual, there was a bit more trepidation on getting down.

And we took my aunt’s car back this time, instead of the 11-bus with a stop for fruit and little hot dogs with ketchup for breakfast. However, we DID get bazhang, sticky rice with egg, mushroom, pork, peanuts, and other really yummy things all wrapped up into a pyramid with a large leaf and twine.


2 Responses to “Taking the 11-bus”

  1. March 29, 2007 at 2:13 pm

    those are beautiful pictures, and beautiful stories! [i especially like the interpretations of “11”]….

    have been adoring your blog…

  2. March 29, 2007 at 4:16 pm

    Thank you on all counts! I’m so glad you like it. 😀

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Free Rice

March 2007
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