Sea Urchins, Mopeds, Snorkels, and Impromptu Head Massages.
As I kind of mentioned in the last post, I’ve developed a habit of saying yes to everything our language partners invite us to without really knowing the details about what they’re planning. This means that my fellow Americans and I end up in a place without really knowing what’s going on or what to expect. All I know is that it should be fun and there’s no real reason to say no.
For instance, we spent last weekend on Liuoqiu island, but I didn’t know that’s were we were going until 2 weeks after we finalized the plans.
So we hauled ourselves out of bed early Saturday morning, took the train to Gao Xiong (I think it’s Kaohsiung in English, which just doesn’t make sense to me because it’s the name of a place so why bother changing the spelling if you’re gonna try to say it the same way but whatever), taxied to the coast, and then had a very bumpy ferry ride to Xiao Liu Qiu (that’s probably something else in English but I don’t wanna look it up). It’s kinda fun not being in charge of your own plans every now and then. I’m used to planning everything to a tee, so I’m kinda just now realizing that everything is really exciting when you have no idea what’s going on.
This also happened later on Saturday when we pulled up to a harbor on our mopeds. I was riding on the back of one of our language partners’ mopeds, so I was just along for the ride without knowing our destination. You see, when you have no idea what’s going on or where you’re going and you don’t really understand people’s responses when you ask because they’re all speaking Chinese with thick obscure accents or you can’t hear their responses because you’re on the back of a moped and somehow your driver thinks that the howling wind isn’t interfering at all with your ability to hear them let alone understand their Chinese, you start to just rely on your observational skills to figure out what’s going on. It’s a little faster that way.
So we got to this harbor and all I saw was this huge parking lot filled with mopeds in front of a big concrete wall. There were people lining up to pass through a whole in this giant wall, but I couldn’t see what was on the other side. People coming back to the parking lot from the other side of the wall had sand all over them, were soaking wet from the waist down, exasperatingly wiping sweat from their faces and necks, and dragging their crying kids back to their mopeds/cars.
It was a sea urchin farm. Or at least that’s what I’m gonna call it.
We passed through the hole in the wall and came to a little patch of beach mobbed with tourists. We watched from the entrance as men with large, clear, lidless cases were hauling sea urchins, sea cucumbers, crabs, snails, starfish and the likes back to the shore, salty water sloshing over the edges as waves knocked the men from side to side. The men arrived at the shore and dropped the cases with a wet thud into the sand and then everyone raced to get up close. There was a big, black sea urchin with a body about the size of my fist and spikes piercing into the air to make it as big as a football. The first thing I said when I saw that sea urchin was turn to my friend and say,
“I wanna hold it.”
(In Chinese of course).
Now, my younger self would probably be thinking “no one else is holding it so I shouldn’t hold it” or “the guys pulling the sea urchins out of the water are wearing gloves and you aren’t so I shouldn’t hold it” or “didn’t I read somewhere that sea urchins are poisonous and someone once died after holding one cause a spike pierced his skin while he was holding it so maybe I shouldn’t hold it”… but honestly I just really wanted to hold it and I didn’t know quite why so I ran up to the closest guy with the biggest sea urchin and asked to hold it and he said yes and it was amazing.
Once feeling a new surface (my hand), sea urchins start to move slightly and their little spikes shift all over its tiny body. If you lightly poke one side of it with your finger, the spikes in that area will all move to surround your finger like its giving you a hug. And then, after a while, once you realize that other people want to hold it and that you should probably stop “hogging the sea urchin,” so you start to pass it on to your friend, you discover that it had slowly stuck to your hand and really doesn’t wanna come off. I was attached physically and emotionally. I love sea urchins now.
Another time I had no idea what was going on was when one of our language partners told me we were going snorkeling. Now, I’ve been “snorkeling”. You know, you put on those clunky goggles and bite on that mouth piece thingy with the tube thingy and you can like breathe while you swim and look at rocks. Great I’ll do that again sure.
So we all got on our mopeds and scooted around the island to this little shack on the side of the road that was mobbed with people. As soon as I slid off the bike, I was thrown into the chaos. Some kid looked at me once before quickly shuffling through a 10 foot long rack of wetsuits and throwing one at me, then another kid pulled some water shoes off a shelf and dropped them into my arms, and one more kid pushed me and my friend towards a wall of stalls and told us to change. So my friend and I stepped into the wet suits and zipped them to our chins and slid on the boots like we were told. The second we stepped out of the stalls we were herded into an assembly line where one person handed us life vests, the next one helped us put them on, the third one handed us goggles and mouth pieces, and the fourth buckled them to our life vests. Then we were whisked back onto the bikes and rode down to the shores looking like a very odd and matchy-matchy foreign-snorkeling-biker gang.
We were crushed by waves and I inhaled probably too much salt water but it was great. We saw coral and weird fish and turtles the size of Thanksgiving turkey platters (that’s a weird comparison but I’m exhausted and I feel like it does the job).
Xiao Liu Qiu was definitely my favorite weekend.
The following Tuesday was also quite great because it was my birthday! And what better way to turn 19 than to win 2 Mahjong games, win the most money, and therefore win free iced boba tea.
Then, on Wednesday, my friends and I decided to get our hair cut. In Taiwan, a typical haircut is about $10, which is crazy cheap in comparison to the US. While my friend decided to take advantage of this cheaper price and get a perm, I just went in and asked for a trim.
So they were hooking my friend’s hair up to heating devices and doing weird prep things while I sat in my chair next to her waiting to get my hair cut. A woman came up to me and very quickly asked me questions that I did not have the vocabulary to understand. She then slowed down and asked me about my daily routine and hair type, which I do have the vocabulary for. Then, without much notice at all, she combed the ends of my hair and snipped snipped and then combed some sections and snipped snipped and combed the front and snipped snipped and within three minutes she was done.
She then whipped out this brochure thing and started pointing at sections and speaking very rapidly and I didn’t understand really any of it. Then another woman came over and just said the Chinese equivalent of “let me help you”. She then started parting my hair and spraying my scalp before using her finger to rub the hair line (this is a much weirder sensation than it sounds). Once satisfied that she had rubbed every inch of my scalp with this spray, she started massaging my scalp and making my hair stand up at funky angles. At this point, my friend (who was perming her hair) looked over from her chair and asked me in English (so that the hairdressers couldn’t understand) “what the hell did you sign up for?” to which I responded with a very exasperated “I have no idea.”
She proceeded to wash my hair three times while massaging my head, neck, and shoulders. Then two women dried my hair. Then the first woman curled my hair. Then both women brought me to this back drop and fancy light to take pictures of my hair for their Instagram pages. Then they brought me back to my chair and I thought I was done until the second woman came back and suddenly was holding this weird hand-held machine to my scalp. She moved it to a few different points on my head and then pulled out her phone. Upon showing me her phone, I realized she was taking up-close pictures of my scalp and hair follicle. She seemed pleased, so so was I.
In the end, we were all satisfied with our haircuts — er, hair “experiences”. After all, it was all under $20.
Some of these stories may not really be considered “adventures” on their own, but sometimes you have to choose to see them that way. If you get bogged down by speaking another language and being surrounded by new people 24/7, chances are you’re not going to have a great time. But actually, all of that unfamiliarity can turn into a really great, really enjoyable experience.
I wrote in the last post (or the post before that– I can’t remember) that these programs are certainly tough. I’ve been going through “emotional-motion sickness” in the last few weeks. But the best way to deal with these situations is to go into them laughing.
I remember the first day I decided I wasn’t going to leave the program. It was during the first week (after my “fragile” post) and I had to walk to school in the morning in a torrential downpour. I still didn’t know the route yet, so I quickly got lost and had to pull out my phone for google maps. I was wearing a long dress that was sticking to my legs and my feet were sloshing around in huge muddy puddles. My umbrella was useless but I meakly held it above my head anyway as I navigated the narrow streets, mopeds buzzing in every direction. I was close to tears.
Then, for some reason, I just started to laugh. My situation was ridiculous. I looked ridiculous. But I knew it would be okay, so I just laughed it off. I found my school and made it to class on time. I was soaking wet, but so was everyone else.
Walking to school is not an adventure. But thinking of it as an adventure became my coping mechanism.
There’s a lot more to tell but I’m going to end this one here. Hope you enjoyed my choppy stories of a chaotic week.