Two years ago I traveled to Chile and Argentina for one month. When I returned, I felt a desire to be far more proactive in my lady searches. Only a couple weeks after being home, I joined match.com and once again began the joyous activity of meeting ladies. Nothing scandalous happened. It was as if there was some sort of invisible Puritan chaperone present. That said, my Puritan chaperone was at least accepting of the diverse backgrounds of my match.ladies (I’ll sell you that domain for $450). In order of their appearance, I went out with a Dominican, a Vietnamese, a Jewish American, a Chinese, and finally a Filipina. This was not intentional on my part. It just so happened that ladies outside of my cultural sphere found my receding hairline a must. But with my fifth date, my Puritan chaperone fell asleep and got drunk; for this fifth and important lady became my wife, a wife I like to call Pam.
For our honeymoon, we decided to visit Dubai, Taiwan, and her home country of the Philippines. The previous year we visited the Philippines where I met a battery of her relatives (which you can read about here) and was looking forward to my return.
Our trip was delayed a day due to a nor’easter rudely dumping about a foot of snow on our plans. This actually worked out okay since it allowed us to enjoy a classic New England winter day filled with snowshoeing, snow blowing, red wine by a fire, and a viewing of the recent cinematic remake of The Magnificent Seven. The next morning my neighbor brought us to the train station for which she received a bottle of red wine because in New England, in the winter, everything but our cars run on red wine.
After 12 hours of flight, we went from arctic conditions of snow and five-degree temperatures into a dry, comfortable 77 degrees in Dubai. This was our first time in the Middle East and given the recent travel bans enforced by the Trump administration, I was a little hesitant to come here. This concern quickly melted away as Pam and I boarded an immaculate, modern, and polite subway and found ourselves travelling through a city equally clean, modern, and polite.
The business hub of the Middle East, Dubai is an interesting place. The first hysterical thing we noticed in our hotel’s neighborhood was a concentration of Filipinos beaten only by Manila. They seemed to be working in every shop and hotel we passed. As it turns out, they represent about 21% of the city’s 2.4 million inhabitants. Pakistanis come in around 20%, Indians are also close to this number, and those actually from the UAE represent a small amount. As you looked around this modern, expanding city, it was hard to believe only 40,000 people lived here in the 1940’s. It was also hard to determine which came first: the modern day Dubai or George Lucas’s Coruscant.
Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.
Later in our hotel room, Pam and I somehow pried ourselves away from an 80-minute nap that could have gone on for a lifetime. We took the Metro south to visit the manmade island of Palm Jumeirah. We boarded a monorail that travelled along the spine of the palm tree-shaped island. One quirky thing we noticed in some of the subway cars was the existence of a pink line on the floor with instructions dictating that women and children should be on one side of the car. At first pass, some women may not like this sexist segregated approach but believe me, the women’s portion of the car was consistently less populated and less odorous. I was always packed in with many dudes that together, smelled like some nervous unpopular geek’s armpit. In the ladies area, there was always enough room to ballroom dance or play roller derby.
On our way back, we ate across the street from our hotel at a wondrous Arabic restaurant named Al Shami. It was populated largely by locals and offered the best pita and hummus I’ve ever tangled with. After eight or nine hours of fairy tale sleep, we buffeted in the lobby. As I only do on my multi time zone trips, I drank coffee like a disgruntled high school teacher ten years from retirement in hopes of attaining that unspeakable kind of regularity, for during international travel, it seems your only two options are: 1) no movements or 2) movements beyond calculation.
We took the metro south, over Dubai Creek, disembarked and walked through the old quarter of the city that had been restored to the point it felt like we were walking through a museum. In a small souvenir shop, they were selling some Iraqi paper currency that had Saddam Hussein’s picture on it. I assume Saddam was alive during the initial circulation of the bills. He probably though it was very sexy to have his face on money. He probably could have gone up to anyone, grabbed the money out of their hands and screamed, “It’s mine!” But what he should have realized is that 99 times out of 100, if your face is on a monetary note, it probably means you’re dead. That said, let us consider it a bad omen to put our faces on money.
After paying way too much for coffee and tea at the well-known Arabian Tea House Café, we winded our way through the ridiculously packed Dubai Museum. Pam and I then braved the gauntlet at the Old Souk or market where shop owners aggressively sought our business. For whatever reason, it was the guys selling cashmere scarves that were the most ferocious. One would have thought or hoped that their disposition would have been as gentle and glorious to the touch as the fabric they were selling. The only way to get through this area was to pretend you were a hot chick determinedly walking through the halls of high school as dirty nerds approached you with invitations to a semi-formal dance. You had to keep your head down, walk fast and avoid eye contact. A couple days later, we made the mistake of entering a tiny jewelry shop in the same market and as we tried to leave, one of the employees literally stood in our path in the doorway.
The more I walked around Dubai, the more I knew something was missing. It took me a few days but I finally realized what it was: I did not see or hear one single dog in the five days we were there. As far as cities go, this was a dramatic first. There were, however, many stray cats. Although I saw no rats, I saw rat traps everywhere. Perhaps the city encourages the stray cat population as a way of punishing the rat population.
Later the next day we went on a desert tour with Arabian Adventures. This turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip. Pam and I shared a Toyota Highlander with a Turkish couple and two young ladies from India. I looked around the inside of the vehicle and noticed two things: the handles above the windows were broken off and there were roll bars inside, reinforcing the top of the car.
When we eventually made it to the desert and our driver Sherin was unleashed, it became clear to me why the handles were missing and the roll bars were present. He drove up and down sand dunes in a way that caused legitimate fear. It was fantastic. What an incredible job these drivers have. All at the same time, they get to drive a car in a way we have always wanted to drive a car and they get to scare tourists. Fortunately, I had read a review on TripAdvisor that warned me not to eat a big meal before the desert drive. This turned out to be sound advice.
Then our Toyota and about 25-30 other Toyotas just like ours then pulled into a desert camp next to some large sand dunes. When we got out of the car, sand seemed to quickly find its way into every uncovered part of my body. It instantly made me appreciate the various desert outfits one might see on the desert planet of Tatooine. Until now, I thought the outfits were one of style and attitude but it turns out they are high in functionality due to their ability to protect you from sand.
Pam and I grabbed some snowboards from a large bin and slowly climbed to the top of a large sand dune. Soon we found ourselves “sand boarding” down the dune at a pace that bordered awkward. Somehow I managed to make it all the way down the hill to the sound of a golf applause which originated from 15 or so spectators. When Pam reached the bottom, we took a very short ride on a smelly camel that was foaming at the mouth.
As the sun began to set, we first sat down in a large area and smoked a large apparatus called shishe which resembles a hookah. As the day faded, the many lanterns became more prominent. In the center of the camp was a huge carpet where a beautiful and exotic desert lady belly danced for a good 20 minutes after we finished our delicious meals.
Soon after Sherin drove us back to Dubai and began to tell us how the UAE, particularly Dubai, is one of the safest places in the world with an incredibly low crime rate. He spoke proudly of the cleanliness of the city, the kind nature of the police, and the absence of taxes! There seemed to be sales taxes but apparently there’s no personal income tax. Gorgeous dancing ladies, no taxes, and desert drives that make you barf…whoever would have thought that heaven is located in the Middle East?
With all of this I have mentioned, I am forced to say that Dubai is an excellent place for Americans to start with the Middle East. Much of the Middle East seems perhaps a little too dicey for the average tourist. Given this and the fact that some Americans have a subconscious (in some cases, very conscious) aversion to Middle Eastern Muslim culture, Dubai makes the perfect place to experience that culture on its own turf. By doing so, I believe the average American will find themselves with an improved regard for Muslims in general. And as a bonus, every person I spoke with had an impeccable handle on the English language.
The following day, Valentine’s Day, Pam and I metro’ed south to the Mall of the Emirates which boasted of an indoor ski hill. After looking at this novelty through a glass window, I noticed the novelty of it melting for me so we headed north again, bought some gifts in the old market and enjoyed a profound, romantic, multi-layered buffet at a noteworthy Japanese restaurant.
The next morning, we went to the airport and boarded our flight to Manila. Waiting to pick us up was Pam’s mother, Andrea, and her driver/employee Marlon. On the way to the house we bought a sinful amount of food for only $12 at a restaurant that was supposed to be fast food but due to the longer waiting times, should more appropriately be called “moderately-paced food”. Because Pam and I are now romantically legit, we were shown to our own room at Andrea’s house. With barely the strength to cuddle, I did my best to satiate Pam’s ravenous cuddle needs before descending into a sleep so deep you could have fallen from the sky into my sleep and survived.
Although it was only Thursday, the next day was easy like Sunday morning. It was pure joy to return to the Philippines and the reassuring domestic surroundings of Andrea (and yes, because Pam and I married, I now get to respectfully refer to Pam’s mother as “Andrea” – membership has its privileges). After a few hours of little more than existing, Pam and I rode a tiny motorbike into town and did laundry. I was yet again receiving caring glances from some of the locals in this non-tourist town that pleasantly reminded me of my white skin. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy Los Baños. It’s filled with a wide array of regular Filipinos doing regular things.
In the evening, Pam, Andrea (love being able to do that), and I visited Laguna Hot Springs as my enjoyment of it last year was well known. To remind you, this is the large spring bath that contains a hot spring at one corner where small tilapia fish kinkily nibble on your legs and feet. On the opposite corner lies a massage/bathing area where, if you’re lucky, the sturdy lifeguard will come off his throne and give you a vigorous massage bath for the world to see. I indeed was again victim to this man’s rough cleaning to the point I began to wonder if I somehow offended his unborn children.
The next day we rose at 3:45 AM and drove to the airport where we boarded a flight to Cebu with Pam’s sister Nikki and her four children: Diego, Bea, Kiara, and Siri. Cebu is one of the southern islands of the Philippines known for its beaches. We stayed on a tiny 25-square mile island named Mactan, right off the coast of and connected by two bridges to Cebu. Mactan has the distinction of being the most densely populated island in the Philippines.
The drive from the airport was a parade through an unbroken chain of tiny, rudimentary structures built close to the street. Makeshift motorized tricycles, pedicabs, small jeepneys or converted bus/vans, and people littered the street, causing our journey to be slow. The other thing that littered the area was litter. Not only was it a shame, it seemed an integral part of life here. After passing through the recurring scenes of relative poverty, we made it to the end of the island and a gate that lead into our hotel, Cordova Reef Hotel.
The hotel was an example of a slightly unfinished grand gesture. The raw building blocks of luxury were present but it lacked the organized execution. We soon discovered this 30 to 40 year old resort was built by a crony of former President and Dictator Marcos. The place seemed to reflect the time that this extremely controversial leader reigned and his abrupt departure. Now the new owners seemed barely able to maintain this old, wondrous, half-baked vision that flew too close to the sun.
The bathrobes were worn and tattered. The impressive stone work was cracking at the seams. The plumbing fixtures were old and caked with minerals. An original, built-in hairdryer hung on the wall and seemed to be designed with the intent of drying the hair of Buck Rogers. The sheets were provocatively thin from overuse. That said, our rooms were giant and the grounds peaceful so our stay remained positive.
The next day we hired a boat that took us to a couple islands where we enjoyed snorkeling and eating. In the evening we ate at a small Swiss Italian restaurant that surprisingly offered some of the best Italian food I’ve ever had. The owner was a Swiss gent in his 60’s that was full of intelligence and theories that flirted with conspiracy. He claimed Hitler died at 100 in Argentina so perhaps you can decide how conspired his theories are.
At 6:30AM the next day, Pam, Diego, and I embarked on a grueling four-hour drive that took us on, yet again, a never ending trip through Filipino suburban chaos through the main island of Cebu. Our driver exercised equal parts of death wish behavior and fighter pilot control as he passed and dodged through a non-stop, four-hour river filled with every mode of human travel one could conjure.
Our destination was Kawasan Falls where the three of us unnecessarily risked our lives in a canyoneering adventure. After four hours of a near death van ride, jumping off cliffs seemed the logical next step. We met the guide at his house and then went three to a motorcycle on a 20-minute ride that somehow managed to maintain the same frivolous, cavalier view on life that defined things up until now. We slipped and struggled our way up sloppy, muddy mountain roads to the start point of our hike.
Twenty-five minutes later, our hike took us to a beautiful blue river located in a canyon whose cliffs ranged from 10 to 90 feet. The first jump into the river was next to a waterfall and appeared to be about 10 feet. Although not very dangerous, the first jump did still cause the inexperienced to pause. In front of us was a group of what looked like six young professional Filipinos from Manila. The last one of the group was incredibly scared and took a good five minutes at the edge to summon the stuff needed to plunge.
I jumped quickly but not without a tiny moment of hesitation. Although the intent was to build up gradually to higher jump heights, the highest jump happened to be right in this area so the guide beckoned me to do it. We climbed the 60 feet and again he nonchalantly asked me to jump. I politely told him I was not ready to tease gravity so boldly and declined. He then said okay and leapt off the cliff sideways with a scream like a complete lunatic and finally dove into the water with the familiarity one would have when opening a door.
With our life jackets on, we floated and swam downriver, going over natural slides formed by years of flowing water carving and smoothing out the rock. Every few minutes there were opportunities to further test our courage. Thankfully, the jump distances were increasing in a succession we could handle. In feet, the jumps roughly went as follows: 10…15…25…28…35…and finally 50! I’ve never cliff-jumped before so I looked like a nervous malfunctioning young girl with every jump except my last. That’s right, my last jump was performed with the panache and grace of a 13-year old boy that just received a “B” in wood shop.
Some pictures from Kawasan Canyoneering’s website to give you beauties an idea of what we were dealing with:
All nonsense aside, it is hard to describe how wonderful it felt to successfully manage my fear. The sense of accomplishment at the end of the day was one that lingers still. If corporations, schools, and other organizations could somehow overcome the looming, potentially devastating degree of liability associated with this dangerous activity, they would find an amazing team-building activity that builds confidence and teaches one how to overcome doubt and fear. I told my recently added nephew of 16 years, Diego, how impressed I was that he made all of these jumps. I’m fairly certain I would not have done so at his experimentally young age, a point further proven by the fact he appeared to be the youngest person on this fairly busy tour. And to the issue of age, Pam and I appeared to be the eldest of all the jumpers at the experimentally sexy ages of 42 and 43.
It should also be noted that I found it hard to visually judge who would jump easily and who would find the process challenging. If you saw some of these brave jumpers walking on the street, you may have thought they would not have jumped off of a milk crate. You would have been fooled by their apparent softness and goofy walk. Or you may have made the opposite miscalculation. Taking part of the canyoneering tour was a very athletic, muscular, tan guy in his 30’s. When not at the cliff’s edge, his demeanor was confident and almost cocky and macho. When he was at the edge of the bigger cliffs, his struggle was clear.
This is one of the problems of being super fit that no one talks about: everyone looks at you and thinks you fear nothing and will attack any physical challenge without hesitation. At one of the 30-foot jumps, we were required to walk into it and jump out so we wouldn’t hit anything on the way down. This made the jump scarier. This poor macho man kept pacing back and forth from the edge and did his best to mask his fear while trying to coach himself into jumping. Finally, he peered over the edge and saw a woman swimming in the pool below. He shouted down to her, “Hey! You! Did you do this jump?!”
“Yes!” she shouted back.
With this he winced as his male pride just took a stab to the heart. I couldn’t tell if he was more upset that a woman made him inadvertently look like a pansy or if it was the simple fact that he asked her. By asking her, his doom was sealed. The only way to recover his manhood was to jump…which he did and he survived but not without allowing me to mock his paper-thin macho.
The final nugget I will leave you with on the canyoneering adventure was the almost macabre setting of the last jump. The final 50-foot plunge was located at Kawasan Falls which was a half mile or less from the main road which meant you had lots of people swimming, eating at rudimentary outdoor restaurants, and viewing the falls. This made Kawasan falls and the large pool around an intersecting point where the softer race I just described clashed with the more gnarly, battle-tested crew that fought and jumped their way through hours of river, jungle, and canyon. Because of this, the final jump had the feel of gladiators risking their lives in front of a privileged decadent class of patricians below who looked on, eagerly hoping that one of us would hit the water sideways with a loud slap.
Back in Los Baños, the Pamper (Pam) and I made every effort to relax after our most energetic sojourn in Cebu. We again took to the ancient but operational little motorbike through the cinematically crowded main street of Lopez Avenue. After dropping off 16 pounds of laundry that was eventually washed, dried, and folded for $4, we bought enough home-cooked food from a nearby restaurant to feed about four or five adults for $6! My American handyman salary continued to make me feel like Gordon Gekko at his most sinister peak.
Later in the day, we enjoyed massages from Minda, a masseuse that frequently visits Andrea’s house. How much does an incredible, hour-long, deep tissue massage from this skilled masseuse cost? Six bleepin’ dollars! Reason enough to visit the Philippines. Last year, Minda got wind (metaphorically) of my temporary inability to “move product” so while she massaged me, she began to rub my chin with three fingers and with a thick Filipino accent and limited English explained “for constipation”.
The following day, Pam, Andrea, and I boarded a boat to visit the historically rich and significant Corregidor Island. It was first named and armed by the Spanish in the 1500’s and served as a vital defense mechanism through WWII. It was captured by the Japanese from the Filipino-American forces in 1942 but was then recovered in 1945. Ten minutes before departure, for no apparent reason, various crew members began dancing in the aisles. Perhaps more impressive was the fact they were smiling during the act.
Once on the island, we boarded a trolley bus where we met our amazingly witty, sharp-tongued guide Armando. I was overjoyed to see how far he was willing to take a joke. At one point, he had us step on to a massive gun one by one. As we did, he pointed out the large counterweights that stabilized the weapon during firing, “You can see the 60 tons of counterweights…” at which point a large chubby gent stepped onto the gun platform, Armando added, “make that 61 tons.”
Not all of his anecdotes were sassy though. He did share with us a touching story about how on one of his hikes through the island a few years ago, he found some dog tags of a fallen WWII American soldier. Armando somehow got these tags to the soldier’s last surviving relative, his younger sister who was now in her 80’s. The sister wrote Armando, thanking him, and telling how she was only 15 when her 19-year old brother died in the war. No one knew exactly where he died but now, 70 years later, the sister finally knew he died on Corregidor.
Later on, we visited the location of the Japanese memorial. The first line of it read “A tribute to the brave Japanese…”. Interestingly enough, an American WWII veteran was on one of Armando’s tours some years ago and went over to the memorial , took out a pen knife, and scratched out the words “brave” and “Japanese”. He then supposedly proceeded to urinate on the memorial. When Armando confronted the man, the man explained he was a POW in a Japanese camp. Every day, he had to bow to a prison guard who then returned the bow with a full force slap in the face. If any prisoner was too weak or sick to work, he was slowly bayoneted to death. The American veteran said he had to helplessly watch several of his close friends be killed in this manner.
The final stop was Malinta Tunnel which actually was a massive complex underground network of large tunnels that could fit up to 8000 men. As the Japanese attacked, American and Filipino forces shuttered themselves inside these tunnels for five months, often without electricity and surviving on limited supplies. When the American Filipino forces fought to retrieve the island three years later, it became the Japanese’s turn to hide in the tunnels. When it became clear they were about to lose the island, 2000 Japanese soldiers committed mass suicide by lighting a mixture of gas and napalm. Surrender was not an option.
Our next dramatic stop in our honeymoon was Taiwan. Even the getting there of it was dramatic due to the revelation at the check-in counter that Pam needed a visa to get into Taiwan! Damn it. Upon reflection, I handle one of our first f@$#-ups as a married couple quite well. Part of me wanted to yell at Pam for not having her needed documentation in hand but perhaps the recent trip to Corregidor forced me to keep this relatively tiny debacle in perspective. The short of it was that Pam had to stay in Manila while I went ahead to Taipei. Once she obtained her recently expired US visa from her house, she was able to gain entry to Taiwan. I know this sounds illogical but it’s the way it is. It felt wrong to leave Pam in Manila but we were trying to minimize the costs of travel changes and we were practically certain Pam would be able to follow me to Taiwan the following morning.
Taipei struck me as a reasonably modern, clean, possibly cosmopolitan city. The 25-mile highway from the airport to Taipei was a spectacle in itself. On the ground was a major highway with three to four lanes in either direction that was then flanked by an impressive two-lane skyway that often rose to eight stories above the ground. Also a spectacle was the popular male hairstyle of a near shaved head on either the temples alone or the temples around to the back. In either case, the shaved area was not the least bit tapered into the longer hair on top so the resulting look was a bunch of bald men walking around with shoddy toupees or what I like to call the Taipei Toupee. Maybe that’s how Taipei got its name: combining Taiwan and toupee…Taipei.
Once Pam arrived the next morning, we took a high speed train down to Taichung where we picked up a rental car and drove it to our incredible little boutique hotel, Skylight B&B, on Sun Moon Lake. Sun Moon Lake is home to the Thao aboriginal tribe that has been slowly and effectively marginalized in some ways by the Taiwanese government. It used to be that much of the land around Sun Moon Lake could only be owned by the Thao. The government eventually eroded this policy and now the more progressive Taiwanese have moved in and developed the area. Good to know the natives get screwed no matter where you go.
Everywhere you looked, there seemed to be owls. They were in all the shops. One of the buildings even had an owl-designed top to it. The reason for all the owls is as follows: they’re paying homage to an old legend. The legend tells of a girl who disgraced her family with an unwanted pregnancy. They banished her to the forest where she eventually died. A hunter soon found her body, quickly went to the town, delivered the bad news to the parents, and told them they should retrieve the body so that they could bury it. When they went to the forest, the body was gone. In its place was an owl. From that point forward, every time a woman became pregnant in the village, an owl would appear on the top of the house. It was believed the owl was there to protect and bring good fortune to the expecting mother and her child.
The more time we spent in Taiwan, two things continued to become blaringly obvious. The first was that the Taiwanese are generally quite friendly, eager to help, and engaging. Struggling to make sense of a menu in a restaurant void of even a morsel of English, a man immediately sensed our dilemma, came over to us and happily assisted our food order. The Taiwanese came across quite different from the Chinese. Their temperament struck me as more laid back. Although, I only speak two words of Mandarin, I can detect the different treatment the Taiwanese address this complex language with; it’s much softer and often at a lower volume.
The other thing Pam and I noticed is that I am one of very few white people on this jazzy island. My pale skin and red/brown/blonde/gray beard garners many double takes from the population, especially the cute children who have gloriously not yet learned the accepted international limits of staring at a foreigner.
Pam and I continued our eastward campaign through narrow, twisting, ascending roads that rose so high they would have frightened us for days had we been able to see through the fog. To cap off the experience, we sat in 90 minutes of stand still traffic, or “pee-bottle” traffic as I call it since you are in traffic so long, you must pee in a bottle.
Part of the traffic cause was revealed at the peak. Due to our elevation, there were tiny bits of snow here and there. Obviously a somewhat rare occurrence for the average citizen of Taiwan, cars were pulled over everywhere as children and adults alike did their best to harvest the few precious bits of snow. I’m not sure how the craze began but it became clearly stylish to make small snowmen and place them on the bottom of your windshield or atop your vehicle. Long before we reached the top, many cars passed by us with these little white beasts hitching a ride.
After a top shelf drive through Taroko Gorge, we landed at our guest house, Li Wu Zuo Cun B&B. From there, we went to track down dinner, and for the second time, we were given directions to a couple restaurants that either didn’t exist or were mysteriously closed. We did stumble upon a tiny local place that again allowed us the pleasure of trying to place an order with menus that contained no English or pictures and staff that contained no English or pictures. Through a waitress’ scan and translate app on her phone and me pointing at other patron’s food like a maniac, we were able to get that dinner thing done.
Two other things I’ve noticed in Taiwan: 1) I’m the only person drinking beer wherever it may be that I find myself drinking beer and 2) the garbage trucks sound like ice cream trucks; they play loud happy music as they roll down the streets collecting trash.
When we arrived, Daro the husband seemed a touch agitated. A couple days later, his welcoming, kind wife May informed us that Daro’s ancestors were part of the Taroko aboriginal tribe. This tribe used to celebrate and reward when males would cut off other people’s heads. Perhaps this explains Daro’s agitation. Perhaps he is annoyed that modern lawmakers typically make no legal allowance for head removal. Either way, I was glad this story was channeled to us the day we checked out. And upon reflection, besides his extremely short-lived sour mood, Daro was nothing but civilized and gentile during our stay. Not once did I see a head rolling around on the floor.
After a three-hour standing room only train ride from Hualien to Taipei, we returned to our original hotel, The Bee House, a nifty little hotel outfitted in a well-orchestrated bee theme. Although ultimately undesirable, it would have been clever if their wakeup call was simply releasing a hive of angry bees into your room. Pam and I walked around the city and through a night market hosting innumerable street vendors offering delicious food borne illnesses. Pam and I settled on a Korean restaurant that served food in hot pots that remained too hot to eat from the first bite through the very last.
A quick aside, it appears that old people are allowed to cut lines in Taiwan whenever they wish and no one challenges it. Who knows, maybe old people in Taiwan carry weapons and curses that scare the remaining population into accepting their illegal line cuts.
Our last day in Taiwan started with a visit paid to a park/memorial/museum dedicated to Chiang Kai-shek. Chiang Kai-shek was a Chinese military and political leader from 1928 through 1975. In addition to fighting Japanese advances, he spent most of his career battling the Communist movement within China and was forced to do so from exile in Taiwan from 1949 until his death in 1975. We were able to take in the well-rehearsed if not robotic changing of the guard that started with an almost comical, slow procession of three soldiers on a lower floor to an elevator. The same slow, odd procession carried out of the elevator a few floors up to relieve the current guards.
After getting into a silly fight about shopping that made Pam cry, we acknowledged our over-traveled conditions and continued our walk through the city. Taipei appears to be a never-ending collection of shops that approach the impossible in terms of quantification. I couldn’t help but ponder the average life expectancy of these shops. And I don’t know how exactly you could describe the location of them since getting to many involved hidden alleys, dimension portals, and luck.
Back in the Philippines, Pam and I decided to take a day trip to a nearby resort by the name of Hidden Valley Springs. Although it was a mere five to six miles away as the crow flies, the drive there took over an hour due to the garden variety of wild elements that make up any Filipino land travel experience: back roads that feel like private driveways, Jeepneys slowly heading in and out of traffic, motorized tricycles and motorbikes darting in all directions. Per usual, the overcrowded, hectic life just bleeds right into the streets without any distinction.
At one point, a guy was rotating all of his tires on a part of the road that was perhaps initially intended to be another driving lane but has since been usurped by all imaginable activities except driving. Absent from the man or any of the passerby’s was a concern over the inconvenience that may have resulted from this roadside activity. Further down the road, a man stood in the potential travel lane, facing the oncoming motorists, holding a puppy with one hand high in the air, offering it either to the passing cars or the traffic gods. The moment was like some twisted, backward version of when Simba was lifted high in the air in Lion King.
Hidden Valley Springs was for the wealthy Filipinos, Chinese, and Korean tourists. It cost about $50 to simply spend the day (to spend the night, it cost $300 or the cost of 50 massages). This allowed you to swim in their naturally sourced pools located in the jungle and to swim in their generous buffet lunch. One thing I found amusing was a sign located at all of the pools that said “No Spitting On The Pool”. I later found out that this sign was directed mainly at Chinese tourists who apparently like to fill their free time with spitting on/in pools.
A couple days later, Pam and I enjoyed a fantastic party held in the honor of our recent award-winning marriage at her aunt’s charming function facility. I put together a slide show containing pictures from our small wedding and from various points in our lives. For good measure, I included a picture of myself dressed as my Barry Tattle character. Thinking it would garner a lively reaction from the crowd, people digested the image in quite an average, serene manner as if to say, “Oh, it’s world famous Barry Tattle. I guess it makes sense to have his picture in a marriage-themed slide show.”
It was also at this party that one of Pam’s cousins taught me some unbelievably offensive words and phrases in the language of Tagalog. He had me repeat them to a large group of Pam’s Filipino relatives ranging in age from 20 to 80 and each one nearly crippled themselves with laughter as I nonchalantly stumbled my way through this foreign-tongued filth.
The next day Pam and I drove south to the touristy lake area of Tagatay. Her friends were kind enough to get us a room for a night at a nice boutique hotel that offered powerful views of Taal Lake far below. As part of our stay at the Theodore Hotel, we also had a couple’s Swedish massage. We were both thoroughly scandalized by two ladies whose hands were equal parts busy and strong. As Pam said, a massage was needed after this massage. These ladies were out for blood and my butt apparently (gurl helped herself to more handfuls than anyone I’ve ever dated).
The next day we drove down to the lake. As we turned down the road, a man ran over to our car trying to sell us some sort of tourist service. We said no thank you and after 25 minutes of descending and winding roads, we reached the shore road that wrapped around Taal Lake. The very moment we turned onto this road and drove along the shore, men morphed out of nowhere like agents from The Matrix from both sides of the road, screaming out “BOAT RIDE!”, trying sell us boat rides through the lake. I had not experienced such an aggressive tourist gauntlet like this in the Philippines. One guy that drove towards us on a tricycle holding a sign that said “Boat Ride” shouted those words as we passed him. He then turned his tricycle around and began chasing us!
Later, when we parked our car at an incredibly dumpy and ill-maintained park, more of these tourism hawks attacked the instant we opened the car door trying to sell us a multitude of tourism services. Everywhere I went, I felt like someone stapled a raw steak to my face and threw me out into a pack of hungry dogs.
The next day I left the Philippines and began a door-to-door trip home that took 30 hours, 22 hours of which was in an airplane. Sadly, I had to leave my lady behind as we frustratingly continue the battle of gaining an H1B visa that will allow her to live in the US and work for Boston University. Although Trump may have thrown us a nasty curve ball into the H1B visa process by suspending the expedited H1B visa that Pam is pursuing, my take on the immigration process is that it stinks no matter who is in office and the more you play by the rules, the more you get punished.
There were no tears when we parted at the curb outside the airport but when we spoke on the phone right before I boarded the plane, she cried to the point I began to wonder how she hadn’t short-circuited her cell phone. It was the second time I made her cry on the trip but for very different reasons. Later she texted and reassured me that her condition had vastly improved.
As I told her she should, she soon immersed herself in a sea of positive distractions back in the Philippines. Activities like preparing a mini science course for her mother’s Montessori students, Tai Chi, visiting her sister’s family in Manila, meeting with friends, Zumba, and others have kept my lady in good form. We continue to remain in touch and look forward to the day we get to exercise our God-given rights as a married couple.