Gandaria City, Jakarta
You can take a person out of the country but you cannot take the country out of the person. We already know this is true but the message hit home today.
We were on our way back from Jakarta and boarded a Scoot flight. Surely on an international flight you’d see many nationalities. On this flight, one group evoked an involuntary inward groan.
Upon boarding, the bunch of them formed an impromptu marketplace immediately – bags hurriedly, forcefully shoved in tiny places, yelling to talk from one end to another, getting lost in a plane while frantically rushing along the tiny aisle to get to the next row of seats first. There was a general energy they generated that put me on edge. The stewardesses were trying so hard to get them settled in. When they were put in their seats, they were so loud that I couldn’t hear the inflight announcements. One or two tried to open the overhead compartments when the plane was about to take off. Dear God. They are in their own world, aren’t they?
Watching them makes me wonder – are they aware how their behaviour affects others? It really doesn’t reflect very positively on them or their country. Stereotyping here is just too easy and they again and again prove it right. Sure, every place has bad nuts but frequency and volume helps reputation stick. Bad rep is easy to form but hard to eradicate.
A test of patience, they are.
It is not an activity I enjoy and so would never voluntarily embark on a trip that would require an overnight stay anywhere I cannot shower properly. Even the thought of that gives me the creeps. I like hanging out in the bathroom so its availability (and its cleanliness) is of paramount importance to me. Other inconveniences I can put up with.
For some I know, they would not like the lack of conveniences that modern life has accorded. No WiFi is one. Horror of horrors. Cold water showers! No way! No beds! @?!?!&$
My charges fall into this such group. They do fun outdoor things under the blazing hot sun but were irritated with mosquitoes and flies as companions on their limbs already slick with perspiration. They sit in a humid tent for lunch out of a box with 200 other equally sweaty people, oblivious to the eye-watering stench they played a part to create. But they get finicky about someone’s smelly feet. Later, they play games where contact with another person is inevitable and they unknowingly assist to wipe off someone else’s dirt streaks with their sweat-soaked shirt. But they get hysterical when someone steps on their new shoes. And because there are over 200 of them, shower time is limited at 3 minutes per person. They really only had time to rinse and were peeved at not being able to use soap.
Of course there would be inconveniences, otherwise camping it is not. It was difficult for them to understand and I guess they had that fact of camping stuffed down their throats. It isn’t for everyone, so I would wager my bottom dollar that a good number would end up like me.
Escape. The drudgery that is Chinese New Year, that is. I don’t mean to sound like such an ingrate – I should be thankful that I have a large, happy extended family that I do not dislike visiting and all its members are hale and hearty. I just do not enjoy small talk. Every CNY is the same – we talk about rather superficial things like work, rave about movies you have no idea why you are even talking about them, argue about where to eat the best xiao long bao and other mundane things like that. These conversations never fail to make my eyes roll backwards. After the session is done, they leave only to return next year to do it all over again. Sometimes, rarely, you get a good conversation with a long-lost cousin. But gosh, it is an eternal wait.
So this year, we ran off to Taiwan with our parents/parents-in-law in tow. Although we are not visiting, we still keep our closest ties with us in a way. Our parents are openly happy that they do not need to cook and host visits too. Hehe. Good for us.
We were in Taipei and Taichung over the short break. It is pretty lively over there considering that the population is almost entirely Chinese and are on holiday too. Most of the touristic shops and attractions are open for business, and other stores during selective hours. While not fully open, their famous nights markets don’t rest on the eve of CNY nor on the first day. This makes the cities viable options for those who are looking for places to travel to during the CNY.
Cherry blossoms lined certain sections of the roads in Taichung. We were also lucky enough to see peach blossoms in a farm we visited. Other than the very agreeable weather, Taiwan is a foodie paradise. Food is made fun there and the concoctions are innovative. Who would have thought ice-cream tasted good when paired with coriander and shaved peanuts rolled together in a Pohpiah (like tortilla) skin? Stinky tofu, fried chicken, grilled squid, bittergourd juice, papaya milk, taro desserts, pineapple pastry, pepper buns, braised meat rice, stewed beef noodles, bubble tea, eat-all-you-can hot pots! I could go on. All these with an unbelievable number of people who throng the markets each day we were literally in the midst of a flood at any one time. The crowd was sometimes off-putting but it created an atmosphere that is synonymous with festivities. The Taiwanese were generally polite and we did not meet thugs who push, shove and step on feet on purpose. If we do meet them, they were from elsewhere and we steer clear as much as humanly possible.
Transport facilities were up and fully running so everything was accessible. We hired a driver to take us to Taichung and back, running up to Jiufen and Shifen where the old Qing dynasty streets were quite a sight and the experience of releasing sky lanterns was as exhilarating as it was a blur due to crowds. For NT$200 to write wishes with a chinese brush on a large paper lantern and have your picture/video professionally taken by the storekeeper was worth every penny. We had so much fun.
We spent some time planning for this since we had to figure out who to ask to bring us around, discuss with them where we could go in Chinese (revising the language for use was a bit hellish) and arrange something that worked for all of us. But the result was worth the trouble. Our parents said they were tired but happy. I think to know that was enough.
How important is two hours in a day?
What loss is sustained if you spend it at play?
To call for lessons without a break,
What more during their holidays!
A well-rounded person to develop you say,
But the mountain of work will not be kept at bay,
Instead added on to the interminable fray.
In exchange for what, tell pray
A bunch of kids all tired and gray?
This is definitely the kiasu way
So Singapore, so Singaporean, I say.