April 30, 2008

The unexpected overages of vacation

So, we're back.

The bathroom scale is, as I like to call it, wrong, again. See, I'm over my 10 lb. range. So, we'll be feasting on vegetable-heavy soups for a few weeks 'til I'm back in the happy zone and the scale gets right. But really, if you don't gain weight on vacation, you didn't do it properly -- that's what I always say.

I expected the weight overage. What I didn't expect were the other kinds.

I just finished entering my mileage into my running log and I was shocked to realize that the week of the marathon, thanks to all of the tourist walking, I put 53 miles on my feet. Since I started religiously keeping track of my mileage in 2004, I've NEVER done more than 50 miles in a week. In fact, I've done only 5 weeks over 40 miles in that time, and none of them were weeks when I did marathons (you know, when I was supposed to be tapering). So yeah, just another reason to consider a marathon run on vacation as an experience and nothing where you should be shooting for a PR.

If you are like us, when you vacation you walk EVERYWHERE. It's just the best way to get to know a city, the countryside, and the world. Plus, it's relaxing. But, apparently, it can add up, even when you think you aren't running as much as you should be.

Also, there's another hilarious story about unexpected overage from our trip that hails from our last night in Taipei. We were tired from a day of much walking: first from our hotel, to eat delicious xiao long bao at Din Tai Fung, then to see and make a small offering at the Longshan Temple, and then getting lost on our way to The Royal Bali Health Center on Kunming St. where, I had the best 90 minute whole body massage of my entire life.

This amazing massage was followed by a 40 minute reflexology treatment, which hurt, but did my marathon-battered feet and calves a world of good. I suspect I will spend the rest of my life in search of a massage to rival this one. The therapist spoke no English, and me, no Mandarin, so I couldn't even gather what style of massage it was, where he trained, how I could seek it out again, or anything -- it resembled the (now) second best massage of my life (floor shiatsu, from a very stereotypical Japanese man in Playa del Carmen, of all places) in many ways, but was on a table, involved just as much stretching, as well as adjustments, and more active massage and not just pressure points, plus it was through pajama like shorts and a wrap as well as a sheet, and he clearly had freedom to modify because he focused on my post-marathon IT bands instinctively, spending more time on my left, which, historically is my tighter side. Oh, my legs were so much better after he was done. Heaven, I tell you.

And, the institution did not appear to accept tips, which, sadly, I hope I correctly interepreted, because damn, if anyone's massage services were ever worth a huge tip, it was my buddy therapist #10, whose card I have, whose name I repeated when he gave it to me, but have since lost (and, of course, it's written in Hanzi on his card, so I couldn't tell you his name if I tried).

Anyways, after the full day of walking, we planned to do an easy quick dinner, close to our hotel, so we could return to the room, pack up, and sleep before getting into a cab by 6 AM to begin the long multi-modal trip home consisting of a cab ride to Taipei airport, a 3-hour 737 to Narita, a bus between terminal 2 and terminal 1 of Narita (that comes only once an HOUR between 1 pm and 2 pm! Japan, why hast thou and thy perfect efficiency forsaken me? I was so confused!), people movers, a stop at the connections desk in terminal 1 to check into our flight to SFO, a 9+ hour 747 to SFO, immigration, baggage claim, customs, bart to millbrae, caltrain, and then a 1.5 mile walk with our rolling luggage home. And, of course, to further fuck us up, despite the passed time and 3 meals, given the time change, technically, we arrived home 6 hours after we left the hotel in Taipei and just in time for lunch.

Life, however, had other plans for our night than the mellow early to bed option.

We ended up choosing a teppanyaki joint within walking distance of the hotel, and we were seated at one of the grills next to an empty seat with its own bottle of wine, and a woman and man enjoying teppanyaki. E surreptitiously pointed to the empty seat whispering in my ear, "I wonder who the tough guy is who ordered his own bottle of wine to go along with his tea?"

Later, tough guy came and sat at the grill, briefly joining the other two. They conversed in Mandarin. E and I conversed in English. It became apparent that the other man (the non-1-bottle-wonder) was an American-style speaker of English, but also spoke Mandarin. At one point, it became apparent that he was trying to explain my shirt to them (an inside joke T-shirt from law school designed by the lovely A).

I leaned in to laugh with E about being in a foreign country and being identified as foreigners, where they think they can talk about you without you knowing. But you always know, even if you don't speak the language. We smiled. We enjoyed our meal. I made some disparaging comments about my horrid soup and sent it back only 1/4 eaten (for me, a rarity), but I complimented the gorgeous dishes (Noritake, I was later informed).

Eventually, Mr. 1-man-wine-bottle left again, for the third or fourth time (I presumed he was a chain-smoker) and in his absence, the American-speaking man finally addressed us. We introduced ourselves to him and his female friend. We talked about the food. We talked about our common experiences -- his as an immigrant American educated in our country, ours as natural born citizens. They seemed shocked that we opted to come to Taipei on vacation (not business), and even more shocked that we found it more comfortable, culturally, than Japan. Finally, they were embarrassed when we offered to explain my shirt...

And then, sake arrived. It turned out that Mr. 1-man-wine-bottle owned the restaurant. You can imagine where this goes....

Thankfully, no one heard (or was rude enough to point out) my disparaging comments about the soup, and, when the American asked before the sake arrived and we knew that his friend owned the joint, I had truthfully reviewed the rest of the meal (and the gorgeous dishes) with honest appreciation. Boy, when he told me that he was best friends with Mr. 1-man-bottle-owner, and that the gorgeous woman to his left was the owner's wife, with a B.A. from University of Toronto and, thus, more than fluent in English, it sure made me think about how open I am with my review of food when I eat out and glad that the food in this joint was relatively good. It had, before that moment, honestly never occurred to me that I could be eating next to the owner of a restaurant, or his wife and best friend from childhood.

Over the next two hours, we chatted about Taiwan politics, evolution of the relationship with China, our impressions of Taipei, their upcoming visit to California -- all while the four of us (without Mr. wine-owner) shared 3 small bottles of sake on the house, including the last one, served over my objections, but much to the pleasure of E when the owner offered it with a smile as his "best stuff, gold label." During this time, the owner finished his first bottle of wine all to himself and then, much to our surprise, opened and finished bottle 2 solo as well. Finally, just before midnight, we watched him close up shop and following their lead, we left the mall where the restaurant was located through the service entrance, which involved us going through the men's restroom when Mr. 2-bottles thought it would be a good idea for him to just stop in and, you know, use the facilities. What the hell? We were very confused. Was this actually the way to the exit or just some elaborate joke that was being played on us?

But no, apparently, culturally, it's just fine to meet people, treat them to sake, invite them into your restaurant's restroom, pee within earshot of your wife and the female guest, and then heard them into your car. We could not turn down his offer to drive us to our hotel because the only way to leave was through the garage (or so we were told, and as visitors who don't know cultural norms and can't read, or speak, what did we know?). Thankfully, our hotel was across the street.

If the sake and wine-soaked stories are to be believed, they will all be here in California (meeting up again all the way from Taipei and Florida for the American) in 2 weeks. If they reach out to us, I suspect we will be hosting them to a long dinner and more amusing cross-cultural conversation and entirely too much alcohol. Stay tuned for more stories...

Truly, it's random experiences like these that are the types of things that make me travel. I think, in some ways, I learned more about Taiwanese culture, American culture, myself, the concept of the idea of "foreign" and humanity, and just how wacky the world can be with that one experience than I had in the entire year prior.

But, in hindsight, the funniest thing to me, was that during the whole interchange, I thought we could leave at any time. I was scared E's eagerness to accept the offered gifts of more sake were rude. I kept trying to thank the owner and be sure that no one thought we were overstepping our bounds, in typical American fashion. It seemed to me, that the wife and friend wanted to go, and that our acceptance of offered gifts might be impeding their departure. It was only after we left that I realized that after we paid the bill, the staff shut down the restaurant. For the next two hours, we really were there as guests, and sort of kidnapped, trapped, at the will of the owner of the restaurant, because the mall was closed, the lights were out, and there was no way to get out without the authorized access key, which, of course, we did not have.

Needless to say, the extra sake and awake hours did not help with the next day's early flight. But then again, it was worth it for the story and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Cheers to unexpected travel overage in all of its forms.

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