Sunday, March 15, 2009

Just a Walk in the Park

I’ve had a bit of writer’s block lately and I think that the reason for this is twofold. First of all, many of the things that have struck us as blog-worthy over the past several months we have already recorded in our online journal. Secondly, so many things that we might have written about in August don’t even strike us as out of the ordinary anymore. Things that so captivated us when we first arrived don’t even cause us to do a double-take now. I was reflecting on this jadedness this morning during our daily walk to school. “What is something that we haven’t written about Taiwanese culture that is amusing?” Like a bolt of lightning, it hit me. Perhaps it was the uniformed exercise group to my right or the backwards-walking gentleman to my left. All at once I remembered that walking through Nan Gang Park in the morning is better than a three-ring circus.

As a general rule, most Taiwanese are interested in general fitness and therefore like getting out and exercising. However, their methods can differ quite substantially from our own. First of all, and this may or may not have factual basis, the Taiwanese are convinced that beating a certain part of their body will result in that part becoming stronger and more toned. I can kind of understand their reasoning when it comes to “toughening up”. However, all rationale was thrown out the window the first time I saw a man who I am pretty sure sits as a model for the Buddha statues ambling through the park with his grimy t-shirt tucked above his gut slapping his big belly with a bamboo pole. Does he really think that is going to accomplish something other than giving himself a hernia? My confusion about this practice only intensified when I noticed numerous people slapping places that no one has ever tried to strengthen nor should they ever try to strengthen, such as faces or the tops of their heads. Many stroll through the park loudly clapping their hands together Paula Abdul-style to some rhythm that only they can hear.

The idiosyncrasies of Taiwanese fitness don’t stop at body beating. On various occasions, I have speculated whether I have wondered into a Monty Python sketch full of people perfecting their skills to get their gait approved for government backing by the Ministry of Silly Walks. Someone walking backwards all through the park is as about as normal as it comes. Many people walk with their arms stretched high above their heads or spread out like they are preparing to swan dive. The one who we look forward to the most is a gentleman that Chris and I lovingly refer to as “Mary Poppins” because he looks as if he is trying out to be an extra in the chimney sweeper dance on the rooftops. Outfitted in tiny running shorts, he lifts his left knee as high as he can, crosses his leg across his body and drops it quickly in front of his right foot. His right leg acts as if it were in competition with the left as it attempts to lift itself higher and cross more quickly than the left one did. All the while, Mary Poppins has his arms stretched out wide as if to say, “I am here, and I am marvelous!”

The park is also filled with people choosing a more stationary approach to exercise. There are myriad groups of people practicing tai chi, which is actually pretty cool. However, it seems that most tai chi groups have one or two rogue members who prefer to do their own thing. One man leaves his class every morning to hone his tree climbing skills as he nimbly ascends one of the park’s many trees to get a bird’s eye view of his exercising classmates. Another man steps off to the side and bounces his body attempting to touch his toes. Now, it wouldn’t be funny (or Taiwanese) if the stretching stopped there, but it doesn’t. With every bounce, he propels a mighty amount of air through tightly closed lips resulting in a sound that none would deny precisely recreates the sound of flatulence. That’s right. A man, bouncing trying to touch his toes, making his own farting noises. I wish I was creative enough to make this stuff up.

As I haven’t gotten up the courage to lose all couth and photograph these strange sights, you’ll just have to picture them in your heads. And trust me, they are just as funny as you are imagining them. So, as you go through your morning routines, do a couple of Mary Poppins steps in honor of us.


KSA said...

After leaving in a different part of Asia for almost five years, I can not only picture it... but I have to admit that I have adopted the whole body slapping thing. You said that after a few months strange things are starting to seem more normal to you, just wait for the day when you find yourself joining in.

Abbey said...

This is hysterical! Come on, Ashley... take the pictures. The small group would be so very proud!