Yesterday, two of my friends and I were throwing a baby shower for one of our other friends. I say that the three of us threw it, but the truth of the matter is that one of my friends planned the whole thing and I just contributed enough in the final preparation process to garner part of the credit. The party turned out to be quite a success and a heap of fun was had by all. But that isn’t what this blog is about.
We were holding the party at our pastor’s apartment, a place I had visited once before. I asked a friend who was a more frequent visitor to the place for directions and passed out maps and explanations of how to get there to all of the new teachers who had rsvp’d affirmatively. A few were still a little apprehensive about finding the apartment so I offered to be a guide, if they didn’t mind arriving a little early and helping set up. Allowing ourselves enough time to arrive an hour early, we loaded ourselves and all the party gear up on the correct bus. In very broken Mandarin, I attempted to ask the bus driver to let me know when we crossed the cross street that I had been told was close to their apartment. This process, by the way, took much longer than it should have and I didn’t have a lot of confidence in that I communicated effectively. So, I tried to position myself in such a way that I could still read the street signs.
Everything was going along swimmingly until the bus driver called me up to the front and indicated that we had reached our destination. According to the map I had created in my head, we hadn’t traveled quite far enough but I also didn’t want to lean too much on my own shoddy navigational skills. So, I decided to ask him to go one more stop where we nervously disembarked. I looked around and thought that I recognized the area but couldn’t see their apartment building. I approached one building but quickly realized that it was not the correct one.
Reaching for the trusty cell phone, I called my friend who frequented our pastor’s house to see if he could offer some insight as to where we were. After I did my best to describe our location, he confirmed my belief that we hadn’t traveled quite far enough but he assured me that it was under a kilometer away. So, we hoisted our bags full of a variety of baked goods, tea, pitchers, baby toys, etc. onto our shoulders and peeled our eyes for the apartment building.
At this point, I would like to add in this little tidbit. This is Taipei. In August. In the middle of the afternoon. It is hot. I mean, really hot. And humid. I mean, really, really humid. Simply stand outside for more than five minutes and you will find yourself quite literally soaked with sweat. Here we are, trying to be dressed up and cute to host this party, and we are trucking down the street lugging around heavy party provisions scouring the skyline for the elusive building. At first we were all making small talk about the weather, baby showers, and whatever else one talks about when trying to distract one another from the heat.
Finally, someone pointed out the obvious, “I think it has been more than a kilometer.” I agreed, surely that meant we were getting close, right? We wouldn’t have passed it, right? So, we kept walking. And walking. And walking. After nearly forty-five minutes of this drudgery, I decided to say uncle. I called the party planning hostess who was already at the apartment and who had a car.
“We are oh so very lost,” I whimpered. “I don’t know where we are going or where we are.”
“That’s okay,” she reassured me. “Just jump into a taxi and they’ll bring you right here.”
This was a major culture shock moment for me. The heat of the day and the frustration with being not only lost, but inexcusably late caught up with me. I had to bite my tongue to keep from screaming, “If I knew how to say my destination, don’t you think I would have asked someone how to get there by now?” Instead, I asked if she wouldn’t mind coming to pick us up. Astutely sensing my frustration, she dropped everything she was doing to come and get us and bring us to the party.
Here’s the kicker. We parked behind the apartment building but I had to go out front to see where it was and how we missed it. The building was literally right next door to the one I thought might have been it when we first got off the bus. We just walked in the wrong direction… for a long time. Luckily, the party planning hostess had everything set up and we arrived about ten minutes before the guest of honor so no one was the wiser.
After I brought my core temperature back down to normal, I was struck by the irony of the situation. Just last week, I blogged all about how confident I was in Taiwanese culture and how all the new teachers could look to us as a beacon of stability who had it all figured out. This week, I am leading three poor, trusting souls to the middle of urban nowhere until we melted into defeated puddles on the Taipei sidewalk. Pride does indeed come before the fall.