Thursday, May 13, 2010

The One That Got Away

I promise that I do actually do something interesting other than run and I promise that this blog is still about our crazy adventures overseas, not just my crazy adventures with my Nikes. That being said, I ask that you indulge me for one more run-themed post before we come home for the summer. I contemplated not writing about this because the blog has a bit run-centered this year, but Thursday night was just too ridiculous to not share.

In recent weeks, one of my friends found out about a running club that meets in Taipei. Twice a week, a few dozen crazies gather to make fools of ourselves in a very public place. Congregating about three blocks away from the Taipei 101 building, we find ourselves stretching in our running t-shirts and shorts smack in the middle of the sidewalk of one of the swankiest neighborhoods in the country. Now, when I say “stretching”, I don’t mean nonchalantly leaning over to touch our toes and chatting about your new shoelaces. No, no. “Stretching” in Taipei is an event that is practiced en masse in such a way that it requires the expertise of an aerobics instructor hopping around to the beat of music blaring so loudly it would make a teenager cringe. Once the music starts, the Taiwanese fall into line as if the pied piper had called to them. If any foreigners are brave enough to make an appearance, we helplessly look around to see if the others are actually going to participate in this peculiar tradition. Admittedly, I involve myself in this ritual from time to time. Now, for most people, the only funny part is that you are doing lunges in the form of the grapevine dance in downtown Taipei while Manolo Blahnik-clad women glower down at you as they shield the eyes of their tiny dog whose last trip to the groomer probably cost more than your car. I, however, reach new heights in humiliation during this process. Having the coordination of a manatee in high heels, I possess the inexplicable ability to fail at even the most simple of aerobic maneuvers. Attempting synchronized anything is a challenge and this is no exception. Last time, I scarcely missed toppling over and initiating a domino effect with the other lunging participants. I can say with confidence, however, that my ungainly stretching attempts will soon grace the pages of some Japanese tourist’s photo album as they made sure to fully document the experience.

Last Thursday I was feeling particularly confident and I decided that something needed to be done to alleviate that situation. I arrived in said posh neighborhood to commence the humbling process. To suggest that I submit myself to this disgrace solely to keep my feet on the ground would be untrue, however. There exists another enticement that keeps me coming back for more. If I attend this running club eight times, I get a free t-shirt. Now that I have accepted the free t-shirt challenge, I cannot quit until my goal has been reached and the t-shirt is collecting dust in my drawer. This had better be a nice t-shirt. I attended for my third time on Thursday with my left leg pumped for the grapevine but my right leg wishing it had stayed home to watch American Idol. When I arrived, I noticed something exciting. All of the women were sporting pink Taipei Running Club shirts. Had my day arrived? Was a free t-shirt within my grasp? When I signed in, I was asked if I would like to join the women’s class that was meeting tonight. Putting two and two together, I said yes and was handed my free pink t-shirt. Feeling very good about my decision to humiliate myself that night, I donned the shirt and took part in the “class”.

As my Chinese still only consists of how to order various drinks at Starbucks, the vast majority of the instruction was lost on my uncomprehending ears. At one point, our guide noticed the one foreigner in the crowd with surprise and alarm. It never ceases to amaze me that the Taiwanese make it their responsibility to help me understand when I am in their country and should be learning their language. Anyway, he slipped in the few English words that he knew and recommenced the Chinese tutelage. Finally, we were let loose. A mass of pink-shrouded women looped around the neighborhood until we at long last reached our destination of 2.78 kilometers. I was quite disappointed that there were no water stations to replenish the reserves that we had sweated out. Back at the starting point, our great leader educated us on proper cool down techniques that were a shade less humiliating that the initial stretching practices. But, it was all worth it. I had my t-shirt.

Until I went to check out. You see, in order to document our attendance, they give us a card that they stamp when we come to run. When I went to retrieve my card, I was informed that I must turn my pink t-shirt back into them. I had to repeat the request back to make sure that I heard them correctly. You want the brand new shirt that I just drenched in my sweat? Yes, I was confidently assured. I looked around me to see all of the other women placing their used shirts in a designated bag. I thought about making a run for it, but it was too late. I was at the check-out counter surrounded by a crowd of women with nowhere to go. I asked what I should do if I wanted the shirt. She politely responded that I just needed to attend four more times and I would get a brand new shirt. Are they serious? What are they going to do with a whole bunch of sweaty shirts? Defeated, I gave them the shirt, took my card, and walked dejectedly back to the bus stop to head back home. You win this time, Taipei, this time…

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