Not only was this not my first idea for the letter C, but this isn’t even my first blog post for it. I had another one well under way, but when I came home from the coffee shop this evening (more about that in a moment), I knew I had to write a different post.
There are so many things I love about Taiwan. I have been including some of them in my blog posts, and there are more to come. During my first year here, students would interview me about what (as a foreigner) I liked about Taiwan, usually followed eventually by what I didn’t like. In my first year, there wasn’t much I didn’t like. If I recall correctly, my biggest negative culture shock was the traffic, the seemingly endless array of motorcycles that made the simple act of crossing the street a bit dicey at times. But eventually, you develop nerves of steel in terms of getting around. Still, not a semester goes by that I don’t have a student or two coming to class with obvious injuries, usually after an absence. But I digress.
Something I noticed in my first year here is that politicians have unique ways of getting people’s attention here. OK, not just politicians, but I became most aware of this because it was election year. While there are billboards and outdoor advertising here, as in the US, nothing tops it like the “advertising trucks.” Adorned with pictures of smiling faces and encouraging gestures and equipped with a sound system from hell, these trucks are driven V E R Y S L O W L Y down the street, declaring the wonderful characteristics of whatever person has rented said truck. When it’s not election season, all kinds of other goods and services can be advertised in this less-than charming method. Luckily, there is apparently some kind of ordinance that prevents them from starting before 9 am or continuing past 9 or 10 at night. Of wait, I still digress. It might be because I can’t concentrate. I’ll explain.
The apartment we live in is the second I’ve had since being in Taiwan. I’ll write more about them later, but this is the one I got after my knee surgery when I knew my husband would be joining me in my third year here. I love this apartment. It has a wonderful kitchen (western style kitchens aren’t that common here), a Japanese room that doubles as a second bedroom, and is light and airy. I love my apartment. Except for one thing. We live across from the Gui Shan Township Office. Between our apartment building (we’re on the 4th floor) and the front door of the office building is what used to be a parking lot. The “used to be” part will have to wait for another day. But what is relevant today is that the space is scheduled by political groups, religious organizations, civic groups, and others for various festivities.
We’ve learned to brace ourselves when we hear the set-up activities begin. Tents of various configurations are usually part of it, as well as some kind of stage or a series of tables if it’s an event with food and other booths. One thing all of these festivities have in common is LOUD microphones and jacked up sound systems. Sometimes, when the setup is going on, the incessant testing of the sound system is enough to drive me mad before the actual event begins.
As I type this entry, I am struggling to keep my concentration because there is a holiday tomorrow, and some group is having an event in the former parking lot, right below our fourth floor windows. The picture below is taken from our balcony. You can see the township offices across the way and all the temporary structures for the current cacophony we are enduring.
And that’s where the coffee comes in. Late this afternoon, I had taken some of my work to one of the two local coffee shops where I go for a change of venue. Today’s trip was planned for two hours. But just over an hour in, Dave came through the door. This is rather unusual, but I’m always happy to see him. I asked what was up, and he said, “Bad news! Not our families or anything. But the event this weekend is big and loud, and it’s already gearing up.” He went on to tell me that rumor has it that the event is scheduled to go on all day tomorrow, and possibly Saturday as well. I was grateful for the heads up, because it meant I would stay a little long at the coffee shop. Something about being just far enough around the corner that most of the noise is minimized.
That’s why when I came home from the coffee shop to all the craziness, I knew I had to change my post. How great is this definition I found on dictionary,com? Cacophony: harsh discordance of sound; dissonance: a cacophony of hoots, cackles, and wails; or a discordant and meaningless mixture of sounds. Oh yeah, either way, that’s my life right now.
I can tell you now, that I will be spending a large part of tomorrow at the coffee shop as well. Between the off-key singing (loudly), the noisemakers, the speeches with occasionally yelling, and the drums that start out as a low rumble and crescendo into a total frenzy, I can’t wait until it stops for the night.
But I have to admit, the sound I most look forward to hearing is the hollow echo of the metal tubing that holds all those tents together. There is no sound quite so lovely as when they take down the tents. Unless it’s the sound of my coffee cup on the saucer between sips. I think you can figure out where I’ll be tomorrow.
Here’s an interesting song based in a coffee shop. Enjoy!