|nonoctave.com / Rebel Yell / Part III / Chapters 1-2|
|Rebel Yell||Jason Scott||Part III - FOB Taiwan|
If anything seems to go wrong, examine the point of view. If done conscientiously, you will probably find the fault therein and seek a remedy by changing the point of view.
... Horace Fletcher
Twenty three hours and one day lost after wheels-up in San Fran, we arrived rather bleary eyed and weary at the airport in Taipei. In such a condition we were immediately placed into a situation where we could receive, first hand, a taste of customs a la ROC. It came as a rude awakening to us that we had arrived in an honest to God police state!
Anyone who sails foreign seas carries some protection as a matter of course. Some actually carry such toys aboard as machine guns, grenades and bazookas. I had nothing so exotic. Just a little ole 30.06 rifle. Being of a mind that there must be an honest way of getting the rifle through customs for a good cause, I had, before leaving phoned long distance to the head honcho of customs at the Taipei airport to get some specific instructions regarding entry. I was told to dismantle it and carry it in plain sight to the nearest customs officer. If that failed, (and assuming I was still alive) I was to get hold of said major domo by name.1 Seemed to make sense.
With seeming blatant disregard for the rules of conduct, I carried that rifle, unsheathed and vulgar in its nakedness, through a noisy crowd which all of a sudden became ominously quiet.2 Leading an entourage of an unkempt woman and scraggly looking sleepy child, I made my way to the nearest customs desk in a silence which would have done well for King Tut’s tomb before they defiled it.
Upon reconsideration, it was an extremely foolhardy thing to do even though supposedly I had been given excellent advise by an official who should have known. Can you imagine if some trigger-happy airport security guard decided that I was about to highjack something or other? As it turned out, about 14 agents surrounded me at the customs table after the entire area automatically cleared out of civilians. The gun was turned over to the police and placed in bond until it could be taken out of the country.
We left the airport with a sigh of relief on the part of all concerned and headed to the Palace Hotel where we immediately fell on the beds and tried to recover 3 days loss of sleep. Before dropping off, note was taken that the hotel which our friendly builder had put us up in was anything but a palace! It was indeed an auspicious landing in Taiwan!
What Confucius neglected to tell we of Western origin who insist on doing business with the wily Oriental was: “Seldom can two Whites outdo a Wong. And, even if it were to come to pass, it would most likely be Occidental!”
... Burlesque, Anon
It didn’t take long to determine that our interests were not the same as the builders of our yacht. One look in daylight at the hotel he put us up in convinced us of that! It left a lot to be desired for the price. Even in China! There are a lot of fine hotels in Taipei but this certainly was not one of them. A little not-so-discrete questioning revealed that our illustrious host had his sticky fingers in every enterprise he recommended.
As time passed, we learned to appreciate that, when it came to bribery, graft, political intrigue, payoff and general practices which would be considered unsavory for western world businessmen, was normal everyday practice for the oriental. The normal everyday activities of the workaday Taiwanese entrepreneur and his political consorts make the most gross manipulation by American politicians saintly by comparison. Hell, compared to them no one in our government has ever learned even the basic precepts of how to take in the public!
We were naive enough to believe, having been forewarned, that we were sophisticated enough to take anything they could throw at us. Hah! For example; it turned out that every cent we spent in that hotel had a percentage filter out to the builder as his share of the pie! But, even though we knew what he was doing, he was so charming that his little payoffs were ignored.
During the first few days (considered the honeymoon period) we were feted and treated by the factory owner himself. (There is no need to identify this particular owner. The antics described could well describe any one of several personalities currently building yachts in Taiwan.) Most Chinese businessmen prefer to be addressed by their initials. For purposes which should be obvious, the builder will be referred to as “TB” which can be an acronym for The Builder or The Bum as fits the circumstance at the time.
The beauty of making mistakes is that when you
repeat them, they are recognized immediately.
TB had the reputation of being a high roller even by Taiwan standards. Especially when all of the cost of high rolling is tax deductible. It didn’t seem to matter that such expenses included his wife (either one) and half of his relatives (which seemed to be countless). Out of the kindness of his heart (sic) he provided us with money changing service to “just save you the trouble of going to the bank.” Of course this is illegal in the ROC. He gleefully helped me get rid of good old yankee dollars and turn them into soft Taiwan money which could not be taken out of the country without a full accounting to the government.
During one of his mellower moments (cocktail time), after many toasts to American money (he didn’t even bother to put it delicately) and his undying friendship for anyone who brought it to him, the subject of commissioning the boat in the water in Keelung rather than taking the boat to Hong Kong was broached.
“I have been told that the problems of commissioning here in the water is pretty much impossible because of the red tape and customs problems.”
He looked genuinely offended.
“Oh, no. Not so! It is done all the time. You save much money if I handle it for you here instead of Hong Kong.”
He then assured me that this “routine” matter would cost me but $1,200 extra. As this was considerably below the cost quoted for Hong Kong, it was worth pursuing. But, I needed a definition.
“What does commissioning mean to you?” I asked.
“Everything!” His face was full of emotional sincerity. “Everything means EVERYTHING. Put into water and equipment you need to go to sea installed.” He set his drink down with a flair of finality, leaned over the table and, looking at me in a most heartfelt manner, almost whispered the clincher. “You get all that for just $1,800 additional.”
Hell, we hadn’t yet agreed to anything and already the tally had been upped by $300! The picture came to light on the full screen!
“You just added $300 to the bill. What was that for?” He looked genuinely offended that I should question his math even though it was done without the usual abacus.
“Oh, we must go to Hong Kong and buy some equipment not available here. You unnerstand that there will have to be certain money given to friends in customs to prevent problem. You know, added money to cover this (pause and wink) necessary expense.” He said this with the innocence of a man used to thousands of years of oriental tradition behind him. He saw my wide eyed expression.
“But, you will have everything for that price. Nothing will be added.” I soon discovered that everything in Taiwan is also a relative word subject to another point of view!
Other considerations led to the decision to take delivery in the water in Taiwan: (a) It appeared to be cheaper; (b) If there were problems service from the factory was nearby. The factor which contributed the most was the numerous instances of Taiwan boats being offloaded in Hong Kong which proceeded to immediately sink! I figured if it sank in Keelung harbor, it would be before the builder had been paid in full. The contract was amended to read FOW (freight on water) Taiwan much to the concern of our friendly broker in San Diego. It seems that he lost some commission on the sale and some mordida from the yard in Hong Kong. (As it turned out, the extra money paid the broker for his intercession and advise was wasted. He had less influence with old TB than I had....and even that would end as soon as he got his money!)
It is perfectly all right to look a gift horse in the mouth if you suspect it has false teeth!
TB was so traditionally thoughtful in his business efforts that it almost hurt . . . but never him! He assured us that getting equipment for the boat from Hong Kong would be no great problem because he would personally go with us to see that we were “protected and treated properly”. He insisted that it would be best if he obtained tickets through his own travel agency (which he owned) at a much “preferred rate.” I could reimburse him for the cost in yankee dollars. (So what’s new?)
Suspicions began to rise immediately upon arrival at the airport in Hong Kong when we were ushered into an unusual taxi cab: A Rolls-Royce, no less! (A considerable step up from usual mode of transportation on the Kiowa Reservation.) The bill came to $25.00 each which TB carefully sidestepped. While we were unloading, Chris informed our truculent host that we were not the normal run of the mill American tourists. Our budget was severely limited. The point seemed to be lost in the translation!
We had been booked into the Hilton at a rate which might have choked the Sheik of Oman. The room was somewhat less than what the Sheik would have tolerated! We decided that we could afford such luxury for one night. After all the single room did sport a bath, a closet and a single bed for the three of us. Chris thought it strange that the closet was essentially the same size as the room. More was to come; TB treated us to a night out on the town.
The very night we arrived, our generous (with our money) friend treated us to a Chinese Las Vegas type show. There was a slight difference. The women wore elaborate full covering costumes and the men wore nothing but gilt jock straps enhanced liberally with rhinestones and other glittery baubles. To each his own! I could not immediately ascertain the reaction Chris was having to all of this display of manliness. Mentally I planned to check further into that aspect later that night.
Always thinking positive and eager to recoup at least something worthwhile from all the prior activities of the night, I snuggled up to her as soon as we retired. Jeff was fast asleep on a cot in the king sized closet.
“Did the sight of all those nailed men squirming on the stage do anything special for you, lover?” I whispered into her ear. She promptly slid further over on her side of what was left of the single bed and growled her answer.
“Get over to your side. Turn over and shaddup.”
Day two in Hong Kong turned up some more surprises. Chris and Jeff wandered through the shops and took the usual sight seeing tours. I spent the time assaying stores for marine equipment. During the day, old TB advised that he had made reservations for dinner and show that night at the Eagle’s Nest (top of the Hilton). Chris, fueled by a great day of window shopping, insisted that he be our guests for that evening. That was a mistake of the first magnitudes
The view of the harbor that night was magnificent. Even though we were the hosts that evening, TB insisted on doing the ordering for everyone. For this event he had invited his number 1 wife. (At this point, it might be well to note that TB had two wives. This seems to be a modern custom with roots in mandarin antiquity. One wife was kept for the sake of appearance and the other for convenience. Number one was dowdy and about the same age as TB. She also had come from a well to do, influential family and had presented to him, upon marriage, a considerable jump up the ladder of ancestral prestige. If a prospective buyer comes over by himself, old TB runs out number two wife for the fun and games. For example, as I had brought over the wife and child, TB ran out number one wife. I understand that it is also custom, when the master is away on business and spends any amount of time away from the legal hearthside, he can take on other wives as is convenient or as he can afford.)
The dinner turned out to be mandarin and mundane. (After much world travel, it seems to me that if you really want good Chinese food, go to the US. If you want excellent Italian food, go to the US. And, so forth!) The only floor show available turned out to be the look of horror on my face when the bill was presented. It was at least 10 times that which an equivalent meal would have cost in the States! And, the night was not yet over!
Still in a state of shock, I fumbled for the key to our room. Chris put her hand over mind and said, somewhat subdued, “I just can’t go to sleep right away after that. Can’t we go down to the Disco and have an Irish Coffee or something?” Then, plaintively, “I’ve just gotta have something to settle my stomach.” My sentiments exactly!
We stood silently and somewhat less than erect in the elevator as it raced downward.
“Christ,” she said with emotion born of a ranch fed gal, “I could go along with it if it had been at least a good steak. But, Chinese food again?”
As we left the elevator, she turned and put her hand on my shoulder. “Jas, I used to like Chinese food but ... (her voice trailed), if I ever have it again I thing I’ll throw up!” Again, my sentiments, exactly! (We did survive to enjoy Chinese food again. As Iococca would say, “made the American way!”)
By this time it was anticlimactic that the bill at the Hilton Disco for a single Irish coffee and a bottle of local beer came to $14.00. Conrad had come a long way since his days as a bell hop!
Based on experience up to this time, we knew that we had to drastically alter our style of living. Night life in Hong Kong was expensive indeed, but the experience the next day shopping for yacht supplies almost sank the entire project even before kicking the launch stays out from underneath the boat.
Another Chinese Foible crushed.
As it turns out, there was but one recognized chandlery in Hong Kong. The store, exceedingly small by comparison to what we are used to, consisted of a main building about a quarter the size of a neighborhood 7/11 to which had been added a loft about a third of the area of the main shop. The loft was accessed by a pull-down ladder and, once there, a normal sized individual would spend the entire shopping period bent over as the ceiling was less than five feet high.
I had taken a MOMS catalog for comparison shopping anticipating pleasure at seeing the savings realized shopping at this notoriously cheap duty free port. As it turns out, the final cost for identical items far exceeded the prices in the discount catalog. The problem is markup. It is duty free all right but there is no competition to keep the profit in line. In retrospect everything could have been purchased in the states, shipped by air to Taiwan and the final cost would have been less than waiting to buy in Hong Kong.
There was another reason for the high cost. Good old TB and his sticky fingers. It didn’t take long to discover that his “wholesalers” and “discounts” had already been tainted by kickbacks! It was too late to ship from the states so such essential items such as compass, navigation gear and radio had to be purchased with TB mordida attached. The other things were ordered from MOMS to be shipped to Manila. Yet another TB instigated problem emerged and compounded the situation.
TB had a normal modus operandi in which he delighted in doing something relatively simple and straightforward illegally. It involved using me as the patsy. He insisted that everything I had purchased be shipped with his other orders under his import/export license. What he was really doing was using my order as a front to slip in a lot of his goods duty free. Wouldn’t you know, he got his come-uppance on my order! I was to find out that it would take some five extra weeks to process through customs because of his shenanigans. In the end, it was necessary for me to separate my gear and then personally run each article through individually. Some of the gear essential to sailing fell into that category. (At time of leaving Keelung harbor, I was told that TB was still trying to get his stuff cleared. He ended up paying the bribes AND the customs fees.)
To TB, money was the answer to all problems. Everyone had his price, he reasoned. With all of the delays, he started to have cash flow worries. The easiest way to solve that was to get my boat out of the factory and into the water. . . . regardless of the ready state. I became his target of the day but there were other tricks in his bag which didn’t surface until we returned to Taiwan.
When practicing the technique of hard-sell and all else
fails, appeal directly to your client’s most basic depravity.
... Lennie Richert
The old master of hard sell, Lennie Richert, must have had considerable experience in dealing with the oriental businessman when he offered that bit of advise to budding salesmen. All of the fun and games we had been playing was eating into the time we had for checkout of the yacht systems. But, that was my problem. TB’s problem was that he had to get the boat into the water quickly in order to collect another part of the progressive payment. It didn’t matter that the list of discrepancies on the boat which should have been corrected at the factory were not being worked on. TB took the stand that those problems were not his fault (I shouldn’t have looked so close) and it was costing him money to leave the boat at the factory on the Tam Sui River (pronounced damn-shay). He issued an ultimatum that I either accept the boat as is or he would remove all the equipment which I had paid for off the boat and sell the yacht to someone else who was not so picky-picky. This was not an idle threat . . . he had done it to others!
It was at this point that TB lost his ability to converse in English. I was advised by one of his underlings that I would have to use an interpreter if there was anything else to negotiate. He, forthwith, assigned one to work with me.
She was a stunning young thing of some 19 years, tall for a Chinese, with exceedingly small waist, beautifully rounded buttocks and unusually well endowed in the pectoral department for a Taiwanese. (Cups larger than A are virtually unknown in Taiwan.) Her manner was one of complete inbred oriental compliance and submission to the whims of the male of the species. With all of that, she managed to exude a natural and seductive air of innocence. I soon learned to hate myself for insisting that work be done because, I was tearfully informed, TB always vented his anger with me on her.
The ploy cost me at least another month of delay. In some ways it was worth it! All those lonely days at the factory, interpreter at my side, while Chris and Jeff were off enjoying the sightseeing and newly made friends in Taiwan! In the interest of keeping peace, I did not confide details of the TB solution and my compromise to Chris. My depravities not withstanding, it seemed to be a sacrifice which had to be made!
If something seems out of our control, it is best to let it run its course, maintain hope, have fun in the meantime but be prepared to abandon ship.
. . . .Confucius might have said this
Reconciled to the fact that we were due to spend more than a couple of weeks wheeling and dealing (another phrase for going around in circles), the family decided that, within the constraints established for sailing before the typhoon season set in, we would relax and enjoy. Partly for economic reasons but more for the fun of living amongst the natives, a small furnished apartment was rented close to the city. To keep the price of such within the normal boundaries of cost, no attempt was made to consult with TB on this decision. The move turned out to be a worthwhile experience for all of us.
In spite of the language barrier, Jeff rapidly made friends with numbers of Taiwanese children his age. He was invited to their homes to share toys, food and family. Conversely, he invited his friends to our apartment to share what we had. The exchange of culture was natural and very soul satisfying. Unlike their government, the people were very cordial and helpful. They genuinely liked Americans and went out of their way to make it known to us. There were many lessons in oriental wisdom to be learned and benefited from. It didn’t take long to learn the technique of haggling and that this was one pleasure you did not want to deprive the natives of.
Chris shopped in the open air markets which surrounded the complex. Food and merchandise alike were hawked not only in the stores which lined the street but in carts and right on the surface of the street itself. Food and goods were laid out in profusion directly on the pavement or, sometimes in containers. One did not just go there and pay the price. If you did, you were held in obvious contempt. One haggled!
With Jeff, haggling became a methodology which he has not abandoned to this day. His favorite place was not in the neighborhood but rather downtown in a district known as Chung Hua Ch’ang or Shim In Ding or, more commonly, Haggler’s Alley. The district consisted of several blocks of three story buildings joined together by walkways at each level and bridges spanning the cross streets. There, everything under the sun is bought and sold by the natives.
One day I caught my favorite 10 year old intensely giving forth as much as he was getting in verbiage even though the language of both givers and talkers was different. The subject at hand was negotiation for a mounted butterfly of a size which can only be found on Formosa. The storekeeper was kept off guard by her fascination with Jeff’s braces. Several members of the family were called out from inside the store and they too stared at him. Finally, she broke off negotiations and put her face within a few inches of Jeff’s. She spoke in broken English.
“What kind of jewelry you have in mouth?” All semblance of propriety was abandoned as she bent down and peered into his mouth. “New kind of ’merican ring?”
Before leaving the states, the dentist had placed a silver retainer into his mouth. The natives had never seen such. To them, it was a beautiful and unique kind of ornament to be worn. (Americans always come up with these fashions and the world is quick to follow!)
“Stan’ still, open mouth and let us see. We give you great bargain.”
A nonplused Jeff, recognizing the opportunity to make a good deal, stood back and offered to make the great sacrifice of taking the brace out for closer examination if the price were right. The offer was too magnanimous for the curious Taiwanese who began to chatter excitedly when the bid was translated. The shopkeeper with whom he had been haggling solemnly announced their bid.
“You do this thing . . . we give you butterfly!”
The deal was made and Jeff spent the next ten minutes taking the retainers in and out much to the delight of about 15 or more people who had, by then gathered around. I was satisfied that my young son would make his way in life. During the next few months Jeff would take off by himself on a bus and spend most of the day in the alley. He used his natural flair for math to immediately determine exchange rates and thereby gained the admiration of the Taiwanese shopkeepers. He was never cheated! His best ploy in getting the price down to almost nothing was to permit the women to touch his wheat colored hair. My son, the haggler!
Even though there was but a single Taiwanese permitted to own an ocean going yacht, Taipei had its own yacht club. The members were mostly made up of US and British hacks who liked to sail and socialize and who were willing to put up with the manifest restrictions imposed on the sport by the ROC officials.
Most of the local yacht factory owners also belonged as a matter of courtesy and face. The club sponsored excursions were restricted to sailing the local slough called the Tam Sui River. The fees for the club were minuscule, as well they should be considering the prestige conferred. A regular member paid something like sixty dollars a year and a very small monthly maintenance fee. Membership for transients was thirty dollars with the privilege of retaining an absentee membership for five dollars per year. Considering that no one in the world outside Taipei had ever heard of the club, it was therefore considered a full fledged club for purposes of extending courtesy privileges at the more prestigious clubs.3 That fact alone was well worth the price! It was also a good place to meet good people with a common interest and a working knowledge of local yachting customs.
The members met at the officer’s club in downtown Taipei where the food was good and the booze cheap. The first night the family attended, my experiences thus far with TB were roundly discussed. It also opened the opportunity to bring up horror tales of others who tried to do what I was doing. One such tale involved launching the boat on the Tam Sui River.
“Sounds like a good idea to me,” I offered. “Launch it in the river and motor down to Keelung via the ocean outlet.” The statement was met with much laughter. When he was able to contain himself, the Commodore himself addressed the statement.
“Not unless you want your bottom rotted out before you get to sea.” More laughter for which I was at a loss to understand. “Why do you think we don’t insist on life jackets for anyone sailing the Tam Sui?” Everyone was nodding in agreement and smiling knowingly.
“We did an analysis of the water in that river. The reason no one wears life jackets is that no one would survive a dunking. It would be far more humanitarian to just let them drown. You know, the right to die syndrome.” There was a murmur of assent from the crowd as he continued.
“There are diseases in that river as ancient as man himself. Some there is no cure for in the annals of modern medicine. In addition, every factory in Taipei dumps their poisons in the water. We sail it, but if we had a choice — we wouldn’t!”
The original China Clipper still plies the trades in Taiwan but with a twist. One of the things which had been put off, ostensibly because of the effort to impress Chris with a personal willingness to forgo personal goodies in lieu of moneys available for the yacht, was a haircut. I was beginning to look pretty scroungy. On one particular day there was a serious conversation with my spousal financial advisor about the current status of the boat. She seemed preoccupied and was giving me particularly scurrilous looks.
“You need a hair cut. I need my hair done too.” There is a vast difference in “getting a hair cut” vs “having hair done” and that stopped my serious train of thought. I couldn’t fathom how in hell that statement fit into the scheme of pressing problems of the moment so, mentally shrugging off the enigma, the business at hand was pursued.
It dwelled in the back of my mind the gnawing realization that certain conjugal liaisons had become increasingly less frequent. Perhaps if I did look a little better, things might work out a little more often, came the reasoning. It was worth looking in to.
As a young man approaching puberty, one of the greatest pleasures derived which fell within the limits of what my parents could afford during the days of the great depression, was a monthly visit to the barber. The reasons for this hedonistic fetish were manyfold but it primarily resulted from the good salesmanship of the local barber. For the standard price of 50 cents, he would throw in a splash of Aqua Velva and tease budding senses with a minute brisk massage of the scalp before combing out for the final time. This was an art form which has gone the way of all the great artists of the Renaissance.
It wasn’t long before one discovered that, for an additional quarter, the full scalp massage using such exotic things as Lucky Tiger or other equally stimulating tonics which reeked of an unmistakable visit to the barber. Appreciation of life’s little sensuous pleasures, even in those pubescent days was not long in coming. Soon, it became a ritual to save up enough hard earned pennies each month to indulge in life’s immediately available obviously sinful practices.
Alas, as the price for hair cuts escalated, the quality of the job and, more significantly, personal attention seemed to deteriorate until the barber who solicited such extra goodies gradually died off and the world was left with a great American Tonsorial scene which became more functional than pleasurable. It is not hard to look longingly at those days gone by never to appear again. But, there it was! Right there in little ole downtown Taipei! Eden visited again. A haircut, Chinese style!
It wasn’t easy to overcome certain built in apprehensions. There does come a time in every traveler’s itinerary when he needs a hair cut. Chris, in her own way, had let it be known that my time had come. Reaching the point of absolute necessity can be quite traumatic in some countries considering what long range effect a disastrous hair cut could have on one’s appearance. Looking around at the native populace, there are obvious reasons for concern.
It was interpreted as an act of cowardice to recommend sending Jeffry in first. Women, in matters such as this, seem to be more aggressive when it comes to something which directly effects their appearance. She had already observed that the Taiwanese women were remarkably well groomed and “surely didn’t frequent the very expensive shops where the affluent Japanese women had their hair done to the tune of $50.00 and up!” Throwing caution to the wind she had the works at a hairdresser just around the corner from our apartment for the equivalent of $5.00 US. Her subsequent comments on the good treatment and in further consideration that she looked great allayed fears.
With this in mind, the trek to the men’s barber shop on the other side of the alley was made. Along the way, surreptitious mental cautions crept into mind. They seemed to be warning that the language barrier might result in getting the usual inverted rice bowl type of cut so many of the men hereabouts sported. Let’s face it, fella, insisted the thoughts, The men here just don’t look anywhere near as good as the women!
Gathering what was left of manly courage, I opened the door and seated myself into the first available chair, resolving to throw myself on their mercy, come what may. Coming out of the doldrum long enough to look around, it was noted that this was a barbershop of unusual decorum. Subdued lights, thick carpets, cut velvet drapes and a barber’s chair to end all chairs. Through the shadowy depths there was a barely perceptible green door from which occasional pleasurable murmurs were heard. The place resembled a high priced fancy house more than a tonsorial parlor.
While pondering these wonders, there came through the door an extremely attractive young lady in a silk dress so tight that the crease of her appendectomy scar was clearly visible. (Or was it my imagination?) It took some time to unglue my appreciative eyes from a purposeful slit which ran from the hem of her dress to the hip and run them to a face on which curled a Mona Lisa type smile. A smile which was as old as time itself.
With but a murmur she proceeded to remove both of my shoes and place my now nude feet on a rest. (I still don’t know how I got from the lounge to the barbers chair.) Her perfume permeated the air and I was slowly sinking in to it. In the distant recesses of my mind came a warning. What have you wandered in to? It didn’t last long!
Someone, somewhere had told stories of certain X rated barber shops in the Orient. What was going to happen? Would my noble thoughts be compromised in this den of iniquity? Would I be compromised? God, I hope so, came the thought. Should I tell Chris about this? “Hah!” the thought came out audibly. It was best to just wait for the next step.
Barber-Ella (I remembered the movie) touched my shoulder to interrupt the fantasy. She offered a hot cup of tea and it was only then came the realization that I had been holding my breath for some time. So far, so good. I was in the mood for compromise!
Standard international coverings were tied around my neck and a gentle massage of my scalp began. Oh, joy! Oh, careless days of youth revived! In a rapture of anticipation eyes closed and time retrogressed into memories of days long since gone. This was the final thrust of depravity. There was nothing to do but succumb to whatever the fates had in mind for me. And I was going to send Jeff in first! Good thing Chris talked me out of that!
No noisy clippers! No disrupting conversation! Just the gentle touch of silken fingers running through hair and the sound of scissors Clipping . . . clipping. Eyes stayed closed not daring to look. No, not caring to look. By that time relaxation had set in to the point where the chair and being had become one in essence. From time to time, this lovely creature would pause and gently massage the shoulder muscles. Then, the neck and on down my back, legs and feet. Ahhh, ecstasy!
When the opportunity came to observe her handiwork it turned out to be great! Thinking the job done, an attempt was made to rise but to no avail.
She gently pushed me back into the fold of the chair. Oh, Oh! Now it comes came the thought. The lights dimmed even further and resistance (if there was any left) matched that of a powderpuff in the wind.
Another covering was placed and three separate shampoos and rinses were administered. While drying was taking place, Aphrodite applied lather and began shaving the face. Not just once but two wet shaves and a dry shave in which every part of the face, ears and neck were gently smoothed and an emollient applied. Such a shave had surely been reserved for Zeus himself! Then, as if that weren’t enough, as my face was soaking in a warm wet cloth drenched in an exotic astringent, came the feel of those gentle fingers once again massaging from the neck ad infinitum right down to the tips of the fingers. Oh, God! Where will this end? It was during the facial that it came to me that this must be mother Hera herself. Came the thought that it might be just as well if the yacht were forgotten as well as the outside world and the rest of life could be spent right there.
About that time, the seat was placed upright and my reverie ended. Venus, smiling, motioned suggestively to the green door. What was behind that door? In my weakened condition, there was no thought (well, maybe just a little) of pursuing it further this day. Perhaps, some other time. Soon! There was just enough energy to slither out into the sunlight of the Taipei street much the better for the wear and tear. Boy, came the thought, could these Chinese barbers teach the rest of the world!
The price for all this? Two hours in heaven for one dollar and seventy five cents!
Looking back on that scene, no one can convince me otherwise that the inscrutable look on the face of a Chinese man is any other than the direct result of his having just emerged from the hands of a lady barber. Others have their Zen and Transcendental Meditation. The Japanese ladies have their Ben Wa. As for me, another haircut will do! Having experienced that bit of heaven, I was girded for the hell I knew would be coming when dealing with the scurrilous TB. Somehow it seemed that the rest was anticlimactic.
|Chapters 1-2||Chapters 3-4|