The Year of the Monkey


Sunday, 14 February, 2016

Xiaoliuqiu, Taiwan

When I first moved to Taiwan, I naively believed that the week of Chinese New Year would be one giant, never-ending party. Ibiza for the family, if you will – coke with sis, shots with auntie, and a punch-up with grandad. It’s not. In my first year, I was left alone with a table of unsniffed lines, an unopened bottle of tequila, and a bruised nose from having to punch myself.

Taipei, in particular, becomes a desolate city. Many residents are here for business. So, abandon the capital for family meals and temple runs in their hometown. I was better prepared this year though – a bag of coke, a bottle of tequila, and two train tickets to Kaohsiung. I’ll be looking for a rowdy grandad to fight once we’ve arrived.

Monica and I chose Kaohsiung because there are monkeys that live on a mountain over there, and 2016 is the Chinese year of the Monkey. Yep, we arrange our trips to match the Chinese zodiac. Next year is the rooster, so I plan on just going to KFC to celebrate.

Monkeys that become a tourist attraction are usually pretty spoiled, and the primates in Kaohsiung were no exception. They waited with expectancy in the car park for their fill from prepared visitors, and will happily knock a relative’s skull off with a kung-fu kick, should a rival so much as look at the offered fruit. These swingers can get pretty feisty.

I, myself, almost felt the wrath of the monkeys on the mountain – they nearly knocked me off my feet and into an oncoming car. That would have been a pretty ironic way to go – overpowered to death by a couple of pampered, but extremely strong macaques, while out celebrating the Chinese year of the Monkey.

It all started with a lazy woman. She pulled up, wound down her window, and threw an orange at the stars – at least, my guess is that she was trying to give food to the monkeys. You could be excused for assuming she was trying to feed the people. It was a really flimsy throw. It bounced a couple of times and then landed at my feet. Ten monkeys looked at the orange for a second, before charging towards me. I suddenly turned religious, I needed help from somewhere.

The car then started to drive away – I guess if she avoided seeing that she was an accomplice to murder, she could probably sleep a little easier.

Thankfully, there was a big, fat, boss monkey that parted the crowd – perhaps it was God answering my prayers. This king of the swingers was greedy, selfish, and intimidating. To be frank, he was an arsehole; but he was my arsehole. His unappealing traits saved my life. The other monkeys, who may well have jumped me with no regard, stayed back in the knowledge that the fruit at my feet was fatty’s orange. He ran over, swept it up, and then sped off pretty quickly.

I’ll go to Sunday school next week, I swear.

Minutes later, fatty’s wife (I assume, as she also had a huge monkey ego) started eyeing up our moped, to the point of putting her hands on the handlebars of the vehicle. At first, I thought that she had finally had enough of months of neglect from the orange thief, and was looking to run him over.

The actuality was that she wanted to get closer to my bag – these monkeys were becoming as tiring as mosquitoes. You really need to stay focused to their every move. Although, what exactly was my plan if she did take my bag? Fight her? Call the police? “Hey officer, I’m being bullied by a fat monkey. Send help!”

Fortunately, some other guy threw some bananas across the road, which were more appealing than my possessions. She sprinted after them – alongside all of her skinny neighbours, who suddenly had courage now that fatty was settled with his oranges. In the end, her greed spared her of my deadly sleeper hold.

The National Sun Yat-sen University is also located alongside the area in which the monkeys live, and apparently, there are stories of the animals breaking in all the time. Imagine those thieves running around the hallway – you’ve just spent three weeks perfecting your dissertation, only for a monkey to rip it out of your hand, and submit it as its own! Monkeys swinging from projectors would certainly liven up some of those boring 9am lectures, though.

Next up, we went to check out the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas; they are pretty temples, in the less common form of a tower – both of which are seven floors in height. The pagodas come with a giant tiger and dragon standing alongside them, open-mouthed, and used as an entrance door. I wanted to go here, because, well, I like dragons.

The architecture was very picturesque and cool. Although, I don’t plan to write much more on the scenery – as our exit from the area is probably a more entertaining read.

Monica was riding the moped, while I was on the back. It is 2016; don’t be judging me with all your terrible Neanderthal gender role stereotypes. We’ve moved on from that mindset. She fixes a leaking pipe, and I take the kids to school – that’s the world now, deal with it.

While her driving skills were great, her ability to keep an eye on the petrol level could do with a little improvement – in that, we ran out. We also lost our power on a street with very few shops and people.

Furthermore, our phones were dead, so there was only one real option – push the moped towards help. Apparently, traditional gender roles were once again important. After fifteen minutes of pushing, we finally saw a petrol station in the distance.

That petrol station looked a lot closer than it actually was. I had even accepted it as a mirage and confirmation that I was losing my mind. It took another thirty minutes to get there. I was pushing for so long that I thought I would need a caesarean. On the plus side, my biceps are now like bowling balls.

The bloke at the petrol station said, “One of our guys mentioned that he drove past you. He thought you looked like you were having fun and that you were just playing around, so didn’t stop.”

Having fun? Oh yeah, right you are, mate. Naturally with the World’s Strongest Man competition just around the corner, I’m pushing all my vehicles rather than driving them. I’m actually thinking about pulling a rowing boat to Hong Kong next week, you know, if you fancy jumping on and watching me suffer?

We did have some amazing dumplings shortly after that though, so all was quickly forgotten.

monkey 3.1

After Kaohsiung we went to a beautiful island called Xiaoliuqiu. This had everything you want from an island – sun, beaches, caves. The highlight, however, was our snorkelling trip – we were lucky enough to see some giant turtles in the sea.

The dress-code basically prodded at my belly and called me a ‘fatty fatty boom boom’ though – apparently, pushing a moped for forty-five minutes doesn’t burn off as many calories as you would think.

Whenever I have been snorkelling before, I’ve been given my headgear, a pat on the back, and a message of ‘away you go’. That’s not exactly how it works in Taiwan.

I think they are scared of water or something, because they dress you up like Scuba Steve – full bodysuit, giant boots, and a life jacket. Well, that’s where my problem started.

The suite they gave me was too small. I got both legs through but couldn’t pull it any further, and rather than just giving me the next size up, three people tried to help. None of which could pull it up past my arse. All eyes were now firmly on me and my chubby bum.

They gave me a second suit and everybody watched as I attempted to put it on, more in support than anything – but still, not exactly the attention you desire. Once again, it got stuck at the arse.

The instructor then turned, and with a sigh, said, “The butt is just too big.” We all know the problem, no need to be so up front about it. Should I start doing squats up until the point it fits?

In the end, the woman that took my money packed me up and squeezed me in like I was a lunchbox for the fat kid at school. This was followed by a bunch of people smiling at me once I was zipped up, as if I had achieved something.

Needless to say, I couldn’t breathe. While the turtles and colourful fish were worth the ridicule, I will most definitely refuse anything other than the headgear next time.

Back to work tomorrow – why do holidays always go so quickly?

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