The Year Of The Monkey

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Sunday, 14 February, 2016

Xiaoliuqiu, Taiwan

When I first moved to Taipei, I naively believed that the week of Chinese New Year would be one giant, never-ending party – much like the day Alex Ferguson stepped down from Manchester United; three years on and we’re all still celebration that one.

However, it is actually quite the opposite – Taipei becomes a desolate city. A large portion of locals are here for business, thus, abandon the capital for family meals and temple runs in their hometown. So, Monica and I decided to plan a short trip away from the temporarily deserted city of Taipei.

As 2016 is the Chinese year of the Monkey, Kaohsiung was the obvious destination being that it is home to Taiwan’s monkey mountain. Yep, we were going to see monkeys due to the Chinese zodiac. Next year is the rooster, so we’ll probably just go to KFC.

It’s clear that the primates on the mountain are pretty pampered, as they just wait in the car park area for food to be launched at them by adoring visitors.

One woman pulled up, wound her window down and threw a couple of oranges; unfortunately, she was far from a javelin thrower. Her kind gesture ended up bouncing a little, before rolling over to where I was standing. Great. There were now about twenty monkeys looking at my feet, cheers lady. Imagine the irony of being killed by a stampede of monkeys on a trip to celebrate the Chinese year of the Monkey.

Thankfully, there was a big, fat, boss monkey. He 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 were fatty’s oranges. He ran over swept them up and then sped off pretty quickly.

Minutes later, fatty’s wife – I assume, as she also had a huge monkey ego – started eyeing up our scooter, 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, thus, 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. That said, what 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 and 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! Although, I must say, monkeys swinging from projectors would certainly liven up some of those boring 9am lectures.

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 scooter, 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. If a fight broke out, I would hide behind her; and I’m the one that sits alongside a box of tissues whenever ‘The Notebook’ is on the TV – 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.

We both had no battery left on our phones, so there was only one real option – push the scooter towards help. Apparently, traditional gender roles were once again important. I pushed for a good fifteen minutes, when Monica suddenly said, “Look, a petrol station in the distance. We’re saved.”

That petrol station looked a lot closer than it actually was, for a second I gathered that it was a mirage and I was really going crazy. I was pushing for a further thirty minutes, in fact, 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.

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

As enjoyable as seeking turtles was, it came with embarrassing moments too.

Now, whenever I have been snorkelling before, I’ve been given my headgear and then received 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 then couldn’t pull it any further and rather than just give 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 then 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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