Saturday, December 26, 2009

Boxing Day surprises

People keep telling us things, and then they start happening to us. Last night we met an acquaintance from Hong Kong who lives in Taipei, who warned us about the mad people who hang out at the main station and talk to people, and now every time we go near the station somebody will come up and try to make conversation with me. They don't seem properly mad, in terms of the government-is-reading-our-minds-and-we-must-all-wear-tinfoil-hats; since the extent of their conversation is to ask me how long I'm in Taipei for and where I'm from, they're essentially harmless, but it's odd that they never approached me before. Or perhaps I'm just hanging around in the railway station more frequently.

We got back to the hotel about 10pm last night, after my first Taiwanese meal in 2009. (This is my third visit to Taiwan this year, so that avoidance of the indigenous cuisine is no mean feat.) The food was great; then I called home to wish the family in England a merry Christmas, and then we went out to the cinema. The Lutheran Cinema, if you believe Google Translate; apparently that is what happens when you translate 'Warner' into Chinese and back to English again.

Living in Hong Kong, I thought we were inured to bad driving from all our rides with kamikaze taxis and apparently immortal minibus drivers. (Thinking about it, all the taxis are imported from Japan, so perhaps I'm reinforcing a noxious cultural stereotype there. Sorry!) But yesterday we were told that drivers are awful in Taiwan, and now every taxi we get into, every moped that drives past us on the pedestrian crossing, every lurching bus seems driven by a lunatic obsessed with speed and small spaces. Our taxi from the hotel to the cinema drove like he was in a computer game; overtaking through spaces that seemed only half the width of his car, driving head-on against a bus, swerving through tight chicanes of roadworks. To begin with I found it quite exciting and fun, and then I became convinced that we really were going to die, but we got to the Cinema Area of Taipei without being destroyed.

The Cinema Area is a mall just north of Taipei 101, and at 11.20 at night I expected it would be largely deserted. I was comparing it in my mind with the cinema complex in Croydon, which has an Ikea and a bowling alley in the vicinity. How wrong I was. The place was teeming with Taiwanese, out eating, or playing on a series of fairground stalls, listening to a busker, or shopping. We got tickets fairly quickly via an automated machine, and then hustled up to the cinema. One of the twenty or so screens in the complex.

I felt some trepidation for watching Sherlock Holmes; reviews had been mixed, some suggesting it besmirched the reputation of the great detective and was utter heresy. Or that Guy Ritchie had too many things exploding. But I thought the tone of it was great; just a romp through a dirty, computer generated 19th century London. There was nothing serious to it; it was as substantial as a puff pastry, but on Christmas night in Taipei, could there be anything more appropriate? Probably, but never mind.

The only thing that annoyed me was the apparent continuity error in the distance between the Houses of Parliament and Tower Bridge, but given the previous two hours' ludicrousness, that would be a daft comment to make, so I will not. Although I just have. Ah well. That's what editing is for.

We left, and at close to 2 in the morning all the drunk youth of Taipei were out, sitting in doorways by a club in the cinema complex, all looking off their faces but remarkably cheerful about it all. In Croydon, you'd be fortunate not to just get knifed by an angry teenager. (That's probably just scaremongering on my part, but I did leave London for the East at the time that practically everyone appeared to be stabbing everyone else.) We took a taxi. This time, the wizened driver resembled a Chinese Louis Cypher, Robert De Niro's devilish character in Angel Heart. He had wispy hair, and incredibly long fingernails that he tapped on the rim of his steering wheel. He also had a laptop installed on the dashboard of the car. Not just a screen for a DVD player, or a laptop on the front seat, but a whole shelf had been put in there for him to rest his computer on, so that he could watch Scary Movie 5 (6? 7? I lose track – this one pastiched the Butterfly Effect and Jeepers Creepers). I enjoy idiotic exploitation movies with artificially enlarged breasts as much as the next man, but I'm not really sure you should be watching them (complete with Chinese subtitles) while you're navigating the streets in the early morning. Especially when part way through our journey back, the taxi in front of us began to reverse, and when Gandalf sounded his horn, the driver of that vehicle got out and walked down to remonstrate with him. Anyway, we weren't killed, either by Computer Game Man driving as fast as he possibly could, or by the Wizard of Terrible DVDs, so call the evening a victory. Six hours sleep wouldn't make for a pleasant time packing the next morning though...


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