Exit the elevator into the hallway of the apartment building. It is jammed with shoes haha. Queenie’s cousin has a few kids so we knock at the door with the most shoes. She answers the door and there is an explosion of greetings and hugs that I can’t decipher. We get introduced and it’s all smiles. Her name is Yi-Ru. She’s very excited to see Queenie and meet Drisdelle and me.
We are invited in. The place seems small for the size of the family living there, but this is fairly common in the population scaling apartment scene. There are colorful toys and bouncy balls everywhere. A fairly sizable number of Hello Kitty collectibles and many other little figures and toys. A lot of them are tiny pigs.
Yi-Ru’s husband shakes my hand. His name is Kuei-Shiun. He takes the beers from me and puts them in the fridge. All of the sudden there’s a little kid clinging to my right leg. He’s about 3 years old. Yi-Ru is air swatting at him to stop it but he just clutches harder and starts giggling uncontrollably. Cute little duffer, his name is Jamie. Obviously he looks nothing like Drisdelle, but the jokes start flying.
Ri-Yu says something to me that I don’t quite understand. Queenie translates, “You’re the first white people that he’s ever met!” Haha amazing. Drisdelle and mini Jamie hit it off instantly and are kicking tiny balls around the apartment. I ask what they keep referring to him as and Queenie explains that his nickname is ‘Baby Cow’ because he’s very stubborn.
Ri-Yu also has another son, Jason, who is probably in his early teens and seems like a cool cat. And her daughter Jill is there as well in a cute pink Hello Kitty hoodie, she’s probably about nine.
Everyone has a working knowledge of English and between that, Queenie’s translating, and the charades skills we refined on the Mongol Rally, we are all quick to become friends and laughing together in no time. Baby Cow takes the spotlight though, and is providing constant entertainment.
The whole time we are making introductions and chit chat there is a Filipino caretaker placing an enormous amount of food on the dining room table. We’re invited to sit down and the feast looks incredible. A very traditional Taiwanese style of family dinner with a just outrageous amount of food on separate plates and you mix and match making your own combo. There was chicken, lamb, pork, more chicken, a bunch of fish that I couldn’t eat, rice, vegetables, bread, more pork. All the meat was glazed in various sauces. It was delicious.
We cracked some beers and chatted for a while about the trip, where we come from, what we do in California, the perils of being adventure detectives, the getting-t0-know-you stuff. There was a lot of ‘Gum bai!’, clinking glasses and drinking. I’ve noticed that there is a lot of cheers-ing going on at Taiwanese dinners, lots of salutations and seemingly more glass tipping during dinner than I’ve witnessed in other cultures. I’ve also noticed that the Taiwanese have a tremendous ability to eat (I may have mentioned this before). I’m not sure where they put it, they’re generally fairly skinny, but they can pack away a ton of food.
Halfway through dinner and our beers, Kuei-Shiun asks if we like scotch. Sure do! He goes to the kitchen and returns with a very interesting looking scotch bottled the day after my birthday in 1998 called ‘To the manor born’. It probably has the most complex taste description I have ever read on a bottle of alcohol.
It turns out to be scotch heavy taste up front but very smooth with a rich choconutty sweet aftertaste. It’s fairly delicious.
Ri-Yu at one point also returns from the kitchen with a single fish which she gives to Drisdelle. It’s some sort of boiled yellow fish with eggs inside, head attached, the works (why I don’t have a picture of this is beyond me). Queenie translates that Drisdelle is to eat the entire thing, eggs, head and all. “No problem”. He digs right in. (This is the guy freaking out over snake shots just two days ago…) “Man, it’s delicious!” It’s so soft his fork melts through the side. Doesn’t seem to be any bone issues. Body gone. Tail gone. Eggs gone. Only thing left is the head. Gone. “Well, that was amazing”, “Gum bai!!”
Suddenly in my left ear, “Banana!!” Baby Cow is yelling at me. He’s crawled up onto the dinner table. He’s handing me a fake phone made with his thumb and pinky finger. I put it to my ear, “Banana?” mini Jamie starts to laugh hysterically. “BANANA!!”. I pretend that my hand is now also a ringing telephone. I answer it, “Banana?”. “BANANA!!!!”. He hands me another imaginary phone in his left hand. “BANANA??!!” This game went on for a solid ten minutes. Everyone was getting in on it and somehow it was funny every time.
After dinner we moved into the living room area. Baby Jamie really wanted adult Jamie to play some kind of handheld video game. Jason came over to give some instructions. It was a music game and you had to hit objects on beat. Drisdelle played the game and baby Jamie jumped up and down on the couch behind him pounding on his back like crazy.
Next up was a video of some dance recitals that Jill had done. She’s been taking dance classes and the proud parents have been filming all of her recitals. Apparently she’s been doing really well and competing. We watch a few of them. She’s dressed in traditional garb in all of them and running through a 3-5 minute routine. She is quite good. She dances with a ribbon in one and with rings in the last one. We all clap. I ask Ri-Yu “What was that last one called? It was cool”, “That was The Pizza Dance.” Haha what? I totally wasn’t expecting it to be called the pizza dance. “Did she pick the name?”, “No, it’s called The Pizza Dance”.
We get invited down to the common area in the apartment complex so we grab the scotch, hit the elevator, and cross the middle grass area to an underground sort of building. There is work out equipment, foosball, table tennis, kids play equipment, a ball pool, and most importantly a karaoke system and a stage.
There are a few people down there already and karaoke is in full swing. Kuei-Shiun introduces us to everyone and puts the scotch down next to two other bottles of scotch (I didn’t know it was gonna be BYOS/Karaoke night). Everyone seemed to be the crooner type, and the ballads were coming on strong. One of them is a funny dude named Window who seems to be the karoke machine master.
A moment later 3 ladies come in wearing black night gowns. They see us and are instantly embarrassed. Ri-Yu explains that they are doing a dress rehearsal for the New Year’s party. Window brings up the tune and they go into a… what’s it called when a duet has three people haha… a trio? Anyways, they sing in unison and have choreographed dance moves which, not gonna lie, not everyone remembered. Probably pretty nervous having Drisdelle and I there gawking at them. They have some time to work it out, the vocals sounded good.
To ease the trio’s embarrassment Window gets Drisdelle and I involved in some dance moves as well. He queues up a song with the ladies still on stage and takes the mic. He proceeds to walk us through a sequence of energetic dance moves while singing the song. It’s akin to something you’d see on a cruise ship or maybe line dancing of some sort. Regardless, Drisdelle and I were all in on this one and the kids were eating it up, laughing like hyenas.
Here’s the move list:
Step right, step left, turn it all around
Front step, back step, turn it all around
Front crawl, back crawl, wiggle wiggle wiggle
Right step step step “HAH!” (thrust the knee)
Left step step step “HAH!” (thrust the knee)
You got it? Now repeat!
(Pretty sure Queenie captured this whole moment on video but I’m gonna pretend that doesn’t exist anymore.)
Phewf! We worked up quite a sweat on that one. We get back to the table and the scotch is poured. We mosey over to the pool of colored balls where Baby Jamie is in there already splashing all about. He climbs onto the walls and jumps in a few times.
We show him how to make a mountain of balls and then lay down beside it and get totally buried. This seems to be the best thing he’s learned ever. It is now all he wants to do. We do it a million times. We bury Drisdelle and he busts out, balls flying, into a swinging limbs ball snow-angel. Baby Jamie loses his mind.
Ri-Yu’s other son shows up on the scene during Drisdelle absolutely falsetto murdering ‘My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion. His name is John, he’s in high school. Now there are mini versions of me and Drisdelle here! John’s English is excellent and we hit it off famously. Really down to Earth kid and great to build colored ball mountains with.
We have a round of hide and scotch seek on the play equipment with Baby Cow and then I hear Window call my name on the mic. Oh dear, this can’t be good. Is the scotch really done? Geebuz. I get on stage and he hands me the mic and pats me on the back. I see the song title ‘Edelweiss’ come up on the screen. Wow. I don’t know Edelweiss. Was I even born yet? Everyone’s watching me. The words start coming up but I have no idea how it goes. Window is baffled. “Sound of music?”, I shrug, “I really don’t know it.”He comes up and joins me on stage. He restarts the song and grabs a mic of his own. Edelweiss duet here we go! Seems simple enough. I call Drisdelle up for some back up. One of the New Year’s ladies gets a mic too. Oh it’s on!
This was probably the most badass, ragtag version of Edelweiss the planet will ever come to know. It echoed through the atmosphere and the ages and distant unknown beings felt at ease, soothed by its sharp and subtle brilliance. The five scotch drunk Taiwanese dudes gave us a standing ovation and Baby Cow stuffed his shirt with colored balls in ferverous appreciation.
With the scotch drank and the baby cow sleepy we meandered up the stairs and back outside. All the men were having a night cap smoke and one raises his glass and says, “There is no language barrier.. you just need a drink.” Gum Bai to that, pardnah!
We hit the elevator back up to the apartment to grab our Roots loot and say farewell. Needless to say a fabulous time was had by all. “You need to come back!” Ri-Yu is saying. Kuei-Shiun adds, “Yes, come and stay for a week!” We high five all of the kids and turn for the door.
I give Ri-Yu a Roots scarf that I’d originally bought for my mom. I thought they’d been so nice and so hospitable that I wanted to offer a little more than empty beer cans. Plus I could tell she liked pink, what with all the Hello Kitty up here. “Oh Beester, she loves it”, Queenie translates for me. (Naaaaailed it!)
We dole out some more hugs, it’s clear that we’re all having so much fun that no one really wants to leave, but the last train back is coming up soon and we’ve got a plane to catch to Hong Kong in the morning. Gotta get back and pack this Taiwan trip up!
We cab it to the subway and literally catch the last train back. And the whole way back to Eight Elephants and Dreaming Dragon, and to the pleasure of the late night Taipei subway goers, it’s our own choconutty scotch-fueled subway duet:
“Edelweiss… Edelweiss… every morning you greeeeeet me…”