By Trista di Genova
For me birthday, I wanted Mexican food. Knowing all my other foreign friends here are commiserating, nay, jonesing for The Real Thang, la cosa vera, I sent out a msg via Facebook and email for the fiesta.
But no one in this town seems to understand what “RSVP” means. From the RSVPs, maybe about 4 or 5 people would come, perhaps it would just be Caleb Cole and me. But when I called around to everyone, 20 or more people were planning to come — and bring friends.
This was a good time to touch base about the details. Some people would be bringing some special Mexican ingredient; like Meaghan Weatherdon’s tomatoes, cilantro/coriander and onions. Ross was the Meatman; Pastor Phil actually bought a bunch of meat in the last minute; and cleaned the barby.
Then, when all the bases were covered in food and drink, when people asked what they could bring, I told them, “If you could just kick in a couple hundo, that’d be great, cover expenses,” that is, the 4000NT. Sometimes people didn’t understand the slang ‘hundo’ for hundred, but they almost always totally understood the concept of pitching in; like Diane Corkery said about 200NT, “that’s nothing.” It brings to mind the impromptu, ‘underground’ dinner parties they have these days in New York, at somebody’s home. A bunch of strangers come together through social networking sites on the Internet, share a great meal, and in The Big Apple, shell out like 40 bucks.
About this time of readying for the party, I became reunited with an old, good Taiwanese friend Yao Bing; we lost track of each other when he did his army service and we both got new phones. This guy, it turns out, has real balls; lumpah, or LP as they say here; he met my beautiful blonde friend Jennie Miller in the MRT and asked her for her number. Do you know how many red-blooded Asian males would do this? Yeah, like NONE. They must be unfeasibly large, Yao Bing’s testicles. He gives me faith in Taiwanese men.
So anyway, Yao Bing brought his shy friend Lucy, who became ‘frightened’ when other people, mostly laowai, but not exclusively, began showing up. He escorted her to the MRT and came back.
By then the party was in full swing. Brian Funshine brought out La Mei the double bass; then the guitars, bongos, spoons came into play. Tristan Valentine showed up in crutches with Kaylin Huang, and played some Tom Wait songs better than the old freak himself. He gave me a sketch as a present. It was a thrill to have a TRISTAN at the party to get to know, since Tristas are generally few and far between. I’ve only recently figured out that I may well be the FIRST TRISTA IN THE WORLD. Being the only Trista can be a lonely thing…!
But, I digress; with my refound mate, at the early stages of the party I was able to have the honor of teaching young Taiwanese — who knows, they may have been the first Taiwanese to do this — how to prepare Mexican cuisine.
Although Taiwan has avocados, luo li, they are said to be ‘not as sweet’ and are right now out of season (Ours came from Kiwiland, in the Banciao Carrefour). Pastor Phillip showed ’em how to split it in half, let the massive pit fall out, and scoop out the ‘meat’ of this, er, ‘fruit’?
And, having been in the army, Yao Bing was fully capable of opening the cans of chili beans. Refried beans were unavailable at most outlets at this time. Perhaps they think it’s a waste of time to fry them again, ’round these parts.
Fortunately, Samantha Gao has a Costco membership card. We got together Friday afternoon and had lunch in the Costco Food Court, for the fiesta’s pre-shopping: 6 pounds of cheese, tortillas, sour cream, salsa, tostitos… and so on….only coming up short of avocados and refried beans. There was a lady there giving out samples of burritos at Costco, but she had NO IDEA what refried beans were, or where I could get some.
The thing I hate most about hosting a party is when guests arrive, they are always asking you for something, where stuff is. Is there a plate? Do you have any aspirin? Where’s a spoon? The ashtray? I need tinfoil. Do you have olive oil? Scotch tape, a bobby pin and a safety pin to hold up my pants? A Nokia cellphone recharger?
Where’s the music? If there’s no music, I’m goin’ home, Ross says.
Or, if you try to delegate tasks, it takes roughly the same amount of time vetting that person through the system as doing it yourself. I thought you were getting the music going? “I can’t find the cord. Where’s the plug? Should I go out and get one?” No, just stick around. You’re just not doing it right. Ask Caleb, they’re his speakers. Ugh!
No, I don’t have this. No I don’t have f’n that. And if you or your guest want juice, or water — or something other than beer (Taiwan pijiu, Heinies, tallboys, Taiwan jin pai, coke, whisky or red wine right now — you shoulda brought it with you. Otherwise, most things are there; just have a look. Do me a favor and give it the ole college try first. Try to cut down on my stress. It’s my birthday!
On the other hand, being the Birthday Girl is like being Cripple for a Day. You can get stuff out of people, like a cake; or a massage, special foods, pretty much anything I begged people to do — for me birthday.
The other thing that bugs me is the logistics, directions to newbies to Radio Banciao. It’s interesting — the most unlikely people have the hardest time finding this place. Usually they’re comin’ from across town. If they’re blonde, they’re more likely to get taken for a ride, too. In the past, people have gotten in fights with their taxi drivers, literally in the street on the verge of punching the guy’s lights out.
But, just when I’m trying to enjoy my birthday party, all these people call and ask, to me, stupid questions. Strangers put me on the phone with strangers, and try to get directions when they’re two fricken blocks away: “I’m really drunk. I just left the party, and I think I’m a couple blocks away. Where am I? And how do I get there?”
Some things I loved about this party: famous people showed up; in fact, a legend is sleeping on my couch behind me right now. He just requested Midnight Oil. How do we sleep while our beds are burning, indeed? In deeper dream state, he requested “One Blood” by Yoto Yangi, a band that doesn’t seem to exist.
[One of my new hobbies is recording for people snippets of what they say in his sleep. Like he’s said in the past hour or so, “Hermitage — that’s my girlfriend.” Or “Ah, faack.” I asked him, all crashed out, if he spoke Spanish, habla espanol? He said, “Space vanilla.”]
So yeah, famous people, not just Sean Kaiteri, Kenbo Liao, but Linda Arrigo, the famous Italian-American lady whose ex is the Million Man Redshirt Army organizer, Shih Ming-teh. She asked me how free is my schedule, and since it’s as free as a bird, she’s going to let me accompany her on the train to Taitung to see aboriginal artist Flying Fish, Fei Yu, then Green Island to check up on the prison museum there. This series of stories is like the best birthday present.
And Lynn Miles, who set up Taiwan’s first beat cafe in the 60s, playing Bob Dylan songs and those of other musical geniuses of the time. We schemed about how to take care of organizing Bob’s Welcome wagon and security when he comes to Taiwan in early April — and get a block bunch of 100 comp tickets for ourselves and our community of friends.
As it turned out, my new housemates’ friends all arrived about 1 in the morning. The place was packed, I couldn’t believe it, prolly around 50 people! They were playin’ limbo and hangin’ out, sitting on the pavement since the chairs ran out, playin’ music, makin’ burritos. It was grand.
Then came the cops — twice. And I think about 3:20 am, the harpie neighbor LOST IT. She railed out her window at us, smashing something against the grill, enthralling the startled crowd of 20 or so people who, just by sheer size, can’t keep it down, man.
“Bu yao ni! [We don’t want you!] Ganinya! Ganinya! [Fock yer mother’ in Taiwanese] Go ‘way! Fock you! were some of the tidbits I caught from her tirade. I’ll check with my Taiwanese friends there about what she said and let you know.
LE HAPPY ENDING: After the evening was over, I counted the contributions and the expenses of the party were EXACTLY covered by the 4,000NT people kicked in.
And when I checked Facebook at the end of the evening/early morning, about 30 people, many total strangers, also many dear friends — and even an old high school crush, wow! — and the pretty famous Taiwanese funk band lead singer, Jelly Lee, wished me birthday greetings.
One of the soporific comments Lynn Miles has made from the Radio Banciao sofa here best encapsulates the spirit of the evening, I think: “We managed to get a lot of sawdust or whatever into that beer can.”
I agree wholeheartedly… what a great party.