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Taipei, spread out like broken China

Mike Awoyinfa

“Mike, will you marry a Chinese woman?” my legendary friend and partner in crime Pastor Dimgba Igwe asked me as we took an evening walk on a street sloping down our hotel, the imperial and imposing 5-star Shangri-La’s Far Eastern Plaza Hotel, Taipei—venue of this year’s IPI Congress, the meeting of journalists across the globe where they come together yearly to know the world, to know one another, to network and to discuss.

To discuss among other things the sacred and the much-cherished values of the pen profession: truth, freedom, accuracy, fairness and the safety of the reporter in the face of death and danger that keep claiming the lives of journalists every year, every now and then, in the dark corners of this world.

We would come to all that later, but let me first address the issue of Chinese women—the ones we saw in Taipei, the beautiful capital city of Taiwan. They are blessed with a whole lot of things, but, sorry to say, not with height, not with stature and not with big boobs, something we take for granted in this part of the world. Indeed God cheated the Chinese woman, when giving out the natural gifts of good height, full stature, big bulging eyes and big breasts to the human race.  The breasts might look small, but they don’t lack milk. In the breasts of these diminutive Chinese mothers, the milk of human kindness and ingenuity overflow which their babies suck and grow into scientific and technological geniuses who use their God-given talents to develop their small country! Come to Tapei and see wonders. One of the modern wonders of the world today, is the Tapei Tower 101.

Like the biblical Tower of the Babel, the people of Taiwan have built the second tallest building in the world called Taipei 101.  It is one of the must-see-before-you-die wonders of the world with a lift that has rocketed itself into the Guinness Book of Records as the fastest lift in the world.  Dimgba and I visited the tower and from its top we looked down to behold a breathtaking picture of the city of Taipei beautifully and luminously spread out like “broken China”—apology to the poet J.P. Clark who once compared Ibadan to “broken China” in his poem.

Mike, will you marry a Chinese woman? The truth is that Chinese women look so much alike with their smallish, half-closed eyes that I might not be able to distinguish my would-be Chinese wife from her sister or from any other.  And that could be dangerous!

Our closest encounter with a Chinese woman was this smallish woman taxi driver whose taxi we hired by a big shopping mall in Taipei called Sogo where we had gone to buy “ipad 2”—a must-tool for every journalist.  Not just journalists. These days even preachers use the ipad on the pulpit, because it contains almost everything, including the Bible.  Amazon has developed the common man’s ipad called “Kindle Fire” which will definitely give Apple a good fight in the marketplace.  I love this idea of an underdog brand fighting Goliath for its own share of the market. At this juncture, let us pause to pay a minute silence to Steve Jobs, the genius who came into this world and really did a good job, using his God-given talents to change the world with his Apple series—imac, iphone, ipad and what have you.

I am currently reading his amazing biography by Walter Isaacson which is as hefty as our own completed biography of you-know-who. Back to Taipei, the first three taxi drivers we hailed couldn’t speak English.

As we called out Shangri La Hotel and gesticulated, it made no meaning. It was as if we were speaking Greek. After three futile efforts to get a taxi to Shangri La’s Far Eastern Hotel, we finally came across this pint-sized taxi woman who understood us and knew where we were going.

“Oh, Shangri La, Far Eastern, I know, I know,” she smattered to our relief in her poor but understandable English. What a garrulous woman she turned out to be. All along the way, she tried to converse with us. It was a struggle. It was a linguistic wrestle match of sorts.

Like a little, old baby learning how to talk, she struggled to communicate with us, to make meaning out of something too difficult for her express.  And like her, we also wrestled to be on the same wavelength with her, to make meaning out of what looked newsworthy to us, yet meaningless. From the little we gathered, she was mentioning America and mainland China.  She also talked about her life as a taxi driver in the city of Taipei.

“Taipei, taxi tariff not good,” she said.  “You from America?”

“No, we are Nigerians.  From Lagos.  You know Nigeria?”

“No, no, no.  I don’t know but I know America.”

The worst nightmare for a journalist is when you come across what looks like a good story, but language barrier barricades you from the story. It’s sad. Like the typical reporter, we wanted to know how come she is a taxi driver, what is life like as a taxi driver, how much she makes in a day, what kind of city is Taipei? Every journalist knows that when you go to a foreign land, your first source of information is the taxi driver. But this taxi driver was firing on all cylinders yet not scoring with us! She was the typical Chinese woman. Small but strong and full of energy. Dynamite. Physically, they come in small package, both men and women, but their mind is big, which is all that is important. Small people. Small country.  Big ideas. Big vision. Big achievements. Big buildings. Big infrastructure. Big heart. Big people, even though physically they look small. Big country. Oh, Taiwan is so big. So big that as a Nigerian walking down the street of Taipei, I felt like a Lilliputian.

If you don’t know what I mean by Lilliputian, then you would have to go and read or google the satiric novel Gulliver’s Travels, that Jonathan Swift classic about two contrasting journeys of a man called Gulliver who travelled far and found himself first in the land of tiny people whom he dwarfed and next in the land of giants who more than dwarfed him. They may be small, but the people of Taiwan are giants of the modern world. Giants that make Nigerians look like dwarfs in every respect. I truly felt dwarfed in Taipei!

Now, come with me to Taipei. Be ready for a long, long, tiring flight. This is truly Far East in every sense of the word. From Lagos to Dubai on Emirate, you are already exhausted. But the journey is just beginning. From Dubai you connect another long, exhausting flight to Hong Kong—another eight and half hours. Then from Hong Kong you switch planes again, this time from Emirate to Cathay Pacific which takes you to Taipei and you land around 3a.m. Seventeen to eighteen hours in the air. It’s like a journey around the world. You are drunk with tiredness.  For the first time, you come to understand the true meaning of jetlag. Taipei was wrapped in darkness as we landed. But the city is fully illuminated like Paris, the city of light.

Beloved, it is good to know the world. Knowing the world makes you know God, makes you love and respect God the more. It’s a beautiful world out there.

The people of Taiwan tried their best to make us happy, to make us feel at home. They welcomed us like some long, lost brothers and sisters. They went the extra mile in hospitality. In the words of one American tourist who got lost in Tapei but eventually got back to his hotel: “In Taiwan, you can’t get lost.  The people are so kind that they would find you and make sure they pilot you home.”

You will find people of all races in Taiwan, but one race you can’t easily find is the black man. Looking for a black man in Taipei is like looking for a needle in proverbial haystack. But that does not mean when the natives see you, they would be staring or pointing at you as if you are from another planet. The Chinese are shy by nature. They hate to embarrass or even embarrass themselves. Instead they would go on minding their own business. I cannot leave without teaching you a few words in Mandarin. Shuei means water. Xiexie (pronounced: share share) means thank you.

To all my readers, who wait to read me week after week, I say xiexie. Thank you. To all of you I say wo ai ni (meaning I love you).

First published Nov 26, 2011

Tokunbo David :Sun News Online team writer and news editor

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