Sunday, July 12, 2009

Adventures in the Back of the Bus

This Adventure runs the route of my mantra "The Journey is the Destination."

My Destination: LUVStock '09 - which is a blog post in and of itself.

My Journey: Discovering the route out of the city and to the base of Dakeng Mountainside for a weekend of music, art, food and friends.

Having vague directions off the Internet, and trusting the promise of signs, I set off on the first of the three buses to approach my stop. First excitement of the ride: I was the only one aboard.

Every now and again, the bus driver will ask you where you are going after you scan your card. I tossed out a couple of words and he told me I was on the wrong bus. I knew that. Really. I showed him the Chinese characters I scribbled down from the Internet -- in hopes that I was writing down an accurate address -- and he said that I would have to switch buses to get to where I wanted to go. I knew that as well.

What I didn't know, however, was which bus I would switch to. This bus was a free bus though. So I wasn't out anything to start. In an effort to raise commuter-count on the public transport system, the Taichung Mayor instated several "free" lines a few months back.

I'm all for it, Mayor Hu. I'll even forgive you for those awful advertisements plastered along the side.

By no means did I expect the bus I was on to be the one to take me as far as I wanted to go. Turns out, though, that this line traveled a lot further along route than I previously expected.

Seeing I was the only one on board, I sat in the Rosa Parks Reserved section and struck up a conversation with the friendly bus driver. A gem in its own weight.

Not uncommonly, he was excited to talk to an "American man" and did speak a fair amount of English, which came in handy when the odd word ventured outside my minuscule vocabulary. He asked me about my family in America and life in Taiwan; joked about "Ah-nold" in California, and spoke kind words of Obama. He asked if I knew of the American School in the city, which was ironic because that school is a Missionary Kid's School, and I was invited to visit just two nights before by my friends running a camp there. Had that not been the case, I'd have never of recognized the Chinese name.

After twenty minutes or so, still no one to join the driver and I, the bus pulled over and my momentary companion drew back the door to let me out. I left the free ride with a good bilingual conversation and a clear sense of where I was going.

Another bus pulled up and a young teenage Taiwanese boy stepped off. Although the seashells in our ears kept us from attempting to converse, we exchanged a few awkward smiles, waves, and glances. I waited about as long as the first leg of my journey before spying my new bus from a perch above the road. Flagging down the driver, I boarded and set off for Dakeng.

Twenty minutes passed again, and I saw the first of the signs: A blue heart, lined with red, and an arrow pointing in a general direction of forward. Unfortunately, it was at the beginning of a roundabout, and the bus decided to change course. Luckily, however, the button had been pushed, and I exited along side a young mother and her daughter. Glancing around, venue and taxis no where in sight, I decided that if there were signs, it must be close, so I set off on foot.

Sign after sign, and no festival insight. By my estimation at the time, I felt nearly 3 km away. If I'm to be honest, I'd say maybe 1.5 to 2km. Decidedly, I changed my pace to a slow jog, not caring that I was in my three year old Rainbow flip flops, or that the humidity had me sweating out of my eyelids and dripping off my chin.

A few more signs and I grew more and more tempted to stick out my thumb. To my relief, I didn't have to. I noticed a vehicle slow to a stop about ten meters ahead of me, and (since I'd switched to walking by this point) I picked up my pace to discover who my fellow traveler could be. Roger, the keyboardist I recognized from 9/10ths of the influential bands who have keyboardists here in Taichung asked if we were headed to the same place and offered me a ride.

By his speculation and mine, we were there within about 500 meters, but I was no less than grateful. I earned my fare by loading half his gear into the venue to ease his setup.

After about two hours, and several modes of transportation, I made it. The trip spared me no sense of adventure and led me to a destination of great community. My day included a global spectrum of music, authentic all-American food (like a burger, marinated in a Vinaigrette, and a pulled pork BBQ sandwich), Dad's Root beer, a dip in the creek, exploring an abandoned amusement park, and fantastic conversation with doubly fantastic new friends.

Even the trip home proved an adventure, as I found a ride with fellow vagabonds headed back to the city after LUVStock simmered and long after the buses retired for the evening.

Energized by the night I enjoyed and encouraged by the ease of my new-found bus route, I trekked up to LUVStock: Day Two at The Refuge- a music and art community I've been plotting to visit for some time. Had I known there was a bus route from literally my door to the welcoming arch of the Refuge, I would have visited a long time ago. But now I know. Traveling there will by no means require a taxi or long strolls through a foreign mountainside town or thumbing towards strangers and hoping for the best.

I was quite satisfied with my decision to return for Day Two, and would attribute it to my new friendships and conversations beckoning me with their love for life in community. Truth be told, though, what really brought me back to the second round of LUVStock wasn't what or who I found at the destination at all: it was the bus driver at the beginning of my journey the day before, willing to break the barrier between foreign passenger and public chauffeur. It was our willingness to look past the awkwardness of bilingual communication, and the time we took to share our travels with the other.

Do not pass up the scenery and opportunities around you in search for wherever it is you're sure you're headed. Know that life happens at every moment, not just at the "big ones." It's after you recognize this that you will begin to experience life more fully.

Because Life is a Journey, friends,
and the Journey is the Destination.

[Photo Credit. Photo 1: The back of a Taichung City Bus. Photo 2: Along the foot path to LUVStock: Day One. A sign to guide me which simply reads "LOVE" ... there's a message here, I'm sure of it.]


Andhari said...

You totally amaze me with just striking up conversations with bus drivers like that. Down to earth Chase :) Foreigners over here would just ignore them, or even never get on a bus and just hail a cab. Understandable maybe because they're paranoid with Asian cities, it's actually one of the biggest one and so far if you're not in shady areas then you're usually safe but people just dont think like that. Or even talk to locals like that. Good for you! Sounds like a nice festival too to visit :)

floreta said...

gosh, chase.. you're so wise! love the "moral" at the end [last paragraph]. i am also amazed by how open and willing you are to strike up conversation with all kinds of people. and i never could picture 'the refuge' until i clicked the link.. THAT LOOKS SO AWESOME!! totally up my alley hahaha i love djembe (did i ever mention i have one?). now want to join a drum circle...

Geeta said...

Sounds like my kind of adventure :)

Chase said...

@Andhari, I know what you mean about foreigners. It's sad to say that many of them (us?) come packaged with a certain disengaged attitude. Hopefully, I'm not seen like that, though I can tell when some look at me, that's how they think of me. Just gotta prove them wrong! :)

@Floreta, a far shot from wise, friend. Observant, maybe? That's more than I would hope for. But thank you :) (and yes, the Refuge is RAD, and I do believe you'd fit right in)

@Geeta, my adventures are but the everyday sort. You're certainly no stranger to adventure, yourself. :) Pretty sure you know how to call them.