Taichung Kung Fu
(Excerpt from “Totally Losing Face and Other Stories“)
I was in Taichung, Taiwan on a busy Friday night eating and drinking with a few locals. I suddenly felt the urge to take a piss as you normally do after a few beers weigh heavily on your bladder.
Having recently arrived for the weekend in Taichung and visiting this local establishment for the first time, I was unfamiliar with the location of the restroom. I enjoyed trying new local restaurants and usually stayed clear of the foreign hangouts. Taichung has its fair share of foreigners, but they tend to stick to their bars and the majority doesn’t stay around long enough to learn the language. I firmly believe that if you’re here in Taiwan, you might as well learn the language and practice as much as possible. And mingling with the locals in their hangouts was the best way for me to improve my language skills.
I had been living in Taiwan for six years and got by decently on the strength of my Mandarin skills. So I confidently approached a red-faced old man who was wandering around the restaurant and asked in Mandarin, “Excuse me, where’s the ‘wash hands’ room?’”
He looked drunkenly at me, then down at his watch and casually replied that it was 8 o’clock.
I was slightly perturbed that my Mandarin was misunderstood. Was it too noisy in the restaurant? Was I drunk? No way! So I asked the question again very slowly making sure my tones and my pronunciation were correct, “Where is the ‘wash hands’ room?”
He squinted at me as he swayed back and forth and barked out, “8:00 PM!”
I probably should have asked someone else at this point, but I was NOT going to be misunderstood. I had put too much time and energy into learning Mandarin. He probably just wasn’t used to listening to foreigners speak Mandarin Chinese. Or maybe he was an aboriginal who didn’t speak Mandarin well. In any event, I asked him again very slowly, “Where is the ‘wash hands’ room?”
He practically screamed, “8:00 PM!!!”
Seeing this was getting me nowhere and my bladder was about to burst, I decided to attempt something my kung-fu teacher had been preaching to his students: Using your opponent’s strength to your own advantage.
I suddenly pictured the two of us sparing, me and the old man. We were using different fighting styles, so different that we were back-to-back swinging wildly at each other. I had to somehow enter his drunken zone in order to engage with him. But how?
I thought about asking him the same question for a forth time then stopped myself. “Use his power,” I heard my shifu say.
I looked down at my watch and said, “Oh, 8:00 PM!”
“Yes, yes, yes,” the old man said with a broad smile, suddenly thankful that this stupid foreigner understood his Mandarin. Now we were engaging.
“Wow! 8:00 PM,” I repeated with a smile.
“Do you know what I really have to do right now?”
“I have to find the toilet, so I can release this uncomfortably large ‘little inconvenience?’” In Mandarin, a ‘little inconvenience’ is a piss and a ‘big inconvenience’ is a shit. “Do you know where the toilet is,” I asked feigning abdominal pain.
“Oh sure, right over there,” he replied pointing down a dark hallway.
“Thank you very much, you saved my life,” I said jokingly.
I walked down the hallway and found the toilet or WC (Water Closet) as they refer to it. Success! Sometimes you have to go with the flow to get the flow going.
“Taichung Kung Fu” is a short story in Hillel Groovatti’s new book of short fiction entitled Totally Losing Face and Other Stories.