Dinner Party Talk- Summer Soup

Here’s my back to school book report: “What I Did This Summer.”
After my bestselling book Shark Tales, with ABC Shark Tank star Barbara Corcoran, was published in Asia, Barbara became an international sensation there. The blonde real estate lady from New York who turned $1000 into a billion dollar business was invited to speak in Taiwan for a business convention of entrepreneurs. Who better to tag along than her co-author and co-seeker of anything adventurous?
During the 18-hour flight, Barbara and I thumbed through the pages of National Geographic’s Guide to Taiwan I had picked up at Barnes and Noble. When she asked what had stuck in my mind, I said, “The home stay with the Aborigines family in the jungle.” And with that and a handshake, we vowed we would do that “off-the-beaten-path-excursion” as described on page 225.
After checking in to our luxurious suite at the Grand Hyatt Taipei, we had the concierge make the calls and set up our travels to the Alishan Township in the middle of the jungle. The celebrity handler assigned to monitor Barbara was horrified. “Why?” she asked. “It’ll be memorable,” we said. Barbara smartly prepared for our excursion into “real Taiwan” by having the concierge write out in Chinese everything we could possibly need: “Where’s the bathroom?” “How do we get back to the Grand Hyatt?” “Hospital! Emergency!”
The following morning we left our suitcases, our cloud like beds, and our room service in our already paid for suite and headed to the train station, Taiwan’s equivalent of Metro North, for a three hour ride south, through “real Taiwan.” “Um,” Barbara said more than once, while pointing out the window, “Rice paddy.” We had promised our doctors when we were getting our vaccinations for the Asian adventure that we were going nowhere near rice paddies, farmland, or live stock, also known as hotbeds of malaria. We had skipped those shots.
We arrived in a town not unlike the Taiwanese Hoboken. Instead of hopping into one of the many waiting cabs, we decided we’d “immerse ourselves in a real Chinese town.” (Barbara’s words exactly, even though we were in a real Taiwanese town. China was the country on the other side of the Taiwan Strait.) But they do speak Chinese, I think. In addition to our written instructions, the only phrase I knew was thank you. Or “shay-shay.” I had that written on my hand.
We were the only two blonds in town. In fact, we may have been the only two blonds in all of Taiwan. We definitely attracted attention, so we decided we should get off the street and stepped into a little café. Barbara quickly pointed to a bowl of passing soup and indicated to the waiter that she’d have that. Whatever that was. I’m a bit more, shall we say, picky in my eating habits. I tend to like vegetables and try to steer away from cat, dog, and bird nest. (As an aside, I was offered bird nest soup repeatedly. “It good for libido,” one waitress had promised. I told her to bring me scrambled eggs, and I’d pop a Viagra and call it a day.) When the waiter looked at me for my order, I said two international words in as Chinese an accent as possible: “French fries.” I was thrilled when he nodded his head.
I “shay shay”ed and added two more words to my Chinese vocabulary. I delighted in my French fries with real ketchup, while Barbara stared into a bowl of soup as big as a half of watermelon. One by one, she’d pick something out of the bowl with her chopsticks, put said mystery thing in her mouth, chew once, make a puke face, and remove unidentifiable item from her mouth. After collecting two napkins full of nameless, but not faceless items, she found she liked what was left, so much so that she drank every drop of the rest of the bowl. It had to be at least a gallon of juice.
We walked back to the cabstand, happy that we had immersed ourselves in real culture, and pulled out our “how to get to the jungle” directions from our bag. We handed them to a group of cabbies. There was a lot of discussion. One guy escorted us to his cab, put us in the backseat, and said, “I get wife.” As we waited, Barbara optimistically said, “They must live near the jungle.”
Let me get right to the point: It was a fifty dollar, hour and a half cab ride from hell: Mario Andretti behind the wheel, his yakking wife at his side, and the curviest mountain climb I have ever experienced. World’s Scariest Drives and Real Housewives of Taiwan had nothing on this. Avalanches had created single lane roads that our driver didn’t slow down for. Barbara whispered, “Don’t worry. He wouldn’t kill his wife.” I whispered back, “If she doesn’t shut up, I’m going to.”
At one point, a curve was so crooked and our speed was so great, I fell over into Barb’s lap. What I heard was a gigantic slosh. That soup wasn’t sitting well. “I’m not feeling great,” she confessed. I quickly pulled out the map. “We’re almost there,” I said, encouragingly, with undertones of please-don’t-throw-up. Sure enough, the concierge had marked the top of the mountain, but, when we began our descent, we realized he marked the wrong mountain! We had to go down that mountain and back up the next one!
When we finally arrived, we were immediately surrounded by a swarm of kids, chickens, and a pig, and we could hear the screech of monkeys in the near distance. We asked the cabbie for his number. Thinking we wanted to use his phone, his wife told us $3. Barbara drew a diagram of the two of us phoning him and fleeing. He gave us his card, and we got out of the car.
What we soon discovered was that the Tsou village had been destroyed by a typhoon, their Hurricane Katrina, in 2009. “What year was that National Geographic book published?” Barbara asked. I looked at the copyright page. “Um, 2008.” The beautiful pictures on page 225 had been washed away. But I will say we had a magnificently memorable one-night stay in our room next to the rice paddy.
Since I’m here to write this book report on my summer vacation, you know we survived the cab ride back to the train and am currently testing negative for malaria.
Moral of our story: Never take a summer vacation with a three-year-old travel book and enjoy your soup!

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