It’s 6 months ago. I’m in the playground at 10am, its May and it’s cold. 6 police cars zoom past the school with their sirens on ‘deafen the general public’ setting. The city kids in the playground don’t even hear it. To them, it’s nothing. I stare up at the sky. Get me out of here.
Fast forward. It’s October, I look down. My feet are in the clearest sea water they’ve ever seen. There’s a pina colada in my left hand and Bob Marley is playing from the band at the end of the beach. I breathe in deeply and take in everything around me.
Kenting was absolutely incredible. Think 5 hour road trip in blacked out people carrier, white sand, warm sea, live music, snorkelling with tropical fish, ice cream inside a coconut, surf competitions and most importantly – think, TATTOO! I kid you not.
It started out as a joke on the ride down. 3 Taiwan Beers in someone makes a joke that we are having a ‘bonding’ weekend and that we should all get matching tattoos. Everyone laughs. And then comes… “actually I’d be down for that”, and then “actually me too”… “if you’re in, I’m in”… and before we knew it, the tattoo discussion turned from talk to tale. We walked around the night market the following night with one eye open for a tattoo artist. Ideas of what to get had been thrown from left to right and even as we searched for someone to draw on us, we hadn’t made an unanimous decision – except that it had to be Chinese symbols. As the night went on, the search continued and the idea began to fade. Then someone had the bright idea of asking someone at a ‘fake tattoo’ stall if they knew someone who could help us. Turns out, the guy himself could, but didn’t have his tools. This is where the tale starts to get a little shady.
He jumped at the idea of doing 6 tattoos in one night and offered to drive the 2 hour journey back home to collect the tools and then come back. We were interested. Then he said he could only do it at our hotel room as he didn’t have an actual shop. Shadiness continues. We agreed and as its started to rain a little, we made the decision to go home, drink at the bar downstairs until the guy arrived. At the bus stop, Kera and Brad started having reservations. “Guys, we can’t have a random guy giving us tattoos at 2 in the morning in our hotel room.” No one else is that bothered, so we play it down. “Oh it’s fine, he’ll be in and out before we know it.” Kera has 8 tattoos from all different parts of the world. She’s like tattoo queen. “It’s like a drilling noise, and he’ll be at least 3 hours” Playing it down continues. And I start freaking out about this drilling noise. Deep down we all knew the couple were talking sense. We called the guy back and explained we didn’t want to annoy the nice Hotel lady or get kicked out. But refusing to take No for an answer, the guy insisted he’d find a place somewhere nearby. Shadiness goes up a notch. “Ok no problem, I’ll rent a room nearby, in fact I think I have a friend on that street. We can go to his apartment.” Somehow, in the mist of it all, we agreed and got on the bus home.
2 hours later, the phone rings. He’s outside. It’s now pouring down outside, and in the thick of the night, the tattoo idea just didn’t seem as appealing. I put my bag over my head and frowned. We all know about my lack of love for the rain, (except for when we’re in school and there are Chinese children laughing of course) and this just wasn’t my idea of fun anymore. We all knew our relatives back home would be saying ‘no no no, that sounds way too dodgy’… but each and every one of us still stepped out into the rain (in shorts and flip flops I may add) in the early hours of the morning (delirious obviously) and followed the stranger from the fake tattoo stand at 2 in the morning. To make things worse -I kid you not – a blacked out Mercedes car crawled alongside us the whole way, apparently it was carrying his tools but by this point all of us felt very on edge. Still nobody piped up and rejected the grand idea.
Up in the apartment, the air conditioning box was literally hanging out of the wall. There was nothing actually inside it apart from 2 double beds, a chest of drawers with a TV on the top and an empty wardrobe. We never asked why it was so empty, we just stood with straight backs and were joined by a Chinese man and woman with tools. Kera stared at the tools, examining and analysing carefully. She gave us the nod of approval after seeing fresh needles inside sealed canisters and the tattoos began. It only seemed right, that after the entire journey – from the inner city playground to Taiwan, from no friends in Hsinchu to bonding on the beautiful southern tip – that the Chinese symbols for “adventure” would be tattooed onto the back of my neck. And in what more of an adventurous situation could I have been? There I was. 2 in the morning on the other side of the world, with people I had only known 7 weeks in an apartment that a horror movie could quite easily be set in. To say it didn’t hurt would be lying. It did. But not so much that I stopped him. It was like having 1000 tiny weeny pinches, but from someone with long, freshly cut nails and with a vengeance. I pulled all manner of faces in the 20 minutes the guy spent needling my back. Erin held my hand and Kera updated me every 30 seconds on its progres. It was like giving birth (although I’m sure there are several mothers reading this ready to slap me and tell me otherwise) but whilst the pain having it done was horrible, once he had finished, I was so happy with the finished product, that I forgot about the ordeal I had just been through. Together, one by one, we got through it. Once he had finished, I stood up and took a giant deep breath.
When I was 16 I wrote a “things to do before I die” list… ‘Get a Tattoo’ was number 4. I can now cross that off. I also had “learn Chinese” on there, perhaps in a few months’ (or years) time I’ll be able to cross that one off too. “Adventure” seemed so perfectly fitting and a week on, I do not have one single smidgen of regret. Now, in years to come when the 6 of us are back in our home countries, with mortgages and babies and no time to think about the amazing times we once had, we will always have the tattoo as a reminder of our incredible adventures in Taiwan and how a few little symbols can provide so much fun.
We took the bullet train back. I’ve never heard or seen anything like it. For £25 we got home in one fifth of the time (and at the same price) it took us to drive down there. It was like flying. We zoomed through the gorgeous Taiwanese countryside, mountains, waterfalls and fields and arrived back in Hsinchu precisely 1 hour and 23 minutes after leaving.
Back home, I now have a cough, sore throat, headache and bites the size of my palms on my legs. A trip to the hospital on Thursday informed me that I am having a “severe allergic reaction to insect bites” and that the “tissue beneath the first 3 layers of skin is badly damaged”… lovely. After an antihistamine injection in my arm, I hobbled away with 6 bags of medicine which included 3 days of steroids, 7 days of antibiotics and very strong painkillers. Thank the Lord, the doctor (who wasn’t very sympathetic – I don’t think the Taiwanese are too big on empathy) worked miracles and my legs are starting to resemble actual lower limbs again.
Although the past week has been fairly miserable for me, last weekend was so much fun it’s almost like you’re allotted a certain amount of fun per month and I maxed mine out in Kenting. I’ve spent today, nursing my cold, eating peanut butter on bread (don’t have a toaster you see) and tiding my apartment. As I’m doing so, I’ve been boxing things nicely… as I’m now looking at moving out. Yep. I’ve convinced myself that the bugs that bit my legs are here, living with me and that’s why I’m getting bitten so much. It could be in my head. Or it could be in my bed. Whatever the case may be, I need to get out of here. The last time I said that I flew to the other side of the world. As nice as my landlady is, I have no qualms about moving out next month and into somewhere where I can just relax. Even if it is in my head, I’m ready for a change. I guess the symbols inked across the back of my neck really do ring true. Adventure is now a part of who I am.