On Tour


Paula Drake

 
© Copyright 2018 by Paula Drake


 

Photo of a hand holding a fried grasshopper.
What else do you do besides wake up Americans at 3:00 a.m. by touching them?” I asked the Taiwanese teenager sarcastically.

I didn’t ask that the first time I woke to him touching me; I froze in fear waiting for dawn to get out of that national home and to the musical Tour compound.

It happened in Taiwan while on a month tour with the “Certain Sounds” a musical group of 16 singers, 12 band members, the director, a doctor, preacher, and maintenance staff from America.

Do any of you want to stay in national homes for the experience for three days?” asked the director. I gladly volunteered, what an opportunity!

I played electric guitar in the band. My husband was their drummer, but we both couldn’t go on tour because one needed to stay home with our two children and make a living. Burt made more money at his mechanic job than I did teaching music students so I was the logical one to go tour of the Orient with the California Van Nuys Baptist Church’s mission outreach.

In Taiwan nationalists volunteered their homes for the opportunity to have an American stay with them for the cultural exchange. I was dropped off at an apartment and met the family. Two young ladies that were taking English in college and looking forward to exercising their newly learned language skills, and I met their father, mother, and seventeen year old brother.

The two girls and I sat on the couch with their English/Chinese comparative dictionary trying to talk. The biggest problem was the diction of a word, but we laughed and tried.

At dinner we sat around a big round table that had a raised center piece that spun with the food on it. My eyes immediately went to the upside down bugs with their legs sticking up. I pointed to the dictionary. They showed me – grasshoppers. I swallowed nervously. When the spinning table turned more there was a pig’s head with the eyes sown shut with black string of some kind, and a carrot in its mouth. My thoughts flashed back to the director’s instructions: “Don’t eat or drink anything that could make you sick,” he forgot the part about seeing things making you sick. Finally I took some rice for my plate.

What do you eat?” one girl spelled out from the dictionary.

Do you have toast? I may get ill from meat.” I explained tediously through the dictionary.

Someone made me toast. So, rice and toast was it. I felt sorry because I knew they went to great expense and time to put out what was to them a wonderful selection of food.

That night they showed me many albums of dynasty’s of relatives. I did my best to show enthusiasm. Finally through the dictionary I told them I needed sleep.

Being 5’11” my legs hung over the end of the bed my feet hitting the wall. I fell asleep quickly, and woke up quickly with a jolt. Someone was touching my arm.

Oh!” I gasped.

I woke to a young skinny teen touching me looking down at me then bolting out of the room. That ended my sleep.

The band leader picked me up for a full day of musical programs around Taiwan. I mentioned the boy touching me.

He was probably so excited to have an American, especially a pretty blonde one in his house that he wanted to touch you, and besides they don’t have hair on their arms, and he probably wanted to feel yours. I wouldn’t worry about him,” he said. “Also, this evening I need you to join the Troup for dinner. I’ll explain to your host you’ll be in later.”

Grim describes the entrance to what looked like a greasy repair shop, but where we were to eat; disheveled, dirty, grimy broken down motorcycles and parts were strewn everywhere. No one spoke, just stared. Before we departed the bus the director turned to us.

I don’t want to hear one, not one complaint. Do you understand?” He snapped in a threatening tone. In silence we entered into another cluttered oily repair room that led to small narrow spiral stairs. We wound up three flights, the odors pungent, spotting some chickens hanging on hooks on a wall on the second floor, certainly not appetizing. Dead silence all the way – not easy for forty-three people.

The tables set with chop sticks, mine had food particles stuck to them. No way could I eat anything on the plate. I noticed very few others ate either. Luckily after we left Kenny the sax player gave me a candy bar from a stash he had in his jacket. I lost fifteen pounds that month.

I got back after dark to the national’s home. The girls and I spent time trying to speak English. They were sweet and eager to learn. I became aware how hard it is to learn English. We have so many idiosyncrasies – different meanings for words. Like the word jack has over twenty meanings.

Bed dominated my thoughts though trying to exchange language with the two college girls. When in bed I met dreamland fast. That is until . . .

Oh!” I looked up and there was my night visitor again. “Okay, let’s talk. I patted the bed for him to sit down. He grinned like a lottery winner. We both began chattering – him in Chinese or whatever and me in English. His smile was delightful; I tried to be cordial, but eventually I put my hands together under my cheek like I wanted to sleep. He understood smiled, bowed and left.

Do you suppose I could go to another house?” I asked the director explaining the no sleep problem. He took me to a different national home the next night.

The new people were friendly and spoke a little English. But, the bed – ugh! Tom Thumb would have loved it. It had rails at both ends of the tiny bed, leaving no stretching out place for my nearly six foot frame. On top of that, outside my window the open sewer line gurgled past to the dark green wall facility that stored sewage. The smell and sloshing made be miss the touchy teenager. I missed America!

Our next musical program planted us in a jungle type area where they roped us off from the nationals because they wanted to touch us. Being hooked up to electricity for the guitar and bass we or they might get shocked if touched. Our music pleased them, and proved successful in public relations. We started with secular and ended with spiritual music. The preacher brought a devotional usually translated by a volunteer national.

While driving through a borough on a bus I nudged Kenny the sax player and pointed, “Kenny, look at that coke bottle that man is selling on his cart. The liquid is bright green – in a coke bottle,” I said with my mouth turned down.

That’s why the director told us not to eat or drink anything suspicious.”

That warning went over my head the day I took an aspirin swallowing it with some water on a table, bad choice – back-door-trots. I missed two performances.

Paula, we need you. You’ve got to play the next program no matter how you feel,” the director demanded. I did but as soon as it was over I dashed back to my room.

In stark contrast we got to eat at the Shang Ki Shek palace in Taipei. Dining in lush surroundings and eating gourmet cuisine with a choice of chop sticks or knives and forks. Happy faces on forty-three travelers filled the room.

In our month tour we performed in Japan, Taiwan, the Philippians, Okinawa, Hong Kong, and ended in Hawaii. Some of the girls costumes started to disintegrate due to the humid climates in the Orient.

We looked forward with excitement to our last stop in Hawaii – but . . .

Oh, help! Doug the trombonist just pitched over the back of the stage.”

Because of the time changes we came into Hawaii without sleep and scheduled to perform immediately. Blurry-eyed and weak we did our best, except poor Doug who fell asleep and fell off the back of the stage. Probably being asleep kept him from getting hurt.

My tour of the Orient forever implanted memories of awesome experiences of wonderful and different cultures that I shall cherish the rest of my life.



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