The Central Role of Ice Cream in Life

Current Favorite Thing About Taipei: The sign on Xinglong Road that says “Pot Plant Auction Today!” (Yes, I know they mean potted plants and not marijuana, but it makes me giggle anyway.)

Current Least Favorite Thing About Taipei: The woman in the Foreign Ministry archives who mops the carpet. Taking a regular rope mop to carpet does nothing to clean it, but it does make an irritating noise and take a ridiculously long time.

It’s funny, normally I wouldn’t think of myself as a terribly dumb person, but this past week has given me some food for thought. I do the most idiotic things sometimes, whether that is wearing three-quarter-length pants (capris) and flip-flops every day and then marveling at the fact that my feet have tanned to a lovely golden brown whereas my knees are still pasty white, or deciding, oddly, to go ahead and eat an overripe mango with my hands on my lunch hour, despite the high winds and the absence of any kind of knife or other necessary “fruit tools.” By the time I finished, I was covered with a thin film of mango juice, running down my arms and dotting my nose, and the sticky sap was streaked through my hair. As I walked back to the archives to wash up, I wondered vaguely if the effect would be to give me highlights, like lemon juice. I’ll let you know.

Really, though, the highlight was Wednesday. In general, I have come to the conclusion that there are really only two kinds of problems or difficulties: the kind that require time and energy to sort out and work through, and the kind that can be solved by ice cream. Sometimes it is difficult to determine which category a particular trial fits into; you might eat several pints of Peppermint Bon Bon before determining that the issue requires more than that, or spend days moping and wailing and feeling low, not realizing that all you really need is a trip to Dairy Queen. As a child, your parents help you divide your problems into their proper categories: this one needs to be talked out, this one requires a scoop of chocolate chip and then early to bed. A huge part of being an adult, I truly believe, is learning to do this for yourself. Learning to ask yourself: “am I really unhappy about this, in some sort of deep all-encompassing way, or is it time to go to the grocery store (or, of course, the local 7-Eleven)?” can be very, very difficult.

Last Wednesday I had an opportunity to put this concept to work. I had a really, really lousy day, by any standards. I’d trekked all the way out to the Academia Historica in Xindian – a trip that involves a bus that rarely comes – only to arrive and discover that I left my passport at home, and the passport was required to enter the building. I caught sight of the bus back to town leaving, but only to miss it; so I began a forced march in the midday heat back to the closest MRT station, about a 40 minute walk. Returning home with mild heatstroke, I had a headache and had to lie down and rest for a while. Then I took off for a library, only to get there all of 15 minutes before they closed (ridiculously early for a university library, summer or not). After my evening class, I walked to Gongguan and hopped the 236 back home – at least, I thought it was the 236. However, as I was soon to discover, simply declaring a 253 bus to be a 236 does not make it so, and I found myself in a brand new neighborhood, lost and a bit bewildered as I jumped off the bus. Had I not panicked and simply stayed on the bus, it would have circled around to my neighborhood, but I didn’t know that then. Vaguely aware of where I was and unaware of any other buses that would take me the direction I wanted to go, I set off (again!) walking home, this time about 30 minutes.

At this point, however, I started to see the humor in the situation – I’ve never taken the wrong bus anywhere in Taiwan, how did I manage it on the one route that I ride every single day? Really, it was impressively stupid. But still, I realized, deserving of ice cream. Without ice cream, I was having a terrible day and walking home against my intentions in the heat, and still suffering a bit of a headache, and you can just add this day to all the other research issues that have come up here in Taiwan…. But with ice cream, the day was over, tomorrow I could try again, everyone in Taiwan would be amused at my 253 bus story, and I was not trudging home so much as out for a pleasant evening walk in the direction of my apartment with a special treat in hand, which I wouldn’t be allowed to eat on the bus anyway, so all’s well that ends (full stop).

For anyone out there with a great deal of time on their hands, or reason to procrastinate, what follows are some of my observations on Singapore. I seem to be working backward through the summer even as time is moving forward…

Copyright 2004 by Meredith Oyen


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