I wake up. No, that statement implies that waking was MY idea. Rather, I am violently blasted awake by the bolts of liquid heat that stream in through the sliding glass door that is right beside me, blistering my skin and infiltrating my eyelids' best defenses. My lips are cracked and my throat is raw, I breathe in a ragged breath and, with all my effort, roll my heavy body over, away from the blinding-white streaks of light that seem to impale. The sweat has already started to roll down my forehead and I can feel pools of it collecting in the valleys on my body, trickling down from the summits of collarbones and hips. The spot on the mattress I have just vacated is soaked. I feel like hell. With my eyes still squeezed tight I fumble around for my phone, somehow find it laying beside me, and check to see what time it is. In the half-second before I open the phone I panic, thinking maybe I've slept in...
No such luck. It's 5:15 a.m.
I have no idea how this has happened. Am I still jet-lagged, still on Central Standard Time? (By the way, my new time zone is also "CST", but is instead Chinese Standard Time. Catchy, no?). I have NEVER been an early riser, and yet I keeping finding myself awake at this unGodly hour. (It seems to me that God would roll out of bed around 8:30, 9 o'clock. I think the Creator likes to hit the snooze button a few times before starting the day). Well, whatever the reason, I am awake now, past the point of slipping back to the dreamy joys of Never Land. I push myself out of bed, the bricks of exhaustion falling off my aching back one by one. To the bathroom, look in the mirror: I could be an extra in a zombie movie. Sleep lines give the impression of deep scars, swollen eyes and tongue, the beginning of a scraggly beard beginning to grow like moss on my neck and chin. I am a train wreck. Thank God I have no wife or girlfriend living with me, they would surely have left me after waking up next to this abomination. I turn on the shower. Cold. It feels amazing, and I stare at my feet as I shed the skin from half-sleep and hazy dreams and watch it circle down the drain. What exactly contributed to the sorry state of affairs that sneered back at me through the mirrored glass this morning? I will recount the events of the previous evening, maybe that will cast some light on the matter:
After I entered my new home, I took a shower and enjoyed the freedom that not actually having a designated shower area permits. My shower head is on a long hose, so during my shower I walked freely around my bathroom, admiring my scrawny physique in the mirror, putting one foot up on the toilet seat, brushing my teeth (I apologize for any of you assaulted by the visual images I have just described). I even showered with the door open because, honestly, why NOT? The mirror doesn't get all fogged up and, more importantly, who is going to object? After this I was feeling fresh and clean, and so to avoid profusely sweating and negating my freshness and clean-ness, I turned on the air-conditioner. Next I began finding homes for my limited possessions, putting my important documents in the desk drawer, putting some of my clothes in the large closet opposite the full-sized floor bed. After these tasks I realized that, damnit, I was sweating again. I went to the air conditioner and felt for the chill. Huh. Not really COLD air, more like just plain air in motion. After finding the remote for the A.C. unit, I finally figured out how to adjust the temperature, which I cranked down to 19 degrees Celsius. "That ought to do the trick," I thought. How wrong I was.
After realizing that my efforts with the remote yielded no significant difference in the temperature of the air, I came to a horrifying conclusion: I had no air conditioning. I was without the one thing, as David had said, that I simply MUST have in order to survive living in Taiwan. It was too late to call anyone. I was stuck in this apartment, or should I say giant convection oven, with no way to escape the heat and humidity that was licking at the windows and creeping under the cracks in the door. I sat down on my rock-hard sofa, and rationalized. "Don't be a baby" I said to myself. "You're not going to die. This is what all those miserable Boy Scout summer camps prepared you for." Yes, this would be just like camping, only without the perks of campfire cooking and mosquito bites. One of the number one rules of camping, however, is to stay hydrated, and I had no water. Back down the elevator I went, outside and down the street to 7-11 where I bought a half-gallon bottle of drinking water for $35 NT (about $1.00 US). Now I was set, and I returned to my abode and drank almost the entire bottle in one sitting, not realizing how thirsty I was until the first drops had touched my tongue.
Back upstairs, I now had another problem: boredom. I had no T.V., no internet, and nothing left of my possessions to put away. I had no food to prepare or to eat, and no beer to drink. For a while I sat in the half-light of dim florescent bulbs, sipping my water and staring into space, rolling over the events of the day. I sat down to write, but the motivation wasn't there, so I closed my laptop and accepted defeat. It was only 9:30, and I didn't feel all that tired. However, there was nothing else to do but sleep, so I stripped down to my boxers and flopped down on my bed on the floor.
It was at this time that I realized that I did not have a mattress. When inspecting the room during the showing days earlier, I had gingerly rested my foot upon the "mattress", which felt firm and sturdy. "Good," I thought, "I like a firm sleeping surface." This is true, I feel like I sleep better on hard rather than soft. This fact still did not detract from the shock of landing on my new bed and realizing that it was actually just a box spring. I bounced back up into the air as I hit the springs, the coils barely covered by a thin layer of padding and fabric. This, on top of the air-conditioning malfunction, was a major blow to my optimism and confidence in my choice of apartments. I lay there on my stomach, the metal digging into my ribs, and took stock of what I DIDN'T have; I did not have A.C., sheets, pillow, pillowcase, blanket, or mattress. Okay, so this is getting to be more and more like camping every second! As I felt the pity party about to begin, I gave myself a shake and reminded myself why I am here. I am not here to be comfortable, I am not some voluptuary. I am here to push myself, to go outside of my comfort zone and experience something new and (although maybe only felt in retrospect) amazing. I am here to bring home stories, songs, and scars, and to discover that the best memories are are often forged in the red fires and the deep blue hardships, not in the grays that cover the well-traveled path like winter shadows. I am here to watch myself grow into the man I have always wanted to be, and to know that this growth can only come through the experience of intense joy or pain; the road to wisdom and happiness does not run through mediocrity. I am here. And here - this naked box spring holding up my half-naked body under naked light-bulbs - is either everything I've ever wanted OR a terrible nightmare that has soaked into my reality like blood through a bandage. The choice was mine to make.
I crawled to my bag and grabbed my black zip-up hooded sweatshirt, the only cold-weather article of clothing I packed beside a light jacket. I folded it twice to make a thick cotton padding, then reached up and flipped the light switch by my desk. I lay my head down on my hoodie, and waited for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. Lights from the shops began to waft in through the glass porch door, and I could hear the faint sound of an ice-cream truck as it ambled down the darkened alleys. Wait? An ice-cream truck? At this hour? All at once I felt extremely sleepy, and my brain ceased to pursue the query any further. I allowed my heavy eyes to close, and like a factory closing for the night, I began to feel my body shutting down. I could no longer feel the heat summoning perspiration on my face, or the scratchy box spring under my back, or the lumpy sweatshirt beneath my head. I was a cadaver on a table, a specimen, a paralyzed experiment. The last thing I remember hearing was the sirens carrying someone to the Hsinchu General Hospital two blocks away. I imagined myself in the back of the ambulance and faded into the rising crescendo as the doppler effect shifted the pitches and distance swallowed the sound like the night...