News / South Africa

Virginia Keppler
4 minute read
26 Oct 2017
7:00 am

From ‘sci-fi’ toilet seats to shaking hands with Taiwan’s president

Virginia Keppler

I accomplished so much in such a short space of time but I only learnt one Taiwanese word while I was there.

There I was, taking in the view from the top of the Taipei 101, Taiwan’s tallest building, which used to be the world’s tallest building until 2010, when suddenly I found myself surrounded by two large groups of Vietnamese and Chinese tourists, ogling me.

I looked one of them straight in the eye.

He responded by giving me the biggest smile and I smiled back.

I was still trying to make sense of what was going on when it became a case of “lights, camera, action” with me starring in a reality show tens of thousands of kilometres from home.

The next thing I was directed to stand and sit and make all sorts of movements with people I had never seen before.

Confused, I thought it might be that they had never seen someone with such beautiful glowing African skin before and that they all wanted a picture to prove that they had met a “black baby angel” who can smile, laugh, sit, stand and strike all kinds of poses directed only by way of sign language.

I decided to humour them and play along. The next thing I was directed to loosen my braids.

That’s when the fun really began. At first it was just the young females. They seemed incapable of letting go of me.

They were joined by the older females and the next thing I literally had old men sitting on my lap, grabbing me in a tight hug, smiling as if Christmas had come early.

Meanwhile, my colleague from Swaziland, Mbongeni Mbingo, came looking for me and the minute they saw him, he was designated the official photographer.

He also tried to pose for a few pictures, but they were not interested in him.

I asked Mbongeni to try and figure out what was going on. After much deliberation with hand signs and funny sounds, it was discovered that it was not my skin at all that fascinated them, but my golden braids.

They believed it was my real hair. That’s when I realised how some of them had touched my hair and nodded to each other.

What else could I do but laugh. I shook my head and tossed my braids from side to side and everybody was happy.

Mbongeni and I eventually had to flee from my fans to get away. That night, I browsed Taipei’s night market for two hours, accompanying my Fijian friend and new bestie, Nasik Swami, who was on a mission to buy some particular piece of underwear – which we never found.

This is the same Nasik I sang to the Wednesday at midnight at a bar in the middle of Taipei as we celebrated his birthday, alone, with one candle, one custard pastry and two Heinekens.

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For his birthday, I agreed to help him look for a McDonald’s.

So we walked for more than an hour in the rain. And, yay, we eventually found one and Nasik was happy. But the most impressive thing in Taipei was the toilet seat in my suite.

It looked like a gadget from a sci-fi movie and it had all these buttons and glowing lights.

One morning as I was brushing my teeth, I thought I should really try it out. I couldn’t come home not having tested that thing.

And so I sat down on a mission to discover the pleasures of this seat.

Well, the water just kept running. I couldn’t figure out how to get it to stop. All the instructions were in Mandarin.

Fortunately, I discovered the pictures and figured out that the black square means stop.

So I pushed it. Smiling, I thought to myself that everybody should have the luxury of this seat in their homes.

Later that morning, as I got onto a bus tired and worried that my feet may never be the same again, I couldn’t help but say out loudly: “Ek is nou moeg gestap. (“I am tired of walking.”).

Imagine my shock when I heard a reply: “Is jy moeg?” (“Are you tired?”) followed by a contagious laugh. It was Arat Nir, an Israeli journalist who speaks very good Afrikaans.

He learnt the language while working and visiting relatives here. Hearing my mother tongue was just what the doctor ordered and we couldn’t stop babbling.

Arat told me how, as a journalist, he used to drive alone in Soweto in the ’80s and I said I was not surprised because he was a white man in an apartheid state.

He remembers the numerous phone calls he had to make to South Africa’s presidency and how a lady would always say “wees net ’n bietjie geduldig, ek gaan u nou deurskakel.” (“Be a bit patient, I will put you through shortly.”).

After a week in which I also had the honour of shaking the President of Taiwan’s hand, I have to admit, I have met extraordinary people from around the world in an extraordinarily beautiful country.

I accomplished so much in such a short space of time but I only learnt one Taiwanese word while I was there. Xièxiè. ( Thank you).