Most visitors to our fourth story pad a'top the Berhan Language Institute spend time mingling with the thirteen English teachers living here, take a peak into the spacious bedrooms, comfortable lounge, and communal kitchen area. Then they look at the quote board. Thirteen highly charged single adults living together in a country foreign to their own are bound to say some pretty awkward things and then cover for each other by unanimously declaring the awkward things humorous. Such is the cause for creating a quote board to honor and immortalize for a time the otherwise unhonorable and very mortal string of unfortunate words. Covering up the true embarrassment of a thing created always requires efforts so extreme that even were the thing something forgettable, it is no longer such. Proving its innocence has unwittingly preserved its idiocy. One quote on our board reads, "I just stood there like an idiot, slapping myself." The words are mine . . . or so the board says. Would that they were not mine, or at least that the board did not say they were mine. Had the words never been written up at all, several months in the future while we thirteen sat recalling long since abated humor, someone would have tried to remember who said that one thing that one time in that one place, and I would have kept silent, a thoroughly puzzled look clouding my features. But the thing was recorded. And oh, the power of writing a thing. I'm afraid the phrase and its owner will remain attached and remembered, though always pardoned for the sake of "good times."
But now for the context. It was New Years eve and we were in Taiwan. You might think Chinese New Year is a big deal in Taiwan. It is. Only its not on New Years. It's on Chinese New Year, which is February or March. The Chinese are still connected enough to western culture to spare a few sparklers and bottle rockets when December 31st expires, but the real show comes months later. So, westerners, contained in an unfamiliar level of New Year celebration, are caught forming a bubble in the which their own culture can be constructed and thus, provide the required sensation that the New Year actually happened. These cultural bubbles seem to breed awkward phrases, the likes of which appear on quote boards never to be brought down and destroyed, lest someone be hanged for erasing justification. We were playing a kind of charades game, only a slight variation on another game we had just finished playing and wrung dry of all necessary potency, and I was acting the part of an employee coming to work several hours late and being reamed out by my boss. While my employer sat demanding explanations, I was attempting to draw conclusion about my tardiness from the silent mimes furiously acting out my reasons behind the employers back. I spoke in first person, but looked at the mimes in third. After several failed attempts to get the excited nods I needed from the mimes, one of them started slapping himself as another mime threw her hands in his face. I didn't know the one was playing the part of a fire and the other was hitting himself to extinguish it. So when my boss asked me for the umpteenth time what the heck I did when I got out of bed that morning, I finally said, "I don't know, I just stood there like an idiot, slapping myself." It went on the board.