Unscripted Adventures

(This post is part of a larger story I experienced in Taiwan called The Tea Shop.  If you haven’t seen this story, you might check it out or read it later.)

One of the communities I am involved with is called Breakthrough.  It is an immersive seminar that helps people address unresolved issues in their life.  During the process, I developed a positive “I am…” statement based on the work they do at Breakthrough.  My personal mantra says, “I am a playful, adventurous and mystical man who is enough.”  The playful part has to do with the celebration that I talked about in my previous book, “Finding God Finding Me.”  The mystical part is because I want to have true experiences with God.  But the adventurous part is probably what led to the scooter ride and, ultimately, to the Tea Shop.

I have always liked adventure.  I remember long summer days with one of my brothers, Monty.  One day we discovered a creek that had crawdads in it.  We spent the better part of the morning searching under rocks for the elusive crayfish.  If you have never seen one, they look at little like a tiny lobster.  Early in the afternoon, we ventured to the other side of town on our bicycles to sell the crawdads to a bait shop we knew about.  Could this be the dawning of a burgeoning empire?  Probably not, since most of them died on the way to the shop.  Oh, well on to another adventure.  We spent the better part of a summer building a raft which we hoped to float in a nearby pond.  We discovered that the pond was only about a foot deep when the raft sank upon entry.  We just left it there.

Later in life, as I became more successful, this is probably what I missed most–the little adventures.  Adventures didn’t necessarily have a specific outcome in mind.  It was more a moving target that we adjusted as we searched for resources and found our way toward our ever-changing desires.  We just decided one day to paint addresses on curbs, but after spending all our earnings on Dr. Pepper at the store, we moved on to another adventure and changed the goal posts.

The business world taught me to have well-constructed plans.  Brainstorming, focusing, goal-setting, planning, resourcing, prioritizing, execution, evaluation.  Wait, what about the new methodology?  How can implement these new strategies as we move forward?  Just a few more meetings and we’ll be able to sell this idea and implement it before the end of the year.  Corporate strategies are similar to adventures and that is probably why some people stay interested past the two-hour meeting.  I imagine the great innovators and inventors and people that really changed our times were probably just kids that didn’t fully grow up and never really lost their sense of adventure.  The rest of us are just trying to mimic what they did in a more organized and sometimes unproductive manner.

The original adventure was well-planned.  That was my fault.  I pushed my son, who is still comfortable with adventure, to put some definite plans in place so we would “know what we are doing.”  It gave me somewhat of a sense of peace to be able to have a plan when we were in a foreign country half way around the world.  It gave me some assurance to plan things out, but I often wonder how much planning does it take to obliterate the true nature of an adventure?  Is it an adventure if it’s structured and planned and predictable?  Wait, do we need to have another meeting before we leave?

Luckily, some unexpected things happened along the way to return this excursion to an adventure.  Taiwan is well equipped with several trains that mostly run North and South the length of the island.  I forget the names of them, but one of them is the high-speed rail.  Some of them have reserved seats and some of them are kind of general admission.  They are all fairly clean and inexpensive and the people are all friendly.  Our first side adventure began when my son made a calculated move.  We were waiting for the train we were supposed to take when my son said, “Hey, we could probably get on that train.”  Under my breath I said, “Ehhh, I don’t know if that’s a smart move,” but I kept quiet because adventure sometimes means taking a little risk.

Jordan went on to explain that the train we were on had reserved seats and our tickets were for the other general admission train, “but, it should be fine, there aren’t that many people,” he exclaimed.   I should admit that my wife Laura doesn’t prefer to break the rules.  She’s not against adventure, but she likes to follow the rules to the letter.  I know, it’s a contradiction, but who am I to tell her how to run her life.  As we progressed South through the mountains, people began to board the train at each stop.  Before we knew it, we were moving to different seats because people pointed at the seats and showed us their ticket.  It was the calm, Taiwan way of saying “Get the heck out of my chair that I paid for.”   Eventually, the reserved seats were all full and we were left standing in a passageway next to the bathrooms.

Before I go on, you must understand the bathrooms.  First, they are very clean.  They are clean because the public restrooms are cleaned all day long.  In the men’s bathroom, when they are separate from the women, it is not uncommon to see an older lady mopping the floor with dozens of men in the bathroom.  No yellow sign, no waiting for her to finish.  Just a coexistence that seems normal to everyone, so I went with it.   Some of the bathrooms are like ours, but some of them are more like a little bathtub on the floor.  To use them you either have to squat down above them or else have very good aim.  I mention this because, during this adventure, as we are standing in the passageway, I realize I am going to have use one of these bathrooms and I’m going to have to sit down (know what I mean?).

Jordan coached me on the proper way to do this.  I knew Laura’s bowels would explode before she would ever go on this level of adventure, but me being the adventurous one (it’s in my contract) and all, I squatted down and tried to relax.  I was having some success until the train rounded the bend (I assume) and began to kind of rhythmically slam me against the wall.  They may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s what I remember.  You will be happy to know that everything stayed in its proper place, but I felt like just going to the bathroom was a good unexpected side adventure.  I think of the bathroom where there is a candle burning and I read Reader’s Digest or just look at my phone these days.   But even bathrooms can turn into adventures when you’re open to the unplanned.

The next little mini-adventure was when the conductor of the train finally caught up with us.  He was very nice but very insistent that we were on the wrong train.  I think the cleaning guy snitched us out.  He probably heard me carrying on in the bathroom or maybe he just hated Americans or something (might as well be paranoid, right?).   After we paid the conductor the difference in price, he found us a nice seat up toward the front.  I think Laura was embarrassed by the whole incident, but it reminded me of being a kid and ultimately running into an adult that had the courage to tell me to stop doing this or that that was out of the ordinary.   I’m not advocating criminal activity just saying sometimes you have to color outside the lines a little by getting away from the master plan.

When we finally got off the train, we were going to just walk to a hotel.  The area was thick with travelers and some tourists from what I could tell.  Immediately we were singled out by the cabbie who began talking us into staying at his motel.  He spoke some broken English and seemed almost a little disappointed when Jordan could communicate in his native tongue.  We kind of knew we were being scammed at little, but we were tired from the adventure and just wanted a place to stay.  He drove us across town to the motel rooms above his house and we settled in for the night.  It was cheap and clean and ultimately not that bad of a place.  I was glad that I could dismiss the fact that this guy reminded me of a lot of several scary people in the movies.

I slept well, picked up some fruit at the market and then we rented the scooters.  After the accident that day, we kind of stumbled around town, licked our wounds (so to speak) and attempted to devise a new plan.  It seemed like the responsible thing to do.  We still wanted to see Taroko National Park.  Everyone said to go there, and our son had visited it previously with some of his friends.  We discovered that we could take the bus to the gorge and then continue on foot.  We would not see as much of the gorge, but maybe we could look a little closer.

That is exactly what happened.  We spent most of the next day walking along trails toward the bottom of gorge.  We met some local indigenous people that sold us some trinkets and we did things like putting our feet in the water and exploring all the nooks and crannies of this magnificent landmark.  As I put my feet in the water, my mind returned to that other adventure half-way across the world when we searched for crawdads.   I almost started turning over rocks, but I assessed, “we’ll never make it to the bait shop.”

In summarizing the day, I felt thankful that plans had changed.  The time spent exploring the gorge was that most memorable thing I had experienced so far.  Beauty seemed to unravel all around me and even though it was uncomfortably hot, and I was exhausted, it was refreshing just to know that something good came out of plans that didn’t come to fruition.  I was beginning to understand what I knew as a kid.  Sometimes the best adventures are the ones that are unscripted.  The purest example of that is when we would visit the Tea Shop a few days later.    The Tea Shop was probably one of the greatest adventures of my life and none of it was planned.

In retrospect, I think I like all three types of adventures – the things I sometimes plan successfully, the things that happen when plans change and the things that just happen out of the blue.  The things I can plan for and execute give me a sense of accomplishment.  We need some order in our lives, but not too much.  It seems that too much order and control can make us crazy.  I also need the unexpected changes in plans that bring color and variety to my grey and ordered itineraries.  The unexpected paints in the water colored outline of my planning with a vibrant splash of adventure.   And then there are the Tea Shop type of things that we could never plan for and don’t happen every day.  But, may I learn to experience those time and be grateful for what they teach me.

Blessings,

Karl


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