We Live in Public

We are about to cast off, heading towards the Philippines in pursuit of the deserted anchorages and pristine bays. However, at the very moment we write this, we are literally still trapped in the heart of the civilization.

Cikánský vůz

Our gypsy wagon

We live on a 31 feet long sailboat in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, in the tourist area called Xiziwan. We sleep and work in the main cabin, which is basically a 3x3m room with a small galley, navigation table and two settees with another table in the middle. Towards the bow, there is a 1×2.5m closet and a V-berth. Cockpit (2×1.7m) at the stern is our porch.

Janna is tied with her bow facing the shore. Every ten minutes a ferry full of cheering tourists passes approximately ten meters behind our stern. We no longer pay attention to all those hellos, howareyous, wieheisstdus (our boat is now registered in Germany), that from time to time reverberate over the water surface. Instead we rigged a piece of canvas at the stern to prevent the zestful tourists from peering into our porch and from there directly into our living room.

Approximately five meters in front of the bow is a promenade. Coaches park next to the promenade alongside the road (six to seven of them fit there at a time). At regular intervals they spew out herds of tourists from Mainland China that immediately surround the railing guarding the marina. They chitter. They stare. Therefore right in front of the companionway we put up another piece of canvas.

We live in the tropics, so the temperature inside the boat scarcely drops below 30 degrees Celsius. Usually our fans manage to stir the hot air enough, so that we are able to work on the computer without a constant drip of sweat from our foreheads that would land directly on our keyboards.  We do have “waterproof” keyboards from Lenovo, but sometimes enough is enough. In those high temperatures, it’s inevitable that the brain just fails from time to time. At a pinch, we simply wrap a wet towel around our heads. All the processors need cooling after all.

Cikánský vůz zezadu

Rear view of our gypsy wagon

Of course we enjoy lounging in the cockpit, hidden in the shade of our big cockpit canvas that protects us from the gazes of the omnipresent tourists and naturally from the blinding glare of the sun. This is especially important when you have to stare at a monitor.

We are still at the stage of repairing and upgrading, so we tend to spend a lot of time on the pier, which is our workshop. We saw, file, sand and paint under the constant eye of the ever-present tourists. On the other hand, how many people can pride themselves of having a workshop right in the middle of the Wenceslas Square (or in the center of the Time Square for that matter)? And the Chinese just love lecturing each other. Usually, the men lecture women, the elderly the younger ones, the bosses their subordinates. The reproduction of their philosophizing is unbelievably simple. Unfortunately, those who never heard one of those Chinese wisenheimers with his or her own ears, probably won’t believe.

He: “There’s a boat.”

She: “Oh. Really?”

He: “And the boat has sails.”

She: “It’s a sailboat.”

He: „Only the rich and prosperous buy sailboats.”

She: “That’s right. Only the rich and the prosperous.”

He: “And only foreigners buy sailboats.”

She: “Yes. Foreigners.”

He: “It’s a private sailboat.”

Now they have just spotted us on the pier, sweating all over and bending over a wooden plank with handsaw, wood file and the lot.

He: “Look! The foreigners are sawing. Quickly! You must see this!”

She: “Wow. Really! The foreigners are sawing a plank.”

Chorus: “Gee. Foreigners sawing a plank!” The rest of the group is summoned and everybody is pointing their fingers at us.

So you see, we don’t get bored while working. Sometimes we think it would be better not to understand Chinese. On the other hand, some of the remarks are just hilarious.

Recently we recollected a documentary called We live in public, which is about an experiment carried out at the end of the 1990s by Josh Harris, one of the contemporary entrepreneurs, who has foreseen the future of the social networks. Back then people would laugh at him. Today the children of those same people do exactly what he predicted and with which he experimented. When we saw the documentary, we weren’t laughing at him anymore, after all Facebook and the lot has long been established, but never has it occurred to me that we would actually be living a life exactly like this, even though only for few weeks.

It begins with the breakfast. We simply love our cockpit-porch and won’t give up eating our breakfast out in the open just because couple of early-risers gaze right into our plates. In reality our breakfasts are usually rather undisturbed, because we get up at six when it’s still nice and cool (i.e. about 25 degrees Celsius) and at that time most of the Taiwanese are still sound asleep. Apart from an occasional retiree on his or her morning walk or the public toilet lady, all is quiet.

After breakfast we chuck out our tools and timber out of the boat onto the pier and work and amuse ourselves with the prating of the passers-by, until the noon sun drives us back aboard into the shade.

None of our lunches go by without dozens of hands furiously pointing in our direction. Not only did their eyes landed on a “rich man’s sailboat”, now they even spotted a couple of “white guys”, a.k.a. “foreigners”, that are just stuffing themselves with something! “Hey, quickly have a look! The white people are eating something. What is that?” Being a zoo animal really sucks!

Every day we refine the configuration of the few pieces of canvas that turn our beautiful boat into a gypsy wagon. Is it really truth that only the rich guys buy sailboats? Is it really possible that the burnt through, shredded old piece of canvas left on the boat by the previous owner really doesn’t give them any clue as to the true state of our wallets?

In the afternoon we continue working on the pier. The stream of remarks and comments never ceases. Sometimes the frequency of the tourists is low, however, and sometimes the group consists of rubbernecks only. In those moments we almost get bored.

The pier we are tied to, though half rotten and almost broken up, is one of the local tourist attractions. Chinese-style attractions that’s tinsel and neon lights. Just picture a typical scene in Hong Kong: a street full of multicolored signs, notices and posters. Here the neon lights that illuminate us are surprisingly dim and not that colorful. However, one really powerful white halogen light is pointed directly at our pier thus successfully blinding us in the process. So every day after dinner before we sit down to our tea (sometimes it’s real tea, sometimes it’s just a code name for beer), we first have to lower that annoying, already piping-hot light. At the beginning our fingers got burnt a few times before we figured out where to grab the hot light and tilt it down.

The nights are usually peaceful. Luckily there’s no cafeteria or restaurant in the vicinity and the stall that sells Chinese dumplings across the street closes around seven. If the weather is fine, we sleep in the cockpit. From time to time a homeless man spends his night on one of the benches nearby. Occasionally are we woken up by the giggle and stamping of few teenagers that came to party on one of the piers.

And then another day comes.

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