that time we accidentally stayed in a love motel

as much as I've shared in this space, there are some travel stories that have felt too horrifying or embarrassing to tell. [at least without a little bit of distance.] but the truth is these stories are still a part of my expat experience - and in some cases - too entertaining NOT to share.

a few weeks after our arrival in Taiwan, back four years ago, we planned a trip to Hualien and Taroko Gorge with some of our new friends. our lodging for the weekend ended up being... not quite as planned. I mentioned it briefly but never went into great detail because I was so traumatized by the whole experience, and embarrassed by what I felt was my "lack of worldliness" and ability to just roll it. thankfully, now I'm able to laugh about it.

there were 5 of us who took this road trip together, packed in a rental car for 6 hours to get from Hsinchu to Hualien. Peter was driving, since he spoke Mandarin and was able to rent the car. I was riding up front as I have a tendency to get carsick. Luke was in the backseat with our married friends Jackie and Sean.

the drive down Taiwan's east coat is beautiful if somewhat treacherous. a typhoon had blown through the week before and many portions of the road were covered in landslide or even washed down the cliff into the sea below. the road was narrow and hugged a lot of curving hills. and most of the tunnels we drove through did not have any interior lights. we stopped at every scenic outlook for the views - but also for a break from the adrenaline of the drive.

by the time we arrived in Hualien, we were all a bit on edge. I was getting hangry from lack of allergy-friendly options at our lunch stop. and increasingly irritated once I realized no one actually knew where our hotel was located. [at this point, none of us had smart phones to try looking up directions.]

Peter and Jackie had booked our hotel through a travel agent - he spoke the language and she had traveled extensively through Asia with her husband Sean. but the booking confirmation and address was printed in Mandarin, which none of us could read. after driving around aimlessly for a while, Peter pulled over to ask for directions. apparently we had been heading the wrong way. at one point he rolled down the window to ask some teenagers if they knew where our hotel was and they just drove off laughing hysterically. he stopped again and asked an old lady on the side of the road, and she directed us back the way we had come.

this "fly by the seat of your pants" approach was completely the opposite of how I had previously traveled. I grew up reading guide books and making spreadsheets before each family vacation, having all information printed and on hand before my bags were even packed for work trips. for my first experience traveling in Taiwan and traveling in Asia, I did not think things were going so well.

in the middle of all this Jackie decided to give me a pep talk about "lowering expectations." she and her husband had spent 3 months traveling Asia on a tight budget, and she had plenty of experience to share. "it's not going to be like hotels you're used to - it definitely won't be as clean. there might only be squat toilets. there might still be shit in the toilet. once we opened our room and a rat ran out... was that Malaysia? and in Cambodia we had bedbugs."

Luke cut her off before she could say any more, since he could see me starting to panic and scratching imaginary bug bites already. "but those were really low budget places... this hotel won't be that bad, right?"

"well, originally we asked for the cheapest place but that was just 6 mats on the floor. so we went with the second cheapest." she tried to reassure me.

eventually we made a series of turns which led us to our hotel. we pulled up under the building to a drive-though like window. I thought it was weird, but not knowing anything about hotels in Asia I kept my mouth shut. Peter spoke with the attendant [who was giving me major eyeballs] and then we drove though into a courtyard with a bunch of garage doors with numbers on them.

"that was strange. he asked me if we had a reservation or if we were just here to rest." Peter said as he pulled up to one of the garages. we parked inside and saw there was a staircase leading up. I was thinking there were many strange things about this place. at the top of the stairs, next to the room entrance, was a condom dispenser. we all kindof laughed "safety first!" "well, that's convenient..." and I held my breath as Sean opened the door.

the room was fine. Jackie confirmed there was not only NO shit in the toilet, but that it was clean and western style. she also checked for bedbugs - which were not present. the room looked normal enough - one big bed for Jackie and Sean and a small rollaway with cartoon sheets for Peter. "I'm almost disappointed after your pep talk!" I said. maybe the word I meant to use was relieved.

but we still had to check the room where Luke and I were staying.

we all went down and across to another garage, up the stairs and past another condom dispenser. I was the first one into the room. I made it about 3 steps in before I was halted by a very strange sight. there was a chair up against the opposite wall. but it didn't quite look right. I blinked and tried to figure out why it looked so weird. it was sort of a cross between a leather recliner, a weightlifting bench... and something you would find in a gynecologist’s office.

I was still trying to figure it out when everyone walked in behind me and saw it. "oh my god, it's a SEX CHAIR!" "why doesn't our room have one of these?" "look at the handles... it's adjustable!" "is that a cigarette burn?" "the wall behind it is all banged up" "oh gross, don't touch it!" they were all joking about it, taking pictures [which you see above] and laughing while I still stood there trying not to have a full blown panic attack.

I was horrified. I wanted to leave. to find another hotel, to sleep in the car, to hop a plane back to America and never leave again.

as strange as it sounds, I think this became one of the defining moments of my life. I was faced with the choice of throwing a temper tantrum, demanding we leave, and ruining everyone's trip... or accepting that sometimes weird shit happens when you travel and you just have to deal with it.

so I took some deep breaths, tried to laugh about it, and didn't touch anything in that room that I didn't have to for the rest of our stay.

[for reference, the sign outside our hotel. part of it roughly translates to: private rooms for lovers, Valentine themed suites, rest 2 hours for 600 NT.]

the trauma of our love motel experience didn't quite end with the chair. less than an hour later we experienced our first major earthquake in Taiwan [which was terrifying] and that night I barely slept because we couldn't figure out how to turn off the lights while keeping the air conditioner on. looking back - I can't believe I didn't have an epic meltdown. thankfully the next day we spent hiking in Taroko Gorge. the beauty of that place [which is possibly my favorite spot on this island] managed to convince me that Taiwan wasn't all that bad.

one last thing - the reason I've finally shared this story [after 4 years] is to link up with Emma, Angie and Aftab for "the most interesting thing I've found in a hotel room." let's hope that nothing I encounter in the future will ever top this!

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