Random Experiences: War Games in the Jungle
Note: Exaggerations might be sprinkled throughout the following prose to add a bit more tension, excitement, humor and baadassness! Unnecessary adjectives and an overall heightened reality should be embraced.
Last weekend my buddy Stuart came to visit for a couple days. What do you do when a guest comes to town? Why take them to get shot at of course!
Some of you might remember my friend Stuart from such Warner Life Chapters as Spain 2005 and NYC Part 1. Stuart is from the Dallas region of Texas and was my housemate in Salamanca at Casa del Oscar y Leticia. Oscar and Leticia were our young host parents who we quickly figured out were only in it solely for the money. Summed up: If you weren’t sure what “poor man’s paella” is, I’ll tell ya, it’s pretty much just hot dogs, rice and ketchup. They had nothing but contempt for Stuart by the end of our time there (long story) and as a result questioned my friendship with him. Spain aside, Stuart is a great friend and a fellow traveler soaking up all there is to experience here in Asia.
Stuart has been in the Far East since he graduated from college. He lived on a small island in southern Japan then moved to Mainland China for six months and is now living in Hong Kong, teaching English at a Japanese school.
Oink-Oink Flu recently broke out in HK and as a result the majority of the city schools were closed indefinitely. Stuart and I had been planning on meeting up at some point (I figured I would visit him in HK once a free weekend came around) so when he found himself with nothing to do for an extended weekend he jumped a cheap flight and stopped by Taipei.
I know if I were visiting a friend in a foreign city the opportunity to shoot perfect strangers with skin-bruising paint pellets would be right up my alley. I was able to get Stuart on the list and Sunday morning we headed out of Taipei with my housemate Ant and our friend Jenn.
Paintball is a messy affair and it doesn’t help that our battle was to be set in a steamy mountain forest arena, after two days of continuous rain. We were told to bring old, ratty clothes and shoes, both of which I don’t have seeing as I’m still fairly new to Taiwan. I found an old pair of sneakers left by the guy who used to rent my room (a small size 11), cut holes in the front to let my finger-toes breathe, and grabbed a white tee-shirt, which I hoped would accentuate some of the fluorescent colored flesh wounds that I, the bulls-eye-tall novice, was sure to endure.
There were around thirty of us to start but by the end only a handful of brave souls remained.
Mobilizing a large group such as ours is hard work. We rendezvoused at the closest MRT station at 11:40, shared a series of cabs to the actual park. Arrived at 12:30, went through a brief orientation (primarily in Chinese mind you, however, it was easy to understand certain no-no’s like never take your face mask off and yes, shooting someone at point blank range could do some serious damage) and by 13:30hrs we were dressed in our army fatigues and ready for battle.
We split into two teams. Ant, Jenn and Stuart were on one, and I found myself on the opposing side. “I’ll see you in hell” I would later tell them. Choosing teams was a bit like the playground politics of softball in elementary school with the “sure thing” players getting picked first and the questionables hugging the bench till the end. I wasn’t the last person picked but I definitely wasn’t in the first round pick either. I suppose being tall doesn’t bode well for war.
14:00 hrs: We make the trek up a steep hill to the first terrain, a timed warm-up course that pits the two teams against each other in a free-for-all, last man standing scenario.
The course has a number of obstacles, hiding bunkers, and plenty of trees to use for cover. I decide to go all out for the first game and take a front position behind a giant tractor tire.
I run down the slick hill and take a crouching position behind the yellow and red stained mass facing enemy fire. Little yellow pellets start whizzing by my head. To the right of me one of my teammates takes a fatal shot to the chest, his blue shirt sodden yellow.
Pellets explode upon impact as they rain down upon my surprisingly feeble cover. My thick and rolling hair (I’m in need of a haircut by this point as the photo above can attest) catches a fair amount of side spray and eventually I catch a direct hit to my facemask, blinding my peripheral vision yellow.
During orientation we are told that if you receive a “kill shot,” the proper etiquette is to slowly rise with your weapon pointed towards the sky in a surrendering, “I’m dead” position. Once you’re in the shit, however, rules don’t seem to apply.
I consider trying to wipe the war scars from my facemask to elude those around me but decide to play by the rules. I rise and am immediately struck in the back by one of many faceless soldiers–friend or foe, I may never know who was responsible for my sole body wound of the day.
Our team ends up taking the first game, despite my unfortunate demise (a loss for the team you see) three-minutes into play. We switch sides and the Taiwanese coaches inform us of a some game changes, the most intriguing of which involves lighting a decently-sized bottle rocket at a mutual, no man’s land halfway point.
The goal is still kill as many of the opposition as possible with the additional five points rewarded to the brave soul crazy enough to light a flimsy but powerful proper rocket during the mayhem of yellow. The coaches warn both teams that the rocket must remain standing upright so as not to pull a sporadic flight into someone’s exposed neck flesh.
I take point behind two trees lined with green mesh material indicating a safety zone. I have a direct view of the rocket and set my aim to kill. The first to make it to the rocket, Brian, who was one of the hosts of the day’s festivities and was also enjoying a birthday, is from the opposing team and as he starts to reach for the lighter I unleash a fury of yellow his way. Birthday or not, I don’t give him the satisfaction of mercy.
It’s hard to say what happened next. I definitely hit him in the arm (merely a flesh wound!) and me thinks I take out his shoulder as well, however, he manages to light the rocket, which of course falls to its side and zips to the right, directly into a tree, a tree which very well could’ve have been an unfortunate Taiwanese girl dragged into the mess of war by her boyfriend. Or worse, yours truly, a tall-ass bloke who’s only experience on the battlefield consists of “Full Metal Jacket,” “The Thin Red Line,” and countless Schwarzenegger vehicles, including the appropriately set jungle guerilla warfare of “Predator.”
15:45 hr: We re-hydrate, wipe the combat juice, a putrid mélange of sweat and yellow chemical paint, from our masks, and make our way to the second course of the day.
If the first two games were merely warm-ups for the real deal, a la paintball basic training, the “trench” obstacle course that followed was the no-holds-barred game that the hardcore players amongst us were dreaming of.
The course was built on a long and steep hill that was made even more treacherous thanks to the week’s subtropical rainfall. Each end of the course had a flag–one red, one that was at one time or another some sort of blue. The game changes yet again.
Kill shots go from torso and above to strictly the head shot, duration time goes from six minutes to fourteen, and the goal of the game is simple enough: capture the opposition’s flag without catching a yellow stray to the face.
Our team strategize for a good ten minutes setting up a fierce defense line and sending our smallest and fastest out for the slaughter with hopes of at least one reaching the flag. I take a defensive position behind a fallen tree and some shrubs, which I later discover also, house a colony of Taiwanese ants. Ingenious little fuckers who manage to infiltrate my body suit via the sleeves. We are confident and seemingly prepared for anything that comes are way. The firecracker game starter is lit and we rush into position. It’s not two minutes into the game when my housemate Ant and three other fearless bastards rush our defensive line without a hitch and storm the flag. Damn. One instant I’m keeping my eye out for a curious enemy trying to test my sniper skills and the next, my housemate is literally leaping over my position to the prize.
We lose the first round mainly due to the fact that head shots are harder than they sound, especially when you’re running at top speed.
The next game we lose five players, one from our team, four from the other, each saying they need to get back to Taipei for work (on a Sunday). For those of us drenched in sweat, mud and yellow, we know these cowards simply don’t have the cajones for war.
The teams are uneven and our team needs volunteers to change sides. I feel no particular attachment to my clan, considering by the second game we were hardly a band of brothers. I end up volunteering with the plan to play alongside Stuart and Ant, maybe even getting a chance to shoot Stuart on friendly turf. What happened next can only be described as one of those, “for real?” moments in the life of Warner.
While my first team was pretty intense in its preparation (the team captain hinted at a military past during one of his game plan powwows) the other side was more relaxed and it basically seemed like “an every man for themselves” plan.
I initially stayed in the back on defense but quickly grew tired of the lack of action and decided to make a go for it.
In an act of pure pyrotechnical wickedness one of the Taiwanese coaches set off a couple smoke bombs filling the dugout trenches with a protective purple haze (“Apocalypse Now” anyone?). I moved quickly into the colored fog, staying low and keeping my air-powered weapon at kill height.
My vision had become blurred from perspiration and countless wipes from the communal paint towel. Yellow pellets continued to rain down around me but there were also stretches of eerie silence. At one point I look down at my hand shaking to the sound of paintball fire. I’m in the shit.
At one point I didn’t really know where I was in relation to the opposition’s flag but I found myself locked in a heated firefight (or should I say yellow ball fight) with an enemy combatant perched behind some shrubbery on top of a small hill.
I carefully crawl closer to my foe’s position and begin to unleash all hell. Up until this point I had been using my paintball ammo sparingly but with this duel I go ballistic.
After a while the unfortunate soul in my sight gets up and retreats back up the hill, which of course prompts me to shoot him in the back. Who knew I could be so ruthless?
I then realize that I am fairly close to the flag, a mere 300 yards down a trench and over a small hill. My vision is obscured and I can’t really tell who’s around me but I decide to make a run for it.
I sprint down the carved mud trench tripping, or should I say, strategically falling, all along the way. Surprisingly nobody is standing guard so I rush over the hill and touch the flag in a fit of glory. Remember that scene at the end of “The Rock” where Nicolas Cage falls to his knees with a white flag in hand behind a wave of fire. That’s me. The Taiwanese female coach, a beast of a woman who clearly considers paintball more of a lifestyle rather merely an amusing Sunday afternoon gala, blows her whistle and the game the remaining live souls on both teams rendezvous at the neutral zone.
It’s always refreshing to know that the most unassuming of us all can sometimes doing incredible things. My first team seemed stunned and I must say a bit disappointed that I didn’t bring the thunder while I was on their side. My team members were just happy to have won. One Taiwanese girl didn’t even know I was on her team. War, I learn, is all about keeping a low profile then shocking the hell out of those around you. To be fair I probably just got lucky.
17:30 hr: Stuart, Ant and I catch a cab and head back to Taipei. We are soaked with sweat and my hair is a possum’s nest of waves and yellow.
Stuart and I are beat (especially since the paintball excursion followed a night of drinking) but I decide that there might not be a better way to finish off the day than with a dinner at the acclaimed Taipei eatery, Din Tai Fung.
When it’s all said and done, Din Tai Fung is really just an over-hyped dumpling house. Don’t get me wrong it’s a damn fine one but it was hardly the most memorable meal I’ve had in Taipei thus far.
Din Tai Fung specializes in Xiaolongbao or soup dumplings. These tender morsels of steamed dough and meat (usually pork or crab and shrimp) are literally flavor explosions for the mouth as each dumpling is a vessel for a spoonful of hot Au Jous. There is a proper way to eat a Xiaolongbao so as not to burn the roof of your mouth with piping hot broth.
First you lightly dip your dumpling in a soy sauce and rive vinegar sauce. Then carefully place the dumpling on your soupspoon. Once the dumpling is settled it’s a race against the dumplings temperature clock. Carefully puncture a hole in its side with your chopstick spilling its liquid guts into your spoon’s basin. Then slurp up some of the soup and gobble down the dumpling.
Stuart and I go through an order of pork and crab soup dumplings, a bowl of “niurou mian,” a sinfully decadent beef and noodle soup with a dark brown broth and tender chunks of brisket that could easily pass as Vietnamese Pho’s gluttonous wealthy uncle, a side of buttery sautéed pea shoots, and a spicy wonton dish that we learn was just added to the menu. The wontons, with their slightly spicy, slightly sweet flavor ended up being the hit of the meal. We shared a couple bottles of Taiwan beer and reminisced about our time in Spain, Stuart’s many adventures here in Asia and plans for the future.
All in all, it was another memorable day in Taipei, one that will no doubt go down as one of the best. For Stuarts remaining time in Taipei we found a hookah bar near the university, ate a wonderful seafood meal at a local restaurant that one of his Taiwanese friend’s took us to, and explored the Shilin night market. I have an open invitation to Hong Kong, one that I hope to use as soon as I can.