The Wheelchair Story

The following is written by Jen Katanyo, or JenK
 Occurred in: March 2013; Tainan, Taiwan

Two years ago, I had no idea what I was doing with my life. I was wasting breath at an empty desk job and felt a huge panic to fully experience the one long moment we have on this rock. I quit my job, dipped into the travel fund I’d been feeding since I was 16, and we went off on our big backpacking adventure through Asia.

We hit Japan and Thailand first, chased each other around an arcade dressed as pokemon, and pretty much had your basic Asia trip.

Once we got to Taiwan, relatives that Christine had never met before took us on a road trip that eventually stopped at the Disneyland of temples. It had mansion-sized pagodas, a parking lot stacked with tour buses, and senior citizens littering every corner. The family obligation and Buddha-induced common decency forced us to act on our best behavior. Or at least try.

We walk through a giant ornate doorway and the first thing I see is a giant hill to get to the actual temple. This hill is my Mordor. It’s on a 45 degree incline, the length of a football stadium, and it looked like old people were dropping off trying to inch their way up. Christine’s aunt and uncle had already been so they bypassed the hill and took the tram instead.

I took one look at it and thought, “there must be another way”. Luckily, the next thing I saw was an idle wheelchair sitting at the bottom of the hill.

Sidenote: another reason why Christine is so fun to hang out with is because she’s so easy to manipulate. Challenge her ego and she’ll do anything.

I turn to Christine and go, “hey Christine, I bet you can’t wheel me up this hill.”

She goes, “I bet I can.”

Next thing, I’m sitting in the wheelchair and she’s wheeling me up the whole way. She gets me to the top of the hill and we head towards a giant exhibition hall, neither of us making any moves to abandon the chair.

Why stop the party when it’s still rolling?

The inside looks exactly like the small world ride at Disneyland. It’s colorful, gaudy, and there are lit up Buddha statues everywhere. The entire hall is basically a winding path where these statues are lined up alongside, facing you at standing point, judging your every step.

At this point, we pass an attendant to get in so I’m stuck in the chair, which works out better for me anyway. The path looked really long.

Each of the Buddhas have their reincarnation stories printed in front of them. Fun fact: the giant ugly Buddha used to be the most handsome monk in all the land, but his lady devotees kept getting sidelined into daydreaming about his broad shoulders instead of finding inner enlightenment, so he was like “alright ladies, calm your tits,” and transformed into the fat, jolly Buddha we see today.

We roll along until we get to the first obstruction: a bridge. Christine moves to wheel me over but the bridge is segmented with one-inch-high wooden slats along each panel. Neither of us even think about getting up and walking over. Christine figured she could handle it and proceeded to put in a mighty struggle to get me over the segmented bridge.

Christine pushes all 100 lbs down on the handle trying to just get me over one wood slat, but we barely budge. As she’s struggling to clear the first slat (of five), I’m thinking light, but next thing we know, a petite, middle aged, puffy haired attendant comes to help us.

Christine tries her best to shoo her away, acknowledging that it would be wrong to take help knowing full well that I’m not actually handicapped.

Christine’s eyebrows are strained with this aggressively apologetic look. The attendant insists. They each take one handle of the wheelchair to help my able body over that goddamn bridge. Each guttural “hnnnnnnnngggggggg” is followed by a loud thud. It takes 5 thuds to clear the bridge.

By the end, both of them are sweating and massaging their cramped hands. We thank the woman profusely and wave goodbye as she goes back to her post.

As soon as she leaves, Christine leans down and whispers in my ear, “Now, you really can’t get up.”

We keep touring down the hall until we pass another attendant guarding another room. Christine parks me in the middle of the hall and goes ahead to scope it out, in case there are other obstacles. I sit there thinking about the one time my dad tried to explain what heaven and hell was. He said hell is within yourself and you don’t have to die to get there — this was lost on 12 year old Jen until that very moment.

Christine makes it back from the scouting mission and sure enough, there are stairs. Christine lifts, but there’s no chance she’s going to lift me AND that wheelchair over those stairs.

She kneels down and whispers ’maybe you’re not paralyzed, maybe you just got into an accident’.

We make sure we’re out of sight from the lady attendant, and I lean all my weight on Christine, way too convincingly. I figured I’d stick to the script in case the attendant who thinks I’m legitimately handicapped sees me walking normally. Christine limps me across as I drag my feet, one step at a time up the stairs like I’d been badly injured. Christine goes back for the wheelchair, folds it up, then lugs it up the stairs.

On our way out of the monastery, we’re back facing the same 45 degree angled hill that Christine pushed me up. But this time, Christine decides it’s a good idea to push me down the hill on the wheelchair with her carting me from behind.

“Jen, let’s bomb this hill.”

“Why not.”

She starts pushing us at full speed down the hill, zipping through groups of tourists yelling ‘tai quai, tai quai!’ (too fast) at us. The wheels get rickety and the wheelchair starts shaking. The tourists are screaming now. We almost make it to the bottom of the hill when Christine loses control.

I hear a loud “OH SHIT” before the chair veers right, we smash into a pillar, and I’m ejected from my seat before crashing my head into it.

I land on my hands and knees, dazed. I barely register the group of tourists crowding around us who had run down the hill to see if we were okay, yelling.

My instinct to quell any fuss people make about me takes over and I immediately jump up, completely forgetting my handicap. The tourists just look at me confused, then angry, then annoyed, and walk to leave. Christine and I take a moment to breathe and look over our battle scars. No blood or bruises. Unscathed.

We exchange looks, laugh, then I get right back on the chair and Christine wheels me the rest of the way down.

Originally published at on April 13, 2016.

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