Thursday, February 26, 2009

English teaching V: My first attempt at an American accent

The agent Grace, who thought I was South African – and tried to give me work down south – called anyway to offer me work, but with one proviso: could I do an American accent. I said I would try.

I found the school on a one-lane wide alley opposite a community park. The center of the city was made up a number of north/south, east/west, roughly parallel, main roads which did indeed resemble motorways, but once you ducked into the maze-like alleys and lanes the buildings tailed down to only four to six storeys - and life slowed down, almost became peaceful.

Most blocks had a community park like this one: an area with slides, climbing frames, and see-saw for the kids; an outdoor matching stone table and stools and a covered area with the Chinese style red tile sloping roofs for the old people to play mahjong; and trees covering almost every square inch to protect against the sun.

The school was on the first floor of a residential building. I was quickly learning there wasn’t a distinction between commercial and residential in Taiwan. Many of the buildings were an ecosystem in itself: first floor was a bank; second, your office, third a school and doctors, and you lived on the next floor up - just below a karaoke bar.

I was actually nervous about the American bit, and now, after looking at the name of the school, also angry: it was called Harry Potter’s American Language Kindergarten. I might have to tell them exactly where Mr. Potter was from.

It didn’t get better when I went in. The walls were adorned with big pictures of Mr. Potter wearing a reverse baseball cap with his school uniform - and using his broomstick to help him fly up and dunk a basketball.

The main office had a huge black leather sofa and chairs, and a coffee table with solid chunks of tree trunk as stools - presumably half an Indonesian rainforest was now missing.

Like in most of the city the aircon was so strong mosquitos were ice skating on the river of sweat flowing down my back. It seemed you had to carry a coat for when you went indoors - the opposite of back home.

I had been met at the door by a cute mousey girl called Rowena who was wearing a grey business suit with a short skirt and rectangular glasses. She said she was the daughter of the boss. We sat down on the sofa and waited for her mother who was shouting down the phone at someone.

Her mother was a squat barrel-chested woman with a dark complexion, pug face and a bad perm like Dame Edna Edveridge; her blouse and skirt were both baggy flowing floral patterns, but clashing; I was worried, if I keep looking I would go blind. It wasn’t as if she was wearing a designer suit, but she still looked stiff like she was overdressed.

“So you work here as well?” I asked Rowena.

“No. I work for a computer company, but I help my mother - She can’t speak English.”

Marvelous, I thought, and she runs a bilingual Kindergarten.

Her mother finished shouting down someone and got off her chair. I would like to say stood up, but there only seemed to be a couple of inches difference in her height between sitting and standing. I stood up, towered over her, and smiled and dipped my head a little, waiting to sit down. It seemed we were in a smiling contest. She was looking at me like I was her long lost son, and, not to be outdone I brought my eyes into the grin. Just as my legs were about to give out, she put her hand out, palm up in the direction of the sofa gesturing for me to sit.

We all sat down and continued to smile like an old couple bonded by fifty years of love, friendship and all its upheavals.

“My mother says you look like a nice guy?” said Rowena.

“Thanks,” I said, then kicked myself for using my English accent - if they were going to find out my nationality it would be on my terms.

Last night, I sat in the hostel and actually paid attention to all the Canadians and Americans. I loosened my jaw and pulled back my lips to do the American A, and pictured John Wayne.

“Thanks,” I repeated. I guessed I sounded more like Michael Caine.

“My mother says you look very handsome,” said Rowena.

I practiced that American thanks again.

We had the standard questions:

“Did I like Taiwan?”

“Was I settling in ok?”

“Did I mind the food?”

Rowena then translated a story about how her mother had invested all her money into this school. How her mother was very poor when she was growing up and she would like to run a school because she didn’t have much opportunity to go herself. That she had had many problems with foreign teachers: she wanted an American, but she kept getting South Africans and Australians. That she couldn’t tell the difference because she didn’t speak English. But I looked like an honest guy.

“So where are you from,” said Rowena.

After that little speech I was really torn. Felt sorry for the woman, but then I caught a glimpse of Mr. Potter with a skateboard and I decided a lie for a lie.

“Mississippi, Alabama. America’s great Deep South. Have you been?”

“I see…Uh, no. I have the aunty in Florida,” said Rowena.

“Quite close then…I think.”

Then the mother made her excuses and left. That was it, it seemed: no complex questions about my teaching ability and skills.

“My mother is a nice lady,” said Rowena.

“Wonderful,” I replied, thinking ‘what the fuck has that got to do with anything? - She is employing me.’

She handed me this book with a pink alien on the front and I started thumbing through it.

“Anyway, each lesson you will be expected to teach one page,” she continued. I was looking at this page for occupations and obsessing over the American pronunciation for firefighter (fireman).

“What are the key points…to teach?” she asked.

I looked at the page trying to find some conditional clauses or the present perfect tense, but…

“The ‘be’ verb and ‘jobs’. Look, policeman, firefighter, etc, and “He is…I am…,” she interrupted.

“I see,” I replied. And it dawned on me I was going to teach four year olds.

“You are a foreigner so the kids want to have fun with you: play games with English. I know you foreigners are very creative - Like to make the education fun.”

“Of course,” I replied. “Not an introvert in the west - we can all make mold growing on an orange into a party.”

“Anyway, let’s go into the classroom and watch one of our teachers,” said Rowena. “Then you can do your demonstration.”

We took our slippers off and stepped up into the classroom. The floor was raised pinewood flooring, pinewood mini tables and chairs sat on rubber mats, and the walls were covered with alphabet cards; everywhere little Taiwanese kids ran around bumping into each other and stealing each others Gameboys. The scene made me register rumbling nerves.

“This is Craig. He is from Vancouver,” said Rowena introducing the foreign teacher.

I looked at him: blond hair, a natural stocky build, a suntan which looked like it had always been there, and a permanent squint from long exposure to a hot sun. I guessed he was Australian or South African.

“Hi,” he said. “Where are you from?”

He was South African.

I sat on a little chair, knees around my ears, fidgeting; feeling large, mulling over a few nerves. I was a reasonably outgoing guy, but I had been an accountant for the last three years, showing my character through work related jokes and pranks with my peers. Now I had to sing, ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ and make it entertaining to a bunch of kids I couldn’t communicate with…Oh, and do it with an American accent.

“You just do 15 minutes,” said Rowena who was sat next to me. “Like I tell you.”

Today’s lesson was actually animals. I had to drill the picture cards: monkey, elephant, hippo, tiger and giraffe; then teach the sentence pattern: What is it?- It is a (insert animal). I was supposed to first drill the picture cards for as long as it took for the students to remember… Then teach them the sentence pattern and how to use it by body language and suggestion…Then I was supposed to play a serious of interesting, team based games revolved around -What is it? It is a (hippo). This was all supposed to take 50 minutes or so, and I was supposed to keep them entertained with my exciting games, organize them when they didn’t speak my language, there would be no writing, just oral practice and then you were supposed to send their out of the class happy, full of English to go home and tell their parents about the nice foreigner they met.

It was suddenly my turn. I got myself up by rolling myself onto my hands to push me up, and went to the front of the class with Rowena.

“This is teacher Dan,” said Rowena.

“Hello Teacher Dan,” shouted the kids.

I smiled and waved, but my stiff shoulders and body language gave the resounding impression I didn’t want to be here. I sat down knowing I should have done more, that first impressions last, and I was already digging myself out of a deep pit.

“Okay children,” said Craig’s teacher assistant, a Taiwanese girl called Claire. “Let’s all sit in a circle here. Come on! Come on!”

I stood waiting for the circle to form. “Dan! Come here. Quick! Quick!” said Claire.

“Sorry, I was waiting for everyone to sit down,” I replied.

“Not everyone, ever, sits down! Just go. Go!”

I approached the circle of kids: one or two, having come to cooperate were looking expectantly for direction; some were playing with their pants or nose, some hitting the kid next to them, while the rest played human jack-in-the-box with the teaching assistant: they sprang up; she pushed down. I stood in the center of the circle absorbing the chaotic vibes coming my way.

“Elephant! Hippo! Monkey!” I shouted in my best American accent holding up the picture cards.

“Lower the cards,” said Craig. I was stood in the center of the circle with the cards near my chest meaning the bottom edge of the card wasn’t revealing much to the children a long way below me.

I tried again. “Elephant! Hippo! Monkey!”

“Hold the picture card up for a few seconds and then say the word slowly,” said Craig.

He had a point: best to achieve repetition before going to the next card.

“Not that slow. More natural,” said Craig.

Trying to do my American accent I was speaking like John Wayne on dope while pulling a joker like grin.

Ten minutes later. “Do the song,” said Rowena. The difficulty of getting going had broken my spirit, and I was still doing the repetition; people who had their family taken from in sudden horrific car crashes due to a lapse in their attention moved on quicker. Never mind the glazed look in their eyes and the distressed contortions of the little girl at the front who had put her faith in my teaching methods, and was desperately trying to repeat the word when her mind had unraveled long ago.

“Old MacDonald had a farm,” I said.

“Old MacDonald had…” I repeated before realizing my pitch shouldn’t be like I am on the terraces.

I slowed it down and gave up on the joker grin. Two minutes later and I had the first two lines being repeated.

My confidence was coming back but then the bell went for lunch.

I walked slowly back to the staff room with Rowena fearing the worst.

“You were a little nervous, today,” said Rowena.

I prepared myself for the worst.

“But I think you will learn. It is not often we get the American so…”

I agreed to start the next Monday. Pride was telling me I could do better. I just hoped pride was right.

Taiwan culture: The Love Hotel

The Love Hotel was a unique bracket of hotels grown up in response to Taiwan family sensibilities: children lived with parents until they were married; grandmother would still be at home even if the parents were working; and, if granny didn’t live with you she lived across the stairs with aunty; and, daddy or grand-dad needed to see their girlfriends or prostitutes.

In short, there was a large demand for a sanctuary from those closest to you. Some of them were incredibly high-end and some seedy, but what distinguished a Love Hotel from any other was the option to book a room for four hours, advertised ironically in the neon signs on the front of the hotel as - “Take a break Four Hours” – it was designed for anything but.

Go to one on a Sunday afternoon and you can see what a staple of Taiwan life they were: middle-aged men with young hard-faced girls carrying Gucci bags, and, pairs of students still carrying their helmets fought to pay to take a rest.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

English teaching IV: It is all about the accent, California beach bum trumps Oxford graduate

Everyone knows that the Taiwanese love the American accent. I have heard it is better these days, but many years ago a British accent was a no-no, especially if you had a regional accent.

This is a true tale of what happened when I went to visit an infamous English teaching agent with a Swiss guy I had met in the hostel.

Marcus – the Swiss guy – and I took the lift down from the sixth floor of the hostel and squeezed past the scooters the other side of the metal door. This lane was typical for the older parts of town built around twenty years ago: four to six storey buildings either side, the lane about the width of two cars, the outside of the buildings dirty cement or bathroom tiles, drain pipe thick piles of wires running outside, no pavement, a storey-high wall running the length of the street, punctuated by wide red doors to access the second floors and above, and a smaller door to access the first floor. In most cases the people on the first floor had knocked down the wall, put in a pull down metal door, and turned the space in front of their front window into a car park. Most of the windows had large aluminum bar frames, and if we had a balcony it had been made into another room, and fitted with dark glass and wire mesh to protect against the mosquitoes and sun.

I guessed the advertising slogans read: “Experience the true wonder of underground living - above.”

It was only March but with the sun out we were already beginning to sweat - and it wasn't midday yet. The buildings on either side of the lane cast shadows over the side of the lane so we deliberately walked down the center of the lane trying to get as much of the sun as possible. Opposite a woman came out of a red metal doorway wearing a sun visor, before putting up a parasol - It wasn't the first time we had seen a woman with an umbrella; the sun appeared to be the enemy in Taiwan.
As we approached the main road the noise of scooters and cars started to pound in our heads, and the sun disappeared behind overlapping shadows from fifteen storey plus building - building of this height were the staple of the main roads.

"You want to get a bus?" asked Marcus.

Taxis were cheap, I knew, but at some point you had to get used to the bus system. "We should do really," I replied.

We both looked at the buses swooping in to pick people up. We had done some rudimentary research of the map of Taipei and knew roughly where we would be getting off, but still we would have to sit at the front of the both straining their necks for road names, getting up every five minutes to show the piece of paper to the driver. That was another thing: while they had met some people who spoke English, blue collar workers - taxi drivers, bus drivers, shop assistants, and most restaurant staff didn't. It wasn't easy to get about the city.

"Best not to be late today," said Marcus. "Want to make a good impression."

"Good point," I replied.

Marcus walked to the corner of the lane and palm down flagged down a yellow cab; it broke instantly causing a couple of motorcycles into emergency stops. One of them tapped on the driver’s window and stared at him, and the driver stared back disinterested, as if to say ‘what are you complaining about, you are not actually dead.’

“Wai guo ren (foreigner),” shouted the taxi driver in a panic. “Ne huei jiang jong wen ma (You can speak Chinese?)”

“I can speak the piece of paper, mate,” I replied.

The driver dropped them off on a lane very much like where we lived, and we wandered down it looking bemused - we had expected it to be in an office building on a main street, not in a residential building, and from there the term 'fly by night' or dodgy came to mind.

The lane was compounding the feeling we had from the phone call yesterday: we had called up and she hadn’t said ‘Grace’s English Teaching Agency’ in a bright sunny tone. It had been - ‘Yes??’- to which we replied - We are looking for teaching work - and there had been silence, to which we had asked politely if we could come to her office, and she had repeatedly for the fifth time the question about how we knew her. Finally, she had quickly given us an address…3rd floor, Alley 34, Lane 12, Fu Yang or something Road, and quickly put down the phone. And we had desperately tried to remember the address when it could have been Fu or Hu or Yang or Chang or Yong…God it was hard. It didn’t matter as everyone in the hostel knew her address, and the girl behind the desk wrote it down.

We rang the downstairs buzzer on number twenty-six. "Yes," came a voice in that same suspicious tone.

"We are here about teaching work," I said.

"Yes," she said.

"Can we come up?"

"Who told you to come here?"

"You did - We called you yesterday."

"I see…Hmm…okay."

She pressed the buzzer and we made their way up the dirty dusty stairs, pass the smell of foot odor from shoes and plastic slippers left outside on doormats outside iron bar frame doors. Burglary was supposed to be minimal yet everyone had a steel iron bar frame door on the outside of their apartment door.

We took off their shoes and went inside the office.

The inside of her office didn't reassure us: white faded walls, one desk for her and a couple of wooden classrooms chairs for them to sit on. There didn't appear to be anything to lose if she had to run out the door this second with all she could carry in one hand - and our salaries in the other.

"Hi. Nice to meet you," I said enthusiastically but she didn't respond.

I thought Chinese people were supposed to be mannered. I had been preparing to swear 100% loyalty to my first Master, but I was quickly finding out that was not always the case. From what I had heard Masters were regularly casting pupils into the wilderness without their last month's pay, and pupils were running off with the Master's best clients.

"So where are you from?" asked Grace.

It was my big moment to pretend to say I was an American. I prepared myself to say Mississippi, but it stuck in my throat to say I was American. The English invented the language didn't we? - How could he possibly be the one with the accent?

"Where are you from? South Africa?" she asked.

"England," I blurted out thrown by her suggestion.

"Really? You have the unusual accent?” she pushed.

I got my passport out of my pocket. “I am English. Here. Have a look at my passport.”

“Yes, that is good you have an English passport now. How long you live in the England?”

“Almost all of it - The accent is from my parents,” I replied smiling again, refusing to lose my temper. It seemed my west of England accent was destined to be patronized wherever I went.

“Anyway, when you go to the teaching demonstration, maybe, you take the passport. With your accent I think the school like to see,” said Grace.

"English comes from England," I said now getting a little annoyed.

"Yes, I know," she said like she was just trying to be polite. "But Taiwan likes the American English. Many students won't accept you."

"Americans have the accent -" I wanted to say, there was no such thing as American English, but I decided to retreat; I had to lose this battle, if I wanted to win the war.

“And you…uh…Marcus…Where are you from?” she asked. Marcus had to come to Amy because he was Swiss, and therefore unable to produce a passport of a native English speaking country and work legally.

“I am American…Alaska,” replied Marcus. He had chosen Alaska because he needed to name a place in America she hadn’t gone to -- Grace spoke good English and this business was a profitable one, so he guessed she had spent some time in the ‘Land of Freedom.’ It was a rule of thumb: if Taiwanese had enough money, they had been to America, and he didn’t want to find out they might have had the same teachers or gone to the same restaurants.

“Yes, that is good. I study in Seattle for three years,” she replied.

Marcus let out a little sigh of relief. I, for my part, sat impassive enjoying the irony of Marcus’s new national identity and the implications for myself.

“Uh…So how do you know about me?” Grace asked them suddenly as if the question should have been asked earlier, and all of what had gone before was pointless.

“Some people in the hostel recommended you,” replied John.

“What did we say?”

“They said you are a good agent,” chipped in Marcus while thinking they said you were the last chance saloon of desperados like us.

Amy moved on satisfied we were diplomats. “So you know each other?”

“Just met in the hostel”

“How long are you planning to stay?”

“At least a year.” We had been told to say this and that it was a waste of time: she wasn’t going to train them and there was no work permit or contract being offered, but you still had to go through this lie. She wanted to know you weren’t going to desert your students and go back to Thailand and lie on the beach for at least a year. Again, pretty pointless as Amy’s teacher/student relationships usually didn’t last a year.

“So you two want to teach English?” Grace knew this was a stupid question, but….

“Yes,” I replied before it was too late.

“I am a teacher, I taught in Japan for 1 year,” replied Marcus.

Amy was warming to Marcus. She knew that nobody who came to her ever had experience (it wasn’t the point, in fact, that would mean they wouldn’t stay long) but she wanted to see who would adapt quickly to lying…uh…sorry, to teaching, that was.

“You teach English before Dan?” I was stumped, realizing I had missed the boat with the lie, but telling the truth wouldn’t help either.

“I have never taught English, but I think I can do it because I have lots of work experience, including training,” I snapped before sitting back to let the shame of my own stupidity wash through me like a giant wave.

“Okay,” said Grace after a brief silence in which I waited to be thrown out of her office. “Marcus you are no problem because you have the American accent, but Dan I not want to waste your time so I explain to you. You say you are English, and you know Taiwan like the American accent. You are the good teacher, I can feel...but seventy, eighty percent of my work is for the American or Canadian. You know if you want to work a lot of hours it is hard. I can give only give you a few students, and one is here and the other there. You know you cannot buy a motorcycle so it is very hard to get around this city. I have a job for you in the Chiayi, that is in the south of Taiwan. They don’t care the accent there, as long as you can speak some English. You also get the free place to stay, good salary…it is very easy to save money.”

“Thank you, I’ll think it over if I may,” I replied smiling wider than ever, almost about to break out in laughter. I had been told she would try and push a job in the south of Taiwan on me, but I had also been told if I thought Taipei was a little different, I hadn’t seen anything yet. I had no intention of taking the job in the south.

I started to laugh again because the ironies were just too many to mention, the biggest being Marcus was from Switzerland, and by virtue of his English teacher being American when he was young, was now eminently more employable than myself. I left shaking my head, fighting off a cynicism that had people looking down on me for speaking with an English accent.

From now on I would definitely pretend to be an American.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Taiwan dating: Getting some insights

With the girl from Subway who took me to MTV, I had managed to get some insights into Taiwanese girls: they were relatively shyer, repressed but definitely not less willing. Still I was an English oath whose main pick up technique was to get drunk, hope the girl was also, and then dance and rub my crotch on her as my way of asking for her phone number. This technique could still get you laid in the bar in Taiwan – There were the girls who wanted a foreigner more than life itself and were prepared to put up with your awful approach – however, after a few months in Taiwan I was interested in going beyond these girls.

After the initial euphoria wore off I noticed the majority of pretty girls in the bar were interested in meeting a foreigner but not interested enough to accept the rubbing and crotch thrusts. I also noticed there were a bunch of guys who knew the right technique and me and my recently arrived friends watched in envy as they left with them – while we were stuck with the same girls who had this unnaturally fluent English for someone who had lived their whole life in Taiwan, and an insistence on giving you a long lecture about how much they liked western culture.

Fortunately, I knew John and, as usual, he knew what to do. His advice was simple: they need a get out clause to not feel bad about what they are doing; go cheesy, the more cheesy the better; think of the naffest, fingers down your throat line that would get you laughed out of town and deliver it with gusto.

I guessed it must work because John managed to get new arrivals from the disco to a love hotel, and I couldn’t possibly see how the purpose could be hidden. I decided the disco to love hotel thing was a bridge too far so I decided my best hope was to take numbers and try it on a first date. I called up a girl called Claire Hsu who I had met the previous week. Claire still spoke excellent English, but in that slightly stilted and formal way that suggested she hadn’t been using it with upteen foreign boyfriends before me. She was new to the foreign market but it seems not without the usual stereotypes.

“So why do you like the foreigner?” I asked because I had fallen into a habit of identifying myself as such, not a person. It seemed to me almost everyone had an opinion about the foreigner, some incredibly good - almost all good, in fact - it was just that they weren’t going to stick to politically correct slavish notions, ignore national stereotypes and from scratch, slowly and tentatively try and find out the real me. It didn’t bother me because I hadn’t exactly grown up adverse to making generalizations about my fellow man that I had lived to regret - saying one thing the result of inbred prejudices, and then doing another based on moral integrity. Some people worked ceaselessly for charity and then treated their loved ones horribly. How well I was treated by the Taiwanese only served to confirm this theory to me. I knew I didn’t have all the answers, but at the same time, I wasn’t going to call them racist like so many did.

“You westerners are more opened-minded, treat your women nice,” said Claire.

“That is right. You know in England they are developing ways for men to breastfeed.”


“No, I am sorry. But, yes, we like to share everything equally. I would feel terrible otherwise,” I said unsure if I was being serious or not. I continued, "White men are the root of all evil back home."

"That is stupid," she replied.

"Yeah...well - Maybe, I should take you to a Woman's Group Meeting back home."I thought it was fantastic to finally hear what I kind of knew, but are not allowed to say in PC Britain: western men were actually relatively good to their women. I know it had nothing to do with anything innate to the western male character - it was merely we had been shamed, pushed, and legislated against forcing us to be so.

We then discussed her work. She said she was very busy at the moment.

“I know,” I replied. You have to earn money. I heard it everyday from Taiwanese, delivered as if their life depended upon it. “Yes,” she replied, smiling, relieved I understood.
Finally, we touched bases on stereotypes of Englishman.

“So you are from English - a gentleman,” she said.“Yeap, that’s right me love, a real gentleman,” I replied.

I loved the national stereotypes and nobody knowing my West of England accent.“What do you mean, a real gentleman?” she asked.

“Well, my family used to live on a council estate. Do you know what an estate is?”

“I know - big house, land…like that movie Sense and the Sensibility…I watched that.”

They all had because the director, Ang Lee, was Taiwanese.“Spot on. It was called the Bourneville, by the way.”

“You say used to?” she said now extremely interested.

“Yeah, we moved to something bigger in the city…We didn’t want to deal with the government anymore.” I could see her looking at my tattoo and starting to formulate questions. “That is my coat of arms…You know, sign your family is from good stock.”

She didn’t understand, but nodded anyway not wanting to appear too bolshie on the first date.

“I went to England - London.”

“I know.”

“So where did you graduate from?”

“University of Essex. I just missed out on Oxford – one point you know – gutted me.”

“Wow, so you are a smart guy. Why are you teaching English in Taiwan, then?”

“I am lazy, ill-disciplined. I figure I can make a fast buck without having to work hard.” Best not to build their hopes up, I reasoned.

“What is ‘wot’ she asked?”

The first time I had said, ‘What do you mean? What is wot?’” And it had gone back in circles for a while. Now I knew better: “Wot is the English way of saying WHAT,” I replied with an American accent on the second 'what'.

“Let me get the bill.”

“Please. It is my treat,” said Claire. “I know you don’t have much money. You are new in Taiwan.”

“No. I insist. I am the man.”

Now was the delicate part of the evening, I thought. If I wait a few more dates than of course she will be mine, but that is not my objective.

“I have had a good time,” I said.

“Me too,” she replied.

“Thanks. So what do you want to do now? Watch TV or a video?” I asked.

“Yes, I like to watch video.”

“Wonderful. I am sorry…” I said.

“What is the matter?” she replied.“You know I stay in the hostel now, so there are too many people. It is hard to get used to…not having a house anymore.”

“We can watch at mine?”

“Really? Are you sure? I don’t want to embarrass you, having a strange man in your house.”

“No, that is ok. We are only watching a video so nothing to be shamed of.”

“Exactly - You really have a western attitude,” I said then watched the quiver of pride shoot up her body.

“Thank you. You really think so.”


We got in her car, drove to near the intersection of Fuhsing South Road and ChongHsaio East Road, turned into underground parking, and then took the lift to the tenth floor; when we got out we walked along a white-walled corridor not out of place in a hospital, and then went through the metal aluminum door to her one-bedroom apartment. Out the window I could see Sogo. This area was the center of the city. There was ten-lane road outside the window.

“Let’s shut the window, please. You can only get a certain amount of good petrol fumes in your lungs in a day.”

“What is petrol?”“I am sorry – gas.” I said. “Nice location.”

“Convenient for the restaurant and KTV,” she replied.

“Yeah, very smart also given the bad the traffic. You must be able to walk to work.”

“No. My work is in Neihu. Oh, so much trouble. Forty minutes drive every morning.”

I had heard of Neihu, it was actually a very nice suburb with mountains, lakes and parks.“As I say you made the right choice - mountainous residential suburb next to your work or box by the roadside next to the nightlife.”

I eyed the sofa and the apartment in general. Furniture was mostly Ikea and sparse. She had a fairly small TV for a Taiwanese – thirty inch. She had hung a lot of material on the white walls and given it a warm touch. Still he had the feeling, like I did in most people houses, they could pack there stuff and be gone in thirty minutes if they had too.

“Hey, what about the video,” I said. “I am sorry, how did we forget?”

She shrugged her shoulders.

I continued, “Anyway, I am sure there is something good on HBO.”

We need something to drown out the sound of the traffic, I thought.

I waited ten minutes then reached into my bag. “So, I went to get some photos developed today. They are of my family just before I left. Would you like to see?” I asked.

“Please. I would like very much?” she replied.“Your mother is beautiful…Your father handsome - He looks like the movie star.”

“Don’t we all…So this is my sister and her daughter.”

“How old is she?”


“She looks so mature. Why are you foreigner children so mature?”

“I can assure you it is only a look….Well…that is them all.”

“Thank you very much. So nice,” she gushed.

I insisted she get out her family photos.

“Wow you have a nice family. I can see you are a good daughter,” I said.

“No, no.” But I saw a ripple of satisfaction go through her body.She picked up the cushion next to her, and covered her stomach. “I am tired,” she said, before closing her eyes.

Time already is it, I thought. I leaned over, took the pillow, and started to kiss her. For the next five minutes she said, I am tired, and brought the pillow back to her lap, while I took it away again. When the pillow stopped coming back, I started on the clothes. Slowly, she started to respond with reciprocal kisses and cuddles, but I wasn’t expecting her to rip off my shirt.

It was time for the underwear.“What are you doing?” she said, pulling back. “I am not that kind of girl.”

“I am sorry…I know you are a good girl and this is a big deal for you,” I said before going back to massaging and kissing.

I was actually really nervous at this stage and was prepared to give up – but I thought I better follow through with the advice and so started counting.…ten...nine..Wow, this time it is not too quick, I thought.

“Hmm, I think you don’t need that,” said Claire as I started to rip open a condom packet.

I then went through my standard speech. “I think I do…I’m sorry…How to explain. I know you don’t normally do this sort of thing. You are not a dirty girl. I am wearing it for another reason. It is kind of embarrassing: if I don’t wear it I will cum too quickly. I want you to enjoy more.”

Then she gave me a surprise: “It is okay I don’t need to enjoy so much,” she said.

I was stumped because the girls in the bar so far had liked the idea that I wanted to satisfy them. I had to think quickly to remember the rule: give them a reason to pass the buck to you.

“Sorry,” I said. “I know you are only interested in my sexual gratification and not your own. I mean it is for me you see: I don’t want to cum so quickly. You want to make your man happy don’t you?”


“Yes. Really. It is your fault you are too sexy.”

“Me! No!”

“Yes. Really. You are too sexy,” I repeated.“Hmm, I must accept then. I want you to enjoy. But I feel strange. Not natural – nobody have ever with me before.”

“That is why I am going to, love…Nothing.”

“Your welcome,” she replied.

“Hah, you are so strong,” cried Claire. “You cum so much.”

“There you go - Told you condoms are useful for something.”

“Maybe… but still strange - I only use the condom with you.”

“That is a pity - For your sake anyway…”

“I am sorry. I have to go. I have to get up early tomorrow morning to teach,” I said.

She looked upset so I tried to console her. “I am sorry again. I didn’t expect this to happen. The moment was special.”

“Yes, I know. Uh…me, neither. I don’t normally do this sort of thing.”

“Of course you don’t.”

I put on my clothes and instinctively checked my wallet for the name card for the hotel so I could get home. I gave her a good-bye kiss.

On his way out I saw her turn her phone back on and start checking for messages. She was great; they all were.

Monday, February 23, 2009

English teaching I: Finding out you actually had to teach

Like a lot of people I hadn’t planned to come to Taiwan. I was traveling through Asia and was going to work in a bar in Hong Kong, where I met a guy called Neil Parsons, who had lots of wonderful stories – secondhand! - of how easy it was going to be to teach English in Taiwan and how much money we were going to earn.

A few weeks later I was on a plane to Taipei completely ignoring the fact I had no interest in teaching.

It had taken one interview to find the painful truth:

“So, you have taught before?” asked Maggie Hsu, the manager of the Kindergarten we had gone to for an interview.

Neil and I hesitated for a second, still groggy from the wake up call of hundreds of little kids running around our feet screaming. Can I say no and get training? - was running through our minds, but of course we said, Yes.

There was a brief awkward momentary silence in which she expected us to expand, drop in a few anecdotes, impart stories of our experience; she received nothing, realized that we had never taught before, and adjusted appropriately; no doubt, she had experienced this situation a hundred times before. If she had had four qualified candidates through the door that day, she would have taken great pleasure in asking them sticky questions about teaching methods, games and materials, but her school was not in the city center where most foreigners wanted to work, and she charged the kids’ parents extra to have a foreign English teacher so this, long ago, had become her lot.

She continued, “Now, every class is fifty minutes, at the start you can take register, and at the end ten minutes for homework. You have a Chinese assistant teacher...Don’t worry at first we will probably scare of you but we will get used to you. This is the book you will be using…”

I wanted to challenge her about the scared bit: we were the scared ones, but we did see her point: we were large, and, due to a fear, were projecting an image not unfamiliar to a lot of animals on the Discovery Channel when marking territory.

Maggie hadn’t finished: “Anyway, each lesson you will be expected to teach one page.”
Then not confident we could get there by ourselves, she had taken the book from me, opened it to page five and handed it back. “Here,” she continued. “What are the key points...To teach?”

Again, not wanting to waste her own time she quickly explained: “The ‘be’ verb and ‘jobs'. Look: policeman, firefighter, etc, and “He is…, I am, You are…Anyway, as the foreigner teacher you will have to make the kids practice, to be able to say this sentence. You are a foreigner so the kids want to have fun with you - play games with English. I know you foreigners are very creative.”

We didn’t feel very creative.

“Anyway, let’s go into the classroom and watch one of our teachers.”

And so we took off our shoes, went into the classroom, and sat with our knees around our ears on small wooden chairs. The class we then watched was all Playschool and Sesame School - an enthusiastic, smiley teacher and eager little kids wanting to dance. It hadn’t been anything like French from school where we had just sat on chairs and copied words from the board, with the teacher using the threat of failure as motivation. We had kind of hoped it would be the same here - We had had confidence our teaching skills stretched that far.

We cursed the stereotype that Westerners were imaginative and creative.

We promised to come back another day and do the teaching demonstration.

Two days, and a little more investigation later, my friend, Neil, had taken a plane to Australia because he had found you had to be a little further up past white on the evolutionary scale to teach than originally expected.

“It isn’t for me,” he had said. I had sensed that teaching wouldn’t be so easy before he had left, but hey, I wouldn’t be the first person on the earth to fall for the one about the normal rules don’t apply when you go abroad.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Taiwan culture: The gentleman's KTV

Highlights of this story of the gentleman's KTV: my first visit to an x-rated KTV; paying the Taiwan way; Taiwan gangsters; types of girls the Taiwan guys like - and, learning not to be so PC.

We had been sat outside in a night market eating some dumpling when a group of gangsters - sat in front of the seafood restaurant next door - started to toast us, before calling us over.

I don’t know to this day that they were actually gangsters, it was just they looked the part: crew cuts; loose, flowery shirts that were not tucked in – rumor had it so they could get to their guns easier; tattoos sticking out from the open top two button holes of their shirts, and protruding down and out from under their three-quarter length baggy shorts; and flip-flops, in particular I loved the flip-flops and the stereotypes they conjured up about Asians and fighting: I couldn’t kick someone in the head, or move easily from left to right, or grip well with a flip-flop - But presumably with their kung-fu training they could; I almost wanted them to get in a fight that night to see how they coped.

...Otherwise: an array of facial scars where hair didn’t grow. Skin deathly white in a country where there was a burning hot sun for ten months of the year – of course indicative of a life spent in illegal gambling dens, pool clubs, and karaokes. Finally, teeth stained red, lips protruding, and bottom jaw evolved out so that the bottom set of teeth touched ends with the top, the result of chewing too much betel nut. (Betel nut was a green nut split open and filled with a red paste; when chewed it acted as a spicy mild-stimulant. It was incredibly popular amongst the working class and an absolute must for any gangster).

I was with an English guy called John Matthews who wasn’t the typical Taiwan adventurer: degreeless, muscular and very working class. I was scared of the guys we were with, but I knew he was taking it in his stride.

Anyway, the guys insisted they join them, and now we were staring at a table strewn with half empty plates of stir-fried sea snails, clams, squid and prawns, piles of shells, hard and soft; packed ash trays; used tissues from wiping hands and mouths, chopsticks and toothpicks (The done thing was to cover your mouth with one hand, take a tooth pick in the other and thoroughly excavate between your teeth).

Actually, we admired John for his understanding of Chinese, or rather his ability to put into operation the information we all had.

I saw him go for his wallet and interrupted:“Let them pay, man. This is Taiwan, they love to treat the foreigner,”I said.“Gives them face.”

“Maybe they are just generous,”replied John sick of hearing hours of discussion and theorizing why the Taiwanese were so nice to them. As far as he was concerned foreigners should just count their lucky stars.

“You never let them pay. Taiwanese always have to return ten-fold so these guys will owe me big time. It is an investment if I ever need them,” answered John.

“If you understood these people,” I flipped back at him. This was his contradiction: he at once knew everything about the Taiwanese and said he was leaving because it wasn't his culture.

This is the bit i mentioned earlier about putting into action the information we had. I knew John’s point about treating was bold, lucid and commonsense but few foreigners bothered to follow it, including myself. I was aware of the gift giving ‘oneupsmanship’ that many Asians followed – it would be impossible not to be, unless I stayed in his room and never spoke to them - but as yet I had failed to take my place in the game. I wanted to, but somehow, like now, when presented with the opportunity to take a couple of thousand NT dollars from my pocket and reap the benefits later, I would tell myself: there was no guarantee, that I didn’t want someone owing me something. And so, like most foreigners I took the safe line: the Taiwanese would pay for a little and me nothing. Then there was John who had got off the plane and got straight into character, even though all John had known about Taiwan before he came was the price of the plane ticket from England.

"Boss! Boss! Six more bottles,” said John to the owner of the food stall. “And the bill.”
Unfortunately, one of the four spotted John trying to pay, and I sat in horror as John then wrestled two of the guys to the ground for the right to do so. In Taiwan the conversation over who paid wasn’t a simple matter of: ‘I’ll pay.’ ‘No, I’ll pay’. ‘Ok’. You had to slam each other against the wall, and throw your opposite number’s wallet out the window to show your sincerity.

John managed to pay the bill, but A-Hao, the only one of the four who could speak a little English, then rushed to the 7-11 across the road, and bought a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red label. Within seconds he was back on his plastic stool, next to John; ice cubes had been put in little plastic cups, the whiskey was being poured and there was no way they could leave.

I tried to make an excuse to cover my inadequacies: “Don’t you just hate that,” I said. “They don’t take no for an answer.”

“Didn’t you ever say no to something, and then wished there had been a second offer?” said John. “They are just being friendly – We don’t live in world of perfect reactions.”

The drinking rules were also hard to adapt to - Everytime you wanted to drink you had to raise your glass and toast someone. I was drunk and tired having had to down about twenty glasses of beer in the last hour, and the sea snails with garlic and oregano was a little too salty. I raised my glass desperately wanting to slow down and savor a mouthful of whiskey by myself but that was not the done thing: “Hey! Cheers them. Don’t just drink your drink,” scolded John.

“Cheers,” shouted John for me, and everyone emptied their cups of whiskey.

“What a country, eh?” said John laughing at the pain on my face. He appreciated the communal way of drinking.

“Hey…Hey…Hey…Big brother,”he shouted now fighting them, like he had done all evening, for the privilege of pouring the whiskey into their cups.

“Let them pour it dude. And what is with the big brother and boss shit?” I replied thinking John was going a little too far with the performance.

“Da Ge? It means big brother doesn’t it? Is my pronunciation right?”

“It is right. I think you have impressed them.”

“What the mutha is wrong with you? I thought you loved Chinese culture? These people like to be respected; they like their titles. Don’t you understand that? Didn’t you ever have parents? Didn’t your father like your friends to call him sir?”

"Doesn’t make it right,”I replied.

“Ok. We go. Please…Sing song,” said A-Hao the one of the four who could speak a little English.

“What a people, eh?” cheered John as A-Hao’s forced English reminded him they had all been together for more than three hours, happily drinking, laughing, and they probably had only had a couple hundred shared words between them. “Makes the tears well up, the humanity of it all.”

Hao picked up the bottle of whiskey which was now half empty and him and his three friends back slapped and fought each other for the right to drive dead drunk, and risk losing their licenses. As I sat in back of the car, I was aware it was wrong to drink and drive, but God it made you feel alive.

Half an hour later we had taken up positions on a black leather sofa in a small room when five girls dressed in only underwear and negligees came in the room and stood near the entrance. This was a gentleman’s KTV.

My idea of KTV before i came had been an open plan bar atmosphere with a microphone on the stage at the front, but I had been corrected: that was karaoke not KTV. The Taiwanese preferred KTV, a private room for family and friends. KTVs occupied whole fifteen storey building, each floor divided into hundreds of rooms of differing sizes, and each room had a fifty inch TV, leather sofa hugging the walls, and coffee tables in the center, and dark wood walls.
In this case, the adult KTV - due to questions of legality - operations had to be a little more low-key. Outside a building would be a neon sign, and a couple of guys at the bottom of the building in white shirts and black pants, usually standing behind a desk offering valet parking. As they arrived tonight the guys got on their walkie talkies to report the number coming up, and they then had taken the lift up past Acer on the third floor and British Airways on the fourth to this KTV on the sixth floor. The first time they had walked past these places they were surprised that they advertised in any way, but then they found out they were paying the police. Still a floor of a building was sufficient, because when elections came around the police apparently had to pretend to close them down for a while.

Everything about the decoration of the gentleman’s KTV room was the same as normal KTVs, except that a couple of young, barely-clothed girls would accompany you as you sang.

“When in Rome…” answered John because I was frowning at him for taking a betel nut. I was frowning, like so many foreigners did, because you chewed it and it made your teeth go red and black, and you had to spit out the pulp. Outside the roads appeared covered in blood, but you soon learnt that wasn’t the cause of the red stain.

“What? So it is alright to inject your drugs, snort or smoke them? That is what civilized people do,”said John.

“It doesn’t leave such a mess for everyone else,” I replied.

“Ever found a needle in a park? Ever been held up by someone high on betel nut? No…Now shut up, and choose.”

John loathed the constant talk on whether he was living in an evil, racist, materialistic hell that was destined to lag behind the West because of things intrinsic to the Chinese Confucian character that would forever hold them back. He knew his wait-and-see policy was a controversial one - He was viewed as an aloof, dithering bastard because he wasn’t prepared to join the other Western guys in the hostel, who believed unpacking your bag was sufficient time to make an assessment about the Taiwanese character. In the hostel, that afternoon he had passed a comment that he wanted to find a sandwich without toasted bread or toothpicks, and he got the half-an hour diatribe on how the Taiwanese would never truly enter the First World until they came to terms with modernization and westernization. He often replied: “You dumb fucking arrogant little college boys. The fact that you get bread at all…Can you prepare fucking dumplings, dick?”

He was right of course: we were mostly immature young guys trying to have our authentic experience and home comforts at the same time.

The truth was i was deliberately stalling.“Quick! Pick yourself one and let’s get this over with. The gentlemen are waiting for you to choose first,” said John.

“Sorry man, I have never picked out a woman from a line - Apart from the nutter who mugged me…Whoever I pick, I’ll feel sorry for the others.”

John rubbed his forehead and shook his head. “They are professionals. They’ll understand if they don’t get your grubby, anonymous hands squeezing their tits in the next hour...Bloody middle-class liberals.”

“You sure, man?" I replied.

“I’m sure. I don’t think their tits will go unfelt in the next hour, it was pretty busy outside. No doubt she’ll have something to scrub off once she gets home.”

I finally picked the only girl with big breasts, and John chose the dark skinned one. A-Hao looked at our girls disparagingly. “You want?” he asked. Then embarrassed about his inability to communicate his ideas, he tried to push his one onto John.

“I like,” said John, but A-Hao didn’t appear convinced.

“We are foreigners,” I said in Chinese and A-Hao laughed and sat down.

No doubt five years later he will still be retelling the story of the time he went to KTV with a couple of foreigners and the foreigners picked the girls with dark skin and a full figure.

I looked at A-Hao and his friends with their pasty white and stick-thin girls, thinking the bright side was that Taiwanese and foreigners never need to fight over women.

“What’s up?” asked John to me. A while ago, he had spotted me seemingly treating my choice like my first girlfriend on our first date. Finally, he felt guilty enough to drag himself away from playing with his girl’s breasts and ask what the problem was.

“Man, the poor girl is working here to pay for her brother’s education. I can’t...” I replied.

“How do you know?”

“I asked her, mate...Why she was working here.”

“Do you know that girl?” John asked to the girl sitting on his lap. “Does she have a brother?”

“No, she have the two sister.”

“Bloody patronizing liberal. You’ve lost half an hour and it serves you right,” shouted John. “Maybe some girls are working here because they are desperate, but it is not the point: they had decided to work here and so the reasons are irrelevant.”

Years later John explained how he seemed to be able to understand what was going on. While at school he had often got into trouble and the teachers would give him the benefit of the doubt because he was working class, find any excuse to forgive his naughtiness. He had learnt to give these bleeding heart liberals the answers they wanted to hear. It only made him worse. Maybe, there were legitimate reasons for his bad behavior, but none of them stopped him. The only thing that did was some severe punishment and discipline.

“Man, how was I to know…”i replied.

Maybe, I shouldn’t have started that conversation about why she worked in this place, and I knew women were downtrodden in this society, I thought.

“Change her. Send her back,” shouted John, desperate to get back to his company. I sat dithering, unable to approach her with the soul-destroying news I didn’t want her company anymore, until A-Hao broke off from his game of paper-scissor-stone long enough to utter a couple of words that instantly sent her running away, and a replacement came in.

I looked at A-Hao and his friends now down to their boxers, losing various drinking games. It seemed they liked to pretend they were robbing innocence: while John had directly taken off the bra of his companion, they had spent the last half hour winning the right to see flesh through various drinking games.

The four girls were now down to g-strings only, hands were all over them, but I presumed they were having the last laugh: the job description had said show your breasts and ass, but none of them had any. It was money for nothing.

“So why do you work here?” asked John to his charge, Angel, first grabbing her left breast so the price to her of her occupation was at the forefront of her mind as she answered.

“Like her. I no study hard. I like the money. Gucci, you know?”

“I know Gucci. That is wonderful.”

“You want to sing the song?” pushed Angel.

“Instead of groping your breasts? No fuckin’ interest, but thanks for asking.”

But Angel wasn’t stupid. She asked A-Hao and his friends if they had heard John sing, and it seemed they were happy to be distracted from breast massaging to listen to their new friend. Or, I guessed, they came to this sort of place weekly so it wasn’t so precious.

“It’s not unusual to love…” belted out John because it was that, or the Beatles, Whitney Houston or Air Supply. They had no other English songs in the catalogue.

An hour and a half later and A-Hao had paid a bill of around five hundred pounds and they had swapped numbers. John had protested and tried to pay the bill, but this time he hadn’t been so aggressive. A-Hao had asked if they wanted to come to a restaurant for some more food, but unlike these guys, we had had enough entertainment for one evening.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Cultural Differences: Raw meat, cooked vegetables

This is one of my favorite petty squabbles: you can eat raw meat but not vegetables. I had it with numerous girlfriends and co-workers over the years, but my wife gave the best answer.

"Hey, don’t eat that?” she shouted because i picked up a piece of the carrot she was chopping into my mouth. “Why you keep putting raw food in your mouth? I tell you many times.”

The argument was something to do with the belief too many pesticides were used so the vegetable had to be cooked.

“When I stick it up my ass then you need to worry,” I replied. "So why is it ok to eat raw beef and fish but not vegetables? These vegetables were freshly picked, slaughtered and served.”

“Raw fish tastes good, stupid,”she replied.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Expat Culture in Taiwan: Moaning the Taiwanese are unprofessional I

Other cultures do things differently; they have their own unique hypocricies. Stupid foreigner syndrome happens when you believe a foreign country is inherently more dishonest or stupid than another.

Another pet expat moan is that the Taiwanese are unprofessional.

After several years in Taiwan you begin to get over your alienation and spot the bullshit. It is then that you start to worry about striking up new conversations in the bar.

This particular new guy had seen the guys in the motorbike repair shops watching the stock channel - and had flipped through the cable and worked out there were about thirty channels with stock advice.

“Man it is crazy here, absolutely anyone is allowed to give stock information. Back home you have to have the training and the education, and people only trust the big banks, reputable companies,” he said on hearing Chris was a broker for a large western financial institution.

Chris was great. He was young but had a healthy cynicism to his occupation: “Man, that is bullshit, we are all con-artist in suits whose greatest achievement was to convince the people that there was some skill to what we are doing. We are mostly wrong; we talk up stocks when we shouldn’t; we ignore all the financial basics in favor of hype - Look at the bubble...Look at the employment situation: we get fired for performing badly all the time, but rehired by other firms.”

Said new guy stared at Chris lost for words because his 'you have been here too long' defence wasn't going to work: Chris had only been here a couple of years.

Chris disproved our theory that all new foreigners were stupid; gave us confidence to speak to new people. He excelled himself that evening:v“What is it you always say John? – Ah, yes...Now fuck off!”

Taiwan culture: Western music for bars; Chinese for KTV

In Taiwan there is a crisis of confidence in using their Taiwanese music in bars and discos.

There is a huge music industry in Taiwan with plenty of home grown stars who are idolized. People want to watch their videos on MTV, hear them sing on TV shows; they buy their CDs and listen to them at home, they go to their concerts, they collect their posters and bags and cups; and, they belt out their songs at KTV as if they know nothing else, but to dance to or play as background in your hip bar, not one even makes it into the DJs collection.

And, we are not just talking about the one or two bars where the foreigners go, but also the clubs and bars where you won't find one foreigner inside.

And it is not the case that Asian pop is inferior across the board: from the vast resources of Korean, Japanese, Hong Kong and Taiwanese music it is easy to find ten, fifteen tracks at any one time that stand favourably with their western equivalents, but not one will make it onto the decks.

Been in Taiwan too long: Can't tell western girls' ages

Taiwan girls look alot younger and so after a while you can't tell western girls' ages.

I was sat at home watching the movie '13' on DVD. I had rented it because it was supposed to be controversial story about 'Jailbait' girls.

I watched it just not able to see what the fuss was all about, before finally shouting: "I don't get it, every 18 year old bangs all the time."

"They are 13," replied my girlfriend.

"Oh, yeah. Shit, i am never going to be able to go back to the west."

Monday, February 16, 2009

Funny Taiwan Adverts: The cleanest pigs in the world

This was a very funny non-PC Taiwan advert.

There had been a scare about slaughterhouses selling on the pork from diseased or dead pigs. The media had gone crazy and everyone was afraid to buy pork.

One pork retailer reacted with the following advert to promote his pigs:

First scene: lily-white, smiling pigs are exercising on treadmills, being showered and scrubbed down by attendants in a hotel room before being checked and given the thumbs up by doctors.

Next scene: the pigs are lining up patiently, while the same attendants, now dressed to deal with nuclear waste, are slaughtering the pigs, chopping them into parts on operating room tables, and turning them into nice joints.

Funny Taiwan news stories: 1

This Taiwan news story is not an urban legend.

Ever read Viz and their take on the hamster - replaced by rottweiller - story?

An improvised sex game went wrong, when, a young couple - embarrassed to go to a sex shop and buy a vibrator - tested the jiggling power of a Nokia mobile phone. Unfortunately, they failed to consider how they were going to remove it from said girl's back passage.

It is particularly funny, when you experience how often Asian are on their mobile phones.

While she waited in emergency, her arse was just a ringing, vibrating place of frustrated relatives and friends.

Cute language usages: I didn't know i was a chicken

Certain word are a lot of fun when literally translated from Chinese to English. For a long time I thought the Taiwanese were just getting certain words wrong. Then, when my Chinese got better, I found out they were translating the Chinese word directly in English.

"I love your eggs," I would hear.

Then i would lift my head and peer in a direction just past my stomach. "Balls, love...I am not a chicken."

After a while i learnt not to be churlish.

Important Chinese words to know: Hsin Ku

Another in the essential Chinese words to know.

I cannot come up with a one word translation of 'Hsin Ku' but, it is the ultimate praise to a Chinese person expressing you think they are extremely dedicated, capable, self-less and committed to something. The protocol of modesty dictates it will always be dismissed with protestations of “Bu huei” but it rarely fails to hit the mark.

Favorite Taiwan jokes

We were out in the middle of the afternoon at a KTV with the wife and some of her colleagues, their husbands, and kids.

The atmosphere was a little flat so my wife was doing her best to kick start things by dishing out heaps of praise to all the little kids.

"Look, your son is so handsome," she said to Carol Yu pointing at the little boy as he tried to knock glasses off the table. She then turned to the boy's father. "Hey, you should be so thankful to your wife, giving you a handsome son."

"I know," he replied. "I have already prepared his first abortion money."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Expat Culture in Taiwan: The 7/11 bar

The 7/11 was a major expat hangout in Taiwan.

Before i came to Taiwan I had actually had a reasonably well-paid job; time was precious so, after work, i hit the pub before getting the last train. In Taiwan convenience stores every hundred yards stocked full of beer that could be bought at anytime of night; guys who were trying to get by on as little money as possible; and nightlife that went until eight in the morning, meant things were done differently.

The first stage of the evening inevitably meant drinking beer from the convenience store in someone's apartment, and this could go on until two or three. Then they would have to have another beer at the convenience store next to the bar. Being used to drinking in the bar i continually pushed them to go in earlier.

"I think we have an appointment at the 7/11," replied Eric

"Guys...The bar...You promised..."

"We are still thirsty. You don't expect us to pay 200 NT for a beer do you?"

I had to admit beer in Asian bars was expensive compared to back home, but still: "It Friday night - If we go in at two it is so late. We will miss all the fun..."

They stared at me letting me know the holes in my argument: Even if we got in the bar at two we would indeed still be going at seven in the morning, and five hours was long time inside.

"The girls...The music..." I persisted.

"There are girls here," Pierre replied. This was also true: It wasn't only cheap foreigners who drank in the convenience store, almost all the locals also thought the beer was expensive in the bar, and so would supplement their evening's drinking with something cheap; there was quite a decent crowd gathered on the pavement. Anyway, as this place was just a few doors down from the bar you could hear the music and watch all the girls getting off their scooters and out of taxis.

"What do you want to drink," asked Eric seeing me deflate a little.

"A Taiwan beer you bastards," I replied taking up my place against the large glass window of the 7/11.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Expat Culturein Taiwan: Everyone is setting up a marketing company

There are a number of stages you go through in Taiwan. This one was called: Taiwanese don't write perfect English so i am going to set up a marketing company.

"Just look at this, buddy,” said Josh holding up the brochure for his student’s hose-pipe company, and blocking access to my food which was sizzling away on the teppanyaki hotplate in front of me. “The English is wrong, and the packaging…Just make a few simple changes and I could significantly increase the value of this person’s product. Differentiate it from their competitors.”

We were having dinner in a teppanyaki housed in one of the labyrinth of lanes that ran between Shih Ta University and National Taiwan University, Taiwan’s best university. There were so many students in the area that a night market plus hundreds of cheap coffee shops and restaurants had sprung up, catering to this crowd. Josh was a young Canadian who had only been in Taiwan around six months, and was still troubled why the Taiwanese weren't making life even easier for him than it was.

I sighed, it seemed I was going to hear another foreigner talk about setting up a marketing company. Marketing was a rather grandiose term for that kind of business: Taiwanese struggled manfully through writing brochures, websites, and email in English. You, the white guy, would do it for them but call it marketing and charge much more than you would for editing. Like teaching, it was a no-brainer.

Typical conversation:

“I am supposed to teach in this company twice a week, but really all I do is to correct their English email. That is the business to get into, fortune to be made,” had said X-foreigner in a bar somewhere in Taipei, as I listened on.

“Not just email, mate. Have you seen the web sites? There is shit-loads you can do,” replied Y-foreigner.

“Yeah, of course. A complete English marketing package. Can’t fail.”

“Fuckin’ great here innit.” Cue to both parties laughing congratulatory at finding the treasure map - They had seen that the Taiwanese did not speak perfect English and they were going to exploit it.

“Yeah, I am thinking about getting out of teaching. Give me your number, maybe, we can set something up!”

“Alright, cheers mate. I’ll give you a call.”

I can tell you 99% of people never make that call.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Taiwan culture: Have an internet connection, can start a business

Taiwan has something like the highest percentage of small businesses per capita of any where in the world. They also didn’t worry too much about renting a spanking new office; if you can plug a fax machine in you can start a company.

When I first arrived I taught business English and it was a revelation how it worked.

The address of the client was 3rd Floor, No. 17, Alley 168, Lane 26, Ho-Ping East Road, Section Three. I drove down the main road, Ho-Ping East Road, and saw a new office building at the intersection with Lane 26. Exactly the sort of place i used to expect to find the office. But i had been doing this a while now so I didn’t bother to park up and go and ask the security guard if this was the right place. I headed into the lane ignoring the fact that these were residential buildings, that the lane snaked and twisted and I had been driving ten minutes already, in the opposite direction of the main road, where an office should be. The alley was one-way and one lane wide and, if I was in a car, a visiting client, I would have to drive around, possibly for hours, trying to find a parking space. Still, I didn’t turn back or phone the agent because a company simply couldn’t possibly be here. The door at the bottom of the building was a mass of peeling red paint. I squeezed past the motorcycles and bicycles and walked up the dirty grey stairs to the third floor, holding my nose as I passed all the shoe closets and slippers outside each door; the sweat starting to come from my brow. At the third floor, I saw the silver colored plague for Lucky Honor International Trading Company just outside the apartment on the left. I wasn’t surprised but I did smile because they had invested in the solid silver aluminum door instead of the usual one with metal bars.

“Hello. Welcome,” said the middle-aged woman who answered the door in casual clothes. I took off my shoes and went in through the mosquito net doors. It was another apartment-cum-office.

Taiwanese should be able to patent the concept, I thought.

Granny was sitting on the sofa watching TV with her knees tucked up to her chest even though there was two meters of space in front of her. A little girl opened a bedroom door and poked her around just long enough to shout - ‘Hello, how are you?’- before going back to practicing the piano.

“Sorry, I am so busy.” The mother asked me to sit down in the living room across from granny who got up in a panic and headed to the kitchen.

Josh picked up a brochure from the coffee table next to me, Lucky Honor Hose Pipes International. Taiwan was a nation of people who knew how to get things made. Whenever I sat waiting to teach, Josh would always pick up the magazines on coffee table, and they would be for the International Bicycle Water Bottle Trader or Power Saw Monthly – or similar. Whether it was being made in Taiwan or China or somewhere else in Asia, they knew about it, and could find it and get it to a discount store somewhere in your country, quicker than anyone else.

Then granny was back with a plate of watermelon and guava, and a cup of Jasmine tea, pushing it in my face.

“I am so sorry. We are very busy at the moment,” said the mother, gesturing to join her behind the office cubicle partitions behind the sofa. There, on the two desks was the million dollar business that was Lucky Honor International Trading Company (…or it could be Forever Strong International Trading Company, I had forgotten now).

And it was a million dollar business because she then told me about her two children who were studying in America, which was costing the family fifty thousand US a year. But it was worth it she assured me because the children would complete the tricky act of coming back speaking English and thinking independently and creatively like a westerner - as the stereotype went - but still follow blindly what their parents said? - Hopefully, even take the business out of the living room, into a spanking new office with a couple of desks.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Classic mistakes: Take her back to the west to make her more outgoing

Taiwan culture shock: It is hard being the superior sex I

As foreigners in Taiwan we had the opportunity to play above our league. It may seem straightforward, but Taiwanese girls are different (see Culture Shock: Women) and there is alot of adjusting to do. It is difficult for all of us but for Eric particularly so.

Eric looked around at the people sat around him in the teashop. It was quiet considering there were twenty people inside. About half were reading magazines or Japanese comics. He looked at the cover of the magazine the girl to his left was reading. It was another image of a late teens girl pulling a kooky innocent smile while holding tight her teddy bear. She is not twelve, he thought. Two tables down a bunch of girls had just gathered together to take a photo with the obligatory V for victory sign, and were now clapping each other with that elbows and wrists together clapping style. He looked across at Diane and slowly dragged himself up straight in his chair, and yawned. “You know I read today the government wants to make Taiwan the Asian information services center. If you are going to become a center of learning, expertise and innovation your teachers and bosses need to learn to be questioned. Can’t keep prompting someone because they know someone or are older.”

“Yes. You know this is Taiwan,” she said.

“What? If you don’t agree you can say. No need to be so polite.”

I am not interested in this stupid topic, she thought. I am bored to death with it.

“We are taught to respect men, it is natural,” she replied before going back to catching glimpses of the front of the Cosmopolitan magazine on the lower shelf of the table, the one I said she couldn’t read. That was another thing she didn’t like about the foreigner - if there was no conversation why couldn’t she read a magazine or newspaper? Why did they have to sit desperately trying to make polite conversation? She wanted to be in that new Californian restaurant that had opened last week, and was the place to be seen for young internationally-minded Taiwanese like herself. Eric had vetoed it by saying it was no better than TGI Friday, and he didn’t come to Taiwan to hang around in American theme restaurants. Now she was drinking ice-green tea with lemon in a teashop on Shih-Ta Road, the kind of place she hung out at when she was a student.

Didn’t he fucking know she was brought up on this stuff?

She thought after graduation she would be leaving behind this area and hanging around in the more upmarket areas around Ren-Ai, Fu-Hsing, and Dun-hua Roads, but it seemed another drawback of being with a foreigner was hanging around student areas, and in particular Shih-Ta Road.

He sighed – Won’t anything provoke you? He was dying to have his character picked apart, to be argued with; he had no intention of changing but enjoyed the discussion - actually needed it – as opinions left languishing in his brain would start to lose their shape and self-esteem after a few days or weeks because they hadn’t been challenged. He wasn’t a great conversationalist, preferring to argue, and he now fondly remembered noisy afternoons being picked on by his two older sisters and mother; respect wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

“You know I am not a Taiwanese guy. It is cool to argue with me. I won’t suppress you.”

Hmm, thought Diane, What about not being able to read the magazine? Go to KTV on a Sunday afternoon because I should be out enjoying nature? - Tonight and this teashop? But she said nothing because she had never expected much from men. Foreign men were just a different kind of stupid, but they let women do whatever they wanted.

She sat up slowly in her seat. “That is why we want to go to school in America.”

“I know so you can learn to question. You know if enough of you go to school abroad it will set up an irresistible momentum.”

“Yes…Uh, if I have the MBA I can be the boss.”

She leaned forward putting her mouth around the straw, looking down through the glass table top at the Cosmopolitan. “One of my uncles live in San Francisco,” she said out the corner of her mouth.

“Never been there,” he replied thinking he had got a girlfriend to avoid the conversation about their American Dream, hoping things would move onto other topics.

“Really? You know I push my parents to emigrate. I am so disappointed they didn’t send me to university in America - Berkeley is my dream. You know I have a cousin at Berkeley and his mother is so proud. His mother has so much face now in the family. I want to give her face.”

“That is the mother who beat you,” he said. And I have had to hear about so many times.

“I forgive her now. She was under pressure from my grandmother. Everyday, she humiliate my mother. Tell my father to divorce her - She think my mother is too low class. So my mother have the bad temper.” She continued, “And her son is useless so she have push me because I am smart - Will give her face.”

He wrestled with getting another refill of water for his pot of fruit tea. He took the spoon and ate the fruit at the bottom of his jug (kumquat, orange and apple), finished up the last of the roasted broad beans, squeezed the last of the peppered peas from their pods, and got up.

“Are you finished?” he asked. “Ok, let’s go.”

“Please you drive?” pushed Diane on seeing Eric get into position near the back of the scooter.

“What is this face thing? You have to be driven by the guy.” (He had been told before a girl will lose face if she is seen on the front with a boy on the back.)

“No, I don’t have a face problem. You are too heavy,” she replied because it was only a 50cc scooter.

“Yeah right,” he murmured before thinking she may have a point.


“Whoa! Whoa! Hsu fu! Hsu fu (Comfortable)!” screamed Diane as he and her made love, prompting him to check his manhood for recent growth.

“You want harder? Softer? Deeper?” He asked for the 10th time.

“No, no…now is hsu fu! hsu fu! You decide…Oh, my God, so powerful.”

“Are you sure?” he continued checking her face again for signs of faking.

“Just a moment, I need to put on a condom,” he said.

“What are you doing?” she had said the first night.

“I am putting on a condom,” he had replied.

“Not necessary. My period has just finished.”

“It is cool - The safe thing to do.”

“You think I am dirty girl? I don’t have the one-night stand.”

He looked at her for a few seconds, thinking of a way that wouldn’t offend her.

“Of course, you are not a dirty girl,” he had replied and threw away the condom, deciding to persuade her over time about the virtues of safe sex.

Back to tonight. He had spoken to her often about the subject over the last few weeks and he was determined to enforce it today.

“I don’t want to get you pregnant,” he explained feeling his cowardice.

“Don’t worry. It will be okay. I don’t think I can easily get pregnant,” she replied.

Again, he was stumped by her answer because it was so far out of the logic box it was hard to deal with: Was she saying she was sterile?

“Please don’t stop,” she said, looking him in the eye, pleading.

He made up my mind not to put up with the nonsense anymore. Next time he would wear the condom no matter what.

He didn’t stop, instead dropping down a gear instead so he could muse on his own stupidity. Back home, he didn’t like to wear a condom, but he had come to Taiwan to play around, and that meant he needed to. He was no different from every other guy hoping to screw himself senseless. And that was another reason for the relationship with Diane: he had failed miserably to wear one for the two months so far, and so had crawled into the relationship to regroup behind it’s relatively sexually safe walls, reeducate myself about what was important. Launch myself on the females of Taiwan with a good habit established.

“You want to change positions? What is good for you?”he asked.

“If you like?”

“Do you like from behind?”

“Whatever you want?”

“I am going to cum? Shall I wait?” he asked.

“No, no! Please cum. I want to see.”

Two minutes later: “Wow! What a man! - Look so much! Why you so powerful?” He squirmed as he always did. He hadn’t been the school football captain - chess team captain, yes, but a quick check of his frame confirmed training for this team hadn’t turned me into a ‘lean mean fighting machine.'

"Please tissues. It is dripping,” said Diane.

He gave her one tissue.

“More. Quick. More.”

He gave her three more tissues and watched her feeble attempts to utilize the full mopping power of any of them.


“Diane that is enough - Think about the environment.” The overuse of tissues was getting him down: Nobody used a cloth to wipe anything; boxes of tissues were everywhere. Go to anyone’s house and it was difficult to turn your head more than fifteen degrees without seeing a box of them; a drop of watermelon juice would hit the table, and all the women in the house would pounce, each pulling five tissues from the nearest box, throwing them away in disappointment when they missed the chance to exterminate that drop...Still he felt like a prick for mentioning now. It came out because he felt compelled to dampen the atmosphere.

“Why are so mean? I just make love with you.”

We made love together, he thought. Not wishing to count out any more tissues, he handed her the box.

“See you cum a lot. Cover all my stomach. What can I do?” she said looking him in the eyes.

I have no clue, he thought. Aren’t women supposed to be the sensible ones?

“Sorry, I didn’t make you cum. You can tell me to wait - it is cool, I am not a Taiwanese guy,” he added after a couple of moments of silence.

“No, no, no! I really enjoy. Today I stressed, next time,” she replied.

“I can make you cum, no problem,” he said determined to empower her.

He tried to put his head between her legs and she jumped up in panic. “No. No. Very dirty! I am embarrassed.”

American cosmopolitan wasn’t lying, she thought.

“It ain’t dirty. This is normal girl. You are with a foreigner now.”

“I mean it is hot in Taiwan - Very sweaty,” she replied afraid the foreigner was going to dump her for being a prude. He was relieved in a way: he had just had sex without a condom and no man liked to taste himself. And, he didn’t know this girl very well…and you had to assume she was lying about how many boys she had slept with before…and it was not your country so the unfamiliar bred suspicion…and even if she wasn’t lying about her previous sexual partners being a couple of thumbs worth, she never bothered about condoms and one of them might be one of those guys who come in and out of Thailand on a regular basis. He pushed out his tongue in distaste.

“I am just going to the bathroom,” he said, deciding to stimulate himself; determined to make her cum.

Thirty minutes later he was desperately trying to ignore my tiredness and frustration; refusing to change positions because it is was already going soft, and once it popped out he knew it wasn’t going back in. He wanted to stop but that would be insulting to her, insulting to his manhood...Still he was slowing down...

Come on, man, he said to myself a little loud.

Diane looked round. “Are you ok?” she asked. “I know I don’t have so much experience. I’m sorry.”

This just made him feel worse. “Not your fault. Really,” he insisted.

She looked at his face. “Lie down! Take a rest. I know you are tired.” Diane took the pillow out from under her, patted it even and put it under his head.

“I am sorry, but...” I said.

“That is okay. No need to say.” She put her fingers to my mouth.

He desperately wanted to explain. What did she think of him? He wondered what judgments she was secretly making about him, and worrying what a chauvinist he was going to become when he didn’t have to explain. He came back from the bathroom all the more determined to make her satisfied, show he cared about her.

“You are tired,” she said. “Next time, you can make me cum.”

These foreigners can be pushy, she thought. I am watching TV now.

A few moments later. “I love you,” she turned to him and whispered.

He closed his eyes and felt the crash. The whole tissue thing had been raised to hopefully avoid this.

“Girl you have known me for four weeks. That ain’t cool.”

He had sensed this coming for a while - Then he saw the irony of the use of the word 'while’: they had slept together about six times, and once they had become a kind of item he was sure he could see it trying to squeeze out.

“Girl, I am a foreigner so need to play the dedicated girl because we had sex. You want to be with a Western guy, you have to drop the bullshit about needing to love before making love.”

“You don’t understand the Taiwanese girl, we fall in love easily.”

“And you don’t know the foreign guy, we are afraid of commitment. We don’t like our relationships to go too fast. We tend to run hard if they do - You watch our movies.”

“But you are with the Taiwan girl now. You must appreciate we are conservative girls. I only do the sex with someone I love.”

“Then it is best we break up. If you are in love after three weeks, then you will be tattooing my name across your body in another two - And it will be unfair to you as clearly you are in the end zone when I am still considering kicking off.”


“I think you get my point. I am under too much pressure to live up to your expectations.”

“Why you foreigners always so picky in your relationships? Reason so much?”

“I am just trying to think of you…So do you think we can take this slow? Or should we break up?”

“What can I do? I must respect you. I want to be with the foreigner so I know it will be hard - Maybe, you will love me one day. I am willing to take the risk.”

AHHHHHH, he thought.

Diane went back to munching away on some dried cuttlefish, already having put on most of her clothes. He knew he was going to have to take the lead. He was going to have to teach. He wasn’t sure he was qualified. He was hoping to learn a little more first. He knew he would get lazy – he always did – and she would gradually build up resentment against him and become unhappy. That was what his mother taught him: if you asked a woman to do something unfair or you didn’t treat her properly she may agree, but she would remember, and you would pay one day.

He thought about getting one of the few western girls in Taipei, but then he looked at Diane and remembered she was the prettiest girl he had ever been with. He thought about the number of women he had slept with in my four months so far. He remembered the feelings of frustration over girls he couldn’t get in college because they were supposed to be out of his league; the fear of failure, of being laughed at if he approached a table of women in a bar back home. It already seemed so far away. He decided it would be good for him to be the teacher for once. He would find myself a local girl who was outgoing and westernized in her attitude, then cut her a lot of slack to bring her out of her shell.

It was 10:30. Diane had to be home by eleven o’clock so she got up, and got dressed. First time, he had said, Girl, you are twenty-three. How can you accept that? Then he thought about the benefits to himself, and was glad she didn’t disobey her parents.

He picked up his textbook and started to look forward to some study - Then he felt restless: It was a Wednesday night, and it was Ladies Night all across the city. He was in Taiwan. One of the reasons for being here was the women. He should go out and chase.

He dragged himself to the shower, then poured himself a large vodka for Dutch courage – drinks were too expensive in that disco – and picked up the phone. “Hey, John. Do you want to go out?”

“I told you not to call me. I am not going out anymore.”

“Are you coming?”

There was a pause. “So where the fuck are we going?”