Monday, March 30, 2009

The temptations of being treated I: Picking up the check

Taiwanese love to treat, especially westerners. It is well-known that Taiwanese will fight to pick up the check, they will also pay if it suits their higher interests.

For example, we are bored, sat at home, so we call up a friend and ask them out for the evening, but they reply they don't have any money. We usually resign ourselves to not going out, but not the Taiwanese, they will say: "Okay, I'll pay."

As westerners we shrink away from this because it feels strange to let someone pay, but they never do. That person wanted to go out and invited them so they go.

There are other more extreme examples. My wife's boss would regularly call her up and say - I want you to go out because you are fun - and so she would pick up the check because she had more cash.

The above sounds very fake but in the end everyone wins: the boss gets her evening out and my wife got a nice dinner. My wife actually counted her as a friend because he wasn't uncomfortable with her paying, in fact my wife would pick up the check occasionally, it was just unspoken that she had less money therefore the boss would be picking up the check more often.

If you were a foreigner it was often the same, and it could get intoxicating for some people.

Pierre was different because a few months after arriving he had made a decision to branch out from the close knit set of bars where all the foreigners went, and try to meet locals in their environment. The result was that his mobile was constantly ringing with people wanting to take out their new foreigner friend.

To get free meals hadn't been a deliberate calculation at first but he was young, and confident, and he listened to the compliments and he got phone calls from people who wanted to see him, and he told them he had no money because he genuinely didn't - and after that because he knew they would offer anyway.

Like above, they would say they were bored and would he come out. Or they were happy to treat because he was an interesting guy, and they themselves were not. Then some of them would say: "I have always wanted a foreign friend, it gives me face." And they would introduce you to all their friends, and practice their English. They were happy. If you are Eric you assume he is using you, because you are paranoid about those things. If you are Pierre you realize it just means he is proud to have you as a friend. Anyway, you still interpret it as your doing him a favour by hanging around with him -- Remember you are the creative, outgoing one and if you are Pierre you believe in your stereotype. And it is not just that: you want to go out, and because you don’t have any money, you tell yourself you’ll treat in future. Finally, that devil in you gets off on the fact that someone is prepared to pay for you, and you get hooked. He became sure as long as he joined the fight to pay the check occasionally, ultimately losing in the end in a flurry of protests and feigned offence, he would never have to pick it up.

What is the point to this story? We all go off the rails a little in Taiwan, Pierre did it in style.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Taiwan characters: Eric and studying Chinese IV

Eric and Joanne split up a couple of months later, because his Chinese was getting too good for her to dominate the conversation.

He decided his next move was to try the classifieds for his perfect language exchange.

A few evenings later we were in John’s room in the love hotel, drinking a few beers before going out.

“Can you fucking belief these things?” said Eric getting a piece of paper out of his back pocket and handing it to Pierre. He had printed out the classified section for a couple of online dating and friendship sites in Taiwan, where locals could meet foreigners.

“You see what it says, ‘Like to go dancing and sing songs…Would like to meet young western man for friendship and to practice my English.’ There are dozens similar.”

“So?” said John.

“I mean how fucking selfish can you get. Why the fuck could they possibly think some guy wants to sit in a bar and talk boring shit about colleges in the West, and correct their fucking grammar for nothing. She knows that she is supposed to deliver as her end of the bargain.”

"You know they like to practice their English," said John, "And they are assuming that you have no interest in learning Chinese, like me and most guys, and you want to spend a little time talking about your homeland. At some point in the future they will return the favor - But I have fucking told you this a dozen times. "

John continued,“You want to practice your Chinese. Why waste your time looking?”

"Hold on," I said. “You have just been on a date with one of these girls, haven’t you?”

He admitted he had, and it hadn't gone well:

“Could you recommend one of these colleges to me, I don’t know whether I want to live on the east coast or west,”said Joy Chou his date.

Eric had already answered how to spell his unusual surname (Vorseck). He knew how many points Joy had got on her TOEFL, but that she did think her spoken English was good enough yet. He had explained the meaning of ‘curriculum’ and ‘progressive’ from the college brochures she believed he wanted to see – for presumably the same reason she believed he was interested in any of this. And, he had corrected her pronunciation too many times to remember. From her first question, he had been trying to keep the phrase ‘stupid, boring American loving bitch’ unarticulated, but it was getting harder and harder.

He decided the only way was to try and change the conversation. "When did martial law end? Was it ’87?”asked Eric. He knew the answer but he needed to not talk about the American education system for twenty minutes.

“What is martial law?” Eric explained and she continued, “Just a moment, I need a pen - how to spell martial law?”

“In what state in the US do they have martial law?- Is my question right? You can correct me if you want.”

I don’t want, that is okay, he thought. "Anyway, yes to your first question, but not America, Taiwan!”

“Taiwan!?” She gasped and wiped the cold water from her face.

How dare he wake her from her trip to America.

"I don’t know,” she answered quickly. “Have America to ever martial law?”

Eric brought himself back from his brink by reminding himself he was on to dessert, and another half-hour and she would be back to his.

“So why do you want to go to America?” He asked through clenched teeth.

“I need to broaden my horizons, develop the international perspective and creativity skills that living in diverse and open American society will give me - And improve my English.”

Eric interrupted,“Sorry, uh, you’ve not finished yet: continue from the top of the next page.”

Eric was referring to the Dream America Agency study pamphlet on preparing for interviews with American universities. He knew because he wrote it when he was desperate for cash.

“Only joking! Take it easy.”

“So why do you like foreigners? If I don’t already know...” She didn’t understand the last part of the question, but was too eager to answer the first to care. “I want to practice my English.”

“Figure getting on your back for a couple of months taking hot rod is cheaper than intensive English classes. Cool! You get to practice your English and I get a regular fuck; which is all good, because I don’t have enough money to date,” he said too quickly for her to understand.

“Let me get the bill.”

“We go dutch. That is American way, yes?”

Maybe, she is not so bad after all, he thought.

“Okay, let’s go back to mine.”

“No! We are friends right! Call me.”


Having told his story he was still angry.“Can you believe that? - The bitch bores me senseless for three hours and then isn’t in the mood. Does she think I am in the mood after talking to her, but I am still prepared to do it," he raged.

“Some are like it and some are not. That is what she said she wanted so why challenge that. I know because you saw it there and you just had to see if it was true,”I said.

“How do you know, man?” said Eric.

“Anyway what is the difference between that and the girls in the bar?” asked Pierre.

“The girls in the bar understand the bargain,”said Eric.

“Of course, so now you just look stupid.”

“Anyway, why don’t you put an advert there? – Want someone to practice your Chinese on," I said. "What are you doing for teachers at the moment?”

“I have a few language exchanges at the moment.” Eric intermittently went to visit the Chinese language schools to see if there was a good teacher in any of the classes. At the moment he was back signing on at the school with no classrooms just to get a visa.

“Dude, I have told you they are a waste of time,” said Josh, who had just arrived. “Their average salary per hour for a one-to-one is 250 NT; yours for teaching English is 600 – 700. You are better off paying at a school and getting three hours for your one of teaching.”

“I know but they always teach badly and speak English and it makes me angry when I am paying.”

“And do the language exchanges do a good job?”

“Don’t get me started - I had to fire one yesterday for speaking English all the way through my hour of Chinese. It is a battle to exploit me.”

“At least you have to arrange a time ratio based on your relative earning potentials. Not one hour for one hour.”

“I know, but I ain’t a capitalist like you,” replied Eric. "It is so embarrassing to directly tell someone they are not worth as much as me."

“Anyway, why don’t you put the ad for someone to speak Chinese to?” said Pierre.

“I don’t know, man. I suppose for the same reason I am so disgruntled by the people who put the ad to practice their English: I don’t like exploiting people. I feel extremely guilty because I am bringing nothing to the equation.”

“Didn’t you teach English as a volunteer to immigrants in New York?” asked John. “What were you getting out of that?”

“Pleasure in helping people.”

“There you go.”

“Yes…but…I just kind of feel it is much easier to allow myself to be exploited, but not exploit others.”

“Buy them a present at the end - Whatever…make it up to them in some way,” said John.

“I leave it up to the individual to decide if they are being exploited,” said Pierre.

“Presumably if they do respond they really are only looking for a boyfriend. I mean nobody teaches for nothing,”continued Eric.

“Again, some will and some won’t,” said John. “Let’s go to the bar.”

Eric counted up the number of drinks he had had over the last hour knowing he couldn’t afford to buy more than one in the bar. “Hey, I have not drunk enough yet.”

“You don’t need that much dutch courage here?”

“I am not drinking for that reason...” replied Eric.

An hour later.

“Eric is an American,” shouted John to the three girls at the table they had just approached.

“Really?” said Tina who was to his left. “Very nice.”

“Thanks,” said Eric.

“Where in America?” said Tina.

“New York.” Eric toasted her half-heartedly and then stood swigging desperately from his bottle of Budweiser, wondering why it was letting him down. He had had four cans of Taiwan beer and then taken one, then a second, then a third shot of vodka before leaving John’s room. It had been for the express purpose of making this conversation easier. After the disappointment earlier with the girl who wanted to practice her English he was frustrated. In fact the arrangement of that date had been part of a recent cycle: he refused to talk to girls who wouldn’t speak Chinese, he hated having that conversation about his stereotypes, he got desperate after a few weeks and got drunk and broke his rules. Tonight all he had to do was ask her if she had been to America, tell her she would like it, make small talk about her liking the bars and discos, and exploit her disaffected young sensibilities and everything would be okay. He overheard John – “Yes, a gentleman” - and then laugh as he always did because he thought the stereotype wildly inaccurate. Pierre was talking about romance. He wished he could play up his stereotypes. He had been threatened and punched more in the last eighteen months than the previous twenty-three years. He would love life to go smoothly. He wished he could ignore the racism, and ignorance. He wished he could see the positives. He wished he could subvert it subtly instead of arguing.

It was tough being him. And especially so as he would be staying for another couple of years. His Chinese wasn’t good enough yet, and once you have studied it to not get a job and use it was a crime. There was a volunteer job for foreigners at the National Palace Museum. There was translation work he would like to do. He was still fascinated by Chinese things and the opportunity to study whatever he wanted. That was the thing about Taiwan, in theory it was still perfect: great food, wonderful mountains, unlimited casual work in the form of teaching, and great women. If he wanted to study something back home it would mean working in low wage job which still demanded his emotional input. He was incredibly free to pursue whatever he wanted. And that was the final reason why he was going to stay: He kind of recognized there was a hypocrisy in his position, and he really wanted to create a balance. He wanted to know where the truth lied.

He made up his mind he was going to put that advert for someone to practice his Chinese with, and see what happened.

He looked at Tina. She was sat nervously looking at him, and he prepared himself to ask her if she had been to America. To listen to her talk about her flowering in the land of freedom.

Hmm, I’ll get another beer first, he thought.

Taiwan characters: Eric and studying Chinese III

The fastest route to learning Chinese is to get a local girlfriend who doesn't speak English. But, as i say, if you a newly graduated college boy used to dating middle class college girls, the downside is they will not only speak good English but want to practice - good English is there status symbol.

A year or so after being in Taiwan Eric was hoping his girlfriend Fiona Li would be interested in working with him so they could improve each others language levels. She had other ideas.

Eric got off the bed, where he had been sitting listening to Fiona practice her English on his room mates for twenty minutes now. Sitting in his living room talking to his room mates had started at around the same time as he started talking to her in Chinese. She furiously denied it of course, but she should know he was soft not stupid.

Anyway, he had to go to work early the next morning, and the last two or three times she came back, she had sat in the living room until two or three and there hadn't been any sex. He went to the doorway, today would be different, he was going to put his foot down. He went to the kitchen and got himself another drink, he would give her another twenty minutes.

About half an hour later. "Sorry, Fiona, would you like another drink?” he said.

“Hey, Fiona, good talking to you…Again - but I have to go to bed,” said his room-mate, Mike - It was the code signal Eric had given him to let him know.

Fiona took her glass of wine and sat down on Eric’s bed.

“Hey, I bought a frame. What do you think?” said Eric.

“Very nice. Now you just need to get a proper job. You can’t just do nothing all your life.”

Eric was shocked her directness, but he reassured himself with the knowledge that he was a foreigner and so he had told her to be direct. Maybe, it was a little crude, but learning to be direct was a process and he couldn’t expect her to get it right immediately. But he wasn’t surprised: the Taiwanese were money orientated people and he realized he had to get things together if he was going to stay with one of them.

Eric leaned across and began to fumble.

“I am tired, I need to get up early tomorrow,” she said.

“We haven’t had sex for two weeks now - What’s up?”

“I said I am tired. I can’t just turn the feeling on you know.”

“I think after this much time the feeling would be turned on.”

“You are so direct – You know when you talk to the Taiwanese girl, you shouldn’t be so direct.”

“So it is alright for you to be direct with me.”

“But you are the foreigner.”

Eric wanted to say I think we should use one method or the other – directness or indirectness – in approaching talking to each other. Ideally, it would be directness. This was another gripe but he would leave this for now.

He got out a Chinese newspaper he was reading. "Ok," he said. "Can i ask you a question? Can I say - "

"Eric, i am tired. It is late and now you want to ask me questions about Chinese."

"It is the only time i get to speak to you - as you only sit in my living room..."

"Don't i help you with your Chinese now? Let you speak to me in Chinese?"

"You - " Eric cut himself short guessing the futility of saying what he wanted to say: You let me speak in Chinese but never correct me or listen whereas I correct you all the time.

"I am sorry," said Eric. "It is just after a couple of weeks..."

“We are Taiwanese girls. It is not all about sex,”she replied.

Eric rubbed his eyes. It was that comment again. He had meet many girls for whom it was all about that. Weren’t they in a relationship so there was nothing wrong anyway? He read that article that said Taiwanese women were more interested in shopping than sex. It wasn’t his experience from the past. He kind of thought that was because they were in bad marriages to some guy there parents had introduced them to. They were afraid to get divorced. They were being coy. They hadn’t been fucked properly. There was a commonsense answer to pull together, but the cultural soundbites were swirling and changing direction too fast.

He sat back on the bed and began to mope.

“Come here,”she said pulling him out of his boxers, and rather matter-of-factly starting to relieve him. He was sure she was reading the front page article on the local English newspaper that he had left on the bed, and it briefly occurred to him she was not interested. Still as things were under way sincerity on her part was not necessary.

He shuffled himself back down next to the newspaper.“That is better, eh. Don’t want you to get a stiff neck,” he said.

Ten minutes later. “Okay, now,” she said one hand wiping her mouth and with the other briefly rubbing the top of his thigh before giving it a pat, like a mother consoling her spoilt kid.

“You have to be soft with us Taiwanese girls, you know.”

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Taiwan characters: Eric and studying Chinese II

This is one of Eric's funniest stories about studying Chinese. He was driving around lost, looking for a school; obsessing over finding someone to ask directions who wouldn't speak English to him.

That guy has a suit on so will try and speak English. Couple of young girls in jeans and T-shirts. Students. Will try and speak English. A betelnut stand manned by a middle-aged woman in surfing shorts, t-shirt and flip-flops. Okay.

He stopped at the roadside in front of her stall.

“Chong Kai Road, Lane 26. You know where it is?”

She looked at him in horror, and a chunk of confidence went.

“Chong Kai Road, Lane 26. You know where it is?”

“Ah, a foreigner speaking Chinese,” she shouted loudly. "Now he is leaving when I want to tell him where to go. Why he bother to stop?”

Eric drove on fuming.

He saw a young boy, maybe sixteen.

They won’t speak English with a gun to their heads, and maybe he is shocked to see me but I won’t know: their expression never changes.

“Chong Kai Road, Lane 26. You know where it is?”

“I’m sorry. My English is not so good. It is a sad story. My parents push me to learn but I had no interest. I’m sorry,” he said before hurrying off into a shop.

Twenty minutes later and he would have to ask anyone if he didn’t want to be late. He saw a smartly dressed woman in a business suit - late-twenties walk by. She would definitely speak good English. He didn’t have time anymore to give people lectures about speaking to him in Chinese so he decided to speak English and get this over with.

“Chong Kai Lu. Ne jer dao zi na li,(Do you know where it is?)” said Eric.

She lifted up her sun glasses and shielded her eyes with her left hand.“Oh. Hi!” she said. "You go straight until you get to a gas station, and then turn right.”

“And then?” interrupted Eric in Chinese trying to let her know to speak it.

“It is about two blocks down on the right. What are you looking for?”

“A school,” said Eric now speaking English. “Hey, what is the matter with you Taiwanese - See a white man and assume you have to practice your English? That is the way you stereotype us?”

“I was born in Canada. Fuck you,”she replied.

Eric desperately tried to quell feelings of self-loathing by telling himself he wasn’t to know, and it was in fact her fault because she should appreciate issues of racial sensitivity and identity where she was from.

Taiwan characters: Eric and studying Chinese I

Taiwan doesn't get many western visitors - A tiny number of whom actually come to study the language and live for a long time. They have been taught it is polite to speak to the foreigner in English. Many have studied abroad and already speak good English. They want to practice their English. They are afraid of their English ability so run off. They are not used to hearing their language with a strange accent. In short, when you are in the early stages of studying Chinese, it could be difficult to get the opportunities to speak.

Most of us weren't in any great hurry to learn the language. Others found their methods: Pierre only dated girls who worked in department stores, running the gauntlet of them laughing out loud at everything he said because they were embarrassed at being with the foreigner. Most of us dated upwardly mobile middle-class girls who came and found us, the downside was they spoke good English - and it automatically became the language you spoke in.

Eric was in a hurry to learn and had taken the above as a personal slight. He had thrown himself out of every school in Taipei, and now he was refusing to speak to people unless they spoke Chinese.

First, he had started to argue with people:

“I can speak Chinese,” he said.

“I can speak English,” came the reply.

“We are in Taiwan.”

“But you are an American.”

To which he usually replied, “Are you ashamed of your language? Or just a racist?”

Then he started to pretend to be French or German.

“So where are you from?” said the woman next to him in the breakfast shop.

“Fa Gwo (France),” said Eric.

“Really? Where in France?” she asked.

“Why are you speaking to me in English? I am French so speak French or Chinese.”

“Sorry,” she replied and quickly left.

Picked the wrong foreigner to exploit for English practice bitch.

Eric turned his attention to the guys opposite and started listening to their conversation. They were talking about the local elections and he was surprised, he could understand what they said. The election was fascinating as outside the environment was transformed: every bridge, grass divider between sides of the road, intersection, roundabout, building, and private apartment that it was possible to put a candidate flag on had one; otherwise giant-sized pictures of candidates adorned the front of buildings, buses taxis and trains; flyers were being handed out everywhere; rallies held everyday in football stadiums.

He could join this conversation. He would love to. The signs were good: they were men in their late forties; two of them were wearing the traffic volunteer orange armbands suggesting they were taxi drivers (At every intersection across Taipei at rush hour armies of volunteers stood blowing whistles to stop people going through the red lights). He could hear they were also supporters of the DPP. It would love to hear some stories of protest or imprisonment. The chances are they didn’t speak any English. He thought about joining their conversation - Just going over there and sitting down. They would make a few stupid comments about him being a foreigner at the start but then would just let him join in. These kind of guys always did: they were loud but essentially harmless ...Eric got out his textbook and started to learn a few more characters instead.

“Hey. Hello,” said the woman he had been rude to before. She was back with a young pretty girl. “This is my friend’s daughter. She is studying French. Uh, maybe, you can speak to her for a while. Let her practice.”

“Did I say French? Sorry, my Chinese is not so good. I meant to say Spanish.” Eric packed up his things and looked longingly back at the group of guys discussing the election. Once outside it occurred to him the questions about his identity were worth it to join the conversation, but he wasn’t going back now. Besides, he didn’t have time because he had an interview at a new school, and he needed to get this job.

Taiwanese and Speaking English I

The majority of Taiwanese had an opinion on speaking English: they either wanted to speak it or wouldn't with a gun to their nose. Like, with meeting a foreigner, the number of Taiwanese who would simply act natural the first time was very small.

I remember this one when i stopped and asked directions from a sixteen year old school kid.

“Chong Kai Road, Lane 26. You know where it is?”I asked.

“I’m sorry. My English is not so good. It is a sad story - My parents push me to learn but I had no interest. I’m sorry,” he said before hurrying off into a shop.

Before driving off I tried to think of an indirect question to ask that would provoke the guy into another 10 minute diatribe in English, revealing the whereabouts of the school.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Expat Culture in Taiwan: Shameless exploiting our name I

I first realized how we expats shamelessly exploited our name as i surveyed the scene around an Italian restaurant while on a date.

It was filled with white dudes like myself trying to impress Taiwanese girls with conversation about the authentic thin-crust pizza, and proper salad dressing, bread and tiramisu; that the Pizza chains across the city were not proper pizza. The message was clear: stick with them and you could learn what Americans were really doing.

What fucking bullshit. There were fucking thousands of Pizza Huts in America selling the same unauthentic shit they were in Taiwan.

But it was part of a bigger picture of bullshit: I could hear the guy next to me start the conversation that I would be having later.

Girl: "So why did you come to Taiwan?"

Foreigner: "I just wanted to take it easy, have an adventure."

Girl: "Oh, that is so good. In Taiwan our parents wouldn't let us."

Foreigner: "In the west children make their own decisions from an early age. What does it have to do with our parents? Anyway, they support what we want to do."

Hmm, every western parent is a fucking hippy who doesn't care if their kid drops out of school...

While i was listening our thin crust pizza arrived. She looked at it funny so i told her that this was authentic Italian pizza - and i always ate it like this.

"So you say you want to study in America?" I asked.

Girl: "Yes. Hmm, I really admire the way that teach in America. We Taiwanese need to learn to question and think for ourselves."

"That is right. We chose exactly what we want to study from a very young age..."

Taiwan Culture Shock: It is hard being the superior sex IV

Eric hadn’t called back Diane. Once he woke up in the morning he had decided this was his first time dumping a girl based on looks and so, of course, it had been hard. He shouldn’t unilaterally declare himself unable to be a stud but give himself a few more opportunities to adjust. He might be able to get used to being the superior sex. Get over his culture shock.

He had been dating Emily – the introduction from John - for a few weeks now. She was beautiful, interesting and fun. His fears had been unfounded. He knew he had to view things differently; in Taiwan he could get hot girls and he knew he shouldn’t question that. Just enjoy. He put on that smart shirt he had bought when they started dating, thinking he would have to buy a new one soon - and he changed out of his shorts. He really missed his goatee. Finally, he checked his wallet and went out the door to meet Emily for dinner.

“You are not having a sweet?” asked Emily.

Eric calculated the cost of the dinner in his head. “No thanks.” His main course had been four hundred NT dollars, and when you added in the cost of the starters and drinks it would go over fifteen hundred dollars - Nothing if he was back in New York, but he wasn’t. He was in Taiwan where good food could be had for sixty in a basic eatery, and a set meal for a hundred and fifty in a nice teashop. Today the bill was high because they were eating at an Italian restaurant. He preferred to eat Chinese or some other Asian food, but if you have a hot woman who was interested in you because you were a foreigner he presumed this was the price you have to pay.

“I will pay you know. You don’t always have to. Please let me today,” said Emily. “I know you are a student and you don’t have much money. You know we Taiwanese girls are not interested in the money, but feeling. Feeling is most important. We support our man. You know, my ex-boyfriend wanted to set up a business so I lent him one million NT, and he never paid it back. You are a good guy. I know you are young and studying Chinese because you are interested in Chinese things. You are very hard working. I know you will do very well in future.”

Jesus, thought Eric, don’t you know I am a neurotic fucker. You have just given me enough to obsess over the rest of my life.

Still he tried to focus on the issue that had started her diatribe. ‘Ok’, would be a good answer, but then he felt guilty – beautiful, interesting, and sharing paying for dinner.

“It is ok. I am the man – I will pay.”
Eric took a look around the restaurant discreetly. It was filled with white guys like him trying to impress Taiwanese girls with conversation about the thin-crust pizza, that was authentic Italian pizza; that the Pizza hut chains across the city were not proper pizza, and stick with them and you could learn what Americans are really doing.

What fucking bullshit. There were fucking thousands in Pizza Hut in America selling the same shit they were here.

Emily didn’t get a sweet because Eric was paying and he got the bill. They walked down the lane looking in the window of restaurants heading in the direction of the main road, Chong Hsaio East Road. This stretch starting at Sogo at Chung Hsiao East and Fu Hsing South roads’ intersection then continuing on Chung Hsaio in an easterly direction for about twenty minutes to Guang Fu South road, was unofficially declared downtown.

He had asked why this was considered downtown and it seemed the answer the number of department stores. Back home towns and centers of populations grew up around a river or a hill or a church, here it was the department store. A hundred years ago most of the city was slum housing, or rice fields, so don’t expect to find any Westminster Abbeys or Versailles Palaces, the department stores are the nicest looking buildings around. Since Diane had told him it was the department stores he had questioned several people: What about Nan Jing and Chung Shan Roads, Hsimenteng, the area around the Warner Village in the very new Hsin Yi District, and Tienmu? But everyone was sure there were more square inches of makeup counters, escalator rungs, wooden racks, mirrors and changing booths per person in this area than any other part of the city - maybe the world. Along with the department stores were the KTVs ( family and adult), offices, high street brands from around the world, small boutiques, tea houses, fast food joints, gymnasiums, coffee shops and upscale restaurants all with music blaring.
Off the main road the lanes sprawling south to RenAi and north to Civil Boulevard were all restaurants, teashops and small boutiques on the first floor, and apartments above. This was still prime residential real estate despite the noise.

“Wow, can we stop?” said Emily spotting a stall selling sweet bean curd with peanuts and sweets.

“Of course.”
They ordered and sat down on the round metal stools, elbows perched on the edge of the stall next to their polystyrene bowls; scooters shooting past them. “You know this is what I miss most in America, Taiwanese snacks. I know you are an American and I should get used to eating American food, but I don’t really like it. Next time can we go to the night market? It will be fun,” she said.

What a fucking arsehole, thought Eric. That is about six thousand in dinners I have paid for. I could have avoided working for a week…I could have paid for a trip down south for a few days…Fuck.

She leaned forward. “We don’t always have to go out you know. I like to just buy some food and eat at home...More time to make love. I know you like the massage.”

“I got the picture. You can have an overload of salt to heal a wound…I think…”said Eric.
“So you don’t like America,” he continued.

“I like America very much. Hmm, very free.”

I see – I knew this was too good to be true: want the passport, don’t you girl! I ain’t going to be your green card then dumped, thought Eric pleased he hadn’t been entirely wrong about her.

“I could have stayed in America. My boyfriend want to marry me, but I think not many job opportunities. It was so sad. I loved him so much, but here I am the manager.”

“There are still good opportunities in America for you.”

“I know but my English is not perfect. I don’t do the MBA for nothing.”

Emily paid for the sweets, then asked: “Can we go to the bar for a drink? We have never been together. John introduced us and we should buy him a drink to say thank you.”

Eric got excited by the prospect of walking into the bar with one of the best looking girls…He started to worry about what would happen if some guy came to hit on his woman. “John is not out tonight. Next time, ok,” he said.
* * *

An hour later they were at a love hotel making love.

Suddenly Emily started to cry. “Sorry. I am sorry I got inside too quickly,” said Eric. “No excuses. I am too rough.”

Eric started massaging her breasts and manoeuvre his head between her legs.

“What are you doing? I am crying,” she said.

He negotiated another wave of self-loathing and moved back up next to her.

“I’m sorry. What is wrong?”

“I think you a shame of me. You won’t take me to the bar to meet your friends. You won’t take me to your apartment…And…”

She went silent.

“What?”

“I know I shouldn’t say. I am maybe not so pretty, and so interesting compare to the American girl. My mother say I won’t ever marry because I too bad-tempered …don’t respect man -”

Eric blinked: “One thing at a time, please. Ok, I am listening.”

“If you are a Taiwanese man, maybe I say nothing, but you say I can tell you anything if I have a problem; that you American men will listen. I think you don’t respect me. You only want to see me once a week. You don’t ask me where I want to eat. You say you like the American way but you don’t let me pay for dinner. I don’t feel like the proper girlfriend…”

Eric explained she hadn’t come to his house because he had a mattress on the floor and no furniture…He took her to a good restaurant because he was trying to impress…That they only met once a week because he didn’t have any money to take her other times. The question of why he didn’t take her to the bar went unexplained because he didn’t want to sound like a wimp.

They made love and then as he lied on the bed watching TV, he decided again that he had to accept that it was a different dynamic. As Josh said, it was about supply and demand and there weren’t many whiteys like him in Taiwan.

He looked at her sleeping naked next to him. She was different from Diane because all he had had to say was - “You look fantastic, and I would like you to sleep naked”- and the next day, he didn’t see those pyjamas again. She did look fantastic. He preferred a girl to have breasts. If she put on five kilos or so she would look even better, and would have something that would feel cuddly and soft rather than tight contours. It would be nice, if he couldn’t feel bones against his crotch when they made love. If her nipples were dark and large, rather than small and light pink it would be amazing. A little suntan and she would be perfect.

Anyway, he couldn’t exactly finish with her for being over-emotional. As a Taiwanese woman in this society she no doubt had a hard life, suppressed a lot of emotions. He felt sorry for her that no Taiwanese man would accept her just for speaking out what she felt. He should be forgiving that, perhaps, she was letting out a lot of emotions now she felt safe to do so with a foreigner. Still he would have to watch to see she didn’t get carried away. He didn’t know about the future however now he had found out she was extremely bad-tempered. She had to understand a western man didn’t let you get away with everything; there was responsibility with the freedom he offered…

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

Eric looked at Diane through the steam coming off the pot in the middle of the table. They were at a Korean barbeque -- Eat as much as you want. Eric was getting ready to be the superior sex.

It would be appropriate for his final memory of her to be in one of these restaurants because they had been to so many. At the back of the restaurant in refrigerators were trays of soft shell crabs, prawns, clams, squid; every kind of meat, blood pudding, tofu, dumplings, and vegetables which you went to collect and then either cooked in the pot in the middle of your table or on the grill surrounding the pot. Finally you dipped it in a mixture of barbeque sauce, spring onion, garlic, chilies, soy and egg white – which you stirred together.

“You are not eating too much tonight?” said Diane.

“I am taking it slow.”

Eric then put a couple more pieces of squid and bacon on the grill around the pot.

Diane certainly could eat. Experience had told him if you wanted your money’s worth you stuck to grilling because one mouthful of the soup kicked in the sleep fuse for an overloaded stomach. Not her, she drank the soup - which after an hour or so of vegetables, blood pudding, meat and seafood giving up their fat and nutrition to its saturated molecules could solve world famine – like she had a desert thirst.

They had been together for eight months now, but he was going to finish with her tonight. He should have finished with her a couple of weeks ago because he had started to date another girl, an introduction from John. Emily was stunning; beautiful and it seemed she wanted to be his girlfriend. He really couldn’t turn down that opportunity: That is why he had come to Taiwan.

He wondered why he was feeling so bad, considering he had never expected to marry Diane. He still planned to be out of Taiwan in now just over a year and he was young. It had been a relationship of convenience, and he had made that all clear. Suddenly, he couldn’t think of a reason why didn’t he just continue with her until he left Taiwan. She had done nothing wrong after all, apart from not being fantastically attractive. I am not a fucking jock. He looked back on days when he didn’t have to make those decisions.

“Are you finished?” That was a drawback of her eating skills, he thought, they had been in the restaurant for almost three hours. But he had to let her have her way today.
“Let’s go for a walk,” he said as they left the restaurant. He had brought her to this restaurant because he knew there was a community park one lane over. Somewhere neutral they could talk.

He found a bench as far away from the old men still playing Mahjong as possible.

“Diane, I am sorry. I think we should break up. I will leave in a while and I don’t want you to get too attached.”

She sat silent for what seemed like hours to Eric.

Presumably she doesn’t have to answer, he thought, but I don’t know I can just walk off.

“I would like us to remain friends. I should walk you back to your scooter….Sorry,” said Eric slapping his leg; regretting wearing shorts as there were a lot of mosquitoes in the park. “Nothing…” He wanted to say, “I always get bitten easily” but personal anecdotes were not appropriate.

“Wait. This is the shock. I need some time to think about this.”

He held back from telling her he didn’t need her approval.

“I know you don’t love me. If you wait until you leave I will be sad, but I can accept it - I know you are the American. Now it hurts because you finish with me for no reason. I don’t like to be finished with. I do nothing wrong.”

“What can I say? I am sorry.” Eric didn’t understand most of that, and was afraid to get an explanation he didn’t like.

“I get dumped, and what about my face. You have met my family and friends now.”

Why are you making it easier for me? he thought. You are giving me reasons to not feel guilty.

“I thought I was your English teacher?” he replied.
“You know the Taiwan family. They just call you that. They really know.”

“I don’t think they will feel so bad. Anyway, this is not a discussion, and I hope you can leave me with a good impression of you.”

They arrived and after a couple of minutes of standing around, she headed to her scooter.

“Hey…I’m sorry. I’ll give you a call,”

God, it was so crass and Neanderthal being a stud, he thought. He walked off thinking about how hard that had all been. How he really didn’t have the energy to do it again. How he wasn’t cut out to play the field. If he wasn’t going to do it again, then it had been pointless to do it this once. Diane was a nice girl, and this new girl was uncharted territory. Maybe, he should just call Diane back in the morning and say he had made a mistake. He would sleep on it.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Taiwan culture shock: A night at a Taiwanese family's house

Most of the time we hang around with other expats or our local girlfriends; we are kind of aware we are in a different country but not feeling it in our bones - until, that is, you spend an evening at a Taiwanese family's house.

I couple of things really offend our meritocratic and space loving western selves:

a) They really do see that cousin twice-removed on a regular basis - and have a specific title and position for everyone in the family tree.

b) Don't expect 'No thank you, I don't want anymore' to get them to stop offering -They know you are just being polite.

Now if you are Eric, suffering alienation and nostalgia for a land where it is ok to hate and ignore even your closest relatives, you don't want to be spending a lot of time at a Taiwanese family apartment.


I arrived at the apartment of the girlfriend at the time, a Carol Tu. I insisted she say i was her English teacher so that nobody would lose face if we broke up later.

As I entered Carol’s apartment: “Jesus – Why are there so many people?” I asked.

“They are my family,” she answered.

“You have five brothers and six sisters?”

“No, they are uncles…aunties.”

I had heard the stories of girls expecting to get married after a few months. “What the hell? I told you I ain’t getting married….Engaged… Nothing. I’m out of here.”

Carol caught me a flight of stairs down. “Hey. Come back. Why you leave?”

“All those relatives in your house - You think I am stupid?”

“You really are strange. You want to meet my family and then you leave. I know you don’t want to marry me.”

“Uncles and aunties only come for special occasions: This ain’t one.”

“This is Taiwan, we see them every day.”

I stood silent, my sails minus any wind: “I’m sorry. I don’t see my uncles and aunties unless it is a wedding, funeral or christening. You don’t have christenings here, and everyone looked too happy for the other one. I’m sorry. Okay. I’m cool.”

“So arrogant,” she added scornfully as they walked back in past the metal grate door.

“Nice to meet you,” said Carol’s father. “I hear you are a good English teacher.”

Diane started to introduce everyone.

“That is my Jou jou…uncle,” replied Carol.

“Jou jou is his name,” I asked.

“No, jou jou means uncle – Oh…” said Carol as another middle-aged Taiwanese guy walked over. “That is my bo fu…Uncle,” she said.

I was confused. “Explain, please.”

“Jou Jou means uncle on my mother’s side and Bo fu my father’s - What?” she asked.

“Nothing,” I said rolling my eyes in disbelief.

“That is Xiao (small) Jou (Younger brother from mother’s side),” she continued as they went around the room.

“Sorry…Perfectly logical I suppose,” I said. “What if there are three uncles, what do you call the middle one? Zhong (middle) Jou?”

“Don’t be stupid, Number Two Uncle.”

“Ok, attach other title for side of the family...I am getting it,” I said. “Now I know where ‘Number One Son’ came from."

She continued to explain the various titles for grandparents and cousins and aunties based on side of the family and age. For example, if you had two older brothers then they would be ‘big brother’ and brother number two.

The truth is I had seen this on the textbook, but ignored it as vocabulary used in ancient times. “Sorry. You actually use these titles? Are we in Mississippi or something?”

I thought for a moment and then pushed: “So what is his actual name? He is not my Younger Brother from Father’s side.”

There was a pause and Carol didn’t answer.

“Hey, what’s the matter? You serious?” I asked. “Don’t you know his name?” For a moment I thought it was quite cool she didn’t know her relatives’ names – I made a point of ignoring Mine.

“I have never asked him…Younger Brother from Father’s side, what is your name?” asked Carol.

He looked at her as if to say what the fuck has it got to do with you, when he realized and came walking over.

“My name is Michael. How are you?” His English name wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.

He continued, “Is it a good name? I don’t know. Many years before, I have the teacher from Canada.”

“It is a good name, man. What is your Chinese name?”

“Mr. Hu.”

“Thanks, man,” I said. We are not going to get your Chinese first names out under torture are we?
“And you are Dan. What does Dan mean?” asked Mr. Hu.

It was that old chestnut again, I thought. My name has to mean something like: Son of the mighty mountain sword.

“Cool dude, man. It means cool dude…Sorry, it has no meaning of course. Western names have no meaning.”

“What does your name mean?” I asked trying a different angle to get his Chinese name.

“Don’t you just say English name no meaning?”

“Yeah, man. I am not going to crack you, am I?”

The men were finished now so Diane could start to introduce the women. “That is my mother’s younger sister.”

She is sexy I thought. “Where is her husband?”

“No - Thirty-five never married. My grandmother very sad when she have the second daughter, not the son. She think it best she stay at home and help look after her when she is old."

I started to furrow my brow again.

“It is okay,” added Carol. “She is happy to do it for her mother. It is her duty - Taiwan families.”

“Say, “How are you?” to the foreigner,” said the uncle to his five year old son.

I smiled a fake smile as I hadn’t come to teach English.

“And that is my cousin - My grandmother’s brother’s son.”

“Okay, he is your second cousin, but that is like feeling a sense of attachment to the children of a woman my father slept with in university. I have first cousins I don’t know the names of.”

“I don’t know. I call him cousin. He is staying with us because he have to study in Taipei. He already live with us two years so I call him younger brother.”

I started to fizz and shoot bolts.

“Taiwanese families are very complicated,” she said. “You know, he is a good boy. He got into the best Junior High School in Taiwan when he thirteen. He make his parents very proud. They miss him very much, but he has to study...”

“So where do they all live?” I asked. There was her mother and father, grandmother, aunty, sister, brother and his girlfriend, her, and the second cousin who she now called younger brother, and there were only three bedrooms in this apartment.

“My father and his brother bought the apartment opposite for my grandmother. My aunty stays with her for free. She is very grateful.”

“It is not for free – she is an indentured slave to your grandmother.”

“My aunty is very traditional. I tell you that. Me? No way. That is why I like the foreigner.”

“What about your uncle?”

“The floor below,” Then as if it made it sound like it was so much further away. “Opposite.”

“So which room is yours?”

“I sometime sleep with my mother…Hmm…sometime sister. My brother needs the room for his girlfriend. My step-brother because he is a student.”

“I’m sorry,” I exclaimed not even interested in asking where the father slept, because I knew it would only result in my head shaking off its base.

“So what about your MBA application?” I asked trying to change the subject away from my personal nightmare of relative-density.

“Say, How are you?, to the foreigner,” shouted the uncle to his son for the twentieth time.

“I’m off work now,” i quipped in Chinese to tremendous laughter and I assumed they got the point.

Back to the subject of Carol's MBA. “Don’t talk about it. I am very sad.” It seemed her brother needed to get married - he had just got his girlfriend pregnant and so he needed money to pay for the wedding. Her father had no money because his shoe factory in Shenzhen just went bankrupt and it was down to the daughters. They had protested that their brother didn’t have any money because he refused to work, but her father had insisted: “He is your older brother, and we are all family so you should help. You are girls - Your children cannot pray for us when we are dead.”

“You are going to accept this,” I asked.

She shrugged her shoulders. “We are a traditional family. I’ll earn the money again.”

If you are a traditional family why was he getting his girlfriend pregnant before marriage, I thought. I really have just arrived in the Asian version of a council estate.

“Say, “How are you?” to the foreigner,” shouted the uncle to his son.

“What is your name?” I said to the kid hoping that would placate things but he ran off followed by the uncle who had lost face now because his kid didn’t answer.

“Let’s eat,” said Carol’s mother.

Ten minutes later. “What’s up?” I asked because nobody was going to eat.

“My grandmother is keeping us waiting.” Carol explained – nobody would eat before the grandmother and she kept everyone waiting just to see she was getting respect. Finally, her two sons went to the sofa to get her and they walked arm-in-arm to the table.

“You want a knife and fork,” asked Carol to me. “My uncle is asking.”

“That is okay. I can use the chopsticks,” I said picking them up and waving them in the air.

“No need to be polite,” pushed the uncle. “Yi-Ching (Carol) get him the knife and fork.”

“I’m okay. Look.” This time I picked up a salty thousand year old egg and took a bite.

“Wow, you eat the real Chinese food,” said her uncle.

“I would if you would only let me get on with it.”

“Sorry?” said her uncle.

“Of course. Something has to be pretty special to make me sit in the room with more than two relatives of any one family.”

“Sorry?”

“I like it very much.”

“Where are you doing?” I asked to Carol as she started to go out the door.

“I have to go to the uncle apartment. Look for the knife and fork,” she said happy to leave me there.

I started to break off a piece of the steamed fish and pile on some garlic and ginger – but the uncle was still trying to help. “Just a…moment,” he pushed. “She get you the knife and fork.”

“Thanks. I’ll use the chopsticks while I am waiting.”

“You eat the pig intestine,” asked Carol’s mother who had sat quietly waiting for her turn to praise after the men.

Carol was back, her mission to find the knife and fork failed.

“Tell your mother I am happy to try everything. Western food is very bland.”

“What is she doing?” I asked, because Diane’s mother was picking the chillies out of the dish of intestines and putting the rest on the little plate next to his bowl. “She know you don’t like too spicy.”

“Then she knows something I don’t.” I began to feel under pressure as Carol’s mother piled food on my plate in a manner that hadn’t happened to me since I was five.

I took a breather.

“Eat a little more,” pushed the aunty who looked after her grandmother.

“Wo cher bao le, Xie xie (I am full, thank you),” I said to raucous laughter and a chorus of “bu yong ke chi (No need to be polite).”

Carol’s mother finished shelling the plate of prawns and tipped them into my bowl: “Just a little left - ”

“I know – No need to be polite,” I said.

“They are just trying to be polite,” said Carol.

“I know, but don’t they know I am a cold, heartless westerner? In the name of exerting my individuality I was brought up to say exactly what I want at all times no matter who it offends. No matter ruining that persons life with the truth was completely unnecessary. When I say I am full, I am full. You understand?”

“Uh,” said Carol.

The mother started pouring me a bowl of chicken soup so I, in vain tried to stop her. “Really. I am full. Thanks,” I said.

“She says it have the Chinese medicine. It is very ‘bu’. I don’t know how to say…uh…good for your health.”

It wasn’t good for the chicken’s health I thought as I noticed its sad face staring at me from out the top of the pot. Eye-to-eye with this chicken at this moment dispelled any myths these creatures didn’t feel. Still as someone I had met said: So you don’t want to know it was ever alive. Isn’t that hypocritical? It was, and I was no hypocrite. As for the ‘bu’ thing, I was curious. I wasn’t feeling in bad health, but he had an open mind about the power of Chinese medicine. Maybe, I could stay in good health without going to the gym. And, as an Englishman, I had to concede on issues of fat: overweight in this country was a couple of kilos, not twenty or so.

“Cheers,” I said to the chicken while looking it in the eye.

I finished my bowl of soup then accepted guile was the only way to stop them feeding me: “I have to go the bathroom.”

I stayed in the bathroom for five minutes counting the tiles on the wall, floor, just about everywhere. Still it didn’t take very long because it was the typical Taiwan bathroom: toilet, sink and bath with shower unit inside, all stacked up next to each other; sealed floor so you could spray water anywhere – and a box of tissues on the toilet unit behind your head, rather than a roll on a conveniently placed holder in front of you.

“You ok?” said the uncle to concerned smiles from everyone when I came out of the toilet. “Not used to the Chinese food, eh.”

“That is right. I wouldn’t go in there again today.”

While I was gone they had all retired to the sofa. “Please sit down,” said at least four relatives just in case I was afraid to.

It was also a typical living room: huge black leather sofa, and armchairs; hard wood floor never carpet; altar consisting of a table with a Daoist deity behind; undecorated white walls save for a picture of dead relatives and some scrolls with lucky Chinese phrases on the front; and then lots of dark, hard wood furniture. The furniture seemed to be a sign of wealth and the more Indonesian rainforest you had managed to purchase the richer you were.

“Please,” said the mother. The coffee table was now awash with watermelon, grapes and small tomatoes that were supposed to be dipped in plum powder.

It wasn’t exactly environmentally friendly: there was a box of tissues to mop every drop of juice, cocktail sticks to pick up the fruit, finally, to spit or drop that grape peel or those watermelon seeds were little paper boxes. It seems you couldn’t have any thing reusable.

I didn’t have anything to say so I started to peel the skin from the grapes and pretend to be deep in concentration, while looking at the TV out of the corner of my eye as they flicked through the channels. There was the soap that I was sure was now actually a documentary. On the next channel was a Hong Kong soap opera set in ancient times with young, pretty boy Chinese pop stars wearing long wigs and gowns, swishing their swords and trying to sound stern, and authoritative - Imagine Haircut One Hundred, Milli Vanilli, or Soft Cell playing Shakespeare, cowboys or Knights of the Round Table.

“So why you come to Taiwan?” said one of the uncles. "Earn money?” added oldest aunty from the mother’s side.

“No. I am interested in the culture. In studying Chinese,” I replied to fall about laughter.

“So you want to go to the China. Do some business,” she continued.

“You are very lucky. We really admire the America,” said uncle number two from the father’s side. “You have the quality of life. Nice house. Taiwan too small.”

"What do you think about England," I asked trying to subtlely make the point before continuing.
“I like here. People are very friendly and the food is good.

"And I know: Wo bu yong ke chi (I don’t need to be polite)."

“Thank you. It is my honor to meet the foreigner,” said Uncle Michael.

“So who is the old guy on the wall,” I asked trying to change the conversation guessing who it was.

“That is my grandfather - My father honour him.”

“Good, but does he have to watch me eat?”

“My father say the picture help us remember to respect him. To think what he would like us to do.”

“And do opposite, presumably.”

“Stupid. You know when he died it was so much trouble. We crawl on the hands and knees to show our respect. He have the old red brick house with a courtyard, and all the family, get out the car at the gate and crawl to the door of the house with our heads down to the ground, crying, praying to the God for him - Oh…very painful.”

“My heart would hurt, yes, if I crawled for anyone.”

The aunties and uncles then got up, got out the card table and started to gamble. I figured he had half an hour or so to wait before I could politely make my excuses and go.

. . .

“Nice to meet you, Dan?” said everyone as I headed for the door.

I was glad we lied and said I was her English teacher because it had meant less pressure. The truth is I had enjoyed himself - it had been an experience. But he still couldn’t possibly imagine it becoming part of my world.

“I give you a ride,” said the uncle, Michael. I protested it was okay to get a bus but, like on all other occasions, I wasn’t able to refuse.

“Carol say you are the good English teacher,” said Michael as they drove.

“Thanks, mate.”

“Don’t worry. We know. You have some fun. But we are a traditional family her father not approve the foreigner. Just fun, ok.”

Suddenly I couldn't think of anything else but getting accepted by Carol’s family…

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

Being able to date above our league, the superior sex, unleashes fear and doubt in all of us which you have to get over. Eric particularly so - after a year he was still saying the same culture shock nonsense that we used to justify being with our first girlfriend.

He claimed to be interested in the women but had then kept his girlfriend, Diane, for one year.

Diane was maybe fifty-five kilos, a little over weight, but definitely not fat. She was one of the girlfriend/secretary combos that were popular when you first arrive. A big step up from what we are used to, but after a couple of months our sights would adjust and we would move on.


For these girls, picking a guy as he got off the plane was a high-risk strategy - not least because he was usually a moaning, sanctimonious, homesick prick - but sooner or later they would come across an unsure of himself simple boy from Ohio, they could make their own. Next week, I was going to the wedding of the secretary from my school and a good young All-American boy who’s trainers were still clean and shorts pressed. I reckoned he would be going to Eric’s wedding next.

Whenever, we attempted to introduce him, it was always the same thing.

“Hey, man! I ain’t falling for that get myself a young beautiful chick shit! Walk down the street with her proud, but have nothing to say,” he would reply.

"I don’t know why a woman can’t be beautiful and intelligent," I would say. "That is actually pretty sexist."

Eric hated the idea of being sexist, so he would immediately change tact: “Anyway, they will dump you soon. These beautiful ones cannot be trusted.”

"Your evidence for this? And you were planning to marry her?"

That evening Diane had also come to the bar with some friends.

"So bring her over," said John. "Let's be charmed by her intellect and conversation."

"Man, I ain't going to do that - I have to speak to her later to get sex."

Some pretty in your face sexism

There are some amazing example of sexism, especially in the older generation. This is my favorite:

I was at a girlfriend's house, Shannon Chen.

"Hey, you know why i like the foreigner," she said. "I will tell you my grandmother’s Chinese name.”

"Ok," I said.

“It is dung de de (Waiting for little brother)”

“You telling me her name or what she is doing?”I replied.

“Her name is ‘Waiting for little brother.”

“Her name is waiting for little brother? You serious?”

“That is her name. It is common in her era, because you know how much they favour the boy.”

“Sorry, that is pretty in your face sexism. I was taken way back there.”

She explained her grandmother’s brother was fifth born and her sisters were named: ‘want little brother’, ‘looking for little brother’ and ‘hope to have little brother’, and they wore their names with pride. Apparently, their parents had to do it in order to show respect to the other members of the family by recognizing their failure to produce males.

She then told me another name in Taiwanese that topped all of these. According to Shannon, it translated as: Don’t Worry, I know I Am a Piece of Shit Girl, but It Is Okay, My Parents Are Not Wasting Any Time Raising Me Well.

Friday, March 20, 2009

China: How many girls do you want with your burger?

This is one of Josh’s stories about the girls in China - I only half believed it at the time, but a few years later, I started visiting China regularly and realized that it was probably toned down.

He had been sent to China to do some work in Shenzhen.

He had checked in and about twenty minutes later was sat in the hotel restaurant, starving and ready to order.

“Ne hao,” said Josh to a girl serving him in the hotel restaurant.

“Ne hao,” she said. “What do you want to eat?”

“The burger please and a heineken.”

Five minutes later she returned with his Heineken and poured it into his glass before smoothing under her skirt and sitting down next to him.

“May I?” she said because he looked at her suspiciously.

“I don’t know. May you what?”

“I sit with you…Where are you from?”

“Canada. It is ok. I am ok on my own. I have work to do.”

“That is okay. You do your work and I will sit here and accompany you.”

“You are so kind. No thanks.”

“Your Chinese is very good. Hmm, you want to buy me a house drink.”

“Not really because I don’t want you to sit here. I am not lonely.”

“Only fifty dollar.”

“A bargain for your winning conversation when my Heineken was ten,” he continued. ““Please. Another time.”

“Really? You want me to give you a massage later?”

“No, I want you to just go away…Manager…”

“What is the matter?” asked the manager.

“I am just here to eat. This girl is annoying me.”

“You don’t like here? I get you another one.” He clicked his fingers and three other girls came running over trying to squeeze themselves into the booth.

“Ok. I am going to leave your restaurant if any girl comes near my table while I am eating,” shouted Josh.

Two hours later he was up in his room flicking through the channels and dozing off.

Tap, Tap, came the knock at the door.

“What’s up?” shouted Josh deciding he wouldn’t be speaking anymore Chinese.

Tap, tap, came the sound at the door again.

“What do you want?”

The tapping didn’t go away so he dragged himself to the door, and opened it a little to reveal the girl from the restaurant.

“What?”

“Massage.”

“I don’t want a massage. Thank you. Go away.”

He closed the door but the tapping didn’t go away.

“What?”

“Give me two hundred dollars (RMB).”

“What the fuck for?” He slammed the door and called the reception.

“There is a girl outside my door demanding money.”

“If you don’t want the massage that is okay, but you should give her a little money for coming to your room.”

“I didn’t book the massage.”

“It is China habit. It is polite to give her a little money.”

“If I knock on your door and try to sell you a car, you are not obliged to give me money?”

“How much does she want?”

“Two hundred dollars.”

“Maybe, you just give her a hundred. I am sure you can negotiate with her.”

“Maybe, you just come up here and tell her to fuck off. Maybe I just call the police.”

I know the last part is pointless, he said to himself not wishing to sound naieve.

The knocking continued so he decided to call the guy whose factory he was supposed to be auditing tomorrow.

“Mr. Liao. Hi, it is Josh from Invertec.”

In the background he could hear someone singing badly and shouts of ‘Down in one.”

“Oh, uh, Mr. Josh. I know.”

“I have a problem,” said Josh.

“You don’t like her?” said Mr. Liao after Josh explained. “I am surprised they won’t change…Why don’t you just get the massage?”

“Maybe, I don’t want any girls.”

Mr. Liao didn’t know what all the fuss was about but he sent someone to the hotel to sort out the problem. The guy he sent solved the problem by paying the girl her one hundred.

Outside of Taipei: Western restaurants

As I say outside of Taipei is a different country. When I worked in the small towns visiting factories there would be only be one western restaurant in a 20 kilometer radius – and they were all the same style.

“What do you want for lunch?” the boss of that particular day’s factory would ask.

I would tell him a wouldn’t mind some western food, then would come the hesitation, embarrassment for a moment because he couldn’t think of any western restaurants in the vicinity. Still he would assure me it was no trouble and just down the road – hen jin (very close) bu yuan (not far) - but then he would be driven half-way across the county, constantly on his mobile, trying to find where a good western restaurant was and how to get there. Finally, when you arrived it was imitation French chateau, dark wood beam d├ęcor inside, fountain and bridge crossing goldfish pond at the entrance, and then clam chowder soup with a pastry top for starters, steak with a choice of black pepper or mushroom sauce (it had to be steak, westerners apparently ate it for breakfast, lunch and dinner) and spaghetti on the side (all local steak restaurants served pasta and a fried egg with your steak; no fries).

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Josh and Taiwan girls: No means no - and yes means no too

As i have said people are complicated, varied and filled with the capacity to surprise. However, you can draw some rough guidelines, and with the women in Taiwan i would draw these: they are averagely more coy, demure, committed, downtrodden and less direct than in the west - Now, if you are a good, middle-class college boy from the west brought up on Mike Tyson date rape trials and 'no means no' campaigns, it can be a little daunting at first. If you then add to the mix an overly neurotic desire to be honest and upfront so as not to hurt other people, you can get yourself in a lot of trouble meeting Taiwanese girls.

Six months ago, Josh had had a girlfriend who said she loved him after one month. We all do, it is not a cause for panic. You just have to ask a Taiwanese female friend what is means and she will tell you the girl is just trying to create a romantic atmosphere. It is actually a little more than that: the culture emphasises friendship and the Taiwanese compete to say nice things to each other all the time, viewed from that perspective you can take it with a pinch of salt.

Josh, unfortunately, had panicked. He had since told every date before the starter had finished that - "I must tell you I am not looking for anything serious” - and six months later he was still sexless.

Finally, we had convinced him that if she didn't ask, then he was not obliged to answer; that, in fact, he was not obliged to know if he was in love and committed to the relationship within a month - and he could take his time. More importantly, he was unquestionably getting his date's back up by taking such a position.

Half convinced he went on another date. Slowly over the next few months he revealed how badly it went...

His date for the evening was Candies Lien, a late twenties account executive for Christian Dior who had a degree from Canada.

"You are a little quiet," said Candies now they had finished the main course.

"Yeah, sorry, a few things on my mind," said Josh.

For twenty minutes now he had been trying to analyse if she was going to fall in love with him or not. Whether he needed to tell her the truth.

“Are you busy?” he said.

“Yes, of course. I have to earn money,” she replied.

He sighed and hissed because he knew it had been another time-wasting question.

“Okay,” said Josh, aware that things were dragging and he was the one with his heels to the ground. "Hmm, so - "

“So, you know I am a foreigner.”

Fuck, that is stupid, he thought.

“You know we foreigners have a reputation,” he said referring to the one Westerners had for loving and leaving in most of the world.

“I know,” she said smiling.

“And?”

“Hmm…Just I know. What can I do?”

She smiled and then pushed out her bottom lip and hunched her shoulders. He was sure he caught her flick an inviting look…but then a moment later he was unsure.

“So, you know and that means??”he replied.

She went through the same set of body moments and gestures, and for a fleeting moment he was sure and unsure again.

“I see you know...” he said, presuming he was beginning to make himself unappealing to even a Taiwanese girl. “Hey…Nothing…Again...”

He stared at her hard trying to will an answer out of her that he wanted to hear: Don't worry, i know life is complicated. He was frustrated because he kind of guessed she had given him the answer he wanted, but she hadn’t put it up on a big neon sign - The minimum he required at this stage.

He looked her up and down again – She had soft features, pleasant manner, unassuming; if she had heavy eye shadow, an aggressive manner; her tone of voice pleasant not snappy, this would be easy.

He decided he had to tell her.

“I am just gonna go to the bathroom,” said Josh. “Sorry.”

He walked through the curtain next to the coke machine on the back wall, and he opened the door to the left with the Chinese characters for bathroom. It was small, barely a meter and a half wide and a couple meters long. He couldn’t swing a cat. It was tiled white. No carpet. Carpet was a rarity in homes in Taiwan and definitely nowhere to be found in toilets. It was unisex with a urinal on the back wall on the left opposite the door and a squat toilet on the right. Squat toilets were bedded in a set of bricks so that further limited his ability to pace. It was smelly. It had no air conditioner. He wanted to be out of there quickly. He paced up and down from the bricks around the urinal to the floor below, considering what was said. Presumably, he told himself, even though he was no expert on Chinese culture, he could relax. She was saving face and not directly giving her answer. It was pretty basic, he made up his mind. He would head back to his seat. Hold on, he thought. He still didn’t have the answer to that look. After all she just said he understood what we were like, she didn’t say she agreed. She was still going to love him. He thought of ways to ask her whether she agreed, but he was too nervous already. He had been in the bathroom too long.

I’ll decide on the way out, he thought.

She gave him a fake smile. “Everything okay?”

‘No problem. Thank you,” he said knowing he looked anything but like he didn’t have a care in the world.

“So, Candies…” He stalled.

"What?"

“So, do you want to go back to mine?” he asked.

She didn’t answer, but started to put her coat on to go with him. Still Josh needed to find out if he was sending her to his home or hers. She didn’t answer.

“It is okay? You want to come to mine?” He asked again. She had made it easy for him so many times already so he felt a little harrying might get her to give him the answer he wanted and save any guilt.

She didn't answer but they got on his scooter, her behind.

“Are you okay?”he asked again.

She registered what he meant and started to get annoyed: This was her first time to go back to a guy’s place so quickly, and she was embarrassed, and she really wanted him to respect her feelings as a ‘lady’ and be more subtle.

Still, she wanted to do this, and so decided the question could be perceived as checking if she was alright on the back of his scooter.

“Yes...thank you,” she answered putting her arms around his chest. "We Taiwanese are used to riding on the motorbike.”

He fell silent because he knew she wasn’t answering the question he asked. He knew she was going to fall in love with him.

For the next twenty minutes until they arrived at his house, he said nothing and she began to feel uncomfortable the result of his negatives vibes; starting to feel dirty instead of caught up in the moment.

He parked his scooter outside his apartment buildings, turned off his engine, sat facing forward for a second, then turned his head.

“If you don’t want to do this just say?” he blurted out.

I am already outside your apartment you stupid boy, she thought, I thought you foreigners were sex maniacs.

She got off the back of the motorbike, and stood saying nothing; trying to block out that ever dissipating enthusiasm.

“You know if we have sex tonight, it is just sex, it doesn’t make you my girlfriend, nor does it mean I love you. It takes a long time to know if you love someone,” said Josh.

She felt humiliated. She wanted to be romanced, given a break from reality, lied to if necessary; instead she was left feeling the next move was to slap on rubber gloves and press hard on each other’s anal G-spots.

“If I have sex with someone, it is very important to me. It means I care about that person very much,”she said.

Ten minutes later in the taxi back home reflection had set in for both of them, and they were kicking themselves hard.

. . .

A week later Jasmine was sat on Josh’s bed watching the TV, waiting...

Two days ago she had called up. “Hello,” she said. “Um, I am sorry about last time.”

“No, my fault,” he said and invited her to come round.

About an hour before she arrived the nerves had started to kick in, and he started to feel bad again: The poor girl was that desperate. He had bullied her into coming. He had lied to her. Now she was going to have sex with him and he was going to break her heart.

She hadn’t had a big beaming smile when she entered the door – and he noted that and got more nervous.

He got her a glass of wine, and remembered she might just be being shy. Then led her into the bedroom – He shared an apartment with two other Canadians and he didn’t want her sitting in the lounge and them coming back when he made his move.

He psyched himself: just relax because she wouldn’t be here if she didn’t want to, take the lead because she was shy, don’t keep asking and don’t wait.

Candies was sat on the bed with her knees tucked up to her chest. He flashed her a smile, she didn’t respond to. She was sitting on a strange man’s bed after all – she knew she shouldn’t make it too easy for him. She remembered her nationality: what men expected of their women.

She straightened her legs out when she remembered he was a foreigner – they don’t look down on girls for sleeping around, she told herself – and smiled.

He took up position next to her.

Fuck, he thought. It was that dating show – the Taiwanese version of Blind Date. He had heard almost every couple on the show got married.

“Why don’t we watch MTV,” he said.

She looked sad, but said nothing as she didn’t want to appear argumentative or selfish.

He turned his head to kiss her because he wanted things over - Just a few moments later, he started to try to remove her top. She watched him desperately trying to remove her top by pulling it up over her breasts. After a minute or so it was hurting her as, in his attempts to get it up without moving her or putting his hand inside, meant he was pulling it outwards taunt against her back, scraping along. It was also her favourite Dior t-shirt and she didn’t want it ruined. She arched her back slightly, hoping it was enough to give him a hint what to do, not enough so he could take the top off completely, because that was his job to man-handle her. Finally, he moved her enough to remove the outer layers of clothing – the skirt, tights and t-shirt.

The bra went, and then he went for the underwear. “What are you doing?” she said, partly annoyed at the speed of all this, partly as an instinctive action she was already regretting.

He sat up.

A few moments passed and she felt awkward sat topless on the bed.

“Kiss me,” she said grabbing him.

They kissed with him spending more time thinking, and the pants went. He massaged and kissed, and procrastinated as he doubted whether he should put her through this life changing experience.

He thought about going down on her, but he guessed he was only hard now because he was pressed up against her thigh, and taking that physical pressure away would mean victory of the mental pressure over his apparatus.

“Bu yao la (I don’t want!)” she said as he tried to enter her.

He sat up straight immediately. Doubts were drowning out the registration of devilment in her voice and the lack of volume in her protestations. He knew it could be explained by culture factors, but he suppressed that immediately – cultural issues were putting his head in a spin. At this stage - 'fuck me now, fuck me hard’ - would have been interpreted as an attempt by her to get the act over as quickly as possible so she could go home soon and start mending her broken heart. He was hoping she would rape him.

“You are not interested, right? Okay, I get you a taxi,” he said.

She covered herself with the duvet and lay on the bed unmoved, a little puzzled, she realized that he actually was going to get her a taxi, and she started to sniffle and fumble for her clothes.

Overwhelmed with anger and shame, he put on his boxers and headed to the living room to make a call. As it dawned on he had completely messed up anyway, he might as well tell the truth.

“Candies, I am sorry. I am a fucking goof - that is idiot. I don't know if i am looking for anything serious. I have to be honest to you.”

“I know,” she said, reacting positively to his new soft approach.

“What do you mean, ‘you know’,” he replied thinking there should be more words said than that.

“I know you will leave me one day. I can feel, but I want this opportunity. I don’t regret…Hmm, show me your hand,” she said.

He looked at her strange, but a sense of fairness was kicking in – he had behaved like the idiot – and he followed along.

“See this line - It means you will be very successful at work. And this shows you will have many lovers. I know now it is my fate.”

Again, he looked at her strange. It just sounded too weird for him. He knew the Taiwanese were superstitious and religious people: there were temples everywhere, the priests in the orange and brown robes; people were always burning paper money for some ghost or festival, or for dead relatives to spend in the afterlife. He wasn’t interested in these things. He had intended to ignore this aspect of the culture. Now it was dawning on him they really did take it seriously.

They made love – passionate, romantic love like you do when you have just come to an understanding.

A few hours later they were relaxing watching TV. They were both feeling fantastic: Candies hadn’t had a boyfriend for a year and was happy to just feel wanted; Josh was excited because he could find a girl on his terms.

Candies leaned over and looked him in the eye. "I love you," she said.

Josh started to run for the door before he realised it was his home.

Western stereotypes: Why Taiwanese women want to date us

The majority of Taiwanese girls actually didn't want a westerner - or, better put, weren't specifically going out of there way to get one; if they could find one who spoke Chinese and was prepared to also worship her parents, then they might consider, but otherwise it was an interest they didn't plan to pursue.

However, a small minority went out of their way to get a foreigner. In my ignorance, back in England having watched the TV shows about mail order brides from the Philippines and Thailand, I had assumed the popularity of the white man was for the money or the passport quickly finding out that this was not the case:

“You westerners are more opened-minded…treat your women nice.”

“Taiwanese men want to control you and tell you what to do.”

“I hate my father because he hits my mother.”

“I hate my father because he has a 2nd wife and kid in China.”

“Taiwanese men are male chauvinists.”

“My parents prefer my brother.”

Firstly, we were regarded as delivers of equality. It was the exact opposite of what goes on back home, where white men are left under the impression that they are the root of all evil. I distinctly remembers many an ex calling me an ‘arrogant, uncaring, sexist, bloody male-chauvinist piece of shit’ before walking out the door – and I had been given the expectation that these comments were thoroughly deserved.

“You foreigners are more passionate.”

“I want to be more international.”

“You foreigners are more handsome.”

“I think it would be cool. Give me good face.”

“I want to practice my English.”

Second on the list of why we were liked was our status as exotic, fashion accessories. For years back home I had bemoaned the ugly black and Asian guys rightly trading on their stereotypes. Now it was my turn and I always followed what my old man said about ‘gift horses and mouths.’

“I am divorced so I can’t find another Taiwanese boyfriend.”

“My mother said I don’t suit Taiwanese men because I can’t cook.”

“I can’t seem to keep a Taiwanese boyfriend so perhaps I suit foreigners.”

“I haven’t had a boyfriend for a few years.”

“I am too old now for Chinese men.”

“I get depressed easily and have suicidal feelings so I thought I would try a foreigner.”

“My mother says I can’t do as I am told, I am bad-tempered and aggressive so...”

“I lent my ex-boyfriend some money and he never paid it back. I think Taiwanese men are dishonest.”

And lastly, we were a last chance saloon cure for the panacea of ills, desires and perversions in the female Taiwanese psyche.

Tonight, unfortunately, i had met one in the last category:

We were already naked in my room when i found out.

"You know why i want to try the foreigner," said Camille.

"No, but i guess you are going to tell me," I replied.

"My ex-boyfriend hurt me bad. He slept with a prostitute and give me herpes," she said. "You know, i am an honest girl so i have to tell any new boyfriend and no Taiwanese man wants me - so i try the foreigner. I know you will understand."

"Well, that is right," I replied. "We all have AIDs so what harm will adding a little herpes to the mix, make?"

I went to the bathroom for a good scrub.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Taiwan characters: John and the unlucky taxi driver

John was working hard to turn over a new leaf after leading a rather wild youth. Taxi drivers are always a huge problem; driving recklessly, cutting people off, and never apologizing for doing so. Things had to snap one day.

We had just met John at the bar. He had his arm in a sling, and was behaving extremely calmly and satiated, like most people did after a marathon sex session.

“I thought you couldn’t fight everyone,” teased Eric.

“You can’t! But, every so often you can choose a couple of unlucky muthas to take things out on.”

"What happened?" I asked.

"A taxi driver called me an English fag," he replied.

"But - " I was about to say it was unlikely a taxi driver could say that in English.

He explained. "The fucker ran me off the road and so i shouted 'Fuck you.' Ordinarily that should be the end of it as he did actually knock me off my bike - but, no, he actually got out of his car and started walking towards me with a steering lock expecting me to apologize. And the worse thing is he is like five-foot eight and eleven stone, and he is going to try and bully me. That is why i say he obviously spotted my Englishness.

"Anyway, he thinks better of it and starts to go back to his car - and that was the best thing because nobody wants to fight. Then it slipped out - or up: a really loud fuck you and a middle finger. As soon as I saw the finger I hated myself - I really didn’t want to do that, I had been proud of my ability to keep my mouth shut on the road in the face of overwhelming odds, but it seems an easy life, staying out of trouble, and concentrating on my job were not so important to me, I needed to teach the guy a lesson, show him I was not scared. Anyway, as a steering lock was swinging towards my head i decided to give myself a lecture the next day. I twisted my elbow up and straightened the other fingers on my left hand to join the middle one…"

We listened in admiration as he described how he took the steering lock off the guy and beat him severely with it.

John continued, “Anyway, it ain’t fuckin’ worth it. I’ve got a broken arm - and ‘ad to sleep in the park with it - And ‘ad to tell my school I fell off my motorbike and take a couple of days off to let the swelling go down. Fuckin’ idiot, I am.”

He explained he had been only two minutes from his home so, when the taxi driver’s friends arrived with baseball bats and machetes, he had had to make a tactical withdrawal, deciding it best not to go there.

“Why didn’t you go to the hospital?” asked Eric, a bit bewildered by what he was hearing.

“You think I have shit for brains? Go to the hospital and bump into the guy and his mates...Have to run around a hospital fighting, or worse they report it to the police and I am on the local news. I am a respected member of the teaching profession.”

He took a gulp of his beer. "That is what I love about the Taiwanese – a student’s mother’s brother has a clinic, and I sit there with my swollen, bruised hands from pounding them into that fucker’s head, and I tell the guy, I fell off my motorbike, and he gives me that ‘it ain’t my business’ look and plasters me up.”

For all his bravado, John was annoyed with himself that he had allowed himself that relapse when he could have walked away. He was hoping this was it, he was hoping he had got things out of his system for a long time.

An Englishman in Taipei V

John, because he was macho and desperately fighting a craving to punch someone out, was particularly affected by the stereotyping of English in Taipei. Here is one rant he went on.

“You know, before, I never gave a flying fuck what the rest of the world thought about the Englishman. I hadn’t talked to more than 10 people from abroad and I didn’t plan to talk to 10 more, but now I am forced to take an interest and it is disturbing. We are only thought of as prancied up ponces, unsociable, aloof, cold. Either that or perverted psychos. But worse of all, and most disturbing, as wimpy, effectual, sensitive, gentleman who couldn’t punch their way out of a tissue bag. And it mostly our fault - In Hollywood our actors specialize in playing wimps, psychos, and weirdos because they are the only characters they think are interesting. Otherwise, they specialize in playing twits without a macho bone in their bodies. Bollocks! The good guy is also interesting. Britain is full of wholesome, stoic, individuals who do the right thing and fight for it. Fuck, I got thrown out of the bar last week, because some silly little ABC boy thought all British were nerdy. He is now minus some teeth and I can’t go back to the bar.”

He continued, "At home we ain’t much better, obsessed with our past or with making stories about the shite elements of our society. I am getting sick of people asking if I have a butler or was one."

“Don’t you?”said Eric.

“Shut up! Listen to me finish what I have to say!” He was snorting and managing the difficult job of eye-balling me, Eric and Josh all at the same time. John had a thing about people listening to him. You could disagree, rip him to shreds and question his existence for living, but don’t look away. That made him angry.

‘All the fucking Steven Frys, Kenneth Branaghs, Ralph Fiennes fucking Oxford and Cambridge lot spend all their time making films about the past or writers, dredging history books for what they think are interesting stuck-up twat like characters ...All because they can’t fit into modern society or understand the motivations of normal heterosexual, stand up guys. If they want to do someone from history, do one of our heroes. Do they loathe themselves and the world so much they can’t play good? Then, as they get a little bit of clout in Hollywood they use it all up persuading a producer to finance their crap play. We have been in Hollywood for years but now fucking Australians fill any role that requires someone to be macho, wholesome and silent. Look at fucking gladiator! Look at X-men! Now doubt that if they had got a British guy to do it, then he would have insisted on playing it as a cross dresser who’s boyfriend had been murdered by the emperor. Most people now think Joaquin Phoenix is British, because he took the role slotted for the British guy. Some of the world's best actors and we can’t play NORMAL. The British army is the best in the world and everyone thinks the SAS is an American unit."

“What about the gardening and the tea?” said Eric.

“Yes, we like to do gardening, DIY, and drink tea. But if someone jumps over the fence and tries to stamp on our roses we take a rake and shove it up their arses. We don’t stand there fretting and dithering. Same with the chicks - we don’t stand there tongue tied but grab her and drag her back to the bedroom we have spent a lot of time decorating and fitting out. Then offer her a cup of fuckin tea in the morning if she not too much of a dog.

John continued: “Another one i am always asked, 'Is there any nightlife in Britain?' - I don’t think so. We are not repressed! Go to club back home or in Ibiza for the summer. Your Cancun spring break faggots wouldn’t last 2 minutes, there.”

“You tell them, ‘What about that DJ who is at Luxy or Plush tonight? You like the band - blah, blah, blah - they are English. And they look at you like, well maybe, I am sure there are a few people who go out in England. Or, like I am sure, like, people go out, but everyone is sat in a dinner jacket at tables, sipping their champagne before clapping politely at the end of each track by the Prodigy. Either that or a guy with a woolly jumper is self-consciously twisting one arm in the air with no rythmn.”

“I used to be a great supporter of the royal family and all the traditions and the history and that shit. Maybe it does bring in some tourists – but it also alienates a lot of people who want to go somewhere they think is fun. And, it especially makes it hard for normal Brits abroad who have to listen to stupid stereotypes of themselves all day. Anyway, why can’t we present both to the world – come to Britain we have cold aloof snobs, out-of-date institutions and kicking nightlife.”

Josh: “I agree, dude! But you still boil your vegetables too long - My grandfather was English.”

Eric: “I will always remember the cream tea and the doorman at the hotel in London…Alright Jeeves...Carry on sir...Brideshead Revisited. Why can’t you all be more like that?”

That night a taxi driver knocked John off his bike and was the unfortunate recipient of a lot of anger...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

An Englishman in Taipei IV

Being English in Taipei could even slow your progress to the bedroom if you used the wrong word.

Lucy Chen was an English major at University getting ready for her life changing experience in the great USA.

She was a nice girl, but clearly interested in practicing her English, hanging on my every word and not because she was interested in anything i had to say.

I enjoyed dating girls like this, watching their expressions and nervous excitement. She had been studying for 10 years, and she had always feared that it might not work, but now she was talking to a foreigner - The foreigner asked questions, the answer she had studied worked, foreigner understood, we were communicating...Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Still it could be slow waiting while she sought to check the word or phrase against the million textbooks she had memorized word for word. You could see her systemically dredging up chapter, unit, and then page, remembering the context in which it was used, cross-referencing with what you said before interpreting a meaning.

That day had another problem. In the afternoon I had spent alot of time talking to English people and slipped back into English mode. She had already asked several questions when I had used 'Englishisms' and this had slowed things down. I had to concentrate really hard on at least removing as much British English vocabulary as i could. I was afraid i might blow this - and she was really pretty.

“Let’s move onto a question from chapter five customs and culture…Sub-heading one, Going to Strange Western Man’s Flat!”I said before realizing my mistake.

“Flat? Why you say go to flat?”

“Sorry, apartment!”I said.

“Why you say flat?” She was beginning to panic: maybe, the book was wrong and it had all been for nothing.

“Doesn’t matter!”

“No, please why you say flat?” I knew I was going to have to explain. A pillar of her existence had been challenged.

“It is English for apartment. Same meaning.” She made a sentence in her head, but she was worried now that she was wasting her time talking to an Englishman.

“England has a lot of different words?”she asked.

“Not so many! Now come back to my apartment…flat…there you go, one new word already tonight…and I will explain some more later. I heard Americans don’t understand, ‘shag.’”

“Shag? Yes…No, I never hear that.”

She came back to my apartment, looked through my photos, and said she thought we could be good friends.

Oh, the pain of being English.