Thursday, April 30, 2009

My next computer company job and really learning the ropes I

About five months after leaving the software company I had another job as a marketing manager – or whatever that meant in Taiwan.

This time I hoped I had been a little smarter in my choice. MTI, an up and coming company that made smart communication devices, so it was mostly a hardware company – Choosing software hadn’t really been the best idea as India was famous for software, Taiwan for hardware. Over 80% of the world’s notebooks were made in Taiwan, not to mention the myriad of other devices in the market. Taiwan had a competitive advantage in this area that wouldn’t be going away for a while.

The downside was I was going in at a position lower than the previous job – I was taking a gamble it wouldn’t matter; that there wouldn’t be a well-oiled marketing machine in the company with my role set out in stone.

First day in the company and I was being given a personal welcome invitation by the vice-president of the company, William Kuo – My position didn’t warrant this attention, but I was a foreigner so the boss wanted to show he was a caring, laidback kind of boss who was down with the people, just like in those Hollywood movies he watched.

“You foreigners are more creative. I hope you can challenge us and bring new ideas. We hope to create a very innovative company. We hope marketing will be more and more important in the future,” he said. I was excited at this but then he added the expected: “This is a very competitive area and we want to be the leading ODM manufacturer in the world.”

Background: ODM was the official term for what we know as making things for other people - but to be fair to this company and others in Taiwan ODM wasn’t exactly as the stereotype went of elfin-size oriental people slaving away on wooden production lines in dark factories. That still went on in China to make your cups, but modern hi-tech ODMs were situated in huge gleaming new buildings of concrete, steel and glass. They designed the product, did the research and development, tested it, packaged it, in short they did everything apart from the final stage of putting their own name and putting up the billion dollar advertising costs – they preferred a foreign company to do that. What makes it a product of HP or any other big company? Well, they have an engineer posted in the company making the product, and they claim it lives up to their exacting standards??

A good example is Quanta, where I had a gig teaching for a year or so. Nobody has heard of them, but with about five other ODMs they make most of the world’s computer hardware. Their offices outside of Taipei are about the size of two football fields and twenty storeys high. Inside, sat hunched over tables in their jeans, there were logic engineers, power engineers, electrics engineers, circuit engineers, hardware and software engineers – more kinds of engineers than the world had plant life - but they all looked the same: thick glasses; glasses so thick demolition balls would bounce off – there was more glass on faces than in the building’s windows; bulging, swivelling eyes and mouths hanging half open from staring at a computer screen 24/7 from about 2 inches away –- think swinging watch.

In England everyone wants to be a lawyer and a journalist, in Taiwan everyone is an engineer.

…Anyway, the upshot of all this was I wasn’t going to be running any high profile marketing promotion campaigns in the near future.

“I am looking forward to making a contribution,” I said.

“I will show you where you are sitting,” said William. "I must go now. You can maybe contact your team. My secretary will give you a phone book.”

Apparently, there was a girl below him in the other branch office in Taoyuan, an hour away, who it seems it was not important to meet - and a guy in the next room who didn’t want to be met.

“It is ok, I’ll work it out,” I said. “I have worked in a Taiwanese company before.”

"Great," he said. "I know you foreigners are more independent - that is what we need..."

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Beyond teaching IV: More reasons to employ a foreigner II

Eventually I had a job for Eversoft, a company specializing in security software. They had about twenty employees and a nice big office on the fifteenth floor of a building. They said they were closing deals with various big international companies but I didn’t have a clue…

The first day everyone squeezed into a meeting room to meet the new foreign employee. I was nervous of course – Even though I had already been in Taiwan for four years or so, this was my first time to work in a Taiwanese company where I was obliged to speak Chinese and do things on their terms.

My direct boss was Joe Hung, one of the partners of the company and vice president. I was the marketing manager meaning I was a one man department – unless of course you included the girl who could use photoshop.

Joe introduced me: “Hello, everyone. We have talked along time about making Eversoft into a top software company…Uh…international. For a long time we have searched for the right colleague with international experience. Last month, I was very lucky to meet an old friend who works in England. He introduced me to his friend Dan Chapman. My friend told me what a good man and professional worker Dan is. I interviewed Dan over the phone and he agreed to come and help our company,” said Joe. “He is going to help us with the HP account. You know the foreigner is more creative - Can bring new ways to break through our problems.”

Hmm, I thought, that was a good piece of bullshit. It seems we were going to pretend I had been sent from overseas. Still, I didn’t mind. It was not as if I had told the truth on my resume so I was happy to go along with the ruse.

There was a problem, however: Joe would ask me to introduce myself soon and I wasn’t sure if I was now supposed to speak Chinese or English. I wanted to practice my Chinese in this environment but I obviously couldn’t show too much.

“Ok,” said Joe. “I want Dan to say a few words. He worked in Shanghai for some time so he can speak some Chinese.”

It seems Joe had thought of everything.

I got up and spoke slowly in Chinese making sure I didn’t use too high level vocabulary, peppering my sentences with phrases like ‘I am not sure how to say this’ and occasional English words. I told them how I was humbled by this opportunity and I thought they could all teach me a lot.

I had no idea if it was well received or they all thought I was a complete liar because in Taiwan you just couldn’t tell from the standard blank expression.

At the end we went to Joe’s office.

“You know,” said Joe. “I told them that you are the expert from England so you will get their support. They will listen to you.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“Do not mention anything about your salary to the others. Your salary is high compared to them, and many people will jealous you.”

Sure, I replied. I knew my salary was high compared to the locals so I was happy to keep mum.

“We have a back-end security product that they were trying to sell to HP. This product has been rejected several times so we would like you to help. Get together a product review,” said Joe.

“Great. No problem. So when do I meet my colleagues,” I asked.

“You will be directly reporting to me,” said Joe. “Sorry. Excuse me, I have some phone calls to make.”

I went and sat on my seat, presumably Joe would call me back in later to discuss strategy.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Beyond teaching III: Reasons to employ a foreigner

My first job was doing the quality assurance, but that had again been special as they wanted a foreigner. Once I finished there I decided to actively seek jobs in local companies where it wasn't specified a foreigner was needed.

As a foreigner my role was set out clearly: international sales or marketing - I spoke pretty good Chinese but read badly and couldn't write, nobody was going to give me a job selling insurance to locals. And that was only half the story: even if i could do the above perfectly i would be cancelled out for cultural reasons: they would assume I couldn't raise my glass at the right time; tell them to buy it because i was their friend and i would owe them a favor; call them 'big brother' all day and indulge in the necessary ultra-polite oneupmanship; discuss why it was a good time to buy it because the Chinese calendar and a bunch of fortune tellers said so, etc, etc. And i agreed with this: I didn't know how to discuss their subjects as well as them and i had no interest in learning.

I would be applying to hi-tech companies only. It was the area of the economy that was growing fastest, and, if any industry in Taiwan could be called glamorous this was the nearest.

Finally, I wouldn't be applying to Acer, Asus or BenQ or any other large famous Taiwanese company - If you wanted to work in international sales for them the competition was huge with Taiwanese going to study in America for 10 years just to get the chance to work for peanuts for 70 hours a week; either that or, if they needed a foreigner they would go direct to America and recruit one.

Acer did need foreigners in Taiwan, but it was very clear in the job ad: technical writer or copywriter and there wasn't the chance to switch fields.

I would be applying to some small or medium sized company - who were desperate, stupid or smart enough to give me a shot.

Still it wasn't easy. Even though they needed an international sales manager they had no idea a foreigner would apply - they were so surprised by it that in 90% of the cases they simply rejected you. When you asked them why, they said, because they didn't employ foreigners. Remember there was no equal opportunities commission in Taiwan.

For the ones who invited you for interview a pattern emerged.

Scenario A

The actual boss of the company gives you the first interview. This is not a good sign.

"So how do you know about my company?" said boss. "This is so lucky."

You have an advert in the newspaper, I felt like replying, but i would be polite."I have always wanted to work in software and you are one of the best in graphics."

"Wow, this is really interesting," he would say. "So you learnt about me in England."

"Yes," I would reply.

"So lets go out for lunch," he would say.

We would go to lunch and he would phone up his friends and they would arrive, buy me a drink, toast me and then leave. As each one entered he would say to them, hey, they know about my company overseas.

During lunch you would be polite but get more and more stressed there wasn't an interview taking place, desperately trying to steer the conversation back to the interview.

At the end you would ask him if you had a job and he would say, "Yes, we can be friends. Come round to meet my family later."

Scenario 2

You spent three hours at the company telling each of the five people who interviewed you how you had increased profitability and led teams for a numerous large firms back in the UK, then they would say: “I think you will be good. You are native speaker and we have a lot of manuals and some press releases to do.”

“I am sorry, I am looking for a marketing position, not copy editor. As i said I have experience and qualifications for...” I would say desperately trying to keep my patience after having stated it on my resume, and then spelled it out over the phone: I wasn’t looking to be a technical writer. After a while I thought perhaps Taiwanese were all trained lawyers existing on the technicality – say you don’t want to a copy editor and they will assume that doesn’t include technical writing, and vice-versa.

The interviewer would say: “Well marketing is very difficult to get into in Taiwan. Your Chinese has to be exceptional.”

And i would reply: "Hence i said to do North American and European Sales...Well, thanks for interview. Sorry, but this is the field I want to enter.”

As i left they would stare at me incredulously as if to say, I know your resume was full of bullshit why don't you want the technical writing job.
Scenario C

You always have to tell them the following:

“Why do you want to work in Taiwan?”

“My girlfriend is Taiwanese and she wants to live here. She gave me a choice and now I like the place.” It had taken a while to think of this excuse – Taiwanese bosses were very aware that their companies did not have very good reputations and paid low wages so were pleasantly surprised and suspicious that you would want to work for them. The truth: “I have fucked around for the last few years so now I need some work experience. Or, I am a loser who can’t get a job in my own country” – had to be avoided as did overdoing promoting your western experience leading them to believe you would leave quickly.

“Anyway, this is a very good company! You know how high the taxes are in England?”I added.

“Do you how to deal with Taiwanese people?”

“I know you have to be very polite with Taiwanese, not so direct, but I don’t think it is so a big difference. You are smart people, reasonable, open-minded and more modern than you think.” The guy gave me a look that oscillated between you are a real good bullshitter or you are na├»ve as hell. I could keep a straight face by keeping the concept of relativity in mind: I had spent time in India and China.

Scenario D

Again after talking to me for a long time:“You are good but you do not have a technical background.” This stumbling block was the strangest – I was applying to do marketing and sales, I had a business degree, but I wasn’t suitable because I didn’t study electrical engineering.

Scenario E

Once you had been through 3 or 4 hours of interviews - and finally convinced them to give you a job, the next problem started.

“Can you work in Taiwan?” they asked.

“You will have to apply for a work visa for me - but it is easy, i will tell you how to do it.” Some personnel departments came to the decision this was too difficult, and, even after I had got a copy of the regulations, and showed them how to fill them in completely, they didn’t want to go through the process, as if dealing with the Economics Department was like opening a portal to hell.

After a week or so I would then contact the boss who interviewed me, and we would play conversation ping-pong for half an hour:

“Personnel says they have to apply the special visa for you.”

“Yes, they do, but it is easy. I have already told them how to do it.”

Boss calls personnel and calls back Josh: “Personnel says you don’t have Taiwan identity card. You are not married?”

“No, but you can get a visa for me. They just don’t want to do it.”

Boss to personnel: “He says you can apply for him – he gave you the paperwork.”

Personnel: “He gave us some paperwork, but we don’t know what to do with it.”

Josh to Boss: "I told them what to do with it. I can explain again."

Boss to Josh: “I’m sorry.” He sensed he was hearing bullshit but decided he didn’t have the time or energy to pursue things himself.

Short interruption: Yes, there was another pattern above: they always still invited you for interview and waited till the end to address issues you raised in the first five minutes. I later asked the wife why - and she replied, They are giving you face as you have already come. To which i would reply, I don't have a face problem. Just tell me direct and let me go home and lie on my bed.

Anyway, a couple of months later i had a job.

Unfortunately, i found another foreigner scenario a little too late.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Taiwan girls: Josh and Maggie VII

Josh and Maggie had really took a turn for the worse.

I had already arrived at his house because Josh thought of me as a good negotiator. He then called John for other reasons.

“John, I am in big trouble. I need your help.”

“What has she done now?” said John.

“She is on my roof threatening to jump.”

“So what the fuck do you want me to do, catch the bitch? I am more tempted to push.”

“No, I have called her father…” said Josh.

“Hmm,” said John. He cancelled his afternoon’s students – 4,000 NT and he couldn’t reschedule either because his schedule was already full - and put on some old clothes. He was regretting his - admittedly self- promoted - reputation for being good with his fists.

From now on when I meet anyone, I am going to flap my hands, and tell them how I live my life in a wafer-thin paper bag, he swore.

Josh’s building was one of the 4 storey terrace ones; this style was the first wave of buildings around the city around 20 to 30 years ago, and still the most common type of apartment. Most foreigners lived on the 4th floor -- the word for four in Chinese sounds like the word for death so Taiwanese don’t want to live there, making the rent cheaper.

“You are only on the 5th floor. Maybe, she just have a couple of broken legs and you’ll be gone before she can continue her obsession.” Suddenly we all had the terrible thought of her speeding down the road towards him on crutches.

"Fuck it is hot up here. Do you have any sun cream? - Sorry,” said John. He thought he had better shut up: the bright sunlight on Josh’s face was exposing a pure shade of white that Dulux would pay a fortune to patent.

First the father arrived and stood over the other side of the roof then the police arrived with their negotiating team. Once they arrived, enlivened by an audience – and someone to stop the fight - Maggie’s father sprung to life.

“Look at my daughter. That bastard wai gwo ren (foreigner), break her heart. Fucka yu! Fucka yu.”

“Who is her boyfriend?” asked the negotiator.

“Ex-boyfriend - I told her I was leaving,”said Josh staring directly at the father.

"He is upset you know. You fucked his daughter and now are leaving,” said the policeman.

The policeman turned to John.“Who are you?”

“I am here to do your job,” answered John.

“What did he say?”asked the policeman. And at this point the father swung for Josh and John was called upon to demonstrate his point, catching the father’s flailing arms and locking them both behind his back -- During the martial law era the police developed a reputation for over zealous use of force, and the reaction to this was to impose on them minimum force regulations, that made it impossible to do their jobs. The news was filled every night with police trying first to break up fights with kindness talking the aggressor out of continuing to punch someone in the head; usually as long as the victim didn’t seem to be in actual danger of dying the police would continue with this tactic. John sat the father down on the other side of the roof and he got the message he wasn’t going to be able to give his little performance.

Maggie would have been down quicker, but the arrival of the cameras meant a bigger show was necessary in order to save face - It took 20 minutes of her mother and father begging her on hands and knees, but that was not what she wanted. Finally, because he didn’t want a dead person on his hands, Josh gave her the apology she required for lying to her and wasting the last year of her life – and she finally came down.

“You know this is Taiwan. You can’t do that to girls,” shouted the reporters loaded questions as they followed him down the stairs. He wanted to say, but I told her I was going to leave, but he didn’t have the energy any more.

“Duei bu chi (sorry),” was all he could muster as he slammed the door to his apartment and eventually they went after ringing the doorbell for 20 minutes. The irony was he didn’t intend to leave anymore.

For the next week, as there always was after an incidence like this regarding foreigners, there were programs every night about foreigners shagging, two timing, gang banging and then dumping Taiwanese girls. In one such program, a scantily clad young reporter with a hidden camera went into the typical western bars, chatted up drunken men and invited them to a hotel. When they said yes, she had her indisputable evidence of that they are about nothing and nothing else. But it would only last a week, enough time for the backlog of stories regarding: Taiwanese men and mainland prostitutes, politicians having affairs, and Taiwanese on Taiwanese violence to become un-ignorable.

Josh went back into his apartment, and turned on his notebook to try and calm himself down. He would be winding up the company soon because he was going to Nepal for two months and then he had that brokerage job. He should be trying to pass the business onto someone else…he had tried, but the reaction was always the same: that is a lot of money. People seemed to think he was just going to give it away. He would give it to Eric, or John but they didn’t want it.

He looked down the list of clients in his email, then he opened that excel spreadsheet of clients, projects and money earned. He looked at the last few months. Acer had been a client. Taiwan’s leading technology company had used him on numerous occasions to write their brochures, marketing reports, and press releases. He had learnt a lot about their company; marketing in general. So much so they made him sign a confidentiality agreement. He was tired of just brushing up the English. He would like to be the man doing the research. He would like to be the man getting together a product proposal. Technology field was the future. He already enjoyed sales. He had been surprised at the start because such a big company should have already employed a foreigner full-time to do that job. He had asked and although they had offices all over the world, it was the Taiwan head office, filled with Taiwanese, which was responsible for handling production of English brochures. They could send one of their western employees back to Taiwan, but they wouldn’t take the pay cut, and the company wouldn’t pay them their American salary. Acer was no good because they had already had enough people in foreign branches to handle their marketing. If he went to them he would be stuck writing manuals. But there were smaller ones trying to grow their business in North America and desperately in need of the knowledge only a foreigner could give them. He had worked with some of them too. There was the first line of his resume – To increase sales in your North America market. He had worked out how to continue forward with local companies. He could fill that gap. It was an excellent opportunity to get marketing experience.

It was a pity, he thought.

Taiwan girls: Josh and Maggie V

“Why you put my phone down?” shouted Maggie. A week had passed since she first came round.

“Because you didn’t say anything,” he replied. This was the fifth time today, and about the 100th this week and it was only Thurday.

“You too quick. You should wait for me to speak.”

He had waited for her to speak before; he had tried shouting, putting the phone down, turning it off – but if he turned it off she rang the phone in his office and he didn’t want his colleagues to know; so he gave up, turned his mobile back on and sure enough it would ring. His nightmare wasn’t limited to the phone calls: every night when he came home from work she was stood outside his door, wanting to see him. If he came back late she buzzed his neighbors, rang their doorbells, making such a nuisance of herself that he had no choice but to go home. He had intended to play a waiting game, but it was now eight days and no let up.

That evening.

“You think you can just fuck Taiwanese girls and leave? Why are you so irresponsible?” She came in and sat on a chair and started the same argument as if she intended to persuade him that he was wrong so that he would go back with her. She didn’t really know what she was doing so she applied more pressure, received more rejection, and got more frustrated and angry.

“I told you what I wanted. I gave you a choice.”

“I cook for you, cleaned, and helped you with your problems.”

“We had a relationship, that is what people do for each other. I also did things for you.” She knew he had and therefore with no riposte she just sat there staring angrily.

She hadn’t said anything for 10 minutes so he was hoping he could just leave her there and get on with some things.“Don’t turn on the TV set when I am talking to you,”she screamed grabbing the remote.

“Why can’t I break up with you? What if you want to break up with someone, can’t you do it?”

“I am not so cruel. If someone loves me I will stay with them.”

This was probably true, but still too much; he sat on the floor, tucked his knees up to his chest, clasped his hands behind his head, elbows on knees and tried to roll around the floor. He knew it looked stupid, but at the same time it was the only thing he could think of that would require all the built-up energy looking to expel itself through his right open hand. Lying head to the floor gave him a new angle on a familiar sight of her sat breathing heavily on his sofa - and he got more angry reminded of the ridiculousness of her presence in his apartment.

“Don’t you feel a modicum of shame, of embarrassment that you are sat, unwanted, but refusing to leave someone else’s apartment? That what you are doing is futile. That you don’t have enough pride to say fuck that asshole he isn’t good enough for me anyway? That you are actually an intruder? I bet you used to gate crash the birthday parties of classmates when you were five - Had to have a new bicycle even if you stole it from your sister...for you getting the object was always worth the trouble. But ultimately, you an intruder, you are harassing someone, violating their life and home.”

She shrugged her shoulders, pleased with herself; her expression said perhaps that is the case but it is the way I do things.

“I am thinking about how to punish you,” she replied.

He slumped in his chair with only one thought in mind: can I move my flights out to earlier? He was defeated unable to do anything: harassment laws are weak back home, but in Taiwan suggesting he, a foreigner, was being harassed by a local girl…There was just no point.

Taiwanese and marketing II

“Hey, Eric man, I have the solution to your financial situation. I need your translation skills this weekend,”said Josh in his usual upbeat style while we were in the bar.

It was friday night and he had just got a call from a client who needed a product brochure and company profile by the next Monday morning.

When he started he had been expecting work on web sites that took a month to complete or larger marketing projects. Unfortunately, he constantly found he was being called up at the last moment to do copy writing, editing or translation of materials that had been sitting on someone’s desk for a month being ignored. Why? - Because it cost money and no one wanted to take responsibility for finding anyone. Josh could speak good Chinese but he couldn’t read or write. He was interested in knowing as much as he needed for effective communication at work, he wasn’t interested in reading ancient Chinese scrolls like Eric.

“Man, I have some museums to visit this weekend. I am a busy man.”

“You are also broke and you know it.”

“Don’t you know it is not polite to present the cold truth to a man. How many words?”said Eric.
“5,000 words."

"Fuck, dude, I ain’t going to get any sleep this weekend, am I?”

“You can earn 10,000NT. That will keep you in smelly tou fu and museum tickets for a while.”

Josh wanted Eric to do it because Eric, for all his complaining, was reliable. He had given the chance to so many enthusiastic foreign guys who wanted to grasp the mantle of opportunity, only to be let down.

Eric was reluctant notot because he cared about going out that weekend, but because he guessed what the content would be.

“Motherboards,”replied Josh.

“Don’t you ever get any interesting clients? Buddhist temples? Think tanks that need papers on Cross-Strait Relations translated.” It was wishful thinking, the last time it had been Flash memory chips, and the time before processors.

"This is Taiwan," replied Josh.

Eric went home, took a couple of deep breaths, hoping to exhale his interests and personality from his body, and settled down for what he knew would be an excruciatingly tedious weekend of hellish translation.

Taiwan girls: Josh and Maggie III

Six months after he started dating Maggie, Josh's thoroughly modern relationship was beginning not to look so anymore.

“Why don’t you ever want to get married?” asked Maggie ever so gently.

“Do you really want to discuss this?”said Josh knowing she did but afraid of the results.

“You foreigners like to discuss. I want to know your reason - Why you don’t want a nice girl like me.” He looked at her and frowned. It was a masterstroke: at once being an abstract discussion and highly personal.

“I am not saying I never want to get married - Just not yet!”

“So when is the right time?”

“I will know! You just can’t marry anyone. It takes time to find the right one.”

“I don’t think you will ever know. You have set yourself an impossible set of conditions to fulfill.”

He knew she had a point but that was between him and his psychologist. "It is better than being prepared to marry anyone. You Taiwanese girls will marry anyone who will have you.”

“Not true. I am just not afraid to marry," she said. "Are you anyone? Why are you so self-deprecating?” He couldn’t help softening when his ego was massaged in this way. It was something he just found so hard to handle: the continual compliments. He liked to give compliments rather than receive, because it meant he could walk away with his emotions intact.

“Yes, I am anyone. You don’t know me so well.”

“How long does it take to know a person? Again, for you, it is forever!”

“Maybe, you are right! But this is the way I choose to be....Please, you know if you are getting in too deep, then we must break up.”

“I said we are just discussing. I want to understand you.”

Josh knew this subject was coming up too often, but he enjoyed it because it was therapy for him - Back in Canada he had been able to openly discuss the impossibility of marriage and long-term commitment with the like-minded damaged female he was with at the time. Since he had been in Taiwan he had been made to feel like a Judas for having these feelings; a despicable and useless human being. He also understood to debate the rights and wrongs was pointless but he liked to communicate and have understanding with people; to not be misunderstood.

She continually leaned the discussion towards the personal, and, he knew it was no longer about understanding each other. Yet, he still believed as she was prepared to talk things would be resolved rationally. She, however, believed that by entering him in a discussion she was suddenly going to change his mind; that he would listen to reason because that is what westerners do.

Later that evening:“But I love you. Don’t stop me from saying it,” said Maggie. She had changed since they came back from holiday. After making love she now wanted to say she loved him. The first few times he, seeing it coming, put his fingers on her lips and she pretended to sulk, but now she pulled his fingers away, and became aggressive.

“I don’t want you to get hurt," replied Josh.

“Please don’t talk about when you are leaving. It is so hurtful!” At this point he knew everything had gone too far.

“I think we should finish things now. I am sorry. You are a great girl, but it is clear you are not keeping a distance.”

“I am sorry. Okay. I accept.”

For Josh, unfortunately, there was no turning back: the plasters that had precariously allowed him to justify the relationship had all popped off. "Sorry, no, it has time to break up."

“But, I love you.”

One hour later she left accepting it was for the best they broke up...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Taiwan characters: Eric and studying Chinese in Taiwan IX

A month after joining the taichi class things were going great. He had been adopted by a group of old women averaging 70 years old. They were all mainlanders who had arrived with Chiang Kai Shek when he lost the civil war in 1947. Eric had wanted to be adopted by a bunch of local Taiwanese, but unfortunately, most Taiwanese of this age could hardly speak Chinese and once they were together with friends would only use Taiwanese.

Today, he was having lunch at the apartment of one of them. Her 100 year old mother was sat in the chair.

"Hey, her feet were bound," he said.“That is fascinating!"

An image of himself trying to walk on toes being smashed with a sledge hammer and bent under popped into his head. "Sorry...Probably not so fascinating for her."

“So what is this a picture of?” Eric loved looking at old photos, they gave him a window into different time or place – Something pretentious like that, he thought.

“Me, my parents, Beijing. I was twelve.” In the case of this lady, that was about 75 years ago.

“So, you have any photos…in Taiwan with your parents?”

“I not see my parents…uh, since 1947. They killed by the communists.” She said in that matter-of-fact way you do when you have had fifty years to think about your parents’ murder.

“I’m sorry.” He tried to hold that thought for a moment and imagine what it was like, but it was just too much.

“I am a Christian. I will see them in heaven.” Eric suddenly remembered what a moaning, miserable, petty, worthless, skeptical bastard he was; he resolved to be a better man.

“That is a picture of my grand-daughter,” she said. “She is studying in America now, but she will be back next month. Maybe, you want to meet her.”

Meet some bitch who wants to patronize me with her perfect English? There is nothing I would like less the do in the world. “That is a pity. I am going back to America next month.”

Eric left around two in the afternoon and went home. He took a nap for an hour. He opened Outlook, saw an email from the translation company and closed it down again. Boredom kick-started thinking about his next move in Taipei. Taichi was fun, but he didn’t see himself getting up at five-thirty for much longer. He had tried a martial arts class, but it was filled with a bunch of foreigners. He went to the park at the end of the road and talked to the old men playing Chinese chess and mahjong. He actively engaged anyone he could in conversation. Thoughts of unpaid bills reminded him of the key point: he had to do something other than talk to people or study Chinese. He wanted it put it to practical effect. Otherwise he might as well go home. He had only started translation as a means to learn some Chinese and earn some money at the same time. The interest value of translation was simply the subject matter, and, unfortunately, if he wanted to do it full-time it meant half the time yawning through company profiles. Teaching English continued to be what it had always been: a source of easy money. Professor of Sinology just conjured up a picture of a fraud. He wasn’t a businessman. He came here to do something different. To pursue interests. He wasn’t worried about the work experience. He would go back to America in a few years and then he would do whatever. He was used to having no money. Ideally, he needed something that would allow him a total immersion environment in Chinese. He heard of one guy who took an apprenticeship in a motorbike shop, and it didn’t entirely repulse him, as it would have done before. He would have to think of something else…Actually he had heard of one other thing...

A couple of weeks later:

“You are going to study Chinese medicine in a clinic? You are going to treating Taiwanese people,” repeated back a flabbergasted John at dinner that evening.

He admired his resolve to get involved in all things Taiwanese, but Eric was going to hear - You are a foreigner, you don’t know anything about Chinese medicine - about 100 times a day and he usually exploded at the flick of a surprised eyebrow.

“Yeah, I know, but it should be so cool, man.” Eric also didn’t have a lot of faith, but it looked fascinating and so he was determined to give it a go.

Taiwan characters: Eric and studying Chinese VIII

Eric's next move to study Chinese was to go to Taichi class.

At 5:30 Eric got up and headed over to the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial. He was usually only up at this time if he was coming home, and coming home at that time seeing the old people practicing is what inspired him.

They were there in hundreds: men in baseball caps, polo shirts, and long socks under scandals, next to them old women with sun visors over tight dyed black permed hair, t-shirts and flowery three-quarter length trousers. Old people filled the parks at this time in the morning.

He ventured over to them self-consciously ready for the first shout of ‘foreigner’, and the looks of distress. He wondered if it would scare him away. He wondered what he would talk to them about – they were old people after all.

He didn’t make a point of speaking to old people in America, but these were Taiwanese. They were the people that demanded blind loyalty from their children, that made their daughter-in-laws lives a misery. He had to block that out. He had to remember that was not his business.
He walked over to the guy at the front that was barking orders for them to line up. He was sure the guy could speak a little politer. Not be so proud of his own authority; his rank.

“Excuse me, can I join the class?” said Eric.

“You can speak Chinese?”

Didn’t I just address you in Chinese? thought Eric. “Yes.”

“You speaka the Chinese?” he repeated in English.

Eric pursed his lips and told himself there was a simple misunderstanding. The guy wasn’t practicing his English.

Perhaps he hadn’t said it loud enough. It sounded loud enough, but then again it had been quiet enough not to bring attention to himself. He could sense the crowd already looking at him.

“Yes. I can speak Chinese,” shouted Eric.

“Ok. Quick.”

He instinctively looked around for a early twenties female to attach himself to…Then a young guy…Then one of those educated looking young mother who always wore Nike tracksuit bottoms combined with a thin cardigan and scarf, whatever the weather... He debated whether the plucked eyebrows and heavy mascara of the woman two rows back was the primary decider of her economic status or her middle-class Reebok tracksuit. He couldn’t decide.

Fuck, anyway it is not why I am here.

Eric shuffled over next to an old man in a white vest. “Ne hao,” he said nervously and got ready for his first taichi class.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Taiwan characters: Eric and studying Chinese VII

Eric didn't go back to the shop assistant girl, but he made some definite moves to put himself into an only Chinese environment.

Last month, he had phoned up the agent, Amy, and taken one of those jobs she was always trying to push upon new naive arrivals in small towns in the south of Taiwan.

Day one – Eric looked around at the dusty walls, and mattress on the floor. The Kindergarten was giving him an old redbrick farmhouse to live in with requisite low ceilings and courtyard, the only problem was nobody had bothered to live here for years. He refused and instead moved in the brother of the Kindergarten owner who apparently had a spare room. The brother had a ball room dancing school.

The first week or so Eric drove around looking for the nightlife, but the town only had about five pubs and they were all called pub and they all had live bands.

The ballroom dancing brother kept inviting him out with his friends. All of them could make a beard, body builder muscles, gun and lumberjack shirt look effeminate and so he sensed it was only a matter of time before he got a confession. One evening while they were in another pub called pub, they had ordered some Heinekens, a platter of fruit, chopped pig’s ear, duck’s heart, and peppered pea pods.

“Eric,” said Hsiao Yi leaning forward to make himself heard over the cover band’s rendition of Bryan Adam’s ‘Everything I do’.

“We are all gay, you know! What about you?”

No shit, he thought. Of course you are gay, but I prefer to be ignorant.

“Well, in that case, if we are all being gay...No, sorry, I can’t help.”

Eric really got to experience a couple of things that were rumored about living in the south.

It was fun speaking Chinese to people when they remembered:

“What did you say?” asked Eric.

“Sorry, I was speaking Taiwanese,” they answered and then did it again…and again...

He tried to pick up girls, but each time they brought someone with them to the date. In Taipei girls would occasionally go out with a guy they referred to as their step-brother (gan-ge), in the south it was prevalent.

He then went to the Kentucky Fried Chicken because it was apparently a happening place, and met Maria, Amy and Lisa from the Philippines - they were working in a factory in the town.
Eric picked Amy because she was the worse looking of the three and he thought it would be easy, but she kept saying: “There is the supermarket. I don’t have any money to buy groceries. You give me four hundred dollar.” He would have gladly given four hundred dollar to Maria, but it was already too late.

He still went out with the gay ballroom dancer occasionally. One of his students, a grandmother in her fifties adopted him, making him look at pictures of her in black lace chiffon underwear. At first he had been worried she wanted to sleep with him, and he couldn’t think how to say no. But then she pointed out one of her grand-daughters, and asked if he liked her. He replied, - She is beautiful - and within the week she had found a site for him to open a school, was going to invest and was offering an apartment for them to live in.

Eventually, he found a pub that wasn't called pub - that was the first sign - and when he walked in the owner said, Hi, with a strong American accent. She had lived in Taipei for many years apparently and had gone back to the south to look after her old parents. Needless to say she was missing foreign men in that town and Eric had to hide after a while.

Towards the end he said he dreamt every night he was shaking hands with thin air and shouting, American. Very Good. He began to yearn for Taipei’s relative anonymity for foreigners.

It was the experience he had always dreamed of having. A month later he was tired and caught the train back to Taipei.

Taiwan characters: Eric and studying Chinese VI

John gave Eric some advice that was to change his attitude towards studying Chinese.

A couple of months after the language exchange debacle Eric regained his composure and started to complain again about the Taiwanese trying to exploit him to learn English - Let me make it clear: Eric wasn't alone making this complaint; the bars of Taipei were filled with people doing the same.

Anyway, the truth was Eric could now already speak pretty decent Chinese, so what he was really seeking was an environment that would make him use it daily - he was still an English teacher, going home to talk to his foreign friends; like most of us he wanted to put his language skills to use.

John had tried to help by arranging him a date but it went wrong again. Shannon, beyond her name, couldn’t speak English so it made perfect sense to fix her up with Eric...At least John thought so.

“How was the bird? I wouldn’t ‘ave minded, but for the fact I don’t like having a conversation through an electronic dictionary - and, having to teach for a living I would have probably topped myself before the main course,” said John.

“It wasn’t for me... She works on a makeup counter, man,” said Eric.

“You are a funny one,” said John expecting to leave it like that, but then: “I’m sorry, but you moan all the fucking time about not having anyone to speak Chinese to and then refuse every fucking opportunity. There are plenty of people in this country who can’t speak a word of English yet you are too much of a bloody snob to talk to them.”

Over the next few weeks, as he spoke to shop assistants, taxi drivers, people running stalls in the night market, old people, motorbike mechanics, engineers, in fact just about everyone apart from early twenties middle class, university educated girls, he had to admit there was alot of truth to what John said. Taxi drivers didn’t need to be chased down - Once they had a whiff that you could speak Chinese they talked non stop, and ignored your every grammar or tonal mistake. He had to admit these things.

A few later later. "Jesus, man. I have been thinking – we only speak to young educated Taiwanese females,” said Eric.

“What do you mean?” replied John.

“I mean we don’t talk to the rest of the Taiwan population…not for any time anyway.”

“Inspiring mate. And it took you two fucking years to work that out…As I said: me because I have no choice; you, because you are a stuck up twat.”

Friday, April 17, 2009

Taiwan culture: Lateness and I'm on the way

Taiwanese are always late. Half an hour to an hour is considered on time - and a little late two hours.

You will try all manner of tactics to get them to arrive on time, but none of them will work. Why? - They have no concept of time management.

It will start like this. You will call her up and she will say: "I am on the way... Arrive soon." But she won't arrive for another half an hour.

The first ten times you will try and manage the situation - tell her ok, but if she is going to be late at least give you a call to say so. She won't call and so you will change tactics. You will call her and say: 'Look, I know you probably haven't even left the house but just say so and i can go and look around the shops.'

She will insist: 'I am on the way - arrive soon.' At this you will get very angry because you can hear her hailing a taxi. You will repeat your statement about wanting to know and she will repeat the bit about being on the way.

Your next tactic will be to be late yourself. But it is against your nature so you will feel bad and still only turn up 15 minutes late which still gives you another 30 minutes waiting time.

Eventually, you will strike out and be half an hour late and hope to arrive maybe 10 minutes before her. But then you will go crazy because she still doesn't arrive for another 30 minutes. And you will look at your watch and say to yourself - Now if i had arrived on time that is more than an hour...

You will think that she has some kind of sixth sense, able to realize you will be late, but it is simpler than that: you felt guilty about being late so when you arranged to meet for 7.30 you didn't give her a long lecture about being on time. Without the lecture she thought you had accepted her lateness and reverted back to her usual hour.

What can you do about? Nothing. Just get used to it.

Taiwan culture: Communication Taiwan-style

I once had a Taiwanese male room-mate. At the time I was having problems communicating with a Taiwanese girlfriend - She just stayed in every evening watching TV and wouldn't go out. I tried compromising but she wasn't having anything so I asked my room-mate what to do.

He replied: 'Just take the plug off the TV - Show her that you are serious.’

It sounded so childish, but still I tried it. We fought standing over the plug for an hour and then I gave up, let her watch the TV. I went back to the guy and said it hadn’t worked.

To which he replied, 'Then you haven't found the problem. Why is she watching the TV?’

I replied, ‘I don’t know. She won’t tell me.’

To which he replied, ‘Of course, she is too polite to tell you. You have to work it out.’

I thought about the fact that we weren't actually getting along and I was aware of it.

'I don't think she is interested in me," I said to the room-mate. 'But i mentioned to her before if she was not happy we could break up.'

He stared at me disdainfully.

I continued, 'Okay...Um...Yes, I know what you mean - the signs are there: she is being passive-aggressive...but still it means I have to unilaterally identity problems, and take action on it. What if I am wrong?'

'Welcome to Taiwan,' he replied.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Taiwan dating: Breaking up Taiwan style

The liberal needs to execute with his bare hands.

Unfortunately, because of our reputation it meant it was always the westerners fault when a relationship broke up.

I had only known Karen Chu for a couple of months when she was posted to Hong Kong for half a year. I explained I wouldn't be faithful for that time so it was best we went our separate ways.

But then it was: “So you want to get rid of me? You think it is okay to just fuck the Chinese girl and then dump them?"

She insisted we shouldn't break up, and, fearing she might be a crazy one, I actually agreed to think about.

I wouldn't normally have tried this, but i decided i would act like a Taiwanese guy for a couple of nights to see if it would do the trick.

The next evening she was out with friends so i gave her a call.

“Hello it is me,”I said then paused saying nothing for a while. "Where are you? ”

“Gan ma, I am in a restaurant.” (‘Gan ma’ meant 'what do you want', it was used in the following ways: colloquial/accusary, used to express coolness or impatience, to throw something back at someone.

“With who?”

“Colleagues, I told you before.”

“What time are you going home?"

“Later!”

“Not too late - call me at 1:00 am.”

Then Karen asked me: “You. Where are you?" I went silent for a few moments to empress my disgust, and to give her time to explain why in the hell she thought she had the right to ask this question; she didn’t apologise and I hung up.

“What’s up,” asked Karen’s friend.

“My boyfriend is really so much trouble.”

I had overheard a conversation like this played out a thousand times by Taiwanese couples - and from both ends. The boyfriend, even though he knew exactly what his girlfriend was doing and where (besides he was out with his own friends) as the evening progressed increasingly cannot accept that she has not called him, reported in - He is the man after all. Now, I was going to use this approach to drive Karen away and I was happy with my performance so far: sullen, quiet, unfriendly, monotone and proud; I didn’t say anything nice, and I didn’t ask her how she was; that was my right because I was the man.

When she asked her question - where I was - I almost stumbled and answered, but that was not the way of the proud Taiwanese man: I didn't need to answer questions about myself.

All was going well - she responded as I expected, aggressive, flippant and short – but this was the easy part. If I was going to do it right I had to phone back in 20 minutes because a chain of events had been set in motion and I had to complete it. It was very hard, acutely embarrassing in fact, because what she did with her own private time was her fucking business.

Twenty minutes later.

“Hello, it is me.” A long pause. “You haven’t gone back yet have you?”I demanded.

“Why are you so mean?”

“How many drinks have you had? You don’t want to get drunk,”I continued.

“Why are you so troublesome?”

I put down the phone.

Several phone calls later, and I had told her I would be waiting outside the restaurant to take her home in twenty minutes.

I had to sit outside the restaurant in the taxi for twenty minutes with the meter running and make a few more calls to her to get her to come out. I had to listen to her while she shouted and screamed, but it was worth it because my girlfriend was at home, and a good Taiwanese man can’t enjoy himself outside when his girlfriend also is.

Next day, she broke up with me for not respecting her freedom.

While she was on the phone I was dying to say: "You want to break up with me because we had one argument? Relationships have there ups and downs and have to be worked at....I thought you Taiwanese were committed?"

Only the fear that i might provoke her to prove a point kept my mouth shut.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Western stereotypes: Once a liberal always a liberal I

Remember the liberal has to execute with his bare hands in order to convince everyone he is not soft on crime? Well, there are plenty of situations where the analogy plays out in Taiwan on both sides: we are supposed to be dirty horn dogs who are afraid of commitment, obsessed with our space, right to decide, confrontational and too direct; they are supposed to be hiding their feelings, lacking independence, and not able to give a straight answer.

It leads to many misunderstandings:

The classic situation was the restaurant and complaining. I would very politely suggest that i had ordered steak not pork and would it be possible to change the food, and the girlfriend or date would say: "You foreigners like to argue, don't you?"

Once you were here a little while it became more annoying as you realized Taiwan was hardly a garden of peace: at work you listened open mouthed as the boss bollocked his staff for half an hour - and last night on the news a legislator called another ‘a fucking thick bitch’ in the legislature because she didn’t understand Taiwanese - then there were the usual four or five killings because someone beeped their horn at the wrong person or gave someone a strange look in a pool hall; however, we foreigners like to argue.

“Sorry, for offending the karma of peace and tranquillity you Taiwanese all have," I would reply.

All this just to get laid with a hot girl - which kind of, in a stroke, immediately eliminates any superiority i might have been feeling.

Taiwan lifestyle: Why don't we have any Taiwanese male friends

One evening while we were sat in the bar in Taipei an extremely, smartly dressed young western guy walked in laughing and smiling with an equally fashionable young Taiwanese guy. It was obvious they were more than just friends and it kind of got us thinking why after 10 years none of us had any Taiwanese male friends.

“Why don’t we have any Chinese male friends?” asked Eric.

“We do,” replied Pierre.

Eric: “No, we have Chinese guys who we like, respect, find interesting to talk with occasionally - but hanging out with regularly, nah!”

John: “I always assumed they were all boring, and, for their part, don’t like us shagging their women.”

Eric again: “That is the stereotype!”

Josh: “Man, mostly it is practicality: there is still a communication and culture barrier to overcome, and without the incentive of shagging our opposite number as reward, why bother? That goes for them and us.”

As usual Josh had a balanced thoughtful answer.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Expat Culture in Taiwan: Shameless exploiting our name II

Us expats in Taiwan liked to exploit our name and play up our stereotypes for personal gain.

On this occasion we had gone to an all you can eat and drink wine and European buffet at a French wine importer's warehouse in Tien Mu, the old ex-pat area of Taipei. It was 600NT a head, but the wine on offer was cheap and there was no sign of good brie or camembert. Pierre was staring disdainfully with the corners of his mouth turned up and a told you so look.

"Sorry, mate," said John. "Even I don't think this is good cheese."

We looked around and the funny thing was still 50% of people in the party were French. “Man, this must be a nightmare for you. I know how I would feel hanging around in a place filled with fat Americans watching baseball,”said Eric to Pierre.

Pierre looked around at his countrymen bravely stomaching the wine and cheese for their own personal higher purpose: some were so homesick they wanted any excuse to hang around with other French people and talk about the old country; while, he knew most were with girlfriend, friends, or colleagues in tow, sipping the wine and offering their ‘expert’ judgment, desperately trying to show off - while the Taiwanese listened intently not knowing, or too polite to tell them they were full of bullshit.

"They are trying to get laid," replied Pierre.

John was thinking about Eric’s analogy about being stuck in a room with a bunch of fellow English watching the game.

"Now i am depressed," he said.

Taipei Environment: The sun has lost all self-esteem

If you want, you can live on a mountain half an hour outside of Taipei and have monkeys tapping on your roof. However, if you lived in the city in an old apartment don't expect a view of anything other than the neighbor's wall - and don't expect the sun to have any self-esteem.

For a while we all lived in an old love hotel. There were thousands of love hotels around the city, but this love hotel was at the bottom of the pile; failing to innovate, losing most of its customers to spanking new, sophisticated up-market, better equipped establishments, who better understood the needs of those pulling a ‘crafty one.’ Now, it rented its smoked glass window rooms, complete with back alley location on a monthly basis to those too mean, rootless, disorganized or indecisive to pay a deposit on an apartment and then buy some furniture - Or, of course, people like John and me who were only staying for another six months??!

I recognized the benefits of not being able to see out of my window - namely, the incredible convenience - but John came from the countryside and had a really hard time.

He had actually paid extra money for a room with a window and spent all his time trying to get some light in it. He had pulled back the curtain, cleaned it, repositioned everything is his room to maximize its chances, but still beams seemed to just past it by. Every morning he pulled back the curtains expectantly, then shoved his head out the window to stare at the sky, have another try at resolving the problem; finally, he would beg for a few rays. Often he would lay there for twenty minutes or so, the window ledge cutting into his back. With the bed next to the window, he had to form a bench like position by arching his back, tightening his stomach muscles and knees to support the weight, and then push his head up against the bars on the outside of the window frame. For hours afterwards the window seal left a mark in his back so deep it appeared he might fold there.

"You have rust on the sides of your forehead!” I pointed out after entering his room.

‘How can light not come through a fucking window? I mean where the fuck else is it going?”he replied.

“Just accept it, man, light is not going to come through there in Taiwan,” I replied. “You know after years of being shut out by blinds, bars, frosted glass, small windows, curtains, piles of boxes, and having to squeeze itself between buildings so close together it is easy to make the mistake and hang your washing on the person opposite’s balcony, trying in vain to brighten a living room, sunlight has real low self-esteem, a confidence crisis – and it definitely is not going to spot such a small opportunity to provide its warm, life giving glow. Windows the size of this wall made of magnifying glass and some extremely dry wood shaving piled up inside might make it feel useful again.”

“You really think the magnifying glass would do the trick?”

“Of course! But tell me before you do it. I don’t want to be roasted in my bed.”

The temptations of being treated IV: Pierre's unusual offer

Pierre's unusual offer. The night I had picked up my money from Pierre he had stayed in the bar by himself, looking for someone to buy him drinks. It didn't take long.

"Hallo! You speaka Chinese?”said Mr. Chu.

“Huei (Able),” answered Pierre.

‘Good! May I talk to you? Yes(?!)..Okay…Please come...sit at this table.”

“Sure,” replied Pierre.

"Sankyou, sankyou. It is my pleasure," said Mr. Chu impressed with his own overpoliteness.

“I am Pierre.”

“I am Mr Chu. Nice to meet you! You are American?”

“No, I am French.”

“Ah, you from France.”

“You like wine?”

“Of course, I am French!” replied Pierre.

“I know. You from France. Yes. You say,” answered Mr. Chu strangely oblivious to the connection between France and wine. “Whiskey?”

Pierre knew what was going on: the chinese word 'jiou' covered everything from whiskey to vodka to red and white wine.

"How about red wine," he said. "Not whiskey but simple red wine. You know with the..." He mimed pulling out the cork.

“Red...Hmm...”continued Mr. Chu unsure what spirits were red in color.

Pierre was dying to speak Chinese to resolve the problem, but the guy had asked him if he spoke Chinese, received an affirmative answer, and then continued talking to him in English meaning he was one of those, and he should play along. Pierre understood Eric’s point about the Taiwanese using you to practice their English, but he had a more practical attitude. Maybe, in fact Taiwan was opposite to France: yes, you could learn French quickly because everyone insisted on speaking to you in it, but it wasn’t to help you, but because his people were arrogant snobs who couldn’t accept that their language wasn’t the most important in the world anymore; Taiwanese wanted to get ahead in the world so liked the idea they could speak English.

"Whiskey! Please,” said Pierre wanting the confusion over.

“Cheers! Mmm…Happy to meet you,”said Mr. Chu raising his glass to toast Pierre.

They then started to chat:“You so swai…handsome boy!”he said. As a foreigner you get used to hearing this; you just have to look presentable and you can be ‘swai.’ In fact, to find a foreigner who hadn’t been called handsome at least once during his time here, would be to find the elephant man’s long lost uglier twin.

“You are a teacher?”

“No! I not decide what I want to do, yet,”said Pierre.

“Yes, yes, I understand. You look very strong! You can dance?”

“Of course!”

“And sing?”

Pierre thought the guy was going to check his teeth next, then give a bag of coins to his parents.

"Ok, I suppose."

“You know many Taiwan lady like you foreigners. Give me a call, I introduce you.”

His new friend got an incoming call on his mobile and had to leave immediately. Pierre wasn’t so bothered because he got to keep the bottle of whiskey - Well, he put in his bag and quickly slipped out the door before anyone had time to change their minds.

He reasoned it would only be wasted: Mr. Chu couldn’t take it out because then he would look cheap and lose ‘face’. He would put it behind the bar with his name on and then never come back. All bars had thirty or forty started bottles of Chivas Regal on the shelf and only 10% of people ever came back.

A few days after he called the guy up and asked around, and it was what he had suspected, the chance to be a Friday Boy. He was excited, but apprehensive – these places were run by gangsters – and, anyway, he didn’t like it because the guy had specifically said “ he had some ladies who wanted some foreigners”, and his hatred of doing anything that was stereotypical for a foreigner or exploiting his status as one, was now reaching full maturity - becoming all encompassing. He would not to be a Friday Boy because girls would be specifically looking at him; he wouldn’t be competing with the Taiwanese guys because the girls would discern. Anyway, he knew he had nothing to prove to himself - he could sing, dance, and entertain; he knew that. He was sure he was not the kind of guy who allowed himself to be defined by others, and he would come up with something that other young westerners hadn’t.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Taiwan girls: Josh and Maggie II

A couple of months after Josh and Maggie had started dating Josh relayed to me some stories, he thought were funny.

Event one:

This happened after just a week or so of their relationship.

“Is it okay if I say I am your girlfriend?” asked Maggie and Josh had laughed because Maggie’s question smacked of nonchalant indifference: just taking the tone rather than the content and it would appear the answer meant no more to her than whether he liked tomato sauce, but he knew the opposite was actually true.

“Sure, if you want but it doesn’t change anything! Sorry!”

“I know!”

Event two (last night)

“Hey, how did you get in?” asked Josh.

“You gave me a set of keys!” He knew he hadn’t given her any keys but he couldn’t help noticing his apartment was clean.

“You are round every night so why not! As you cleaned, I’ll cook dinner.” He replied cheerfully. Already so much of her wardrobe was there and his bathroom was awash with her cosmetics. He liked her very much and enjoyed her company. He was not selfish or uncaring towards women, or unfaithful, just preferring to act out marriage and then walk away at the end.

“Why don’t we go on holiday together?”she asked.

“Maybe, next year. If were together.”


“That is not so good, then,”I said after hearing the stories.

"Man, she is a sophisticated adult - She just knows what she wants...Unlike a lot of the locals," said Josh.

I wanted to say get the fuck out of there; change your phone, locks, get plastic surgery, but josh was not someone I had grown up with. He didn’t know him so well, I should respect the guy to make his own mistakes.

Taiwan girls: Josh and Maggie I

Tales of scorned women harrassing ex-boyfriends abounded around the slightly paranoid foreign community. It was understandable:

a) We had no actual legal rights beyond the goodwill of the people. And if you did start getting hassled by your ex, whose side do you think the police were going to take: sweet, little Taiwanese girl, or dirty horn dog foreigner who just wants to fuck a lot of girls.

b) If you spent any time watching the local news it was filled with stories of ex-boyfriend killing girlfriend and vice-versa. The soaps weren't any better: it seemed suicide or murder was the usual way out of a relationship. How did you know? Understandably it was the only part of the TV that your girlfriend bothered to translate.

In truth, most of us got away with just minor harrassment - and we probably deserved that. We were hardly innocent. Poor Josh, however, seemed to always have bad luck.

Josh, after his last girlfriend cried when he finished with her, decided he needed a more westernized girl. Again a lot of us went through this stage to varying degrees, and none of us really knew what a more westernized Chinese girl meant; unfortunately, under the strain of culture shock it usually translated as thus: aggressive, direct, strong-willed, opinioned; all of those things we supposedly were. Fine, but even more unfortunate was there was a fine line between aggressive and direct and damn right crazy in your own culture - and submerged in a foreign culture it could be very difficult to pick the difference.

Maggie was educated in the States for 10 years, spoke perfect English, and had come back to Josh's willingly even after his diatribe about them having sex not meaning he loved her. She was supposedly happy with a casual fling.

When Eric and I met her, she sent a shiver down our collective spines: beautiful, yes, but her eyes were set on full stare paranoid beam, seemly evolved to stick out by the sheer force of mistrust. Afterwards, I felt like holding a teddy bear.

We tried to suggest things politely but he wasn't interested: "Thanks, dude, but she is cool," he said. "It is nice to have a girl who stands up for herself - not like the other locals."

Taiwanese and marketing I

Josh had set up a marketing company because he thought it was clear the Taiwanese needed it. Clear to him and me that is, but not to them....

The first interview he would speak to the marketing manager who would invite me back for what he assumed was project kick-off.

Unfortunately, it didn't work like that.

"Excuse me, excuse me," would say the over-apologetic marketing manager, who interviewed him the week before. "The operations director can't make it today. Can we reschedule for next week?"

He wanted to ask what the fuck this had to do with the operations director, but a pattern was emerging: he would have to meet with 4 or 5 different guys ranging from project management to senior power engineer because the highest position of the person in marketing was manager, and he needed all his budgets approved by everyone else. Marketing was regarded as unimportant – writing a few press releases, manuals – so it had no effective budget, and was usually affiliated to another department.

On this occasion, the 3rd time they had rescheduled - he had cancelled other opportunities and had arrived at the office once before, only to sit in the reception for half an hour. Invariably hot, frustrated, and sneezing black sooty snot, after having driven an hour to find the place in an industrial park. He desperately wanted to tell them to go fuck themselves, but that was the way it was done here.

Then once he had met everyone in the company it still wouldn't go through because a project with an outlay of about 4,000 US dollars had to be authorized by the President of the company.

The marketing company wasn't as glamorous as he thought.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The temptations of being treated III: Getting into trouble

Pierre was starting to get into real trouble.

That evening I was meeting him in some expensive wine bar in the financial district on the other side of town because he owed me money. It bothered me why I was owed the money but had to fit Pierre’s schedule in order to get it back. I would have been completely justified in telling him what time I would be home, and to bring the money there punctually, but Pierre always had this way of making you feel his schedule was more important than yours: he was never in a place out of desire but necessity, and as a friend could you do him this favour…I was now sure this was the last time, as on arriving, I was press ganged into buying a couple of drinks, making the money returned not worth the trouble of coming. Again, it would be impossible for Pierre to imagine you didn’t want to stop and chat to him.

Pierre's phone rang: “I am going to Hong Kong tomorrow for a few days. Next week, hao bu hao…Bu hao yi se, bu hao yi se (Excuse me, excuse me),”he kept repeating.

Bu hao yi se (excuse me) was one of the top five essential words in Taiwan, they said it to each other constantly, because if you showed contrition everyone had to back down.

“Going for visa?” I assumed from the content of the conversation.“No, that is bullshit! Bit of trouble! I don’t want to see the guy!”

“Okay,”I replied not really interested in knowing at that point.

“You know how it is," he continued. "Taiwanese always want to go out and spend money. I am getting tired of that sort of thing. I want to go to a quiet bar and chat with my friends. Maybe, I’ll even get rid of the mobile,”he said without his usual confident tempo. Pierre’s soulful reflections would have impact if they were not so frequent, contradictory and, usually a cover for something. I guessed he owed people money but by his tone I could tell it was not a few hundred dollars.

"How much," I asked.

"It is alright, I have it under control," he replied.

"Okay."

"200,000," he said.

Even though he was talking NT it wasn't a small amount. Being a bit anal about my safety I felt compelled to ask. "Who to? Ahuei?"

I had met Ahuei once or twice when Pierre had invited us all to an adult KTV. He was smartly dressed and super friendly, generous, just like most gangsters were. How did i know he was a gangster? Well he picked up the check in the KTV which was around 2000 US, and you could only do this on a regular basis if: you had your own company, were high up in a tech company, had just won the lottery, or were a gangster. A brief questioning of his employment status and, unfortunately, it was the latter.

Pierre didn't answer as an admission of fact.

"I think you have two solutions," I said. "Actually work hard and teach full-time...That way you can pay it off in six months. Alternatively: leave Taiwan."

Pierre being Pierre came up with a third way that we really didn't see coming.

Taiwanese and Speaking English II

When you got outside of Taipei city the locals got into such a panic at your white face no matter how much Chinese you spoke they couldn't hear it.

The conversation below was typical every time I went to MacDonalds. It was really annoying if you were in a hurry.

“Meal number three, please,” I would say in ok enough Chinese and, for extra clarity, point at the picture of meal number three.

“Boss,”the terrified counter assistant would shout. “Wai gwo ren (foreigner).” Before shrinking back to behind the fries.

Then it went as it always did: You had to wait for the manager to come out, who supposedly spoke English. He would come out with his one sentence – “What number?” – and you would repeat back in perfectly good Chinese – “Number 3” – and he would repeat – “Number 3” – back to you in English, and unless you answered him in English this to-ing and thro-ing could go on forever. And then he would say – “Drink?” – and you would ask – “What do you have?” – and because his English had run out he would speak to you in Chinese because he knew all along you could speak Chinese.

Fifteen minutes had been wasted. It was communication Taiwan style in anywhere outside of Taipei city center. The people were great, but sometimes...!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Expat Culture in Taiwan: I don't want a Taiwan girl who wants a foreigner

As i say after a few years in Taiwan and the culture shock begins to wear off, you start to work out the stupidity of some of the things you believed. I don't want to date a Taiwan girl who wants a foreigner was one of them.

We go through this spell when we refuse to go to the foreigner bars - and we only date a girl who doesn't speak English. We sit around in groups complaining about girls who only want to date foreigners. I remember we justify it with cries of them being groupies - and us wanting an authentic experience with a local girl. It was nonsense of course stimulated by culture shock.

John refreshingly didn't suffer from this, mainly because he didn't speak any Chinese - and never forgot it was a different culture. Slowly, after several mishaps, I started to go back to the bar where the girls went to meet a foreigner, but the attitudes of new arrivals hadn't changed.

"I got to get out of here," would say X new arrival. "Look at these girls, they only want to date a foreigner. It is sad."

"Sure, but you only want to date Taiwanese girls," I would answer.

Said foreigner: "It is different - There are only Taiwanese girls here."

"No, there are not. There are hundreds of white women. Nobody wants them so you can take your pick."

"Exactly, man. "

"Exactly what? It is tough being young and ungrateful. I know i have been there."

(I only said the last part if the person concerned was smaller than me.)

And I had been there and it was about wanting something that didn't want you.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Western stereotypes: Cooking my own dinner at six...

Remember the stereotype is that we foreigners were more mature and independent, were cooking our own dinner at six. I had a number of parents who wanted me to instill those values into their little children. I remember one in particular who whose father had watched too much cable.

I was talking to the father and watching the little boy out of the corner of my eye; he was six and continually banging his transformer toy against the corner of the TV.

"Look," said the father. "He needs to be taught to think for himself a little. I can't do it of course because i am Taiwanese - If he questions me i'll just whack him and tell him to listen to his father...We Taiwanese are more traditional ...Just no way."

"That is mighty honest of you," I replied. "Your contradictions keeps me in a salary."

"He won't do his homework, listen to his parents. Maybe, you can teach him to go shopping...cross the road...things like that."

"Sure. When I was six, I was cooking my own dinner, queuing at the post office to pay my bills, then driving into town to do jury service, " I said before then slowing down. "One thing at a time I think."

Six year old kids don’t make decisions for myself, and when they do, they are found dead by the side of the road shortly after.

Taiwan culture: A Taiwanese man's home was definitely not his castle

It was impossible to judge Taiwanese man’s wealth from his home. Taiwanese didn’t think of their home as a castle, more of a warehouse for the storage of family before going out into the world - a kind of reversal of English budgetary priorities.

First came the kid’s education and no self-respecting parent didn’t include a spell abroad as a necessity. How long they spent abroad depended on their economic status: ordinary middle class would be an MBA to the tune of say 20,000 pounds; if they were upper middle class it would mean a whole degree - three or four years and up to 100,000 pounds; and if they were upper class it meant school abroad from junior high school to whenever the kid could stop thinking of excuses not to work.

Next was the best possible car, designer jewellery and clothes. When everyone was left in no doubt about your wealth, you could be extravagant and start spending some money on really frivolous unnecessaries like a bigger apartment so that your fifteen year old daughter doesn’t have to share a room with her brother.

...This was not entirely true as I was missing a stage, the TV set stage: you might only have a house made of corrugated iron, but you had a 42 inch TV, and you bought a bigger apartment not when you had more children, but when the latest TV couldn’t be fit in the living room diagonally anymore.

Finally, when your kid’s trust funds are established, your pension’s sorted, and each child has a luxury car, whether they can drive or not, you can start thinking interior design. Unfortunately, design goes as far as your sofa and tables and chairs, with the thickness of the leather being the standard for sofas and the number of square meters of orang-utan habitat for furniture: chairs and tables are sections of tree trunk with the surface of the table cut from trunks that shaded dinosaurs and would only need a few thousand years to replenish. Walls are never wall-papered or painted and floors were white tile.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Taiwan lifestyle: The bargain that was Taiwan

After a few months I soon worked out the bargain that was Taiwan.

I didn’t much like teaching when I first arrived so I would search the vacancies section of the local paper for twenty minutes every morning for something else to do.

Children’s school requires native English speaker – North Americans only.
Adults school requires mature motivated teacher for evening, morning classes.
Foreign Teachers Required for Kindergarten. North American accent preferred
Foreigners required…I would get excited…to teach conversation to small groups.
Foreign Males Aged 22 – 30 Required…this may be it, I thought…for photo shoot.
Editor Needed for English Language…Hmm, still the same thing…
Engineer…Would be nice, but I don’t think I can bullshit that one.

Unfortunately, that was it: no marketing manager positions, you were in teaching heaven or hell depending on your perspective.

The conversation in the common room of the hostel wasn’t much better:

“How many students do you have?”
“Have you taught this page before?”
“Do you actually do these listening comprehensions?”
“The students can write but they can’t speak.”
“They do too many games here. What do you think?”
“How much time do you spend on drilling as opposed to games?”
“How many words do you think they can learn in one day? Do you set homework?”
“They are only six. Do you think they need to learn to spell?”
“What incentives do you offer to keep them quiet?”
“You put them in pairs and they never do anything!”
“Got to put them in teams and play them off against each other.”
“First time, and they are like teach them, and I haven’t got a fucking clue. What do they want to know? I don’t want to teach them something they already know. I don’t want to pitch it way above their level.”
“The students here aren’t very talkative.”

Then they would ask me stupid questions: “What do you think mate? Very quiet over there.”
I thought about telling them to shut the fuck up but I was a diplomat: “I am thinking about what you lot are saying,” I would reply. I am imagining killing you all so I don't have to kill you all.
I headed off to the school. My new work environment was taking a lot of getting used to. I was the only foreigner working in the school and my colleagues were all females. And of course not western females who I could bounce jokes off and expect to be called a chauvinistic asshole but polite girls who just smiled a lot because they either didn’t understand what I said or…um…were just polite.

I walked into the school, cursed the picture of Harry Potter on his skateboard, took off my shoes, dipped my head and entered the classroom.

I saw my teaching assistant Sara. “Sara, you are looking beautiful today,” I said.

“Jen di ma (Really?)” she answered. She feigned embarrassment, but sprang to attention like a neglected puppy, waiting to get her compliment whenever I arrived.

“Yes. Really,” I replied.

Taiwanese girls were refreshing non-politically correct: making there way in a male dominated world, conscious of not being seen as a sex object or having their integrity doubted, didn’t get in the way of accepting a compliment.

Then we had this groundhog day conversation:

“I too fat,” she would say with the same urgency; my opinion sought sincerely, my answer awaited nervously as if things might be different from the day before. Never did she getting bored or feel that my assurances were sufficient to placate her insecurities to the point where this conversation only need to be carried out once a week. At 50 kilos and 5ft 3 inches, her legs were apparently too big for a skirt -- The definition of good legs for Taiwanese was stick thin.

“No, no, no,” I would say. “Your legs are perfect.” I protested that her legs were shapely – which they were – but her calves were wider than the shin and that meant fat in Taiwan.

I looked at the book – and then the fifteen five-year Taiwanese a long way below me struggling with their bladder control. This weeks lessons was occupations; that was ten hours – two every morning – of pretending to fire guns, arrest the students and spray water hoses, among others. I had ten flashcards and the sentence “What do you want to be? I want to be…” to work with. It was Tuesday and I felt I had already done the subject to death.

“Sara, today we are going to move on, aren’t we? Perhaps split the class into two teams and discuss whether the death penalty has a place in modern society.”

“What?” she replied.

“Nevermind,” I said then turning to the kids. ““Okay, everyone stand up. What is it,” I shouted. I adjusted my skirt and started to type.

“Secretary!” they all shouted.

The compliment was necessary with my teaching assistant because I guessed, as I was still adjusting to being an American, it kept dismissal notices away.

Everyday was the same: Could you speak more clearer? More slower? I don’t understand your accent? What is a jumper? Letterbox? Petrol Station? You couldn’t turn around twenty-five years in just a couple of months.

I frequency also broke into sentences like this: “Look at all little buggars running round…won’t pay attention for a moment. I know I don’t understand, but I know he’s giving me lip…If any of them would bloody sit their little arses on a seat for long enough for me to finish a sentence, maybe they would learn something!…You didn’t understand a word, did you? I’M SORRY, TELL THEM TO SIT DOWN.”

I owed Sarah a lot.

At break time I wandered over to the reception area to talk to Hsiao Fang, the receptionist.

“You want coffee?” she asked. I had a dilemma with her: she was good looking so it was time to move on from letting her buy me something everyday, but then I wouldn’t get the free coffee and cake. Still I knew my assistant would buy it for me – or some stranger on the street. That was a plus of Taiwan: I had never been treated so much in my life and it was beginning to get in my bones.

There was a saving grace to my accent, I could say whatever I wanted and nobody understood.

“No, but I’d love to squeeze your melons and spank your hide raw you saucy little wench?”

“Ting bu Dong (I don’t understand)” she answered.

“Melon, you know ‘melon?’”

“You want melon? I think we have.”

“You definitely have, me dear...unusual to see such good melons in Taiwan.”

“Taiwan have very good watermelon – my grandfather have the farm.”

“Does your mother also have good melons?”

“Of course - We Taiwanese have close families.”

"As I say, your grandfather should be proud.”

“You want the melon?”

“I want to see first”

“Why you want to see?”

“Not just see, but feel…need to know they are up to standard.”

“Umm..za ma jiang (How to say)," she said. "They already…(making a slicing action)..chiere.”

“Oh… not so good.”

“You don’t want?”

“I like my melons in one piece.” I shaped a melon with my hands. “Whole…no cuts…no slices.”

It looked like today was going to be a bad day. The boss wanted to see me.

“Can you be more enthusiastic with the song,” she said.

I suppose I still hadn’t got into full playschool mode yet. “I will try,” I replied.

The boss of the school then decided to come to the second hour with some parents and watch my class. I pulled out all the stops for the ‘Wheels on the Bus’ – I only glad it wasn’t posted on Youtube for my friends back home to see.

The Kindergarten only employed me in the morning; otherwise, I had another job on a Wednesday and Saturday but that only totaled 20 hours a week. The rest of the time I spent chasing private student, leads from agents like Amy and Lilly.

This afternoon was no different and as usual I was lost. “Amy, where is this place? I’ve driven along section 2 for 10 minutes. I don’t recognize anything,” I said.

“You lost again, what is the number of the lane you are?” said Amy not surprised.

“Seventy,” I said.

“So you not arrive yet!”

After having got the directions wrong so many times, I was permanently sure I was lost.

“You are late!” she continued.

“Yeah, I know.” I wasn’t going to admit I had already turned back once because I must have missed it, it couldn’t be that far. But it always was; I suffered from a perpetual need to shrink distances. A shell-shock from the unfamiliarity: in Europe, I had never learnt a word of any of the languages, but i had subconsciously learnt to recognize words and phrases on sign posts to show me the way, but here it was left at the first cool squiggle and right at the second. I had rang one too many buzzers, entered too many unknown offices, asked countless people where to go and endured humiliation through the knowing smile that I was a stupid foreigner. And I had called students only to find out, I didn’t understand their directions: ‘which road? Is that Ching Hsing or Ching Shan?’, then not wanting to offend saying ‘okay, no problem’ and sit helpless on the side of the street, often just getting in a taxi and going home because I couldn’t face being late. Sometimes, I would try getting into a taxi and say drive, desperately looking for something I could point at, before getting out no further forward - and I hated to get a taxi because it was admitting defeat, and a waste of money.

Half-an-hour later, hot, dripping with sweat and bad tempered, I got to the school not in the mood to give my demonstration. “A thousand apologies,” I said.

Unfortunately, the class of eight year olds who I was supposed to teach had already finished so I had to teach the pre-schoolers. All three and four years old, they sat crying and bewildered as I tried to teach them the lesson I had prepared for the older kids. That had been a waste of time.

Next possible student was a fifteen year old boy who wanted to study at home, an easy student. I found the apartment first time and decided my luck was on the change.

“Here is my son,” said a very confident mother who said she was also a teacher. It was a standard Taiwanese boy of the worst age: Jordan t-shirt, crew cut, slouched across the table, with an expression that gave away it wasn’t just this morning he succumbed absolute to his mother’s hen pecking and haranguing to get better results.

“Wait a moment. My husband and daughter also want to study. Maybe, you can talk to my son for a moment,” she continued. “This is my husband, he is a manager in an electronics company…And this is my daughter, she is an English student at Tai-Da (Taiwan’s best University). Okay, I let you teach.”

Too fucking kind, I thought.

“My name is Dan. Each of you, introduce yourself.”

“Hi, Dan. I am Eva and I am hoping to study art history in UCLA next year,” answered the daughter with a perfect American accent.

The other two introduced themselves and I knew I was in for an hour and a half of hell. Daughter who speaks better English than me, husband who speaks English, but I can’t understand a word because of his accent, and son who can’t fill in the blank in the middle of a three-word sentence, when he is given the words, ‘I’ and ‘fat’. You teach a group and they are supposed to be similar levels but here I had the mixed class from hell: different levels, different age groups and different interests. Hell! Hell! Hell!

And, the girl was making me particularly nervous because she could articulate my crapness to my face, if she so felt.

“So each of you ask me three questions?” I said. This was classic time-wasting for people like myself who didn’t know where to start. I was actually justified in not knowing how to proceed because of my imbalanced class, but, unfortunately, as I needed the work I couldn’t walk out.

“Start with Simon.” Simon was the son.

Simon to his sister: “Ta suo shir ma.(What did he say?)”

“Ne wen ta 3 ge wen ti. (Ask him three questions?)” she replied.

“Shir ma wen ti? (What questions?)” It wasn’t all Simon’s fault, his mother and the education system hadn’t exactly worked on growing his initiative.

“Don’t speak Chinese please…Simon, ask me a question?” I pushed. One minute of awkward silence later and with energy levels dissipated to zero, I gave up.

“Okay, How old are you?” I asked.

“What did he say?” said Simon.

“He asked you, how old you are?” said the sister trying to be cooperative by speaking in English….“Ne je suei” Father not.

“So how old are you?” I repeated.

Five minutes later and under pain of death from sister and mother. “Fourteen”

“Good. What do you like to do?”

“….” In response to life’s pressures the boy had developed a go-slow technique that could hold back the sands of time and suck the energy from exploding hydrogen bombs…All the while the father sat expressionless and his sister smiled to deal with her inner excess of impatience.

“So why don’t you ask your father a question?” God that is so stupid, I thought, but all I was trying to do now was last the hour.

“Will you pay for me to study for my MBA?” asked Eva. When she repeated the question a minute later, her father gave her a look that unequivocally stated he didn’t want to discuss it now.

“See what he is like. I have given him a lot of face by getting into the best university in the country and he-”

“Let’s move on,” I said. This was beginning to sound like his family back home so the only thing was to do something from the motivated son’s textbook, a bit of pronunciation would pass the time.

I read a word I knew he wouldn’t get. “Garage.”

“Gara G,” he repeated.

“No! Orange…garage.”

“OranG…garaG.”

No, not oranG, but orange.”

“…oran G” Five minutes later and I had his tongue out – like that was going to fuckin’ help – and was pronouncing at dead slow - “gar…age’- which was also pointless because nobody spoke that slow in the real world, and I should’ve moved on. I wanted to tell them: ‘Yes, I fucking know I am a useless twat and I should have given up and moved on from this along time ago, but to fucking what? This means I don’t have to think, I can use your crapness to cover my own.’

“I have a question regarding the use of the present perfect and past perfect…” said the daughter.

“I am sure you do,” I replied. And, unfortunately, as I feared, I didn’t have a clue how to answer, having to pull my weight as the teacher just to get out of their house.

Finished for the day I bought a small bottle of whiskey from the convenience store and sat in the park. I had just orchestrated stagnation, boredom, misunderstanding and inertia that would make David Brent proud. Yes, it was in fact impossible to teach that class but being a desperate bastard I couldn’t say no to the money. Worse I left a local with the knowledge she spoke better fucking English than me - And worse still, they wanted another class next week and no doubt I would turn up. I wasn’t adapting well to being a happy smiley teacher. I don’t know if I was cut out to be a children’s TV presenter and I disliked being ordered around by middle-aged Taiwanese women. I needed to go to a football match or something where I could swear and shout and be macho.

All he needed now was one of his students from the Kindergarten to walk by with their mother -

“Hello, teacher Dan,” called Emily, one of my four year olds.

“Hello Emily,” I called back desperately trying to hide the bottle of whiskey and so tipping it on my jeans.

I dragged myself up and thought about going back to the hostel.

Suddenly my phone rang.

“Hi, this is Jessica,” said the voice.

I had dated Jessica a couple of times and then kind of forgot to call her for a few weeks. “Hi,” I said. “How are you? What are you up to?”

“Ok, uh…um…That is why I call you. I want to say, I don’t think I perform very well last time. Um, if you want to meet again, I can do better.”

I was of course taken back. “That is ok…No problem...Well, lets meet up now.” I said.

And that was the bargain that is Taiwan: during the day having our macho credentials bashed teaching English, and then at night reinforced by local girls.