Friday, January 9, 2009

Expat Culture in Taiwan: Always have to be different

In Taiwan for the first few years you teach and date Taiwanese girls for no other reason than you are not very good at finding needles in haystacks. Go to the bar and you won't be shaking hands with an accountant, a salesman, or a advertising executive, the best you can hope for is adults versus kids; high-level versus low. Most people accept this - albeit with plenty of moans - but then you get your guys who have to be different; who can't stand to be one of the masses.

Pierre was an extreme example, but there were many others.

This was the first time we met him.

“Man, it is the TU dude. Let’s invite him over,” said Eric who was an amateur social anthropologist continually pointing out the characters he thought were interesting. He had pointed Pierre out in TU - a famous nightclub - because, among all of Carrie’s victims, he had stood out most.

Background: Carrie was an institution around town, famous for her ability to spot the fresh young egos who had just got off the plane, make them hers and move on after a few weeks. She was a good-looking girl, no question, but not the best; her strategy was to have plenty of attitude and presence to attract the wannabe alpha-male. It was a strategy that only worked if the guy didn’t get the joke about foreign men in Taiwan: everyone could get a girl and your looks were not the most important thing. (Eric was the opposite – his self-image had kept his feet firmly on the ground from day one, when it was okay to develop a spring in your step, at least). This guy, however, had excelled all expectations, walking around the disco chest out, triumphant: 'look I have just arrived but I have the most beautiful girl in here' - blissfully clueless to the sniggers around.

“How you doing, man!”said Eric shaking his hand. “Eric - Pointing to himself - And this is John..And Dan. You came here alone?”

“Pierre!” replied the TU guy. “And no, I am waiting for a girl.”

“Well, that is why we are here!”I said. Get similar minded people together in a group and they will pump up each others egos; in Taiwan the noise from men was deafening. However, listening to geeks talk about the women fighting over them could be a stomach churning experience.

“Not me. You know I had girlfriends before I came here,”said Pierre contradicting himself.

“Really? Not from what we have seen,”said Eric.

“What did you say?”

“Joke, dude. Come on, you got yourself a Chinese girl.”

“Not for me. I have slept with one or two, but they don’t do anything for me. I am seeing a Canadian model. I like a girl to have breasts..."

That one was not exactly creative, I thought, Chinese girls don't have big tits...Wow...Sharp...

"Anyway, I can get girls wherever I am in the world. My French girlfriend, will come here in a few months so I am a busy man you see."

Pierre then suddenly asked.“Please let me get you all a beer.”It was a real dilemma: free beer or tell him to fuck off. Eric, of course, wanted the free beer, figuring he deserved it for listening to his bullshit; John figured he needed to learn to be more tolerant; and i wanted to see if John was up to the challenge of not punching him out.

A couple of minutes later Pierre was back from the bar and hadn't forgotten the subject.“It is so sad to just stay here because you can get a girlfriend,”he said.

“So what honourable motives keep you in Taiwan?”i asked.

“France is a shit hole: high unemployment, high taxes, and no opportunities for young people. You know I went for several interviews and at each one I was the best candidate, but they had to give it to an African or an Arab. It is fucked.”

As I had guessed, he had not come to contribute his sweat and blood to the disadvantaged of the land.

“So, how did you know you were the best candidate?”asked Eric.

Pierre gave us a stern, I just told you so look then remembered that all good stories have some evidence: “I phoned the interviewer…you cannot be afraid in these circumstances.”

“So what are you doing now? Teaching French?” asked Eric.

“I teach English not French.”

“Wow, that is cool man. Yeah, I suppose your English is perfect.”

Later we found this was nonsense, but it was the best he could think of at the time to make himself sound different.

Pierre continued, "Actually for the moment, I am a student. You know I only studied two terms of Chinese in France, and then I won a scholarship here. You know most foreigners still don’t get the tones so well. I have no French accent, and perfect tones.”

"Man, that is good. I have a strong American accent and I don’t think I will ever lose it," replied Eric before receiving a well, you are just a mortal look.

Eric continued,“So why do you think you are so good?”

“Who knows...Maybe it is my musical background.”

“So you can be an interpreter, or teach Chinese back in France,”continued Eric who was clearly suffering the effects of six months of being labelled as an English teacher, now sub-conciously only associating foreigners with jobs that utilised their native language skills.

“No, no, I will never go back to France. You know, language is the beginning, it is not the end. I don’t restrict myself to being a foreigner: teaching, translating or editing. I will do whatever I want to do.”

“So what are you doing now for cash?”I asked.

“I have my grant from school”

“I hear they are not enough?” said Eric because he had actually applied.

“I have one or two private students to top things up – only need one or 2 because they are extremely high paying.”

“I thought you didn’t lower yourself to teach!” I said still just trying to relieve the tension.

“This is short-term. I think I will start looking in a few months when I have finished studying...You know I can, how you say, understand a place very quickly?”

“Suss out”

“Get the low down.”

“Yes, suss out a place. Once I do I will succeed.”

By the end of the evening they knew how he had sung in the choir, played youth football for Paris, and how he was an excellent teacher and student, even though he was not particularly interested in either. They had had their lives broken down, analysed and even told how their meaningless existences were actually good for them.

“Why doesn’t that guy just do his own thing? I am surprised you didn’t punch him,” said Eric to John.

“I am trying to turn the other cheek, but, yes, it did come close to being the other set.”

“Well, I think the son of God himself, would have jumped that guy,” I said. “Actually talking to an asshole like that is quite good occasionally.”

“Yeah? Why?” asked John.

“Reminds us why we don’t want to go back to the west,” I said.

I was talking about the brainwashing back home to succeed, be productive, set yourself goals, meaning most of my friends permanently talked like they were in an interview: "I am a smart guy with excellent analytical and communication skills” would be an answer to, "How are you?" Then i would ask, "re you happy?" and they would reply: "Of course, man. In 2 years time I will be able to move to a bigger house and get a new car." I had to admit that I had been touched by many of those values, but reasoned that I was different because I didn’t compete with his fellow man, just myself.

“Give him a few months, he’ll learn,”said John.

In Taiwan, after a few months guys, realized they didn’t need to compete with your fellow foreigners because there were not ten people applying for that job, and the general spirit was to do your own thing.

"I think he has already been here a while."

"At least he bought the drinks," said Eric who was still unable to weigh the unseen costs of something, only see the financial saving.

1 comment:

夏天的孩子 said...

Interesting. Your description of "brainwashing back home to succeed, be productive, set yourself goals" is how I see the Taiwanese attitude is. And people who don't like that move abroad.