Friday, March 27, 2009

Taiwan characters: Eric and studying Chinese IV

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

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

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

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

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

“So?” said John.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How dare he wake her from her trip to America.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Only joking! Take it easy.”

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

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

“Let me get the bill.”

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

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

“Okay, let’s go back to mine.”

“No! We are friends right! Call me.”

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

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

“How do you know, man?” said Eric.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Pleasure in helping people.”

“There you go.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An hour later.

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

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

“Thanks,” said Eric.

“Where in America?” said Tina.

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

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

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

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

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

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