Friday, March 13, 2009

Expat Culture in Taiwan: Being authentic to yourself even if it kills you

One of my all time favorite losers was a Scottish guy called Steven Johnson. He had too deeply bought into the culture of trying to be authentic to himself. If I was feeling down on myself about work or Taiwan I would give him a call for a drink and pretty soon the glass would be back to half full and then other flowing.

“I’m sorry mate, but I am a bit strapped lately…my luck hasn’t held out,” said Steven because it was his round.

“That is alright,” I replied because he never had any money.

“Cheers, you’re a real mate. You know, so many guys have let me down lately – betrayed me. Even Simon, I ‘ave known that guy for years, I helped him out when he came, and now, he is asking for the fifty thou back he lent me…Fucking traitor, he knows I am having a hard time at the moment,” said Steven.

Steven was permanently on the slide; a loser and a whinger - and with no recourse to reason and common sense possible, he had to couch everything in terms of luck and loyalty.

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

“It is a nightmare, mate. I am just gonna concentrate on my dancing from now on, I am not cut out to be an English teacher – I ‘ad a nice little job in a kindy up to about three weeks ago, but the screaming kids and the bullshit from the management everyday telling me how to teach, complaining that I hadn’t shaved…Nah, mate, the fuckers broke me, and anyway it is just not me - a man has to respect himself…I trained to be a dancer, you know. I’m professional,” he said as if nobody else had ever trained to do anything ever before.

Eric had joined us about two minutes ago. He was only catching the end of Steven’s point, had never met him before, but wasn’t going to let that get in the way of taking the foreigner’s side: “Interesting,” said Eric. “Can’t be easy to break into that field here. You are a white man, dude, and this isn’t a multiracial country. They are gonna look after their own.”

“Fucking right! The racist cunts I have had to deal with: don’t want to arrange a work permit for me, complain because I don’t speak Chinese - I was unemployed and I came here to create a new life for myself…I’ve ‘ad my dream torn to shreds, my heart broken.”

Later when Steven sensed there would be no more beers forthcoming: “I have to go, man – a case…Say, you don’t know where I can score some weed do you? I need it just to get through the day, these days.”

I nodded to Eric, and he frowned, before putting his hand in his pocket and then shook it with Steven.

“He is a dancer, man. An artist. It is a hard thing to give that up,” said Eric sympathetically.

“Sometimes you really can be clueless – You think he is a good dancer? Why the fuck did he need to come here?” I replied. “I tell you what he is: he is a thick, ignorant, low-class, lazy, uneducated, fucking piece of skanky loser shit, who was sitting on the couch in his parent’s council house in Glasgow with his future mapped out: daytime TV, followed by evening TV, then getting some bird up the duff so he got his own council house. Here, if he kept his mouth shut, he could earn 300 quid a week tax free for teaching English – which he can’t speak it - get a tasty bird and have some self-respect and he blew it sky fuckin’ high. It takes a lot to fuck up here if I managed to get it together.”

“He is Scottish?”

“Typical Scottish. The fuckin’ Scottish motto is, “I was robbed.” Take for example, the Scottish football team – they run their ginger haired arses off for ninety minutes – they lose of course – then when the final whistle goes, they wander around the pitch crying, shaking their heads about how unlucky they are because they had so much possession. You think the Germans, or the Italians, or the Brazilians think they should have won because they were more willing than the other team? Like fuck, their only question is: why didn’t we win? And, the Scottish will go on losing because they remember that they were robbed, not the fact that they ‘aven’t got any skills and need to work on that.”

“Man, this stuff is close to your heart. You got any Scottish relatives?” said Eric.

But it wasn’t that: my time away had given me insights into my own people from the outside (I was talking about England too) and I reluctantly recognized a few errors.

I cared passionately. I wanted to help.

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