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.

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