Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Work abroad: Pierre and his KTV gigolo job in Taipei II

Just a reminder this is the second installment of the story of Pierre's work as a gigolo in Taipei. In total there are six parts to Pierre and his KTV gigolo job series from work abroad.

For a long time he had contented himself with drinking with the younger girls, then teasing from his gigolo colleagues made him have to take things to the next level. Finally, a couple of months after going to work in the KTV club, he sold himself for the first time.
We heard the story in one sitting of two parts. The first his manful boasts then the real story of how he felt. As suspected he wasn’t as big an asshole as he tried to be.
We pick up the story at the love hotel with Mrs. Jiang, a woman fifteen years his senior and married to some rich guy who spent all his time in China.
This Love Hotel was an up-market one recently opened by a Japanese Love Hotel Chain, leaders in this market. It was themed Africa Nights: mud hut texture wallpaper, African masks, shields and spears, and fake antelope and elephant heads adorning the walls; the bed had a leopard skin bed spread; the toilet was in the shape of a hippo's mouth; and the center piece of it all, a giant massage chair in the shape of a spider which shook, vibrated and closed its legs to give you a tickle when you sat on it.
“What are you laughing at?” she asked. “You don't like here?”
“It is great,” he answered, then slipping into French so she didn't understand. “It is just what I need to take my mind off things.”
He stood staring at her for a minute. It wasn't her forty years that were putting him off. She had smooth white skin, the result of years of expensive European cosmetics, wearing factor 50 suntan cream, and carrying a parasol (older Taiwanese do their best to keep their skin as white as possible to show they don’t have an outdoor job; they are not low class). She is decked from head to toe in designer clothes, and carrying a Louis Vuitton bag. She is well-manicured and made-up with her hair dyed a taint of dark brown instead of her natural black. In fact, she wouldn't look out of place pulling up in a Land Rover to pick her son up from any of the best public schools across England.
She was only five-foot high, petite, slim, not more than fifty kilos; she is ethnically Chinese and therefore exotic. But all of that misses the point completely: she is attractive; he wouldn't choose her as a girlfriend but he wouldn't say no to sleeping with her based on looks. And, most importantly, he wanted to sleep with her because he have seen her prim-and-proper lady-like exterior, and was aware of the ironic contrast.
They had taken up positions on opposite sides of the leopard skin bed spread. She was sat down on a bamboo chair in front of a huge mirror; back straight, knees, elbows and wrists together checking her mobile for messages. A lady to the last.
He was loitering; leaving himself open to being asked if he was staying or not.
She looked up from her phone.
“Are you ok?” she asked.
She had gone quiet once they got in the taxi, but now she was looking at him with a motherly concern. Suddenly, she had the upper hand.
“No problem,” he had to answer. “You want a drink?”
He had already entertained for an hour before Mrs. Jiang came to the club, but the whiskey wore off easily these days.
She said no, headed to the shower, and he got a little bottle from the mini bar - and lied on the bed to ponder his doubts.
Mrs. Jiang had been coming to see him at the club for about a month now – paid for his company at least eight times before he had agreed to be taken out.
What did he know of her? - Very little. She had two children. And, her husband lived in China with his air hockey table factories and several mistresses. No doubt she was lonely, but there were lots of lonely women who didn't employ the services of a gigolo. He told himself he didn't know the whole story and it wasn't his job to do so. She had decided to come to the club.
But he felt sorry for her. He used to feel sorry for female prostitutes. Now he felt sorry for being one. A contradiction if it wasn't for the lowest common denominator: a liberal middle-class white male upbringing, that always seemed to find another way to bite back.
And that was another thing: he was getting those pangs of guilt you do when you cross a moral boundary. It made no sense as he was hardly robbing a bank or selling drugs - but then again, after living here for more than a year, he had forgotten how Christianity, unlike the local one, does equate purchased lovemaking with murder and mayhem. He wasn’t religious or anymore moral than the next twenty-five year old; it was surprising those values are still lurking in the subconscious, raising objections when he least expected.
He started playing with the electronic panel next to the bed to pass the time. He hit the button below the Chinese characters for Office, and the sound system kicked in blasting the noise of a busy meeting. He had heard of this - It was designed for when you get a call from your loved one. Next to it was the characters for restaurant and motorway. Presumably, if you are in the room for a long time…
He started to roll around the floor after hitting the last button: Atmosphere - Suddenly 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight' was shaking the room, and the elephant trunk was swinging from side to side. He turned it off, figuring he would need it later.
Five minutes later she emerged from the bathroom; tiptoeing, hip wiggling and holding her towel at the chest to protect her dignity. Her exposed slim white shoulders, ankles and calves were getting him excited. It occurred to him he could presumably do this for free, and then he wouldn't need to feel guilty.
“Why don’t you take off your jacket?” she said now back in the wicker chair.
“Sorry,” he said jumping up off the bed. “I hate it too when the whores play all coy and waste my money.”
He took off the suit – black Emporio Armani – that he had been wearing almost constantly for the last three months, and jogged across the room to the wardrobe. The wardrobe door was in the shape of a huge African shield with crisscrossing spears, split vertically down the center into two doors. He grabbed the hair on the imitation shrunken head door handle, and hung up his suit, then his shirt. For a moment he knew what a girl felt like when she displayed herself for cash, and he thought about shouting 'so here are the goods, love.'
He guessed a little bit more subtly was in order.
“Lay on the bed - I'll give you a massage,” he said.
For the next five minutes, he worked his hands over her body, still stung by that feeling he wasn't doing a good job.
Soon his hardening dick woke him to decision-making time. He knew he wasn't going to give it out for free - if he did, he would have to pay the club's cut out of his own pocket. Her husband would be paying for this not her, so he wasn't making her destitute. Which left the question of exploiting her loneliness? He knew the guys in the club would just say he was providing a service; temporary relief from loneliness and it sounded right, even if it didn't feel that way.
He looked at her face, eyes closed, relaxed with just a faint sadness bubbling around the surface. I would only make her feel worse if I walked away now, he thought.
“Turn over,” he said, and then undid the towel from the front.
Her breasts were in fact a wonderful pert c-cup that sat up nicely on her chest. Fakes he guessed.
“What do you think?” she asked.
“About what?” he replied.
“My breasts - can you tell they are fake?”
“Really? I didn't notice.” he replied.
“Yes - I went to the best plastic surgeon in Taipei. I even swapped the nipples - After you give birth, they are very dark.”
He perched himself up on his elbows, above her chest and turned up the brightness of the lamp to check.
“Look,” she said now animated grabbing her right breast and pushing it towards his face. “The nipples are very pink again. This technique was pioneered by a Japanese surgeon - Only one place in Taipei knows how to do it.”
“Those are truly the nipples of a fifteen-year old.” Then speaking a bit faster. “If I hadn't seen your face first, I would now be running for the door.”
“They look fantastic. I am honored to get my grubby hands on them.”
“You really think so? Wow. You know - you are the first person to see them.”
“As I say - honored love. Now let's not waste them talking.”
He smiled to myself, figuring he wouldn't need to listen to Tight Fit anymore.
Still he had had many questions - Was she just going to lie there? Was she going to do anything for him? Then he remembered she didn’t have to: this was a service. In that case, was he expected to warm up with a lot of foreplay? If, so? How much? He had a large ego, but for once he was not sure if he wanted to do his best. If she didn’t cum was he obliged to go again? Female prostitutes have it easy, the extent of their service was clearly defined: get the jizz out; payment was always per hour or ejaculation, but here a satisfactory conclusion of service was unclear. He was supposed to stay with her for the evening, but otherwise…?
He started to head downstairs.
“Take it slowly,” she said.
“Hmm, trying to get your money's worth then…What ever that may be.”
Anyway, he headed back up to her neck and then jerked his head back as she tried to kiss him - You are not supposed to let a client kiss you. At least that is what happened in the movies.
“What is the matter?” she asked.
He thought for a moment: “Nothing…I presume you want me to just pretend this is a romantic encounter. Save your face. I can do that. I have been here a while.”
“Ting bu dong (I don't understand),” she said.
“Nothing,” he repeated and started to kiss her.
A little while later, he went for the condoms in his trouser pocket and took one out.
“What are you doing?” she said.
He wanted to scream: I am a whore. Are you mad? But it wasn't entirely unexpected. He threw it away.
It was time to penetrate, and now the adrenalin was rushing, almost like it was his first time. Once he did this he was officially a whore. He concentrated hard on what was important in life: experience, risk-taking, enjoyment and pride; something to tell the grandson.
Once inside, he had the feeling you do when you have got anyway with something naughty; he held things in press up position enjoying the moment. 
“Just a minute,” she said.
She then twisted her body round and started to look at the control panel next to the bed, while he twisted his torso trying to stay inside. Soon it too resembled a game of Twister and he gave up.
“Ok,” she said, and 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight' started blasting out. “This is romantic. Don't you think?”
“Totally - Sade and Barry White will be relegated to student all-you-can-drink night from now on.”
Twenty minutes later, the alcohol meant things were taking a long time, which was kind of good and bad: good because she was getting her money's worth, and bad because he was flagging. He wanted to tell her to get on top so he could take a breather, but he reminded himself that this was what she was paying for and kept chugging away….
He noticed he wasn’t really making any noise, and he wondered if he should. Ordinarily - Yes - noise showed you were turned on, gave her an indication of your progress, but now he was providing a service. Too much noise might appear like you were in it for yourself; too little would make her embarrassed. Men like girls to make a noise because it signifies that we are giving them pleasure, but is the reverse true?
Another ten minutes and it was all over. He lay on his back. As post-coital adrenalin dissipated, and the cold light of day crept back in, he began to ponder his actions.
“You don’t like?” she asked.
He thought it a strange question, irrelevant in fact, still: “Of course,” he replied.
“I am not so bad, no?”
“You are very sexy?” He replied because it was the truth. If she just got a plane to the West she would be the one getting paid.
She put her arm across his chest and tried to engage him in eye contact. He suddenly got a sickening feeling and tried to change the subject.
“How is Michael (her son)?” he asked because I knew he had been in trouble at school (Only 99% on his tests apparently).
“I know, you don't love me,” she said rubbing his chest with a tragic look. “I just want a man to make love to me, sometimes that's all. Is that so bad?”
He said nothing because he was an immature twenty-five year old who didn't deal well with reality. Yes, he was admittedly an attention seeking, manipulative, arrogant asshole, who liked the idea of being a gangster, but his was the romantic world of crime, where there are no innocent victims. He had wanted his first one to be a bitch so he wouldn’t have to care. Now, he could see his mother’s sad told-you-so face, like that time when he hadn't listened, let the dog run in the road, and it was hit by a car.
“You will find someone,” was all he could muster, and he turned over and pretended to sleep.
Two hours later - six a.m. - he stopped pretending to sleep and sat up. The rhythmic, peaceful chants of Daoist music and a drum beat were coming from outside, reminding him of where he was. He pressed the button for Tight Fit, lit a cigarette, and focused on the swaying rhino head.
The sun was beginning to come through the curtains, it was going to be a beautiful, hot sunny day again. It was a pity he would be getting up at three in the afternoon as usual. Simpler pursuits like teaching English and studying Chinese suddenly seemed attractive again. He couldn't remember why he had given them up.
He really had learnt his lesson this time, he was sure: he was going to lead a normal life.
Suddenly, he was horny again - and she looked fantastic with the light on her shoulders. Presumably, it was a simple matter of waking her up, but he didn’t know what to do - If he made love to her again was it part of the original price or a separate item? If she had paid for just the once, he felt obliged to negotiate a new contract, and he was too embarrassed and lazy to do so. Anyway, she might not want to pay for a second time. He decided to give it away, but then the words of the gigolo guys from the club started ringing in his ears, and he felt Scrooge-like towards the thrusting of his thighs: if she did want it she would be getting something for nothing.
He decided to head to the bathroom to resolve the problem
…Nah, he wasn’t like the other guys he would give it for free…

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Taiwan Blog Awards 2010

Hi all,

If anyone has enjoyed the blog this year please go to below and vote for me. If no time don't worry.

If you liked somebody else you can also vote for them here.

Voting has now started in the 2010 Taiwan blog awards. Full details are available at

Anyone can vote using the Digg style voting mechanism and there is no need to register to vote. There is a limit of one vote for each blog from any IP per 24 hours. 


Friday, November 26, 2010

Work Abroad: Pierre and his KTV gigolo job in Taipei I

A long time ago i started to tell the tale of Pierre’s most off the rail moment (, but i stopped because my blog wasn’t just about sex in Taiwan and i didn’t want to give the wrong impression. Hopefully, now i have built myself a little credit and it is ok to finish the tale.
If not, never mind, because it is a damn funny story and the deuce bigalow comments can come later.
As i have mentioned before Pierre was determined to prove he wasn’t just another teacher overseas like everyone else, he could find any work abroad he wanted. Still: laziness, refusing to take the gift horse of teaching overseas, the effects of watching too many gangster movies, and a chance encounter combined to make him very broke and willing to try anything, ie. a Friday club or KTV gigolo club.
BTW - This is all a while ago now so i have no idea if these gigolo KTVs still exist – Back then we didn’t all have beer bellies.
We take up the story a few months after he started work. Below is what he told us it was like.
The gigolos sat at one end of the KTV behind a glass screen, up straight on their chairs waiting to be picked. When the women came they could select a guy or behave embarrassed, sit in one of the high-back sofa booths that surrounded the dance floor and wait to see who was sent. The first night he had at once been repulsed and excited by what he was going to do - And scared; scared mainly because he had a bad temper and he knew that if he met someone rude he was likely to be fired first night for retaliation. He knew the substance of the job was to entertain and charm, and of course he could do that. He had charmed girls, friends and family before to get his own way, but he could walk off or shout if they were rude, now he was very aware that he was supposed to smile and blame himself. If they didn’t want him to sit at the table he couldn't say, ‘Fuck you then bitch.’
He said he had got all competitive about being chosen at first, until he realized he was the only foreigner at the club and therefore only really competing with himself – Taiwanese generally have an opinion on race so they were not considering whether they wanted the tall, fair-skinned, blonde guy on the left or the yellow-skinned dark-haired guy on the right.
He had also had to make many adjustments to his style.
As a man he had spent his whole life trying to get his grubby hands on women - theirs on him - and then drag them back to his cave at the earliest opportunity - Words spoken in lead up to sex were inversely proportion to excitement of the event as far as he was concerned.
“You will come to my house tonight?” asked a client.
“Of course!” he answered the first time he was asked, only for his colleague to pull him over.
Colleague: “Pierre come here. How many times have you seen her?”
“That is not the way it is done,” he replied, explaining that you were supposed to say no to keep them coming back, spending money in the place, and the more you said , no, the more presents and money you would get.
“But she wants it,” replied Pierre. “What about feeling her up? She just asked me to touch her boob?”
“Any promises of a watch?” said his colleague.
“No,” said Pierre. “I mean. I will enjoy...Really. I am happy to do for free – Ok. I understand…Jesus, this is no fun.”
“You are not here for fun,” said the colleague.
“I seem to be learning that,” replied Pierre.
On the first evening he had rushed back home to change his boxers because he expected to be taking his clothes off in the club. His image of these kind of bars had been set by his one visit to the male equivalent - Girls came in g-strings and bras, which they removed extremely quickly on pain of being thrown out of the room, while the guys helped themselves to a grope of any body part they wanted. He had been looked forward to that, later disappointed to find out he was not going to have a bunch of women groping him up and down and ripping off his shirt. His new suit had stayed firmly on.
Two main motivations brought women to the club: loneliness and desire to be given respect. It could be just one of these emotions; usually was both, and each woman had their own unique ratio. About half the women who came to the club were young hostesses, who after a week of waiting on men, now wanted to get a little attention themselves. Pierre hadn't got the hang of demanding watches yet or the fact that this was supposed to be a job, so he preferred to spend his time with these hostesses, because he didn’t feel have to feel sorry for them. They destroyed the myth that all women in this profession were victims: If they had been born boys they would now be gangsters, and there would be no debate about them being bad people. They were rude, crude, hard but fun; they were not here to complain and moan about their unhappy lives for two hours, like the older ones, and having spent the week aware of its financial value, they were not interested in sex. They were interested in drinking a lot of whiskey though and he was paid commission on how much alcohol he got them to buy. And the only way you got them to buy more alcohol was to keep toasting them, and downing drinks yourself. The blinder drunk you were by the end of the evening, the more you had earned. Good for Pierre but really bad for us, as it meant we had to put up with himre at his obnoxiously worst, staggering and tottering around the disco at five or six in the morning.
“You can’t stand up you twat! Go home,” yelled John over the music. “You are going to fuck up your suit and then I’ll have to lend you more money.”
Pierre's capacity for the melodramatic was 24/7. He never went off air, took a break for adverts, or went on strike for better pay. And, he could bring attention to himself in a fifty-thousand strong stampeding crowd.
“Do you think people guess what I am up to? Pretty fucking obvious I suppose,” said Pierre. It was not obvious, at all. Yes, he was in a disco that was ninety-nine percent populated by people in jeans and t-shirts, but this was Taiwan and so nobody cared too much what you were wearing. If they did notice, they assumed you were just one of those businessmen who occasionally turned up, sweating in the corner looking bewildered.
“If you say so,” I said trying to limit the conversation. Before I had said no and he had gone on for hours talking about how other people weren't as naieve as me.
Unfortunately, it wasn't the end. “Fuck. Really,” he replied. “I heard some guys were thrown out for doing similar. I guess they are not as smart as me about it, but still you have to be careful. If anyone asks you, you deny it don't you?”
Of course I couldn't bring myself to answer. To lower myself.
“Dan,” he said. “You are a friend. I trust you. I know you are a nice guy and I know you like your stories but this is serious stuff...”
I started to fume. “Look behind you,” I said. “There is an older woman waving at you.”
He looked. I disappeared to the other side of the disco. Fortunately, our paths didn't cross again that evening.
Apparently, he made Eric spend half an hour searching the disco looking for the older Taiwan lady.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Mothers, old people and their scooters

Taiwanese mothers and scooters
“I saw the kid go into the air and hit the car window,” said the wife after finishing throwing up. We had just witnessed a motorcycle accident in which a father was missing a daughter and a wife.
The woman in question had of course not been looking when she came out of the lane at speed assuming there would be no traffic on the 10-lane road. It wasn't the first time. Mothers on scooters are one of the most tragic thing you will ever see - Sat bolt upright, one or two children riding pillion, they never look anywhere but straight ahead, ignoring completely the inconvenient presence of other traffic on the road. Perversely the more children they have on the scooter the more dangerously they drive: usually one or two; three means they are unlikely to get through that day. Under constant time pressure - after finishing work, they rush desperately to get their kids to evening class – hence two kids, means two schools and more danger – then get home in time to cook the parents-in-laws' dinner, while deep down the stress is stirring feelings of unfairness: if my husband can’t afford to get me a car, then he is not working hard enough; if his children die on the road, it is his fault and with that she declares defeat in the daily battle to manage everything. She decides the consequences for her of not getting the mother-in-laws dinner are more painful than not looking at the other traffic on the road and she ploughs on ahead.
School gates are the worse place in the world to be stuck around school finishing time as thousands of like-minded mothers: dragged kids onto scooters, let them down again when they realized they were not theirs, picked them up again after they fell off the back, and then picked everyone up when the scooter in front of them, that appeared not to be in the way was. All this, like baby turtles rushing to the sea, just to get into the traffic and be the first statistic of the day.
“Hao dao mei. (So unlucky),” sighed the wife. As usual luck dealt someone a cruel blow, forcing them to plow across the road blind past a parked van.
Old people
Old people are really different when they are driving: they actually do look first, but still pull out - which kind of makes you begrudgingly respect their absolute selfishness and lack of respect for anyone else on the road. Case in point (almost everyday). An old man was coming down the wrong side of the road slowly in my direction so I applied my horn in a manner that would get me the 10 years for disturbing the peace in the west. The old man looks up reluctantly because he knows he is driving down the wrong side of the road in my direction, and is selfish not stupid; he stares blankly, sees he is not going to be hurt just inconvenience me and the whole road. He then slows down even more and eases himself across my path into the parking space that he was going to park in whether the rest of the world existed or not. I duly applied my brakes hard and hoped the car behind didn't run over me.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Teach English in Asia: Eric and the eight-year old Taiwanese intellectuals

As I say Eric had had a reaction from hell to the idea that all westerners can think independently and the Taiwanese couldn't. On one occasion he had been substituting for me at my school.
“Hey, Dan, what is up with the boss at your school?” said Eric while we were having lunch.
I didn't need to ask him what exactly the problem is. “Yes, Eric, I need to talk to you about that...”
Apparently he had been teaching them the sentence: 'What do you like? - I like music.' And it had turned into: 'Do you like....?” And when the kids answered, 'No, I don't', he had asked, 'Why?' And of course they didn't know why...and it was pointless and stupid and not part of the repetition exercise, but he had stood there for 10 minutes repeatedly asking why until all the energy from the room had dissipated away and the kids started climbing on the chairs. Unfortunately, this had happened more than once.
It was necessary of course because Asian education system was based on rote learning and memorization, and so they needed his help to teach opinion forming and the ability to think abstractly.
“Eric,” I said. “They are eight years old. No education system in the world believes eight year-olds can debate politics. And frankly it is not an admirable skill as most politicians are full of shit.”
Still, I knew it was pointless - he was sure that when he was 11, in between reading comics, playing on his skateboard and sniggering over a pack of cards of naked women he kept in his underwear; cards that he coveted, took out and pawed over and examined so often if he could use them in Vegas he would be a billionaire, he could debate with lawyers and politicians. So what if the entire education establishment – western and eastern - believed kids of that age needed discipline, repetition and order, he knew better.
Man, I am doing you a service here. Get these Asian thinking when they are young,” he replied.
“Well, you will have to do a service at another school if you continue as my boss doesn't want you back,” I replied. “Again, if you want to eat sometimes you have to keep your mouth shut.”
“Man, this culture,” said Eric, pulling this big offended face because: why were these people again stifling his creativity.
We paused for a moment both taking a breather from our frustrations at each other.
John was the next to speak. “Look at that guy in the suit,” he said. “More specifically the ass pant of his trousers. Now that is an Asian cultural difference.”
“What are you talking about? I asked.
“He has been in that toilet for twenty minutes and it is a squat toilet – I know because I was there earlier; in and out in less than a minute, precariously trying to support myself over the bowl by putting my hand on the back wall – still it killed my thighs in seconds and at the end I had to check the back of my trousers hoping for no accidents. That guy went in there in his best suit, read a newspaper, did his business and hasn't even broken a sweat. Man, these people can squat.”
“It is beautiful when they are on top,” mused Pierre.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Expat and studying Chinese: The friend who never learns Chinese

We all have a friend who still can't speak much Chinese after 10 years in Taiwan, that was John. At once best able to deal with the Taiwanese but not able to say more than 20 words of their language. Because of it you would get stupid phone calls like the one below.
I was in an important meeting:
“Dan I am getting a hair cut, and these girls don’t seem to understand what am saying,” said John agitated.
“I am kind of in a meeting, John,” I said. “Don't you have a girlfriend for the week or something who can deal with this?”
I said this because taking you to the hairdresser was one of the P.A roles a Taiwanese girl performs for her new boyfriend. Among the hundreds of little tasks we passed onto our girlfriends this was actually one of the most necessary - Applying for a phone number could be done ourselves because their would be someone in the office wanting to practice their English, and even if you insisted on speaking English when ordering your pizza their would be a student who could sort it out, but hairdressers were populated by girls who left school at sixteen and were not so fantastic in their own language, let alone English.
In fact, most of the younger girls loved taking you to the hairdresser and it was great to see the competition that would play out between stylist and girlfriend:
Stylist would be just giving girl in question a knowing dirty look about her being a stupid whoring western lover.
Girlfriend: ‘Have you ever cut western hair before…isn’t it so soft…please shave his neck; you know he has too much hair, it like that all over his chest.’
The stylists would be polite, complimenting the girl on her English.
Girlfriend: 'Have you ever had a foreign boyfriend before?”
Stylist: 'No, my English is so poor.” Trying to be polite.
Girlfriend: 'Many foreigners these days can speak Chinese.'
Stylist: 'Really?' While thinking: 'Who cares? I am not a stuck up fucking whore…Anyway, you know he is going to dump you soon and return to his country.’
Back to the conversation with John:
“I was walking past this place and it said haircuts for 200,” he said. I wondered why he insisted on trying to get a cheap haircut when he earned a lot of money.
“You read Chinese?” I replied.
“Yeah. My Chinese isn’t that bad, you bastard.” Then why are you calling me, I thought.
“Look, mate. Can you help? They have me sat in the chair here with the apron on for a while now and I am feeling like a right tool.”
It seems girls didn’t know what to do with him and so came back and forth every 5 minutes or so to check if he had learned to speak Chinese.
“She is back again, how to say, ‘just a little off the sides’?”
“Pang bien, duan e dien dien,” I said.
“Pang bieng, dan e dien dieng,” repeated John. All the tones wrong and some of the actual sounds.
“She’s not responding,” he said.
I excused myself from the meeting and went outside the door.
“Give the phone to her,” I said.
I then took the assistant step-by-step through how to cut his hair. It was a weird feeling, describing how to cut another man’s hair; like buying shirts for a guy and telling the assistant: “Well, he has a large muscular chest…” A little too intimate, and I wanted to go home for a shower.
I then went back into the meeting ready to apologize profusely for answering my phone. It didn't matter as they had all taken their chance with the foreigner gone to start dialing away.
Twenty minutes later and my phone was ringing again.
“Hey, Dan,” said John.
“She says it isn't 200.”

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Asian Culture Shock: Can’t blame culture all the time

I don't know if anybody else has gone through this stage of culture shock - For a long while I buried language issues as the cause of most arguments in my marriage, in favor of cultural: after all, how could a missed past tense compare to the overbearing presence of mother-in-law. However, it slowly dawned on me that our problems were not so intractable. This wasn't the first time:
The wife was upset about work again – complaining about her boss.
“She shout at me,” she said.
“I'm sorry. Anyway, but she shouldn’t shout at you,” I replied.
“She shout me,” she said again.
I had no idea why she had just repeated the last sentence back to me again instead of engaging my point. However, I tried to keep my temper and repeated myself again.
“I know, but she shouldn’t shout at you - It is not professional.”
“No, she shout me. If she want.” She was herself angry at this point because she was sure she was addressing my point.
I lost my temper: “Are you listening? Why don’t you answer the point being put to you? - It is wrong to always shout at people.”
Now she exploded: “Why you don’t keep your temper? I think she can shout me - She is the boss.”
I was about to launch a tirade when I realized she had finally answered the question. I didn't agree that it was ok for bosses to shout, but at least she had answered the question. It was another 20 minutes spoilt because she had not added the word ‘can’ to the sentence. I wanted to shout at her again for getting the grammar wrong and wasting our time, but I decided to think about it first. Who’s fault was it that we had a language misunderstanding? I could speak Chinese better than her English but we had agreed to speak English at home to give her a chance to practice. As this was her request I kind of thought right was on my side. Still there was no point in saying anything.
What to do? Was I expected to second guess everything I heard? Was she expected to pay better attention to what she said? Ultimately, it was both our faults for assuming the worse of the other and digging in. Misunderstanding happened to people of the same culture but when you have a different language, it just added another dimension.
Unfortunately, another horrible truth occurred to me – Remember when we first arrive and are tripped up by the smallest grammar and accent issues from the Taiwanese speaking English, then as time passes we get used to it. You know we tell ourselves proudly that we got over communication problems because we had worked out what the Taiwanese wanted to say...Hmm, half the truth – We also got used to not communicating, to walking away when we were not 100% clear, and to arrogantly assuming we understood.
Oh, well. What to do? I took a good look at her. I resolved to pay better attention in future.

Monday, July 19, 2010

More Stupid Expats: Moaning about Asians being dishonest

“Man, I was fucked over by a company. They offered me a job and then when I went to start there was no job, no apology, just silence,” said x-expat. “These Chinese are dishonest in the way they do business. It wouldn’t happen like that back home. Never again, I am going to teach English in future.”
It was another night in the bar and another self-confessed intelligent, internationally-minded foreigner who didn’t draw stereotypes was giving his theory on the Taiwan race based on one encounter. Over the years it had actually happened to me once: i was offered a job and then silence, but generally speaking the companies i have worked for have been above board, clear and paid me on time.
Most of the time i wasn’t interested in indulging the conversation, but something inspired me that night. “Some are.” I replied. “But there are a number of issues at play here. Size of company…Cultural differences….”
“Nah,” he interrupted me. “They are all up to it.” This foreigner guy knew because he had also been in the internet forums of the ‘Life in Taiwan’ websites. Some of these were informative but then someone would start one a topic like: ‘Hey man, I was fired from a job, what is up with these Chinese?’ and suddenly there would be pages and pages of comments from self-confessed objective-minded Taiwan old-hands who seemed to spend unhealthily long periods on these sites, telling you that Asians were inherently dishonest - but still never leaving.
“It happens to all of us. It is more fluid, personality driven, so there are more ups and downs,” I continued.
“Sorry, I don’t want to offend you man, but smell the coffee - it is an honesty thing. If you were back home, they would give you an employment letter and then it would be official. You could sue. We have learnt the value of honesty in our business relations.”
“Like the investment banks that deliberately talk up stocks, the whole present world economic crisis - and the millions of other companies who announce to their employees there will not be any job cuts one week and then fire 10,000 the next.”
I was getting tired now so decided to pose the killer question: “Did you lie on your resume?”
“What has that got to do with anything?” he said.
“Did you lie?”
“Yes, man,” he replied. “But, they don’t know. They couldn’t have found out.”
John then spoke. “I don’t think that is the point, dick. You lied to get the job; they lie about whether you have one. Who is more dishonest?
“Anyway, I think you have bored us long enough. Time to go.”

John was in a bad mood because he had already had a dose of stupid expat earlier:
He had bumped into an old colleague. John had asked him how things were going because he had spent a lot of time teaching him how to teach – and still apparently he got fired.
“Yeah. I am doing okay now, no thanks to anyone here – yourself not included. These schools are bullshit… I mean the management is crap…they should offer training. You know what I mean, man, they say they want people with work experience, everyone knows that is just a bullshit game, so you lie, your crap, maybe they fire you, maybe they don’t if they are really too crap to work out how crap you are. You know…if they had any sense, they would cut the experience bull, and spend a little time training. No foresight! No professionalism!”
John replied, “But then that is the catch 22 – No professional school in their right mind would employ a moron like you.”

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Asian culture: The definition of family-orientated in Taiwan

The definition of family in Taiwan is an interesting cultural difference. Taiwan officially has the lowest birthrate per capita in the world, and the most number of single women in their thirties – not sure if that is the exact definition but it something related to basically people not getting married. And, of course, it has a divorce rate similar to the west. Not really signs of a family orientated culture but, as any western expat knows, we have heard a million times how they think they are a traditional family based culture.
Stop me, and don't take it too seriously if it doesn't represent your opinions, but one of the reasons we like the place and especially the women, is the idea that they are more traditional – Despite protestations of coolness and indifference, in the end we are all like the idea that our wives are not going to leave us easily and are going to create a great family atmosphere, just like those movies tell us is possible. We throw ourselves into life here and then when it turns out not to be exactly the case we start to get frustrated. But, it is our fault, because we didn't get their definition of traditional – or we didn't listen.
This, roughly and with some flexibility was my idea of a traditional family.
  1. Have a lot of children – At least two and probably three.
  2. Wife – And this may be controversial for some, probably take at least five years out of work when the children are young. This again, very flexible as she could work part-time. I am really just hoping for her not to pop them out and then back to a 60 hour week a month later.
  3. Spend lots of time together as a family including going places at the weekends etc.
  4. Make work compromises that put family first.
Then there is the reality of the definition of family in Taiwan. It is not just the things listed above, but also the fact that:
  1. Taiwan has one of the highest rates of abortion in the world, and while, some of it is desperate young people, an awful lot is middle-class people who simply would rather have a new car than another child. Test it at work. For us PC liberal wimps who get suckered into the poor Asian thing, you should get to the bottom of when X-colleague tells you they had to have an abortion. They usually say something about Taiwan being expensive, and it is so hard to bring up a child, and they say it in this way that really makes you believe it was the only possible choice. You feel bad and then twenty minutes later, they get out their new HD video camera and ask you if you want to go to a really expensive seafood restaurant later.
  2. Children Quantity - You usually have to fight your Taiwanese wife up to two children, and unless you are a millionaire forget the third.
  3. Work – In general they are planning to have a cesarean so that they work up to the last day before the birth, and then they have already found mother-in-law/babysitter and don't plan to turn their computers off because they expect to be back in front of it very soon. We are all aware of the phenomenon of grandparents looking after children during the week.
  4. Quality time – Have you ever had this when you go to look at new apartment complexes? The sales assistant will see you are a foreigner, and immediately say: 'I'll take you to have a look at the children's play area. I know you westerners are into that kind of thing.”
  5. Again quality time – Have a couple of friends who experienced this and I have known countless Taiwanese who just do it naturally. They were with a girl long term and had decided to go back to their country. In order to make things smooth they got married. Once they got married the girl would start to back track on going with them citing she wouldn't be able to get a very good job. And, perhaps, they could live apart for a couple of years and see how it worked out. Understandably, their response was: I didn't marry you to live apart. If you can't make compromises why did you want to get married?
By the way, for any readers who think I am being cynical or a moaning westerner. I am going to stand by this one. Taiwanese children's charities regularly publish surveys with a clear message: Taiwan children are unhappy. Reason: don't see enough of their parents.
So that comes back to the definition of family in Taiwan and indeed many parts of Asia, especially the East Asian countries. Over the years Taiwanese insist they are traditional, you argue with them, you forget about it, you fall into a status quo of thinking you are hearing bullshit but can't be bothered to do anything about it. The argument raises its head every so often and the last time it did I had my epiphany.
Some how or another I had got onto the subject with a male colleague. He said, of course, the Taiwanese were family orientated and I posed him a few questions: Why don't you want kids then? Why do you farm them out before you even know what they look like? Why don't you spend time to play with them?
He answered: “Yes, I know that it your foreigner idea of family. So it is cultural thing. What we are talking about is taking care of our parents. We look after them.”
And that was it. He further went on to explain that that was the crux, the core, the crucial element; with the amount of cash you can stump up to look after them as the key. In his case, he explained that he was pretty good at sales and therefore had always been able to earn good cash, whereas his brother was hard working but not so clever. In order to fulfill his part of the bargain, he gave his brother his house on the strict understanding that the brother would be there at dinner, sit through crap soaps, and attend family gathering, something he had no interest in doing. Additionally, his brother would make an effort to have a son, while he preferred to stay single and shag around. His parents had no problem because he was doing his number one duty: making sure they could afford expensive aircon bills.
So there was my answer: you could stay single, have green hair, gay, lesbian, work in another country, never see your parents, as long as you stumped up the cash.
Important conclusion – It served me right for being an arrogant twat; getting stressed because their behavior didn't suit my western definition of traditional family. Nobody is right or wrong. Just make sure you understand before you commit.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Taiwan Culture: TV and what sells

Society gave TV producers the sex industry, gangsters and superstition and they have been running and milking better than - the producers of a hit American soap, the Now That’s What I Call Music Album producers and CNN with a war on their hands – ever since. One of my favorite programs before was a current affairs one that ran for about five years covering the same subject every week – prostitution. I watched it in awe at their ability to find a new angle on the subject.
Summer had just arrived and this week's creative angle was the phenomenon of students prostituting themselves during their summer vacation – As opposed to students who did so during the weekends or evenings (last week’s show) or students who went to all girls' schools (two weeks ago) or air hostesses or ex-air hostesses, and so on and so on.
It seems this was justified: the ones doing so during the summer were not the same girls taking advantage of the chance to work full-time instead of part, but a wholly unique subset of the female teenage student crowd with their own unique compelling, and sociologically important reasons for doing what they were doing, and the public had a right to understand.
As it was students and summer there was only really one place to go – Hsimenting. Taipei has a number of different centers catering to different age and income groups: Chonghsaio East Road was more for your twenty-something working woman; HsinYi area for the ABC crowd; and, Hsimenting, was the most popular area for the high school crowd in Taipei. Recently revamped and closed off to cars, it was a mixture of: high street brands and small designer shops specializing in Japanese young girlie fashion; cinemas, record shops, teahouses, noodle stalls and restaurants; walk down the back alleys and kids were getting tattoos outside on the street; in the main square top Taiwan singers could be found promoting their latest album; music blared from speakers in restaurants, shops and from street stalls competing for public attention; kids practiced hip-hop dance moves, while school uniformed kids wandered around trying to avoid going home to do their homework.
Not only is it the trendiest place for teenagers in Taipei, it is also home to the largest concentration of sixty-plus old men, you could find anywhere in the world outside of a Florida Mall. Of particular curiosity was the McDonalds at the entrance to the labyrinth of streets that made up Hsimenting: old men who you expected to be sat perched over a rice bowl were instead sat picking at their fries and big Mac, taking up its every plastic seat. They were here for the students, not just to look but hopefully to find one who was looking to earn a little extra cash. If they couldn’t get a seat in the McDonalds, they fanned out to the benches outside, always alone, they sat motionless all day, like a reptile; knowing at their ages, with what they had planned, they needed to conserve their energy. Perhaps for weeks...
Back to the show and our first deep insight into the motivations of the teenage mind.
“My mother is at home at the weekends and evening so I only have freedom during the holidays,” replied the girl being interviewed on condition of anonymity. Condition of anonymity on this show was anything but: there was always a mosaic on the face of the person concerned, but then they would be being interviewed wearing their distinctive favorite, striped dress, usually in their living room with their school photos on display behind. For good measure the cameraman would slip revealing the person’s face at least once.
The reporter moved onto the interesting bit. “You think you could show us? For the camera?”
No entrapment issues here, and, of course, because only seeing is believing, they were off to Hsimenting.
They found an unfortunate old man who was going to be the star of the show and she hovered around the garbage bin next to his bench.
He was quick to react for his age. “Mei mei (little sister), would you like to drink tea with me?” he asked. Of course, while he spoke, like a crocodile, he still didn’t move a muscle, trying to control the excitement that would dissipate those energy reserves. It wasn’t code - Teahouses were brothels when he was young.
“What do you want to do?” she asked, a natural at her new role.
“Chat and tea,” he replied.
“How much you give me? I want 1,000,” she said.
“No, we just chat and drink tea. Just let me touch a little. We are friends. Yes, mei mei!”
“I want 1,000 for an hour,” she insisted.
“Mei mei, don’t talk so direct. We discuss on the way, just fun, okay?”
The reporter followed the old man and the student to a hotel. “Why this hotel?” asked the reporter.
“They have a special deal for student. Also they will give you business. Call you up if they have clients,” replied the girl. “But you have to show them your student card first. Proof.”
The program then cut to another girl.
To this day I still wonder if the girl and the old man completed the deal...

Been in Taiwan too long and Taiwanese girls: Believe anything if it suits

For us guys this is a real tale-tale sign of being in Taiwan too long. The first time i heard it from a Taiwanese girl i cringed at its absurdity, but now it only registered mildly on my ‘ridiculous things I have heard’ scale. In fact, I actually looked forward to hearing it, knowing it was bullshit, but everybody loves a compliment.
The wife: “I beg you, beg you, don’t stop…You are so strong. You know how to fuck me.”
Two minutes later….

Monday, May 24, 2010

Taiwan History: SARs

The arrival of SARS:
This is a bit of history. I can't remember though whether SARs was 2003 or 2004.
SARs was a weird thing as it came, paralyzed Asia and then disappeared never to be seen again. It is natural to compare it to swine flu, but for those of us who were here then know, it was much, much worse: SARs caused panic, economic slowdown, and a real change in behavior for a few months. For example, even the foreigners were wearing face masks.
April 22nd - Taiwan is habitually unlucky – if there is a disease out there or a freak weather system we get it; but, for once, the country had been holding it breath watching the crisis in China, Singapore and Hong Kong, hoping it would stay unaffected. No such luck. There is a collective national sigh as the horror that Taiwan had been free of for the last two to three months finally stuck, president receives a call to say that SARS cases are suspected in Hoping Hospital.
April 24th Hoping hospital is closed down and quarantined off with staff and patients all inside. It is suspected by some the administrator of the hospital was covering up cases which led to the infection of his staff.
A human tragedy and the cries of help of your fellow citizens proves not to be a time for China to show a compassionate helping hand, but score more political points and squeeze the Taiwanese people. The WHO has to scale down the number of officials it wants to send to Taiwan for fear China will object. Meanwhile, the government insists the WHO did not need Beijing's approval to visit Taipei, while China said last week it had given the health body permission to visit Taiwan. According to sources China tried hard to get a clause inserted in the WHO response mandate making it essential to get the approval of the national governments before the WHO could despatch health officials to a country. Presumably, there only aim was to prevent Taiwan getting any help and holding it to ransom.
After a couple of weeks of staying in we plucked up the courage to meet for dinner.
“So, have the bars been busy?” I asked Pierre. Needless to say Pierre knew he wasn’t going to get it, so had still been going at as usual.
“Deserted,” he replied. “That is Taiwan – Ok to bang complete stranger without a condom, but SARS, now that is dangerous shit.”
While we were talking Eric was covering his mouth with his hand.
“What are you doing?” asked John.
“Sorry,” replied Eric realizing it was a little too much.
I understood his paranoia. When I sat down I had taken off my mask – it was difficult to eat otherwise – but immediately started to feel insecure, sense the germs rushing into my mouth, up my nose, and burrowing into the porous regions of my eye sockets.
Everyone now had to wear a mask on the underground and in public places. Along with getting temperature checks every time we went into buildings.
“I feel like Hannibal Lecter in this bloody thing!” snarled John.
“Funny! I feel like a doctor,” said Eric. “You?”
“A 19th century highway robber,” said Pierre.
“Me? Just a little bit of a dick,” I replied.
“There you go,” said John. “A psychiatrist would love us.”
“I feel sorry for this guy,” said John. “I mean this is a good falafel and this guy is going to go out of business.”
SARS meant empty restaurants. As I drove into town, I looked in the windows of restaurants and it was a sad story of just a couple of people in each, who, like us, couldn’t stand staying at home any longer. It was hard to relax as we were acutely aware at every second of the movement of our hands vis-a-vis their proximity to alien surfaces. They had been wiped down – we witnessed it – but now our hands had brushed these surfaces, and who could be sure the waitress did a good job with her disinfectant? And anyway, we had been to the bathroom since the dousing meaning it was likely some person or persons, had wandered over to our table for very good reasons and rubbed their probable SARS infected hands over the table…then again perhaps we were being paranoid.
“I am out of here soon,” said John rubbing his hands again with gel. We were surprised the big tough guy, was worried about this - His wife was heavily pregnant but ensconced in Taitung on a mountain where there had been no recorded cases and he, personally, was least likely to have a problem: he was super fit and super fit people didn't die of this respiratory disease. It was his fear of dying in Taiwan getting the better of him again. He had watched the people quarantined off in the hospital with their relatives outside crying for them and got in a panic. He was right, it was a horrible way to go: from the moment you found your 38 degree temperature they were going to isolate you and you were going to die alone in a bed, your family and friends unable to do anything but write ‘I love you’ on a piece of paper and hold it up at the window.
Eric was technically a trainee doctor of Chinese medicine and still going to the clinic everyday. That evening he started to think about whether he was obliged or not. Convention has it that the medical profession, being one of the emergency services, was a potentially dangerous job. True. But he wasn't sure he had signed some sort of unwritten contract with society to ‘risk his own life’ as well as save others.
He decided to call his sister because her husband was a doctor. Still she was not very sympathetic.
“Of course, I am worried, but you are not the only doctor in the family. I have to worry about Simon, whether my kid’s father will be home everyday. There is a responsibility,” she said.
Eric put down the phone in reluctant agreement, but then he remembered Simon was a plastic surgeon and the only way he was going to die in the line of duty was to slip on a bag of fat he had just lip suctioned and stick the scalpel in his throat. The more he thought about it, the more it occurred that none of the plastic surgeons, heart surgeons and gaenocologists, he knew ever put themselves anywhere near contagious sick people. They bathed in the glory of association with the fire and police departments, drawing 10 times the pay and none of the risk.
May 18th - Record jump of 34 reported SARS cases.
End of May - Suddenly every thing is under control and people are slowly beginning to fill the streets again. But China is not finished - Despite Taiwan having no new SARS cases for the requisite time laid out in WHO rules, it can't get itself off the list of SARs countries. It is rumored because China has asked the World Health Organization (WHO) to ignore requests from Taiwan to be removed from the list until China is taken off the list.
All seems a distant memory now….

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Stupid expat in Asia: It is different for the Vietnamese brides

Eric got better over the years in Taiwan - A combination of us and his wife shouting at him the moment he started talking about racism. But is wasn’t just that: I think he slowly did realize he was happy and it was different, but it had its benefits.
This was one of his last stupidities – at least that we all new about….
During the early 2000’s the south-east Asian bride phenomenon had accelerated to epic proportions – To the point where 1-in-10 of Taiwan marriages were to a Asian bride and 1-in-8 children born were mixed race. In response, Taipei city government among others had established a support center to help them integrate into society, and was now offering free Chinese classes.
Eric, pissed at having to pay, was trying to make a point. “Why can’t I sign up? I am a foreign spouse?” he said to the woman in the center.
“I don’t think this is for you! It is for new brides. New in Taiwan,” she replied. 
“Lady, this is sexist! I met my wife in the States and I just arrived last week. What is the difference?” he replied.
Helping foreign spouses - and he knew it before he went - meant south east asian women married to Taiwanese men. Most western expat guys came because they were interested in Taiwan, they met their wives here after first having time to get used to things, but a minority did come here after meeting their wives back in America or Europe, and for those people, as Eric rightly pointed out there was no difference. Still, the staff behind the desk didn’t know what to say, how to explain the difference because it it obvious: You are a western man. Your Taiwanese wife belongs to you. She married you so that she could have a western lifestyle. You speak English and your Taiwan wife and relatives want to practice theirs. You will eventually leave. We don’t make you follow our customs…Besides, and most importantly, we are not doing this because we want to make Taipei an international city, but because there are so many Vietnamese and Indonesian brides now we have to. Sorry, there are not many of you! You just ain’t a priority!
The same is said for our (western man/Taiwanese woman) children – the authorities regard them as western because we are, and why waste time and resources on them, when obviously they are going to go back to England to go to school. They want to send their children there after all.
All the woman could say was: “Sorry, I understand you, but nothing I can do.”
Eric hadn’t given up: “My wife is a journalist, you know! I will be back later so you can explain on camera.” That evening his wife tried to persuade some newspapers to take the story; they got her point – eventually! - but didn’t really think the subject newsworthy. Calling their bluff proved sufficient, as the next day the manager of the place offered him a chance to study - he went for two weeks, just to prove his point. He was happy with himself; we weren’t happy with him at all.
John: “God, you are anal! We hardly have the learning curve of some poor girl from Vietnam who marries an alcoholic, socially mal-adjusted gas bottle delivery man twice her age, then has to go and live in his crap little apartment in the countryside with his mother and father, learn overnight how to cook his favorite bamboo soup and clean the beetle nut stains from his wardrobe of white vests, while, his relatives treat her like a slave and shout at her in an alien language.”
“It is not the point, it is the principle.” But Eric no longer felt good about his victory against the system.
“It is exactly the point!” we all said.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Asian and Taiwan Culture: Asian respect for parents

You know Taiwanese will do anything their parents say, and you get a little used to it over time. Still, the depth sometimes manages to surprise.
I was watching the news with the wife. I was picking up bits of one of the stories. It was Chinese New Year and so a woman, who had been thrown out of the family home by her mother-in-law, had invited the media to go along with her and bang on the door of her husband's family's home, hopefully to get herself and son let back in. Unfortunately, even Taiwan's persistent media couldn't get her access.
“The kid had a sign around his neck: ‘Ba Ba Huei Jia (Father I’m Coming Home)’ – but still the mother-in-law wouldn’t let her in the house. She has nowhere to stay,” I said to the wife. “I don’t get it - where is the father? In, jail, or something?”
“Watching TV,” replied the wife. “His mother won’t let him recognize his son...So unfortunate.”
For the rest of the day I could be seen shaking my head sporadically bursting out with - ‘And how does the father accept this?’

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Stupid Expats in Asia and leaving commonsense at the airport: Pierre and the restaurant II

As I said before Pierre opened his restaurant in Taipei without any contract. About five months later, his colleagues asked him not to come into work for a few days because there were some issues with the police, and a foreigner working without a permit.
Two days after that he couldn’t get either of his partners on the phone so Pierre headed back to the restaurant; walked in, and, as custom, took a beer from the refrigerator. He saw someone else working behind the bar.
The waitress looked at him like she missed him and had not expected to see him again.“Pierre you want to eat here?”
“I am here!” But his riposte was kind of flat, because he was arrogant but not slow.
The new guy from behind the bar came over and introduced himself. “You must be Pierre! Wow, I am honored to meet you!”
“Where is Ah-Huei?” said Pierre.
“You arrange meet him here for dinner?” said the new guy.
“I don’t fucking need to arrange to meet anyone for dinner in my restaurant,” said Pierre. “Sorry, what is your name? You see, I usually do the hiring.”
One look at their expressions said it all to Pierre – well, actually, to people who didn’t know Taiwanese, one look at their expressions would indicate mild embarrassment of the sort associated with remembering your flies were undone...before anyone had seen. But Pierre knew the greater the embarrassment the deeper they shut down and the blank expressions on their faces now meant that the worse had happened.
As the reality hit he struggled for a moment against inevitably, trying to think of something he could do, then just sunk deep into allowing his dreams to disappear. He had a strange sense of relief – He realized the thing that had kept him awake, on edge for months, was just this. When the restaurant venture had started he had buried this fear because he had nothing to lose at that moment, but as things came together and success was had, the pound became deafening.
A few quick more questions and it was the horrible reality: This guy was the new owner…They thought he had gone back to France…that his partners had bought him out.
“I want to get out of here,” he said not liking to be a guest in his own home. He knew there was no way he was going to find them. Even if he did, what could he do? But stand and shout a little, and get further humiliated. The beating at the hands of the gangsters had made a lasting impression. He wanted to smash the place up, but he knew they might come for him. He headed for the door, then turned, dashed behind the counter and emptied the till. There had to be some act of defiance...and, fortunately, they hadn’t changed his bad habit of leaving large amounts in the till, yet. The oven was too big, so he picked up the espresso maker he had imported from France, kicked open the door, and walked out with a few tears.
He was surprisingly calm in the event of a real crisis, saving his energy for the little ones he invented on a daily basis.
That evening sat in the bar.
“I’ll get those mothers. Nobody cheats me like that.” He still felt the need to perform in front of us.
“So, much cash did you get?”asked John.
“I haven’t counted yet.” Pierre starts pulling money from trouser and coat pockets, and dumping it on the table, next to the espresso maker. He had gone straight from his restaurant to the bar. He had not been feeling particularly optimistic about the cash - Usually one gets a feel for the amount of money and excitedly tries to make predictions on the total, here from first note to the next all he could think was “Oh, there is another, that is it no doubt it.”
“Man, you got 50,000NT. A could survive on that for two months!” called out Eric excitedly, genuinely impressed.
“He had a restaurant pulling in a million a month, dick,” I said.
“Dude, I’m sorry, but you set up an extremely successful business model. You can be proud of yourself, look forward with confidence,” said Josh. Josh wanted to add you just have to go the legal route next time, but he knew it was wasting his time; Pierre would say that it wasn’t necessary. Josh knew many Taiwanese also liked to do it this way; they invested informally on just a handshake because they couldn’t afford or didn’t want to pay for a business license, and they also got cheated, stolen from and ripped off on a daily basis. But it wasn’t the Taiwanese way of doing business, but the bad way of doing business. He had seen it many times: expat guys came to Asia and left their commonsense at the airport. They take some guy out to KTV twice a week for a couple of months, spending a fortune on him, not discussing business, because they believe they have to respect ‘Chinese business’ culture; he studied it on his MBA course. At the end when he doesn’t sign the contract, he blames culture and moves on to the next one to make the same mistake. It wasn’t culture, that guy was taking the piss because you let him, and commonsense should tell you that. Very good western businessmen become idiots over night trying to follow the local culture. Yes, you have to take him to the KTV, but if he ain’t coming into the office next time, you know to cut him loose.
“You never told us who your investors were,” said Eric.
“Does it matter?” answered Pierre, the importance of not admitting it was a couple of his old colleagues from the KTV more important than ever.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Expats and forgetting commense: John’s break from reality II

John continued to date the Taiwan KTV girl, Hsiao Lo, for eight or nine months - A long episode of forgetting your commonsense. They became kind of behind boyfriend and girlfriend in a strange way. It wasn't exactly love, but more circumstance – John taught English fifty hours a week so, if a girl phoned him up and made herself available, he wouldn't say no. And as you know from before she wasn't exactly a shrinking violet.
It turned out she was a lot of things and one evening it all came crashing down. I wasn't there but I believe his account of events 100 percent.
“Pierre can you come over to my flat, I need your Chinese skills,” said John who still hadn’t progressed pass the food, destination, and counting sections of the book.
About a half an hour later Pierre arrived at his apartment.
“Nice place,” said Pierre.
‘Yeah, there is a nice, big clean empty roof with plants - got my sun beds up there already.’
‘Of course, you do.’
‘Well it might not be mine for much longer - I ‘ad a call from me landlady. It was a difficult conversation, but I wrote it down the thing he kept repeating: ‘Fang zu hi mei shou dao…4 uer.’ John had written down something that resembled ‘not received the rent for 4 months’ and so Pierre called the landlady back to confirm that was the case.
“English, I don’t understand, how did she not receive your rent?”
“She – Hsiao Lo - pays it. The landlady wanted me to go to the bank and transfer it, so I let her do it for me.’
‘Where is she now?’
“I don’t fucking know…Look she gave me the transmission receipts.’
Pierre took a look at the slips from the bank. They were filled in and then stamped but with a toy stamp. ‘Your girlfriend has been a naughty girl.’
“Don't look at me like I am a dumb foreigner,” said John.
“How should I look at you then?” replied Pierre.
John, like so many people who couldn’t speak much Chinese, had girlfriends, friends or colleagues handling their meetings with landlords, reading contracts for them, querying gas bills and arranging cable, among other things. He had relied on other people, and up to now they had all been scrupulously honest. He began to castigate himself for going soft; then, he made another of his solid promises to himself to learn good Chinese.
They then went to a fried dumpling place around the corner for dinner. John really wanted something western at a time like this, but he was feeling poor and Pierre was poor, so it had to be Chinese food.
“I am an idiot, aren't I?” said John. “What to do?”
“Of course, but you are not the only one. I don’t think you will see her again…Just repair the damage. Does she have your keys?”
“Just in case you have to change the lock.”
“So what to do,” John repeated, bristling at the prospect of having to pay the five months rent again, preparing to move his expensive stuff out, just in case of bailiffs.
“I apologised for you, and explained you are also the victim here, and maybe, we can take a little time to see if we can find her. She agreed. I’ll call in a few days. We’ll see.”
John couldn’t comfort himself by thinking it was in the ‘lap of the Gods so don’t worry,' as Pierre’s expression implied.
After dinner, Pierre went home and John walked back to his apartment feeling sorry for himself, resolving to go to her place of work later.
Suddenly he felt one punch slam into the back of his head and another in his left side, knocking him forward; from the angles, he knew there were at least two guys. He knew what to do in these situations: get some space and time to clear his head, let the adrenalin take over. Fortunately, for him today, and especially today, the adrenalin was quick coming – While he was walking home he hadn’t been thinking happy thoughts about doves, flowers and nursery rhymes. Two more blows in the same places, but he was already covering the back of his head so he had time to do something now. The blow to the head came from the man on his left, so he spun around to his left – It was basic, up against two guys you always had to try and get to the left of the one on the left or the right of the one of the right, staying in the middle was fatal – and managed to get off a right to the chin of this guy, knocking him down, but it wasn’t full power, and he knew he would be up again soon. He wanting to finish the guy off, but he knew he had to take on the 2nd. He tried kicks but they were blocked easily, he wasn’t going to get through from there. He went for the rugby tackle to use his size, which was a gamble – He could only get in one or two punches before the other guy got up and then he would be vulnerable. From the ground the guy was moving a lot and getting in some punches to his head from the floor, but he knew he had broken some ribs with his knee on landing. The other guy was now up, but more cautious, kicking low and punching, waiting for his friend to get up. All John could do throw himself in furiously, he would take some punches but hopefully, if he could get hold of him, could also do some damage. The guy was backing off, obviously smart enough to realize he wasn’t going to win a wrestling match, but then he tried to turn and tripped, and John dived on him smashing his head against the pavement and punching him. He knew he wasn’t going to be getting up for a while now and it had become one-on-one. He had a second to think and noticed a 3rd guy standing about ten yards away. Just standing. He was trying to finish off the 2nd , but he had to careful, keep one eye on the other. As he pounded punches into the 2nd guy, he started to wonder where the baseball bats were.
“Stop. Don't move,” shouted the third guy and for a brief moment John thought he had won, they were leaving and he was going to call them a bunch of dickless piss weak mother fuckers, then start chasing them to find out what this was all about. He started towards the third guy, before rearing back suddenly when he noticed the reason why they didn’t need baseball bats: the guy’s arm was now outstretched, and a gun was rapidly becoming a bigger and bigger part of his field of vision. The gun was now pressing on his cheekbone and he had been punched several times there in the last five minutes and now with the adrenalin almost gone, he could feel the pain; and the gun, in turn, pressing on his injured face was giving him a visceral reminder of damage it could cause.
“Hsaio Lo. Where?” If it was possible to take a massive sigh of relief with a gun in your face, then John did. His worse fear was that it was someone out for revenge: one of the taxi drivers he had punched; some ex-girlfriend; or a connected foreigner he had offended when he was drunk. Now, if he could manage to communicate the truth, he knew he had a chance of getting out of this. But that was the problem, gangsters weren’t known for getting high results on their TOEFL exams. Again he would have given anything to have now studied more Chinese, selfishly wishing Pierre had come with him back to the apartment. As soon as Pierre recovered consciousness, he could put the point across well. His heart was racing from the fight and now the rush of absolute fear. He was not a stranger to guns after his spell in the army, but he had never had a loaded one near his face with intent before. He started to think about what a good life he had here, and how happy he was to have become a respected member of society. He promised himself if he got out of this alive, he would embrace his new civilized middle-class life and never complain again.
Still getting out alive wasn't a certainty. Never in his life before did he have to choose his words so well. “I don’t know,” was the truth. He thought about using it, but it could be construed as trying to cover for her.
“She cheat me.” Was the best he could do. He was a master of body language now after all the years in the kindergarten and communicating with people on the street, but lifting his hands up now, to make even the Buddhist goodwill two-handed sign wouldn’t be wise. He was naked without his hands; he knew he was fucked.
“I kill you, ” said the guy. The guy gave a firing gun demonstration with his other hand.
John didn’t need the demonstration. Maybe, he was being nice so there was no misunderstanding but there was really no need. “Where she?” the guy repeated.
“She cheat me. Please, my Chinese no good. I will call my friend, okay,” John said in his worst Chinese. Perhaps it was the look of sheer hopeless frustration, defeated resignation on John’s face; perhaps, they assumed nobody would be stupid enough to cover for her; perhaps by his Chinese pronunciation they decided he wasn’t smart enough to be in on this; perhaps, they had been paid to extract the information at all costs and were planning to torture him later. Anyway, the guy with the gun took a couple of paces back and ordered: ‘Call. Call. Quick.’
For the next ten minutes John stood evaluating making a dash for it; if he could get past the other guys, and far enough out of range.
After speaking to the landlady and Pierre they decided he was telling the truth; the two others took a few pot shots to even the score, John’s came very close to not suppressing a ‘you fucking cunts’, and then dragged himself home.
It seemed Hsiao Lo had been sleeping with a brother of one of the partners in the KTV, and then stolen money and jewelery from him. These guys were sent because she told some of the other girls she had to look after her western boyfriend and had borrowed money to do it.
John took off his soiled underwear and headed for the shower with a bottle of whiskey. Half a bottle later, and he was able to step over the side of the bath without needing his hands to steady himself. He had taken a beating like this before, and he knew it would only get worse tomorrow, but for the moment the shock of the gun was a form of morphine.
He lied on his bed trying to work things out. He thought about why they decided not just to talk to him first – Then he remembered going to pick her up and smiling smugly at the doorman, and how that could be interpreted…
He thought about if the landlady hadn’t called that night - He didn’t love her or even particularly care for Hsaio Lo, but maybe he would have tried to be a hero if he thought she was the victim in all this (He had watched too many movies after all.) There was a bright side: maybe, he was not destined to die a horrible death in a foreign land as the dreams predicted. But mostly, he lied on the bed shouting, ‘cunts’ to his right and then ‘fucking bitch’ to his left as each of their faces popped into his head.
That night he spent the evening arguing with the people in the British Trade office to take his body back to England.
A few days later we all met up for a drink.
‘Man, I’m sorry. Where are you going to stay?’ sympathized Josh.
‘It is a Taiwanese landlords,” interrupted Eric. “Just get your stuff out and leave the place. The contracts not in your name so just get out and cut your losses on the deposit - Man, you’ll pay the money and they will kick you out anyway for bad karma and keep the deposit. My first instinct was that it was a set up from the landlady.”
“I am staying there,” said John.
Eric hadn't finished. “Jesus, you paid her the five months rent again. I would have said, sue me, bitch…You know the legal system here is fucked.”
“Actually, American. As usual you are totally wrong,” said Pierre. Pierre had spoken with the landlady and explained the situation. She had actually already decided it was her fault for not asking for the money earlier; she came to the apartment and there was an hour or so of profuse apologies for putting her in this situation; some pleading to pay some of the money and telling her what a good woman she was. The result: he had a new contract freeing him from paying anything.
Still Eric was sure she was the exceptional to the rule - “You better be careful. These contracts are worthless.”
“So why do you think he didn’t shoot you?” said Josh.
“You’d prefer it that way, eh? Never ‘ad a friend who’d been shot before, no doubt,” said John. “One of the experiences of life.”
He continued, “Anyway, they didn’t want to from the start. Just his piss weak couple of limp dick fags couldn’t handle me so he had to pull it out. They attacked me from behind and I still managed to sort them out.”
We noticed John’s back straighten and the proud glint in his eye, and we recoiled knowing the memory he was getting to take from this was the positive one of his performance, not the nightmare of having a gun in his face.
John continued, “Still, I ain’t off the perverbial hook yet because these guys may still decide that I am with the bitch.”
Again that had crossed our minds and we were all thinking, if it had happened to me I would have been on the first plane out. Don’t you get it. Gun. Die!
John later revealed he had stayed because he wasn’t a coward, and would never forgive himself if he did…But just in case, he had still gone to see his student Michael’s father because he “knew a man, who knew a man who was a triad (his younger brother)” and negotiations were started on his behalf.
And just in case, the ‘just in case’ failed he had a baseball bat under his bed, and a large wrench and some pepper spray in his Kindergarten satchel. “My bag weighs a fuckin’ ton now,” he said.
“Well, you know,” said Josh. “You got involved with a Taiwan KTV girl. It was likely to happen.”
“Shut up,” replied John. “It had nothing to do with the KTV. For every crazy Taiwan girl in the KTV there are twenty honest ones. Look at your Maggie – She was a rich middle-class bitch and you are still trotting out your typical liberal shit. In the end, I was a twat because she was a nutcase, and I ignored the signs. But, as I said before - It is very easy to forget your commonsense when you don't have the cold reality of your own society staring suspiciously at you on a daily basis.”
“Come on, man,” said Eric. “We, as westerners, are taught to be independent and make our own decisions rationally.”
“Shut up,” we all said.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Taiwan jokes: What is a subway….

This little language miscommunication happened the first time my parents came to Taipei. My wife had never met my parents before - she had never met any white people over fifty before - and, having been brought up to respect her parents-in-law she had been shaking like a leaf before they arrived. Still she managed to put their culture shock first and spent the time trying to make conversation, point out things that might be familiar to my parents. My wife speaks good English but my parents have a strong local accent that most Americans would have trouble following let alone Taiwanese – They think ‘when the cows come home’ is everyday English.
We were in a taxi leaving the restaurant. At this juncture the wife had decided my parents might want to know they could have a sandwich tomorrow.
“There is a Subway,” she said pointing out the window of the taxi.
“Really,” replied my mother. We had speed past too quick for her to see exactly what a subway in Taiwan looked like. Why a road underpass was sufficient news to be pointed out, but she was determined to bond with her daughter-in-law, no matter what. “Back in England we don’t use them. They are a bit dangerous,” she replied.
“The subway?”
“Yeah, some people were attacked in them so they closed them down…Terrible!”
“Wow, nothing like that happens in Taiwan.”
“Well they are quite old… And dark at night,” continued the mother.
Ordinarily I only scanned my mother’s conversation for certain key words like ‘heart attack’ preceded by ‘I am having’, otherwise I just answered ‘yes’ or ‘hmm’ and carried on thinking about whatever I was thinking about or talking to my father. Knowing my home town it was plausible that someone was attacked in a sandwich shop; however, at ‘dark at night’, I understood. I didn’t dare stop them though.
“They don’t have the light?” continued the wife.
“Well it is under the street so the lights are never strong enough.”
“Our subways are not all underground. Most are on the street.”
“That is interesting. In England, our country, they are all underground. How else do you get across the road?”
“We just cross anywhere in Taiwan. Nobody worries…Hmm, maybe, we drive our car there.. Or the motorcycle.” The wife had from the start looked like she was being led down through a maze of underground slippery caves, now they had added a blindfold and forced her to wear high heels.
“Oh, that is different. How do you drive in a subway?”
“Not really inside, but close to the entrance.”
Silence fell as the two women, as accomplished as they were at making conversation, needed a few seconds to retrace a thread or two.
“What are you laughing for?” asked the wife because i was now rolling about in the front seat of the taxi.
“I don’t know either. You two are fantastic.”
“We don’t care do we. We were happy talking.” interrupted his mother.
The wife nodded her head and smiled wholeheartedly, because she had been brought up to respect parents, not run screaming like she wanted to do now. “That’s right mum!”
I sat back and smiled contentedly - Women could sometimes be worth all the trouble.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Taiwan lifestyle: We are not so weird anymore

The theme of how times have changed has many different angles. One of the them is how life here has become a quite a bit less 'them' and 'us' – For any new arrival who is suffering from being called foreigner every five minutes that is hard to belief but believe me it has got better. Or worse, depending on your standpoint – Again believe me there are lots of people who revel in their status as 'white monkey' and have moved further and further south as the locals stopped staring at them. But that is a different story...

Lets put things in perspective - In the old days we like to say 5% of girls really wanted a foreigner, 20% would think about it, and the rest just weren't interested. Now, we kind of think it is still 5% for the really want category, while the middle, who would think about it, has risen to maybe 60 or 70 and the not interested now a mere 20 or so.

It was Saturday afternoon and I was sat on ChongHsiao with Eric, Pierre and John, having a beer, and looking at the street life.

Suddenly a white dude comes along with a girl and we started to stare for no other reason than we have been in Taiwan too long. He was displaying various signs of the opposite: he was trying to impress the hot girly he was with by actually putting on an ironed shirt and a comb through his hair when it was a hot sweaty afternoon; he was politely saying hello to every foreigner he met on the street, and doing so in that way you could tell it was planned; he was still displaying space parameter manners: giving way to Chinese people on the pavement, and apologizing for bumping into them - As if it mattered, as if he expected them to do the same back. And, most importantly, he was reacting to stares as if he viewed himself as something more than a goldfish in a bowl.

"You know his girlfriend?” I said to everyone.


“No, nor do I. The guy has only been here for 6 months and I never seen his girlfriend before,” said Pierre.

The implication and inside joke from us was thus: in the old days, new arrivals picked from a small pool of foreigner groupie girls so you always knew everyone’s girlfriend. It was only after a few years that you were able to break out of this and slowly get into the rest of society.

You dated the same girls out of necessity - Girls before either wanted a foreigner devil or didn’t. It was a big deal for them because their parents surely didn't approve. You went to bars to get girls, but there weren't may bars. Not many Chinese went to the bars, especially girls, because they were dens of sin. In the old days the number one place was 45. There were other bars but they were filled with Taiwanese drinking tea or playing Kerr Plunk or the game where you pull the bricks out – Bars had to provide these games because Taiwanese didn't know what to do in a bar. Going to a bar for them was like going to Paris, something you had to try and get a photo.

Also, and importantly, of course you didn't speak Chinese when you arrived, and nobody wanted to speak to you in Chinese because you were here for a purpose – especially the girls, if you were going to get ostracized by your family the least that you could do was learn English. Now with Chinese all the rage in the West guys are arriving with a passing ability in the language and speaking reasonably well in a short time. And, while most foreigners are still English teachers there is a vague segment of other opportunities – You could get a job in a computer company doing marketing with access to the average office girls. In short, there was no need to date your ex-room mate's girlfriend anymore when he left.

“Times are changing,” I said. “We are not so weird as we used to be.”

“No, fucking way, man,” said Eric. “How many times have you been called a foreigner today? Stared at? Talked about to your face?”

“Just the once or twice,” I replied. “But I suppose I did get up at 1 pm.”

“Shut up, American,” said Pierre. “Don't start.”

“But he does have a point,” said John. “It is pretty fucking far from the day when I am not viewed by my stereotypes. Where people start to look at me first rather than my big hooter...Thank goodness, I must add. I am going to have to move down south then.”

“So if it isn't any form of enlightenment, why?”I said.

“It is the divorced granny effect,” said Eric.

For once Eric had a reasonable point: when we arrived divorce was a taboo subject, nobody admitted to living with anyone, women had hymen replacement operations, and when you went to the beach girls wore a dress. They were still up to naughty stuff but, like in all crumbling dictatorships, it was all being done behind closed doors. Now was a different story: we had Next magazine and Apple, celebrities got divorced just to get a spot on a talk show, TV shows every night competed to dance as close to the censors as possible with bikini fashion shows, everyone lived together, and the prized possession was a girl who hadn't had an abortion (Along with last weeks statistic about having the lowest birthrate in the world, Taiwan also has one of the highest rates of abortion). It was not that they had particularly bothered to address the subject of breaking down foreign stereotypes, simply there own society going to pieces had narrowed the gap. We were still weird foreigners but not a social stigma anymore.

“I prefer the old days,” said John. “I could go to the bar and guarantee the girls all spoke English. Now I keep going up to girls and they ask me if I speak Chinese. I go on dates and the girls want to eat in Chinese restaurants...Are not impressed with my lectures about how cool England is.”

“Yeah,” said Pierre. “I could go to Eslite and I was the only one. Girls were impressed I could speak great Chinese. Now, I have to move quickly.”

(Eslite was a huge 24 hour bookshop that Pierre thought of as his favorite pickup joint. He had decided that if girls were wandering around alone on a Friday or Saturday night or Sunday afternoon then they didn’t have a boyfriend, and desperately wanted one.)

“What are you thinking about Dan?” said John.

“I am thinking about all those girls who did such a sterling service for the foreign community. I hope they have husbands now.”

“Amen,” he replied.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Taiwan Expat Culture: John’s Break from Reality I

I have already touched on the theme of how we lose touch with reality when we are here. All pretty obvious as we do the same in our own country when we go to university and we should know better.
Anyway, one of the ways we do so is in blatant character misjudgment. Gangsters behaving like stereotypes of gangsters in Asian films don't seem that scary. Similarly, psychos, train-wrecks, spoilt bitches and bastards, selfish controlling freaks – and, I guess, on the positive side, just plain old nice people, are redefined under the pressure of alienation. Your instinct probably told you to run a mile or marry them at the first opportunity, but in the interests of cultural understanding you decided to over analyze, rationalize the irrational and put yourself in a world of hurt.
As I have mentioned before John was trying his best to lead a quiet respectable life after a hell-raising past. He had done so successfully for several years. On this occasion he had decided to treat himself. I guess he regrets it, but I doubt it.
He had introduced us to his new girlfriend, Hsiao Lo, with a smug look on his face. She had sat down at the table and for the last two hours ran the show: made us buy jugs of beer and drink out of half pint glasses, filled our glasses with beer as soon as they were empty, made us cheers and down in one; made us play drinking games which we lost apart from Pierre who from his previous career had plenty of experience. It wasn't just her ability to drink or her looks that had us guessing pretty early on what her job was: the slight heavy makeup to cover a lack of sleep, the Louis Vitton bags and the Prada this and that; the two mobiles that kept ringing and the receptionist way she answered them as if she was in an office not answering her personal phone. For me it wasn't any of those things that had bothered me most, it was the way she had reacted when Pierre started beating her at paper, scissors, stone. The tension had got unbearable and you could tell inside her there was a volcano trying to erupt.
At this point she went off for a particularly long call.
“Where did you meet her?” I asked. “Doesn't seem the type who's off to do an MBA next year.”
“Usual place,” he replied. “Yeah, it has been an odd few weeks – I am missing the usual teashops and conversation about how university in the west is going to free her trapped independent spirit.”
“I think her spirit needs a bit of traditional Chinese crushing,” said Pierre whose hands were still stinging from the slapping and pulling.
“And she has never set foot in the west,” answered John. “So, so much for that bullshit argument.”
Eric broke out of his drunken haze as his favorite topic reared itself. “Obviously, she is an exception, but in the general case the education system in the west produces people who are more -”
“Shut up,” we all shouted.
“Anyway, Rosbif, I know you are not stupid. You know what she does for a living...”
At this point she arrived back and we all sheepishly pretended not to be talking about her.
“Of course, what do you do me dear?” said John.
“Oh, I work in a KTV. Don’t tell anyone,” she said with a conspiratorial nudge and wink. Even though we had guessed so it still an effect to have it confirmed. This was the first time Eric, Josh and I had met a girl who worked in a KTV; mystery surrounded it, like with soldiers, executioners, gangsters, thieves and prostitutes it was one of those professions for which we, middle-class boys, were eternally curious how they dealt with the responsibilities of their trade - They had to cry themselves to slept every night or be secret alcoholics.
“Don’t worry it is a high-class one. I only talk to customers,” she continued.
We believed her and knew the only downside was having to drink with lots of guys she didn’t know, but still we were dubious.
“So how long have you done this?” asked Josh.
“Three years. I started during university, and sort of couldn’t stop because of the money. I lived out of home for many years, kept bad company, I drink and I smoke, but I am not a bad girl,” she said without pausing for confirmation. Like everyone we are drawn to the excitement of the illegal and so we listened intently for signs to convince ourselves it was possible to do this and still be a happy, normal person. It was the good gangster with the heart of gold, who goes out and kills during the day but looks after his family, that the movies tended to enforce - I’m not all bad therefore I am not bad.
“I have to go,” she said and then filled our glasses again. “Everyone down in one.”
She obviously hadn't forgotten losing the games with Pierre and was preparing to make a point. She got a fresh bottle of Heineken and put a straw in it. “Look. How can you guys possibly lose?”
As we chugged our beer we guessed we were in for a surprise so we kept one eye on her. Before we had got half way she had sucked the bottle empty and placed it on the table triumphantly. A bottle of fizzy Heineken through a straw in a couple of seconds. It remains one of the most amazing feats of drinking I have ever seen.
A few minutes later she had gone and we were sat questioning our manhood.
John was the first to speak. “Boys don’t listen to that about her not being a bad girl, of course she is, but let the tart say what she wants.”
Eric, never one to let his engrained PC sensibilities give him the open mind they were supposed to, was the first to speak. “Maybe she doesn't get her clothes off, but she works in a KTV. It is illegal, man. It is going to be trouble.”
“John replied, “Yes, she is trouble but that isn't entirely to do with her KTV work. I mean maybe it is illegal...I am not sure actually, but that doesn't make it bad? She ain't a gangster. She doesn't steal things. She works for her money and is paid. It is just a frowned upon profession.”
Josh interrupted, “I agree, dude. But working in such a transaction based environment it is bound to have an effect. She sees herself as a price for guys.”
“What do you think Pierre?” asked John. “As you know first hand.”
“Of course you middle class liberals...Uh, what is the term? - Oh, yes, bleeding-heart are wrong again. Most of the girls love money, but are proud they are earning it. Most still want love and a boyfriend and do the opposite and actually pay for the boyfriend. They get money off some rich guy to support the guy they like...And, as John has cheap ass loser English teacher with no prospects stamped on his forehead, I doubt she fancied she had found the needle in the haystack – the one white guy with some cash in Taipei. Am I right?”
“Uh, half I guess. I haven't had to up my spending. In fact, she has paid for most things.”
“Ok,” I asked. “So why is she trouble?”
“Isn't it fucking obvious?” said John. “You saw her when she started losing the drinking game. In the three weeks I have known her she has jumped off the back of my motorbike twice because she didn't like something I said – on a busy street. She - like tonight - drinks on her night off – which obviously makes her a borderline alcoholic. She earns about five times what I do, but she has spent it all by mid-month. Her brother is in jail. She is late for work every day when she starts at 9pm. She is compulsive, addictive, psycho who would be rejected by Jerry Springer for being too hard to handle. I ought to run a mile but as you bleeding hearters would say she should be given a chance – I might just be misinterpreting the situation because of my cultural ignorance...”
He of course said the last part with a nod and a wink and we sat thinking how to get our own back.
He continued, “This you will like if you want me to be truthful – I have spent years driving past betel nut stands and looking longingly at the girls entering the KTVs. Last week, I dropped her off at work and the pseudo gangster guys at the door in their black suits give me that look and I give them a smug one back and a mental middle finger. I have been dying to do that for years.”
“Wonderful,” said Pierre. “I am glad the age of the neanderthal is not dead.”
“Hey, don't knock it – Remember why your left hand doesn't function too well? You didn't mind the help of the neanderthal then.”
At the time we dropped the subject because John seemed to know what he was doing. However, it soon occurred to me that awareness you are having a break from reality is just that wrapped up in another form.
Still, he was better equipped to handle it than most of us. I suppose in the end he did handle it better we would have....