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.

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