A Guided Tour

The Salty Egg is getting a bit large and unwieldy. [That’s what she said]. Please feel free to surf around the back catalog—they’re all diamonds. If the serendipitous approach doesn’t appeal, here are a few starting points.

It was a surprise to me, but my most popular post by a very wide margin is Don’t Marry a Foreigner. One of my earliest posts, Marrying Taiwanese, is a perennial favorite, garnering daily views. It is unsurprising that intercultural dating/marriage are popular topics among my expat readers, but there are a few articles on the subject that are less widely trafficked: The Hot-Crazy-Taiwanese Matrix and Taiwan’s Marriage Market.

If you’re more of a tourist than a resident of Taiwan, you could try Snakes & Whores, or some of my food writing; The Taiwanese Hamburger, Oyster Omelette, or Oyster Vermicelli. One of my favorite food articles is actually Gross-Out Porn for the Armchair Traveler.

But, I’m not a very serious guy, and tend to like the lighter things. Three of my favorite pieces have no deeper meaning than a chuckle; Sperm Donation and the White Guy, Harmonicas and Public Humiliation, and Are You Gay? A very fun, if off-topic, read is Profound Musings. Check it out.

For those times when you’re not feeling quite so irreverent, try my articles on cultural linguistics. There’s quite a few, but the starting point is The Unified Field Theory of Culture Shock and A Low-Context Dude in High-Context Places.

Or, if you’re just looking for information on intercultural interaction and culture shock, try these; Guanxi, Humor’s Intercultural Perils, Taiwan’s Social Hierarchy, and Symbolic, Parabolic, Metaphorical,  Allegorical,... The entire blog’s theme is culture shock, so just surf around. There are lots of good things to find.

I’ve found the Internet enjoys nothing more than to be morally indignant. If being outraged floats your boat (no judgement) try: The Whiny Women of Taiwan, Humor’s Intercultural Perils, White Privilege in Asia, and The Problem with Asian Christians. Each has created a kerfuffle in its own way. The article that’s caused the most copious outpouring of cyber-acrimony is The Hot-Pot Conundrum Explained. It’s about soup.

The Taiwanese Racial Slur

I like the racial epithet Whitey, it’s succinct and pithy. As great as it is, my favorite racial slur is the Taiwanese word adoah, 阿啄仔 or the alternate form 阿卓仔. The word means “big nose” or “tall nose”, the in 阿啄仔 means beak/beaky, while the alternate form’s means tall, while indicates closeness (it’s a familiarizing particle) and is a diminutive suffix. Add it all together and you’ve got foreigner, Caucasian more specifically. Since transliterating oral Taiwanese to written Chinese allows for some interpretation sometimes you’ll see 阿兜仔 or 阿凸仔 used. These are kind of funky ways of writing adoah, but I kind of like them as looks like a big nose in the center of a face, while looks like a nose. Semantics aside you got to admit “big nose” just kind of nails it.

Some take offense at being called adoah, while for others it just slides off them like a Big Mac all-beef patty off the bun. But is it racist? Well, it’s an almost perfect parallel to the English racial slur “slant-eyes”, so yeah, it’s hard to deny the insensitivity, but let me try, just to be a contrarian 混蛋 .

Don’t get me wrong, adoah can be overtly racist. I’ve had the word hurled at me in very aggressive and intimidating ways. But, in those cases even if the guy had said, “most honorable gentleman of the Caucasian persuasion”, tone and context would’ve ensured a scary—racially charged atmosphere—that’d have left my sphincter dancing.

So adoah can be used in a them’s fight’n’words kinda way, but it also may have no more implied negativity than “foreigner”. When I first came to Taiwan as a student in 1987, foreigners were either 美國人 [Americans] or 阿啄仔 [big noses]. I actually have some pretty warm memories of crowds of little kids skipping circles around me singing “big nose, big nose,….” Less amiable, but not unpleasant, are the memories of obasans pointing at me and telling their grandchildren to look at the big nose. In these contexts, personally, I find adoah neutral if not somewhat affable and was more put out by being called American.

Still times have changed and adoah is less commonly heard among Taipei’s urbane, who are reasonably aware of the sensitivities of foreigners. Outside Taipei the word gets bandied around more frequently. I’m mildly impressed though, despite not believing the word to be insulting—which many Taiwanese don’t—in the time I’ve been here the use of adoah has noticeably declined.

It’s required a shift from traditional Asian values that don’t particularly seek a broad ranging society of different ethnicities living together in respect and harmony. Most Asian societies prefer to stress homogeneity, consequently racial sensitivity is not the default setting. For people from societies that aspire to inclusivity this can be hard to accept. In multicultural Canada, where I’m from, there’s an official policy of empowering and promoting social, economic, and political inclusion, achieved partially through a constant process of navel-gazing, self-policing, and changing acceptable terms. Most Asian countries haven’t had to deal with such concerns, and so can be linguistically insensitive. Simply not much thought has been given to what words are used to refer to different races.

Taiwanese sometimes claim ignorance of the meaning of adoah, seeing it only as a word referring to foreigners. Many foreigners regard these claims with disbelief and occasionally anger. The vexation comes from a linguistic misunderstanding. We tend to learn Chinese character-by-character, building words from the individual characters we’ve learned. Multisyllabic words being regard—more often than would be correct—as collections of characters, each a word/meaning in its own right, thus allowing words to be deconstructed into deeper “real” meanings.

My explanation of the meaning of 阿啄仔, breaking the word down into characters and explaining the meaning of each character was a foreigner-type explanation. Taiwanese learn the language more holistically. Though they might be capable of breaking the word down into individual characters and examining the semantics, that’s not necessarily how they conceptualize the word. As I was writing this article my wife was surprised by the meaning of 啄. She knew the word 阿啄仔, but imprecisely understood the possible meanings of 啄. Do you continually think of the roots and stems of English words? No. It’s a word with a meaning more relevant than its Latin/Greek/Gaelic/… roots. My name is 達仁, to which my Canadian friends usually ask its meaning, and I’ll dutifully reply that it means kindhearted humanitarian or some such. Really that’s wrong. It means me. It’s a name. My name. My English name is Darren. No one asks what it means.  It means keeper of the oak grove or some such, but it doesn’t make sense to think of words in these terms.

Does your grandmother realize the Latin or Greek roots and their nuances as she uses a word? It’s unreasonable to expect more from Grandma Wang. After all, these things are rarely as simplistic as my explanation of how adoah is written implied.  Some Taiwanese assert that adoah is a sign of respect. The history and linguistics justifying this position are that the character not only means tall, but also more commonly means outstanding. Some note adoah may derive from the Taiwanese honorific title for priests during the early days of contact. Also, adoah may come from a story attributed to Zhuangzi,  an influential Chinese philosopher from the Warring States Period. It doesn’t really get much more venerable. At the same time referencing body characteristics doesn’t have the same prohibitions as in the West. [See: “Hello Fatso” And Other Taiwanese Greetings].

It’s valuable to understand where people are coming from, but ultimately it doesn’t matter whether the Taiwanese believe adoah is derogatory . Ethnic terms are insulting or neutral depending who says it and the context—those that the word is directed at get to decide. Personally I don’t see it in absolutes. I cut granny and the kids some slack, while with country folks it really depends how country. For the more cosmopolitan I have a higher standard. I also take into account facial expression and tone, can I perceive cognizance of an implied insult? If not, I’m likely to regard it as slightly funny and let it roll off me. But that’s just me, you get to decide for yourself.

To All The Women I’ve Offended Before…

I should’ve included this with my previous post: Have I Butthurt You? I’m making my posts shorter for the moment [The SicklyEgg], so women get their own separate post. Lucky.

I piss off women. I know. It’s a gift. I’ve had it since I was knee-high to a turd. With the wonder of the Internet no longer am I limited to annoying friends, family, wives, and girlfriends; now you—dear stranger—can take that ride too. What an age we live in!

My writing is very self-deprecating. I poke fun at a lot of people and social foibles, but it is mostly self-directed. The closer the group is to me, the more likely they’ll get teased. If you’re a handicapable  black woman living in the American south there’s no way for me to say anything in a self-deprecating  anger about your life, so I have nothing to say, and will do my best to observe all the social niceties—mind my p’s, and dot my q’s. If you’re part of my Taiwanese or Canadian family obviously you’re fair game. [I catch shit for this on the regular from Taiwanese family who find it hard to see the affection implied in teasing]. If you’re an expat or Taiwanese don’t expect any special consideration—we’re too close. You’re  going to get hit with the self-deprecating splash back. If you’re a woman of course I’ll tweak your sensibilities, after all  I’m half woman myself, on my mother’s side. It just doesn’t get any closer than that.

If you are an expat white woman living in Asia,… well what can I say, you’re practically me. [Mortifying, isn’t it!?!] And, I hate to break it to you sister, but we are definitely not a protected class. I admire the moxie of white women for trying; but let’s be honest, when our expat forbearers were colonizing the world, the wife was right there alongside the husband enjoying her half of the slave-provided couple’s massage. So, though not deliberately hurtful of female sensibilities, I’m also not very mindful of them.

I don’t try to offend anyone, but when I cause offense it’s usually a result of a disregard for the group-based sensitivities of those closest to me. If you have a lot of sacred cows TheSaltyEgg isn’t for you. I don’t know what I would write if I wasn’t free to write about the things and people closest to me.  Of course, the irreverence of how I do it can be offputting. I recognize that, but cheekiness is a fundamental part of who I am.  I always pick the ass of those closest to me—it’s my love language. I try to keep some personality in my writing to avoid that dry academic ickiness, but then you’re stuck with my temperament . It’s not for everyone.

If You’re Not Laughing at Your Students, You’re Doing Something Wrong

I enjoy collecting stories and as a long-term teacher I’ve gathered quite a few. I’ve already posted a funny teaching story in My Favorite Student, but here’s a couple others that might bring a smile.

I was teaching a first year university English class.  In this school, students were grouped together by major, and rotated as a unit—en masse—from classroom to classroom and teacher to teacher, kinda like elementary school back home. They’d spend 6-8 hours together daily.

In this particular class there was a couple. Pretty unusual in a freshman class, where they’ve just come from an oppressive and repressive high school experience. Most students, having worn a school uniform their entire lives, don’t know how to dress, have no sense of their own style, and can’t make themselves up. Many of the young women still sport watermelon-head haircuts. Some having come from unisex high schools are clearly freaked by having members of the opposite sex next to them. They are, in short, a mass of awkwardness and neuroses. Not a lot of dating gets done that first year.

This couple were the darlings of the entire class. They were singular for even existing, and obviously sparked the female student’s romantic dreams and the male student’s horny dreams. Titanic may have had Rose and Jack, but Financial Management class (FIN.90.104-A1/2) had Sunny and William.

One day I was marking essays and Sunny had handed in some very overwrought prose. [Asians tend towards the melodramatic in literature]. Dewy flowers were opening their petals revealing nature’s sun-dappled smile, a rainbow’s kaleidoscope was reflected in the calm pond, angels floated through the azure sky trumpeting nature’s beauty and glory, yada,… yada,…yada. You get the idea. It went on for two very densely packed pages. At the end I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about.

Then I read William’s essay. His writing was more succinct, I can quote the essay’s entirety: “Yesterday I went to Yangmin Mountain. I touched a booby. Score!!!!!” Hemingwayesque.

I looked up to see William craning his head this way and that, with a big silly grin, and puffed out chest—positively glowing. You could see the song running through his head: I touched a booby, I touched a booby, I touched a booby—score! I touched a booby, I touched a booby, I touched  a booby—score!…. You couldn’t help but like the guy.

Meanwhile sitting beside him was the equally readable Sunny. It’s amazing how clear things are from the front of the classroom. You could see the dreams of romance, commitment, roses, sunsets, and paddle boats floating behind her eyes. She was clearly revving up to turn easy-breezy happy-go-lucky William’s life into a raging hellscape of emotion and drama. The big dumb goofy bastard had no idea what was coming. You had to feel sorry for the guy. He’d had a dream. A simple dream. A pure dream. A noble dream. The dream of touching a booby. He’d achieved his dream, and at the very apex of his existence, it was about to turn to dust.

Still, it’s fun for the teacher.

More recently I had the following experience: the Taiwanese government just passed a law giving women up to one day per month leave for menstruation. Most working women don’t avail themselves of the law, fearing it might undermine their status. College women have no such qualms—they are all over that shit. Rarely does a day pass that I don’t have students telling me, in stunning detail, about their periods. It’s kinda awkward and hadn’t been very fun, until I was emailed by one particular student asking for menstrual leave. His name is Jim. I wished him luck and sent him to the Student Affairs office to get a menstrual leave form for me to sign.

If you can’t laugh at your students, who can you laugh at?!?

Have I Butthurt You?

Approximately yearly I remind readers of this blog’s purpose and limitations in a vain attempt to reduce reader outrage and unflattering emails. I’m hoping to ramp up my writing schedule again, so now seems an opportune moment to revisit the topic. Since I do this with some regularity you can find more complete answers to criticism here: State of the Blog and Answer to Critics and A Bigot Abroad?

TheSaltyEgg is a very quirky and highly personal look at life as an expat in Taiwan. It’s my life as I understand it. I consider myself the voice of white, middle-aged, married to Taiwanese women, out-of-shape, Taiwan-based, Canadian, scotch-loving, wine-putt’er-upp’er-with, 9”-or-more [at least a thick-8], unconventionally handsome expat men, who’ve been in Taiwan around 25 years. If that doesn’t describe you, please read TheSaltyEgg anyway, there’s lots of good stuff here, but you may find some of what I say will not describe your Taiwanese experience. That’s valid: but so is my experience.

I present a lot of topics and issues in a highly personal manner, with anecdotes, personal escapades, and humor. It can appear I’m overgeneralizing from my experience. Maybe. Often, however, I’m employing personal experience to illustrate points made by cultural-linguists, cultural-anthropologists, historians, and other academics. I’m just trying to make the information more digestible. All academic writing is inductive, so it is reasonable to argue they are overgeneralizing, and by extension so am I. You have to decide, but I’m usually not just randomly spewing things off the top of my head.

One of my weaknesses as a content creator is I don’t really interact online. I’m happy if something I wrote creates a conversation, even if it’s angry, however I can’t read it, or it’d inhibit my writing. Some people really get off on stirring the pot—believe it or not—I don’t. I’m too happy-go-lucky and it’d harsh my mellow.

It should be obvious by now, but if you don’t enjoy my sense of humor you’ll hate this blog. There’s just no way around that.

If you’ve been entertained by TheSaltyEgg in the past, I hope you’ll continue. If you detest TheSaltyEgg, but can’t help yourself, please continue hate-reading. I understand. [My entire sex life used to rely on those emotions]. And if you’re new to Taiwan or TheSaltyEgg, please look around, there really is some good stuff to explore. Here are some starting points: Tips for New Expats and A Guided Tour.

Read on, Macduff.

Mask Mandate Madness

If you saw my last post you’ll know I’ve been sick. [See: Health Problems and The Sickly Egg]. I’m easing back into writing with some small articles.

COVID’s taught me many things, particularly how profoundly stupid and uncaring people can be. I’ve never had much faith in humanity, but I’m still taken aback. The West seems to produce more dumbasses/cm2 than Asia. A lot is down to the relative importance placed on individualism versus community. [See: Life and Love in the Age of the Coronavirus]. Western values are out-of-whack with present needs: public health and unchecked personal liberty are uneasy bedfellows. In more community-oriented Asia, people have been more willing to take small measures to maintain public health. The self-sacrifices have been minuscule. Wear a mask. Get a shot.

It seems to all be too much in the West. I get it. I come from Western Canada, ground-zero for rednecks and birthplace of the Canadian Convoy of Loons that occupied Canada’s capital and inspired wack-a-doodles the (Western) world over. Maybe I’ve lived in Taiwan too long, I’m stunned by the disregard for others, stupidity, and weird way it’s all linked to political ideology. [It’s getting so I can’t even talk to my unclebrother anymore]. You might think the problem is rednecks, but they abound in Asia without the COVID-related lunacy.

Take masking; it is such a small thing, virtually no inconvenience. Why does it inspire such retardicity in the West? There might be a reason beyond the usual individualism/communalism explanation. In the West—as kindergarteners—we’re taught to gauge emotions by looking at the mouth. I remember being shown simple line drawings of faces, with dots for eyes, and appropriately drawn mouths, with the teacher asking: “How does this person feel? They feel sad, see the mouth is downturned”. In Asia, children are taught to gauge emotions by looking at the eyes.

Perhaps masking creates socially uncomfortable levels of anonymity for Westerners. It could feel difficult to understand a friend’s meaning or get acquainted with a stranger. How do they feel? Are they hiding something? That information is hidden by a physical barrier. Not a problem for cultures with a tradition of face-covering, or in Asian cultures that emphasize the eyes for transmitting information.

Is this true? No idea. However, it would explain the West’s irrationality over masking. I’ve been wearing a mask for over two years and enjoy it. The mask hides my reactions, which are often lightning fast and stunningly inappropriate, and gives me a moment to compose myself—or at least that’s what I’d thought.