Sex and the Expat Woman

Disclaimer: I am not now, nor have I ever been, a woman, thus whatever insights I offer are limited. I can only pass on  observations and what expat women have told me, intentionally or unintentionally. I’m also limited by not wanting to go over nine hundred words. Put differently, it is a big topic that I’m unqualified to expound upon and will not dedicate the necessary time to … so let’s begin.

Taiwan is a very rapidly changing society (see: My Parents Are Nuts and Taiwanese Reverse Culture Shock), the brisk transitions affect expat’s as well as natives. Taiwan-based expat women’s lives have evolved particularly quickly. A couple decades ago Taiwan’s expat community was almost homogeneously male. It’s not that women didn’t come, they just didn’t last. There were undoubtedly multivariate social reasons. I’m going to concentrate on psychosexual and sociosexual causes, particularly the role of horniness in high female expat turnover. [How could this possibly go wrong?]

I first became aware there was an issue at a welcoming party not long after arriving. It was your normal drunken expat sausagefest. What fascinated me was the small handful of women at the party. They were behaving in a way I’d never experienced. They got drunk in a different manner from the normal goofy female drunkenness I’d experienced in Canada. They were on what appeared like a testosterone driven hammer-fry mission. They attacked the booze like sailors on shore leave, became aggressively and rowdily drunk, sequestered themselves in the kitchen, and—for lack of a better term—began acting like men. Low-class men. They complained loudly and belligerently about their horniness, talked in graphic (and pretty humorous) detail of what they’d do to a cock—should they ever see one again—and lobbed occasional catcalls at the male partygoers. If they were men, we’d say they were being a pack of dicks.

The guys studiously avoided the kitchen, but as a stupid newbie I didn’t know. When the party needed more beer, I trundled in to get some. As soon as I walked in, I was surrounded by four drunk women who proceeded to engage in a little lite sexual harassment. The last member of the quintet came to Taiwan with her boyfriend and seemed embarrassed by the other women. My kitchen excursion climaxed when a woman from the Bronx, dressed like Leather Tuscadero, with a cigarette hanging from the corner of her mouth, slowly looked me up and down through smoke-squinted eyes, as though trying to choose a satisfactory sausage from the deli platter, and asked in a throaty voice, “So? We gonna happen or what?” That was the first time I’d seen her. Theoretically, being objectified and treated like nothing more than ten inches of dangling meat should have been a giant turn on. After all, that’s the dream, right? However, it turns out the purple-headed General is a coward. I squirmed from their clutches and returned to the party and the knowing merriment of the other guys.

Those women were about a year and a half through their two year, sexless, stays in Taiwan. They were like a pack of cats in heat, rubbing up against anything that’d stay still. I now believe that’s what happens to a collective of women when the ol’ panty gerbil gets hungry and no one will feed it—they begin acting like horny men. It’s sort of beautiful—we’re all the same. The difference is that it is an unusual and uncomfortable position for women. They were used to being both the brake and accelerator in sexual liaisons back home. It must have been a genuine shock to not be able to give it away, no matter how hard they tried.

There were some cultural reasons for their sexual deprivation. First, they were daunting. If they scared me, what must Taiwanese men have felt? Beyond that, Taiwanese men have a lot of family obligations to live up to. Primarily to find a nice Taiwanese girl, get married, and have Taiwanese babies. Taiwanese women don’t have quite the same imperative since once they marry they’re out of the family, so if they have mixed kids it is not such a big deal. The other big problem was that the foreign men were all dating Taiwanese women. Only the Taiwan-based foreign models were consistently dating, below themselves admittedly, but still they had some romantic life. One solution was to arrive in Taiwan as a couple, but these couple frequently broke up when the guy noticed all the Taiwanese women. Taiwan breaking up Western couples was almost a trope.

For most people it’s impossible to live long term in a place without the hope of a satisfactory sex life. Involuntary celibacy erodes your psychological well-being. Not many women stayed here beyond two years. I believe the dearth of intimate contact was the cardinal cause of high turnover among expat women.

That’s the way it was; but I see women breaking through now. There are a growing number of mixed couples where the man is Taiwanese. Twenty years ago, seeing an AMWF couple would have stopped me in my tracks. It’s a heartwarming change. Also, there are a lot more Western couples in Taiwan, and they seem better able to stay together. Consequently there are a lot more expat women living here, and staying longer. Counterintuitively, the high rate of intermarriage between Western men and Taiwanese women is making expat society more stable and tolerable for expat females. It doesn’t fix the underlying problem, but women are no longer forced to spend their time with rutting males, who regard them as little more than background fauna. Not getting laid is terrible; concurrently watching dweeby foreign dudes score is insufferable—but nobody gets jealous of married sex.  The current situation just feels better. Expat life in Taiwan is maturing, becoming more inclusive and family friendly. It’s no longer just a pack of horny dudes on the make.

Vignette #16: Who Cut the Tofu?

Asia has a different relationship with bodily functions than the West. In Taiwan you can expect to be frequently engaged by public displays of earthiness. Today we’ll examine that Taiwanese classic—the public fart.

I first faced this phenomenon in class. I was teaching maybe a dozen students, when a sweet teenage girl farted. It wasn’t remotely feminine or polite. She didn’t release a subdued puff of gas, wave a hand in front of her face and go, “Oops, pardon me, tee-hee, I seem to have fluffed”. No. She lifted her right butt cheek off the chair, Farmer John style, and let loose a resonant ass blast. The ol’  Arkansas trouser spider was really barking that day. Then she screwed up her face, bore down, and ejected one more panty cough, lowered her derrière to the seat, rearranged her face into its usual serene countenance, and continued taking notes like nothing had happened.

As their teacher, I was of course ready to leap in with jokes and general dumbassery as soon as someone commented. (If you can’t make fun of your students, who can you make fun of?) Well, the man sitting to her right—where the flatus had been directed—turned red and his eyes began watering, but no comments, smirks, or looks were exchanged. I was stunned no one lightened the tension with some puerile humor. The class carried on as if nothing had happened, despite the obvious discomfort of all but our teenage heroine.

That is not the Canadian way.

Occasionally when visiting my in-laws, one or both parents will be farting all over the room. I can’t deal with it. Sometimes, even at the dinner table, my father-in-law will fire a nut knocker my way. It is hard not to feel he is editorializing or engaging in social commentary; you know, the father/son-in-law dynamic. However, my wife swears he means nothing by it, and that it is just something he has always done. Chiayi charm. It only affects my appetite, everyone else unmindfully carries on.

That’s an extreme example, but even when walking in public areas, there’s a lot more gas getting passed than I’d expect in the West. I don’t mean to be too harsh. When I lived in Korea—admittedly long ago—public urination and occasionally defecation, by males and sometimes females, was common. By comparison Taiwan’s fart culture seems tame. Possibly it is even disappearing. I seem to be eating fewer air biscuits, or perhaps I’ve acclimatized and don’t notice it—sometimes it’s hard to know

Taiwan’s Marriage Market

China has garnered some attention in the Western media for its marriage markets (for example: China’s Marriage Markets). To the best of my knowledge, there hasn’t been an equivalent in Taiwan during my time here. However, I have seen Taiwanese parents do their best to eliminate any romance from courtship, make marriage more about themselves than their children, and try to commoditize marriage (see: Marrying Taiwanese). But, they’ve never quite reached China’s levels of expediency.

When I first came to Taiwan, I became briefly—though never seriously—part of one woman’s marriage quest. Let’s call her Lily. She was about twenty-seven, the dreaded prohibition on marrying during your twenty-ninth year was looming large. Marrying at twenty-nine was inauspicious and at thirty a woman became an old maid (see: Dating Fails). The pressure was on.

Mother and daughter approached dating with all the romance of General George S. Patton knifing through France. They planned, strategized, attacked, fell back, regrouped, and then reassaulted Taipei’s bachelors. I had just arrived from Canada and watching the pair was my first opportunity to experience deeper culture shock than the I-can’t-believe-you-eat-that variety.

For them, dating was very much a rehearsal for marriage. Normal; I suppose. Their military precision made it seem unnatural. Then again, maybe I was abnormally lackadaisical regarding love and marriage. I was twenty-nine years old and had no schedule for falling in love. I lacked even a basic schematic diagram of my relationship history and future goals. I was floating along, whimsically moving between relationships—like a goddamn hippie.

Lily asked me, with what I suppose must’ve been a flirtatious giggle, whether I wanted to be on her potential husband list. Nope. There wasn’t anything wrong with Lily. She was reasonably attractive, warm and funny, but I hadn’t been in Taiwan long enough to deal with that level of cultural immersion. If I’d agreed they’d have pulled out their marriage book, written my name on a new page, discussed my relative merits, and created a pros and cons list. I know because I’d watched them do it. I imagine my name in the marriage book is as far as I’d have gotten, but if I’d passed this early appraisal I’d have found myself on a first date with Lily. I was never privy to these early dates, I’m guessing they were pragmatic affairs.

I was however invited on a few of her later dates, in that Asian group dating kind of way, after she’d winnowed the list down to her final two. I believe she was assessing how each prospect interacted in larger social groups and their interactions with her friends. Nothing was ever spontaneous.

One was a doctor, not so handsome, and looked to be well into middle age; but, you know, a doctor. The other was an entrepreneur, in his mid to late thirties, and, if not handsome, at least not ugly; but, you know, not a doctor. She  was dating the two finalists concurrently—the better to compare them. The men were aware of it and seemed okay with the setup.

It must have gotten awkward when it came time to compare them sexually—because that was part of the process. As Lily bluntly explained sex and sexual compatibility are important in marriage. Therefore, she really needed to get out there and test-drive each man. Make sure it fit. God bless her pragmatic little heart. I should note that Lily was not the only Taiwanese woman to express this sentiment in similarly businesslike tones. I couldn’t fault the logic, but found their hard-nosed unsentimental approach to sex disconcerting.

Mother and daughter’s priorities largely aligned, but not completely. They agreed the man needed a stable income, a house in Taipei, a car, and a cell phone. They disagreed on how important the intangibles were. The doctor’s looks weren’t good enough for the daughter; the mother didn’t care. The entrepreneur’s business didn’t have enough status for the mother; the daughter didn’t care. The daughter worried about having a husband who kept a doctor’s schedule; the mother didn’t care. They struggled, agonized, scrutinized, and compromised. Eventually they came together and chose the businessman.

I was much too newly arrived to be able to understand her family’s ethnic and cultural background. I could not contextualize their behavior—were they normal or bonkers. I’ve fallen out of touch with Lily, so I can’t reexamine her family. Given that the “boyfriends” went along with everything and Lily’s friends all played their role, I’m guessing it wasn’t that unusual. Still, I’ve neither seen, nor participated in, anything like it since.