All posts by Darren Haughn

Talking ’bout Sex

Making observations about sex is hard; incomplete information, lies, and your own baggage block reality. But, I just wouldn’t be me if I let such piffling concerns deprive you of my wealth of sexual insights.

So let’s rap about sexual experiences and language.

Taiwanese and North Americans (I’m less sure about other Western cultures)  have a very different manner of talking about sex. Generally these differences are evident in discussions among close friends, acquaintances, and relative strangers. Taiwanese are more reticent to discuss sexual experiences, while North Americans sometimes won’t shut up about it. The differences generally hold true for both men and women, and is a source of annoyance for Taiwanese and Americans alike.

As a point of comparison, while working in Canada I went out with a coworker for the first time in a social setting. Within five minutes of meeting, I barely knew him, he informed me—on the down-low—that he has a pinprick-dick, that people tease him, and he’s sensitive about it. [Then don’t randomly tell people you have a micropenis]. Still it’s endearing when people tell you their secrets. It’s intimate, friendly, and creates closeness [in the West]. Dude’s super lovable. I can’t imagine a similar conversation in Taiwan.

That level of openness runs totally counter to high-context culture, where communication is more implicit and relies on context to convey meaning. “Hey Man, I have a nanometer-peter”, is too explicitly upfront for Taiwan.

Many foreigners get themselves into trouble for their explicit manner of communication. The problem is particularly acute for teachers, since they talk a lot and usually try to be humorous and captivating. The line between entertaining and inappropriate is drawn differently in high-context cultures. [Sometimes it seems like the Taiwanese are contriving to emulate that world famous Muslim sense of humor]. It’s primarily a problem for men, who Taiwanese think perverted or inappropriately on the make. Western women also cross the line, but it confuses rather than insults.

Western women are more inclined to braggadocio than Taiwanese. They’re not trying to seem slutty, they’re looking to make a good Western-style story. Everything is more boldly stated in low-context cultures. “I got so wasted last night I….” Don’t expect Taiwanese women to start a story this way, nor tell tales of sexual derring-do. These differences are part of the reason Taiwanese have traditionally thought of Western women as slatterns.  Openness, tall talk, and sardonicism are elements of a good English story—not a Chinese story.

Cross-cultural differences in speaking styles make it seem to Taiwanese that Westerners are doing an inordinate amount of random banging. It is not particularly true. There’s enough gratuitous rolling in the hay here that a farmer should bale the streets in the morning. I’m no Gay Talese, but from what I’ve been able to observe, I don’t think there’s much dissimilarity in sexual mores. The differences are more in word than deed.

Dear Salty,

I have been dating a Taiwanese woman for a couple years. Things are heading toward marriage, but…

One surprise since starting TheSaltyEgg is I’ve become something of a Dear Abby for the lovelorn journeying down the Taiwanese marriage rabbit hole. I receive semi-regular mail seeking relationship advice once they’ve crashed on the rocky shoals of the Taiwanese family, more from international readers than expats who can just bounce advice and beer around on a night out. [See: Hot-Crazy-Taiwanese Matrix]. These emails come from men, women, Asians, non-Asians, and foreign born Chinese. [I know. I’m surprised too]. Marrying Taiwanese, still receives multiple daily hits five-ish years after posting. Since marriage articles seem appreciated, enjoy.

This is based on mine and acquaintences’ personal experiences. Don’t get your boxer briefs in a wad if your experience is different. I’m working from a small sample. Still, I know tens of expat-Taiwanese couples and there are some consistencies.

The article is from a foreign male/Taiwanese female perspective. Taiwanese men have their own cultural and family expectations to live up to, particularly eldest sons. There’s a strong expectation they’ll marry a Taiwanese girl and start cranking out Taiwanese boys to keep the 陳 name alive. Daughters have an inherently greater ability to break these familial/social norms, since traditionally once married they’re out of the family anyway, partially explaining the relative rarity of foreign woman/Taiwanese man marriages. It’s like seeing a pube on a millennial—sure it happens, but it gives you pause, and makes you think. If you’re not a foreign male/Taiwanese female couple, glean what you can, but your mileage may vary. Apologies for my manocentric viewpoint, the world needs a female me [sassy and sexy] to record the womancentric expat experience.

Of the interracial couples I know in Taiwan, I can only think of a couple where the Taiwanese woman comes from a healthy happy family. Traditional Taiwanese prejudices against intermarriage and the intrinsic engagement hurdles prevent most Taiwanese, that have an opportunity, from trying. It’s a difficult path. Women who wed foreigners seem to come in four models: crazy; eccentric; in an an unhealthy daddy-daughter relationship; or from a dysfunctional family.

Bonkers is bonkers, nothing much to say. Crazy is less bound by social norms. Does a soup sandwich care what other sammies think of it? I think not.  So, intermarriage is OK; and as a bonus, unsuspecting foreigners are less likely to sniff out the problems. This is a small minority of intercultural marriages.

Some people are just eccentric and don’t much notice normative behavior. It’s relatively simple for them to love and marry a foreigner. Why not?

The last two models are the most common and difficult to navigate. There are lots of daddy issues floating around Taiwan. I blame Confucius. [More on that in subsequent articles]. The issue seems a bit age-specific, with younger dads being less patriarchal and more relatable for daughters. For many Taiwanese women past their mid-thirty there are issues. The patriarchy hasn’t been kind.

Logically, some of these women seek a man different from Dear Ol’ Dad—what’s more different from a Confucius-loving, honor and tradition addicted, pater than a foreigner? This category has been good to many foreign men, creating opportunities to marry above themselves. Despite the effort, many of these women marry a different skin-toned version of their father anyway: different culture, same personality.

Next are women from dysfunctional families. I’m talking about “normal” dysfunction you might expect anywhere—I still blame Confucius—but that’s my bias. If the family is unstable, the familial bonds of kinship and duty might be looser, and the woman more able to withstand family pressure.

One feature of getting engaged in Taiwan is that it’s a family affair, with both families sniffing each other‘s arses. A well-known Chinese saying is you marry the family, not the person. The exact opposite of what we say. Both side’s families check each other out, looking for red flags, checking their compatibility, and as a side-thought, maybe the children’s compatibility. 門當戶對 (homogamy) is desired. [See: Don’t Marry a Foreigner]. Many foreigners hope that like telemarketers or genital warts, if they pretend the family isn’t there long enough they’ll just disappear. Good luck. Foreigners enter marriage negotiations as free agents lacking familial baggage, but also that sober second thought. What a Taiwanese family would run screaming from, foreigners blithely stumble into. Not necessarily bad, if her family is fucked up enough a blonde might be her only reasonable option. It’s pure symbiosis, both sides have a chance to marry up. Win-win.

If the intercultural marriage is going to happen, the Taiwanese partner needs to fight family, tradition, expectations, and biases. It’s asking a lot. Rebellion against the family is not the normal resting state for Taiwanese daughters. Women need to be able to stand up for the relationship or marriage won’t happen. It seems to require some level of, or combination of, craziness, eccentricity, dysfunction, or desire to flip Dad—or what he represents—the bird. [Also see: Getting Engaged in Taiwan].

Convenience Stores in Taiwan and What They Say About You

There are many things about Taiwan that might stick out in a new arrivals mind. One of the most mundane, and therefore most interesting to me, is the surfeit of convenience stores throughout the nation. In Taipei there seems to be at least one, usually more, convenience store on most blocks. Though these convenience stores may share the same name as their Western counterparts they are different. Most convenience stores in Taiwan are part restaurant, coffee shop, grocery store, snack bar, pub, bank, ticket vendor, pharmacy and post office—not just places to get pepperoni sticks and a gallon of gas.

There are four main convenience store chains in Taiwan; 7-Eleven, Family Mart, OK-Mart, and Hi-Life. There’s a correlation between convenience store choice and the expat’s level of integration into Taiwan. This is all very scientific, using only the most up-to-date social research methodology [natch], as you’d expect from TheSaltyEgg’s  journalistic endeavors.

7-Eleven is the granddaddy of convenience chain stores. It’s run by Uni-President, and is ubiquitous throughout the island. For many foreigners they just seem “to have what you need while the others don’t”. Logical considering it’s a giant multinational administered by one of Taiwan’s biggest food companies. Their supply chain connects to America in a way that outstrips the others. 7-Eleven is the most likely to have the Western snack you desire, including—for one glorious and still remarked upon summer—salt and vinegar chips. FOB and not yet comfortable with salted duck egg flavored goodies? This is the place for you. I lived out of a 7-Eleven my first two years. It’s great when you just want cheezies and a tampon without having a “cultural experience”.

Family Mart is the next largest chain in Taiwan. It is a Japanese based company and more likely to have products from around Asia. Family Mart appeals more to the longer in the tooth expat who’s developed a taste for Asian snacks. They have a wide range of Japanese snacks like dried wasabi green peas, Hokkaido ice cream, and Japanese salty mixed rice crackers. They also have items from around Asia. This is where you go to assuage that 2:17 am craving for Singaporean fish skin crisps [actually pretty awesome] or Korean roasted seaweed snacks.

Things begin getting a little more Taiwanesey with OK Mart. It is part of the Canadian-based Circle K group of stores, still OK Mart has less international selection. For salty snacks you have the omnipresent Cheetos and Kyushu Seaweed Lay’s potato chips, or other Asian flavors. If you’re craving dried instant noodle snacks, they have a wide selection of this Taiwanese answer to the potato chip. If OK Mart is your bodega of choice, you’re on the road to acclimatization, next stop…

Hi-Life, a Taiwanese-run convenience store chain, with less international feel than the others. My local Hi-Life doesn’t even stock Coke products, but they have a pretty solid selection of grass jelly teas, red bean and taro ice cream bars, and 乖乖 (a tasteless puffed corn treat, like Cheez Doodles without the cheez). If Hi-Life can assuage your cravings—congratulations you’re Taiwanese.

However, the journey is not complete until you find yourself shuffling down the alley to the local mom-and-pop corner store in your betel nut stained wife-beater, nylon shorts, and blue rubber flip-flops, carrying an armload of empty 米酒 (Taiwanese rice cooking wine) bottles to exchange for a fresh bottle and some Longlife cigarettes. Then, and only then, will you be a 台客 (Taiwanese good ol’ boy), my son.

Vignette #26: A Little Sinophobia

I’ve recently been talking about the Taiwanese older generation’s attitude towards the wave of Chinese that hit Taiwan in the post-war period [see: Japan’s the Best]. Taiwanese sinophobia—in a roundabout way—has benefited me.

There were many obstacles along the path to marrying Venus [see: Marrying Taiwanese]. Hard as it may to imagine, I wasn’t entirely what the family had in mind. Contrary to expectation, the problem wasn’t a worry Venus was hitting above her weight class, striving for the stars when the moon would have been ample. No. They thought I wasn’t good enough!

Concerns ran the gamut. Will he be able to take care of our girl, is he functional in Taiwanese society. [As balls on a dildo]. That I was too fat. [Plain hurtful. Sure when I lay on my side my stomach lies beside me—but it’s beguiling]. That I was too old, they thought me older than I was. That I might not be the sharpest doorknob in the toolshed. [I’m not the type you’d call smart, nor stupid—I’m the type you’d think owns a terrarium]. Would I be true. [Their whole he’s fat-and-old-thing wasn’t a consideration]. Will he be caring and affectionate. [Like Super Dave Osbourne petting a kitten].

I found an unexpected ally in Venus’s ninety-something grandmother. Venus‘s mother said in her time parents, including her’s, swore they’d beat their daughters brutally, chop off their legs and to feed the pigs, rather than allowing her to wed a waishengren (外省人). [Chiayi strong]. My mother-in-law noted those who’d married Chinese immigrants, on average, had better marriages and lives, and maybe the current wave of foreigners in Taiwan would work the same way. Grandma’s sole comment on our marriage was that at least I’m not a waishengren.

Thanks grandma.

Japan’s the Best: A Taiwanese View of Japan

Taiwan is probably the only country colonized by the Japanese to look back on the experience with fondness. Other Asian countries, on the receiving end of Japan’s twentieth century expansionism, have raised Japan-hating to an art form.

Korea has dealt with Japanese aggression for longer than any other country, starting from Japan’s invasions of 1592 and 1597 which devastated Korea’s civilian population, military, technological capabilities and cultural artifacts. Japan succeeded in subjugating Korea in 1910. Koreans still hold a grudge.

China was forced to make concessions to Japan after the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895). So feelings were already a bit tetchy—we know how easy it is to “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people”—when the Second Sino-Japanese War rolled around (1937-1945). The assorted atrocities and humiliations China endured did nothing to soften perceptions of Japan.

Since 1592 Japan intermittently sought to extend its control to include Taiwan. Their goal was realized with the Treaty of Shimonoseki (1895) after the First Sino-Japanese War, when Taiwan was ceded to Japan. Though it still took a Japanese invasion to quell resistance in Taiwan.

All these countries have a pretty similar history with Japan and it has engendered the expected animus among Koreans and Chinese, only the Taiwanese openly flirt with Japanaiserie, and exhibit nostalgic feelings for the Japanese times. On the surface Taiwan’s reaction seems to make as much sense as cellulite on a skinny woman, but there’s more to the surface than meets the eye.

Partially it’s a tribute to how horrible  the Chinese were as an occupying force that Japanese rule glowed in comparison. The Chinese arrival in 1945 ushered in a period of government (Kuomintang) corruption and repression. Even after the worst of the post-war venality ended, Chinese rule didn’t contribute much to Taiwanese society. They were like hungry locusts, trying to take from Taiwan as much as possible for the eventual recapture of the motherland. Most of what Taiwan had, in terms of infrastructure , roads, bridges, rail, public buildings, etc., came from the Japanese. The Chinese only grudgingly began to build things in Taiwan in the 1970s.

Japan was the font of culture during imperial times and that didn’t change in many Taiwanese minds after the Chinese came. Japan has a seductive culture of its own, in addition Japan was the intermediary between Western civilization and Asia—Japan westernized much of Asia. Notice anything familiar about Taiwanese public buildings from the Japanese period? Japanese culture continues to have an outsized influence on both Taiwanese high and pop culture.

Wai sheng ren (外省人) and ben sheng ren (本省人) [see:The Neighbors Suck] perceptions and experiences of Japan differed greatly. The Chinese arrived in Taiwan straight from a protracted war with Japan. A war not noted for its warm and fuzzy moments. It was an article of faith that the Japanese must be despised. Look what they had done to China. The Taiwanese, however, had for fifty years been a nominal part of Japan, including during WWII. Many Taiwanese fought in the Japanese army. Taiwan endured Allied bombings.

As an example of how this might cause awkwardness, Kuomintang (KMT) memorials and remembrance services are for their war dead. The Taiwanese were on the other side, but in their own country have no way to memorialize their war dead. Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) caused a stink when he visited Japan’s controversial Yasukuni Shrine (靖國神社) where his brother, who died in the Japanese navy, is enshrined. A slap in the face to some wai sheng ren and pretty reasonable for many ben sheng ren. Lee Tung-hui has been criticized as a Japan-lover by the Chinese government and some wai sheng ren, but it’s more like he was a Taiwanese of that period.

The upshot is the Taiwanese have a surprisingly positive view of Japan despite having been colonized. It’s just another thing that makes them unique.

When I first came to Taiwan I laughed at people’s fascination with all things Japanese. I used to ask my students if they could travel anywhere where would they go. The most common answer was Japan. It’s like me—a Saskatchewan boy—declaring that if I could go anywhere at all the first place I’d go is Bismarck, North Dakota.

Then I found myself adopting the Taiwanese love of all things Japanese. I recognized it during a joint Japanese-Taiwanese architectural exhibit. I was looking at photographs of a piece of architecture, that I assumed was Taiwanese, and thinking it a small, uninspired simple little box. Then my wife told me it was by a Japanese architect and my internal monologue changed instantly to: Ahh yes, the simplicity, the tasteful minimalism, the subtle interplay of shade and light; it’s truly an elegant example of the Japanese aesthetic. [Pretentious douche].

Taiwan’s relationship with Japan, and Japanese culture, confuses much of the rest of Asia, but gives insights into Taiwan’s unique experiences with being an occupied nation.