All posts by Darren Haughn

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.

Health Problems and The Sickly Egg

I’ve had a few fans—yup I have a handful of those—ask me what’s going on, why haven’t I been publishing much, and to please post. If you’ve been missing your irascible dose of saltiness, I apologize. I’ve been laid low by health issues for the better part of a year, and the last 6-7 months have been difficult. I haven’t had the energy for anything. Believe it or not, I don’t like writing, so I didn’t want to pour my limited stamina into something I find draining at the best of times. I believe I’ve gotten over the hump [knock wood]. You can expect to soon be delighted, enlightened, annoyed, amused, shocked, or just plain pissed off by me. Hopefully all six at the same time; that’d mean I’m feeling pretty good and back to my old self.

I’ll probably start slowly with some smaller topics. In the meantime read Channel Z. I know it’s a vignette, but it’s longer than usual, and quite entertaining….I’ll have something new for you next week.

Vignette #28: Channel Z

Netflix changed my life. Never before, in my expat life, has the mind-numbing been so close at hand. I’ve been in Asia since long before streaming, even before the Internet and downloading, when finding passive English entertainment bordered on the impossible.

My Chinese wasn’t good enough for Taiwanese TV, and it didn’t look appealing anyway. You could buy a little cylinder that attached to the back of your TV and would unscramble one of the soft porn channels. [Mayor Chen Shui-bian ruined that for everyone]. Otherwise, there wasn’t much.

However, there was one oasis of mindless entertainment: Channel Z. It was a Japanese cable channel, now defunct, that used to be viewable on Taiwanese cable. Channel Z was responsible for some of my most memorable television moments.

All the news, morning, cooking, and talk shows were co-hosted by hot, partially dressed, young Japanese women. They provided jiggle interest, and seemed as sweet as toffee and twice as smart. I was entranced by the shiny hair and boob-shaped boobs. Simple. Elegant. A winning concept.

I personally enjoyed the cooking shows. They were cohosted by naked hotties, wearing but an apron, exposing ass and a tantalizing bit of side-boob. The shows inevitably involved the male host [Benny Hill San] having his cohosts bending to get ingredients, reaching for or running up ladders to fetch things, while he contrived to look up the apron. They don’t write ‘em like that anymore. Needless to say, I’m practically an itamae (qualified Japanese chef).

The best TV I’ve ever seen happened when an all-girls Canadian rock band was touring Japan and had an interview on a Channel Z talk show. The hosts had surprisingly good English, and asked unexpectedly pertinent questions. However, most of the video was of the other cameramen trying to get upskirt shots. Channel Z must have asked the women to wear skirts: thinkers-and-planners. Pity the Canadian publicist that arranged it, Channel Z was a legitimate well-rated Japanese station. Z’s upskirtiness was undoubtedly a surprise.

The band was graceful. The lead singer and band spokesperson artfully squirmed away from the action cameraman, on elbows and knees in front of her, and in a voice that belied nothing promoted their next concert. When asked about their experiences in Japan—in an all-cultures-are-valid Canadian sort of tone—replied, “There certainly seem to be some cultural differences between Canada and Japan”. Surreal. The band was pretty stoic, except the bassist, who seemed to catch on early, and was pissing herself laughing, while playfully fending off the cameras.

Now that’s entertainment!

More Expat Archetypes

The article is a continuation of Expat Archetypes. It would be best to perused it before reading Part II below.

The Phile: Many sojourns begin from cultural fascination; Philes arrive with a genuine desire to learn. Sinophiles to Francophiles, the [theoretically] beloved culture draws many to try living in the culture first-hand. Philes have existed since Marco Polo—they’re as classic as an unshaven bush.

There are many species in the genus, each with a particular passion, but as a group they’re harmless, if dull. You have to love their enthusiasm, even if not what they’re saying, or the fact they interrupt every conversation to say it. Arcane points are their stock-in-trade, and have their place, but if I just want to enjoy a beer, do I really need to hear—again—about the role Ma Xinyi’s assassination played in the Taiping Revolution, and why that’s been important for the development of neon signage in Asia?!?

Characteristics: When young their overwrought enthusiasm for the culture annoys: when older, their bitter disappointment borne of having lived in the culture annoys equally. The Phile can be found on the periphery of any expat gathering pontificating on facts best left unpontificated. You know that dull buzzing in your ear when out for a beer? That’s the Phile.

Subset: The Wannabe is a subspecies of expat that ranges the world, trying to be what they’re not—a member of another race, culture, or country. I’ll talk specifically about The Asian Wannabe, because I have daily contact. Found throughout Asia, particularly on the Indian subcontinent, and in China and Japan. They are distinguishable by their attempts to become Asian. A surprising number of whities arrive expecting to become Asian. Deluded. I suppose the idea comes from expectations developed growing up in more inclusive societies. There is no equivalent to Taiwanese-American or Chinese-Canadian here. The Wannabe exists wherever there are expats.

Characteristics: Easily recognizable as the blonde head towering above all the black-hairs, in traditional hanbok, kimono, kung fu jacket, etc. The mimicry is concurrently genuinely stupid and sweet.

The ESLoser: The frequently maligned and much joked about English as a Second Language instructor is the backbone of most English-speaking working expat communities. (Retirement communities abroad are different). ESLosers are the lumpenproleteriat that holds the whole thing together. Despite getting that Quaker-in-a-titty-bar face when discussing ESLosers, most other expats would find their goods or services out of demand without them. I am many of these archetypes to varying degrees, but foremost I’m an ESLoser, so it is a bit hard to be objective. That provisio out of the way, I’m now going to cut on them.

ESLoser are a diverse group. From high-energy youthful and enthusiastic children’s teachers to jade old alcoholics funding a passion for lechery by doing the minimum as infrequently as possible. The ESLoser is ubiquitous and undefinable. They share similarities with the Burner [see: Part I]. Many ended up where they are by virtue of poor planning, circumstance, and shit-that-happens happening. For the older generation that would describe almost all ESLosers [see: Where Have All the Idiots Gone], but now there is such a thing as a professional ESL teacher. Ugh.

Characteristics: They can be found on practically any corner trying to sell something any English-speaker could do, hustling to survive with little going for them but the host country’s perception of need. They have a devil-may-care joie de vivre that is the envy of other archetypes.

The Teach was initially going to be included with the ESLosers, but ESLosers are the cool kids—The Teach most definitely is not. They have limited redeeming qualities, and a boundless capacity to annoy.

In an effort to distinguish themselves from the “lesser” ESLoser, The Teach engages in self-conscious preening and peacocking, involving the wearing of business attire while ardently and conspicuously discussing such weighty matters as differentiated versus an onset-rime segmentation approach to biliteracy and cognate recognition for acquisition of domain-specific emergant-litera… yada, yada, yada,… bullshit, bullshit, bullshit,….

Characteristics: Can be found in meetings, seminars, conferences, and breakout session vocalizing, in the characteristic dull drone of The Teach, on the power of the Lau Remedies and morphophonology, like they have a dictionary—pardon me, an appendix of lexical terminology—stuck up their ass. The purpose of this overt displaying is to be thought of as…

The Expert: Someone, somewhere, somehow, has made the—frequently dubious—decision that this person is an expert on something, and that their unique skill set is needed in the host country. Despite being “experts” brought over for their wonkish, usually technical knowledge, many of these people are rip-roaring fun. They have a disproportionately high income for the local economy and they’re on a Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure type experience. They have a shelf life, and soon will be back home trudging through their normal 9-to-5, so they have an insatiable need for experiences. Chemical and civil engineers, shipping specialists, and environmental managers all great fun, despite the humdrum job descriptions.

Characteristics: Physically they are obvious engineers [you know what I’m saying]. They have an almost manic need to see it all and do it all as quickly as possible, they’ve a bit of a nymphomaniac-on-death-row feel to them.

The Mooch: Here you have your business executives, diplomats, financial experts, et al. They’re overseas on that most prized of possessions—the expat contract: “Money for nothin’, and your chicks for free…”

 

The best paid and most useless of expats—neither local experts, nor suitably equipped to manage local staff—essentially they’re high-priced interns, or tourists on an expense account. As soon as they know enough to be useful they’re sent on to another country to continue suckling at the corporate/government tit. They have a psycophant-induced hyper-inflated sense of self-worth. For them the world is debutante balls and Dilly Bars, while their local secretary does the work—who else? Producers of nothing, takers of everything; every self-respecting expat dreams of sinking to their exalted heights.

 Characteristics: The Mooch can be seen getting driven here-and-there, asking their assistants to perform simple chores, being coddled, and just generally exhibiting a two-year old’s cross-cultural sensitivity and abilities.

There’ll be another part when I get around to writing it.

The Foreigner Card

If you’ve traveled internationally you’ll have noticed there’s a sort of get out of jail free card for foreigners. It is a kind of social contract where the host region accepts that you, as a foreign guest, don’t know what you’re doing. A foreigner’s card gives the holder the right to screw up the basics of life; get continually lost, ask stupid questions, and just generally act like a one-inch dildo—in the place, but useless there.

I first encountered the concept of a foreigner card in a James A. Michener essay. It expressed in writing something I had felt and used, but never articulated. A foreigner’s license is a necessity for travel. If you were held to account every time you fucked up, international travel would be miserable. Things are usually a little more loosey-goosey for foreigners. People need a little leeway to make it through.

Most understand and freely give dispensations to travelers. The amount of indulgence is a bit dependent on locale. A foreigner’s license in Paris is worth little more than an extremely fine French leather shoe up the ass. In some locations it will get you ripped off. Traveler beware. But, in Taiwan it is golden.

It had even greater importance before the Internet increased the comfort and safety of travelers. You couldn’t arrive in a country with most your bookings in hand, a better sense of where to eat than a local, or any real idea of the lay of the land. Guide books were better for getting excited about—rather than getting through—your travels. Today’s level of research and preparation wasn’t possible.

Translation software now makes reading local signage possible. You can even have a bit of a conversation with a patient local. Google Maps and GPS on your phone prevent getting too lost; or your phone will at least produce an address, in the local language, to show a taxi driver. No longer does the woebegotten traveltard need to tap on someone’s shoulder seeking help.

Not having to depend so heavily on the kindness of strangers is a significant improvement for travelers, but it does come at a cost. Asking for help on the street—foreigner’s card in hand—was a great way to meet people and interact with locals. I still have a good friendship that began by asking directions and has lasted a quarter century. If I remember right I may have asked for directions while not lost. She was hot. [Still counts].

Despite technological advances, the foreigner card is still a travel necessity. Things are almost guaranteed to get fucked up beyond technology’s ability to repair. The card is still an overall positive as regards travelers, but for expats, it invites abuse. It is pretty common for expats to use their foreignness to advantage; to purposely screw the rules, get around annoyances, or otherwise skirt societal norms. It’s no bueno to seek social acceptance on one hand, and benefit by up-playing your foreignness on the other.

There’s no shortage of examples from my life. A personal favorite comes from a friend who during Taipei’s hot summers liked to bicycle to a high-end apartment complex, and despite not belonging, whistle past the security guards with a wave and a smile. Once inside he’d head to the outdoor pool complex to cool-off and lounge about.  All it took were balls, a soupçon of impertinence, and a foreigner’s license. He relied on people being too intimidated to speak up, or assuming he belonged. I have lots of examples and have been guilty as well.

In the hands of a traveler the foreigner’s license is necessary, helpful, and should exist. In the hands of an expat it can become abusive, allowing an escape from the hard work of integrating. Most foreigners I know who’ve lived here have occasionally reaped the foreigner card’s benefits. It’s hard to think of an aspect of [white] expat life in Asia that is not, at least somewhat, colored by special privilege. [See: White Privilege in Asia].