Category Archives: Culture Shock

Banged for Being Foreign

Here’s one they don’t teach in expat school and really should. There are people who’ll be attracted to your exoticness. Sometimes it’s intellectual; the desire to learn about another culture, language, way of thinking, whatever—this is why the offer of a “language exchange” has been the gold standard for hitting on random locals for decades. It starts the conversation.

I met my oldest Taiwanese friend this way. I’d been here days when I saw this beautiful woman on the bus. Ever the smoothie—I dropped jaw and stared. Prompting a piss-off face from her, but she was so pretty that it came across as cute and encouraging. I made my approach, eliciting a piss-further-off face that heartened me even more. Obviously, I should have crashed and burned, making an unwelcome cold approach on a random woman on the bus. I don’t remember all that was said, I can only assume my regular Bartholomew Bandyesque suavity. Despite that, the offer of a language exchange got her number and subsequent dates. Of course she knew what I was doing—chicks always know, they’re way ahead of us. Still, twenty-five years later and we remain friends.

Of course, the attraction of the exotic is often not intellectual. When I first started coming to Asia, it was pretty common among Asian women to want to try a white guy—in the words of my Taiwanese friend—to see what it feels like going in. And, she had no particular attraction to foreigners, but still even with her, there was the whiff of willingness for a little international mésaventure. I’m not sure what the appeal is, but I think we can thank Western pop-culture.

When I first arrived, decades ago, all foreign guys were regarded as essentially the same. As with any collector, Asian women have become much more discriminating, some developing maple fever [a personal favorite], while others became Anglo-anglers or Euro-tramps. Some chanted: “You splooge, I splooge, we all splooge for Spanish dudes,” while still others became girls of the red, white, and goo. Sounds great, right!?!

Not totally.

Sure, if you’re a traveler and the locals are on you like pubes on soap, well you just couldn’t ask for much more. If you’re living in Asia, at some point you’ll probably want a deeper relationship. It can be difficult navigating these landmines-with-boobs to find a sincere woman seeking a real relationship. You think you’re on the way to having a Sweet Baboo, only to find yourself with a Slutty Samantha. No slut shaming here. I love sluts. But, it’s important to know what you’re getting into, so to speak.

Sometimes Taiwanese hold an assumption that you understand that you are a foreigner [most of us do], and thus obviously ineligible for a serious relationship [many a foreigner never received that memo]. “Oh you didn’t know that? Yeah you should have—it’s obvious.” The problem can be compounded by a tendency to see foreigners as universally similar, a pack of commitment-phobic sex-crazed wastrels. “I’ve seen American movies. I know the score.” I ended up in one long term relationship when the Taiwanese woman assumed I knew the score too. I didn’t. It was a hookup that went extremely long as she didn’t have the ovaries to tell me she was just in it for the D.

In Taiwan the situation has changed. There are simply too many foreigners here. We are no longer so scarce. Of course it has always been a small percentage of Taiwanese women who’ve been interested in foreigners, but rarity assured a surprising level of dating success. Now there’s a white swinging dick on every corner. Also, Taiwanese people have become more sophisticated, they travel more, have seen more, and know more foreigners. They have more intellectual knowledge of the West, and if desired, more opportunities for carnal knowledge. We are just not as rare. Taiwan is still very amenable to intercultural relationships, but it does lack the Wild East feel it had. If you were looking for something like that, you need to head to other less Westernized areas of Asia.

I understand this article will not provoke sympathy among those who’ve not experienced fetishization. Even back in the day, during expat gripe sessions, callousness prevailed when some guy would moan on about this situation. Guys tend towards cruelty because we’re guys, and women could be mean because most expat women at the time were woefully underlaid and unprepared to sooth whingy over-satiated men. Champagne problems. Still, it was, and to a lesser degree still is, something that can happen to unsuspecting expats.

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!

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].

The Pervert in Class Is You

I’m sorry for how long this article took. The Covid shutdown has had its charms; working from home, pantless Friday’s, joining Taiwan’s fine tradition of high-functioning alcoholics, etc. But, Covid fatigue is real. When I finish online teaching I don’t want to do much. Writing has been about as enjoyable as leather pants in a Taiwan summer—just thinking about either gives me a rash and sweaty balls.

However, a friend asked for this follow-up to Talking ’bout Sex. He pointed outcorrectlythat after decades of teaching English in Asia, I must have countless stories of foreigner teachers shitting the bed with their obliviously offensive and inappropriate behavior. True dat.

He thought Talking ’bout Sex was building to some of those tales. I just didn’t think it that important. I haven’t filed those experiences in my mental Rolodex very carefully as other. The foreign teacher with both feet stuck in his mouth is ubiquitous and unmemorable. Still there’ve been a few standouts.

From my blog you might assume I’ve had problems with this. Not really. I get in more trouble with foreigners, when sometimes my words are halfway to Kaohsiung on High Speed Rail before my brain hops out of the taxi at Taipei Main Station. In class my words are more deliberate. Of course I’ve stepped on my own crank a few times. That’s how you learn. Generally it’s been infrequent and minor, but I have seen somethings….

Buxiban teachers are the worst.  Most FOB teachers are quickly put in front of a class with little training and no cultural understanding. They teach English the way they want to learn Chinese. Back in the day, the foreigner community was more dude-o-centric, and many wanted their language courses to resemble Get Laid in Chinese 101. A goal inevitably frustrated by uncooperative female Chinese instructors. But with their own classes, they were free to teach as they wished they were taught.

Examples are plentiful, but I’ll tell you two of my favorites. The first was an absolutely charming American guy. In a Western way, he was saucy, insouciant, and witty. I loved chatting with him, but his charms were completely lost on the students. He was constantly in trouble for something said in class. He eventually got shitcanned when he walked into an 8am adult, all female, class and said, first thing, “So, I was eating out my girlfriend this morning, really diving in there, and it got me to thinking about fish and chips….” He then proceeded to deliver a funnyif career-ending—soliloquy on sex and British cooking.

Usually it’s more of a problem for male teachers, but not to be outdone, there was a female version of him teaching at the same school. She didn’t have quite the same verve, but God she was graphic. I walked by her class once as she was talking about how “fucking” itchy her “cunt” got after “nailing” multiple guys, and she proceeded to colorfully conjecture, in detail, why that might be. She got complaints, but never really got in as much trouble as the guy. Her students seemed too flabbergasted and confused about cross-cultural gender roles to be offended. Good on her, I say. She rode that edge with stunning deftness.

Admittedly those are the worst examples I can think of, from three decades of ESL teaching. Most teachers find themselves afoul of Taiwanese morality at times. There’s a tremendous pressure for buxiban teachers to be entertaining. If you’re not engaging, you lose students; if you lose students, you lose classes; if you lose classes, you lose hours; which means less pay. Lose enough classes and you lose your job. Most teachers have a pretty strong desire to be amusing. Many think risqué badinage puts asses in seats and keeps them there. It doesn’t seem to be true.

My perception is that these things happen less now. Taiwan’s foreigner community has become more sexually mixed, guys have lost their frontier spirit, and are more domesticated. Also, teachers coming to Taiwan now are more professional. [See: Where Have All the Idiots Gone]. Still these situations arise occasionally as a reminder of what happens when low-context teaching meets a high-context class.

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.