Category Archives: Humor

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.

Where, Oh Where, Might the Prostitutes Be?

Where to find a prostitute? Mostly online.

But, it hasn’t always been that way. You used to find them behind railway stations. Throughout Asia, if you look behind the railway station, assuming it is not a new station, you can find the remnants of that bygone era. The topic suggested itself while having a coffee behind Taichung’s railway station. It is being rejuvenated, but carries the scars of its former life, whorehouses-cum-B&Bs dot the area with their weird and limited charm.

Red-light districts were there so travelers could arrive and easily find comfort and relaxation. This is not unique to Asia, it went on in the prairies, where I come from. But, it had disappeared long before I was born. Here in Asia, it was still a vibrant part of city life when I arrived.

If you consider the placement of Taiwan’s remaining red-light district, and relate them to the old railway stations, you’ll find that there’s still some correspondence. Ever wonder why Wanhua’s whorehouses are where they are? They’re around what was once the old Japanese railway station, Bangkah Station (艋舺停車場). The city ages and changes, but the girls stay the same.

These areas were lively affairs, without much stigmatization. My clearest memories come from my time in Korea. Yeosu (여수시), where I lived three decades ago, was a bit of a backwater. It had some charm, but basically was the Korean version of Eufaula, Alabama, with an ocean. Despite being a small sleepy city with little in the way of nightlife, the back of the train station was an amazing hive of vibrant, bouncy, juttering, and bustling activity after sundown. It shocked this young naive prairie boy. It’s hard to understand how such a sleepy burg sustained that level of commerce, but I guess there’s more to the surface than meets the eye. That area of Yeosu is so imprinted in my memory that even now the smell of sweaty tits and bad decisions makes me think of Korea.

When I first came to Taiwan it was the same. It’s a little hard to describe how blasé whoring was. Just a natural part of going out:

“What should we do tonight?”
“I don’t know. What do you feel like?”
“Movie?”
“Ahh. I don’t know. I don’t think there’s anything very good playing.”
“Beer?”
“Hmmm. I’m still a little hungover from last night. I don’t think so.”
“Blowjob?”
“Mmm. Yeah. That might be OK. A bill clinton would hit the spot about now.”
“Alright, fluffernutters it is. Let’s go.”

It constantly blew me away to see pals wandering around the red-light districts like a group of friends in Canada making their way to the next bar. It was just so natural and unweird—nothing furtive about it.

The Victorian era is still screwing with Western attitudes towards sex: it’s hard to grow out of the morality you’re born into. The scenes I’ve seen played out across Asia’s red-light districts are different than Canada, where plenty of shame is attached to commercial sex. It’s really hard to imagine a group of friends nonchalantly whoring around there. They’d definitely be perceived as greasy social retards, the kind to get their genitals caught in their fly when talking to a real live woman. Also, Western individualism and can-do attitude makes it feel gratuitous to pay for sex when with ingenuity and bravery anything can be a vagina.

The stigmatization of prostitution has grown in Taiwan, but it is still less defamed than in North America. Businessmen still make it to the KTV. Some massage parlors offering proper massages. A handful of blowjob bars exist in Taipei. But, it does feel like this aspect of life in Taiwan is on the wane.

Partially it has just moved online, and that is inherently less social. Also, the status of women has changed. You can’t just bang a good girl, but you can ride a strong independent woman like the tilt-a-whirl in a two-bit traveling carnival. [Just one of the many reasons I’m an ardent feminist]. Now that there are more strong modern women in Asia, it’s natural to think if you really apply yourself, you should be able to get it free, so paying begins to speak poorly of one’s interpersonal skills. Nobody wants to seem like that geek with his crank stuck in his pants.

Expat Archetypes

Here are a few archetypal expats I’ve met, or been, during my time in Asia. Personally I’ve passed through several of these archetypes. I’m guessing that’s not unique. 

The Burner: People who wash up on Asia’s shores because they can’t stay in their home countries. They end up here because of bankruptcy, divorce, legal problems, etc. They’re jet-setting losers. The Burner usually does well. Asia is a second chance and they’ve got the smarts and life experience to take advantage. They’re a personal favorite, they have the best stories, just crank them up with a couple drinks and let ’em fly—entertainment all night.

Characteristics: Alcoholism, frown lines, a brooding thousand yard stare, and cargo shorts; barely repressed rage directed at the West.

The Irrationally Angry Foreigner (IAF): Chronically incapable of adapting to change, they lash out at any differences from their perceived social ideal (the West). IAFs are raging assholes, totally lacking self-awareness, and assuming themselves the only right-minded people in a nation of idiots. It’s annoying—even Tom Cruise is mindful enough to know he’s short and crazy. Avoid IAFs at all costs. They’ll drag you down to their level, and have you violently raging about how much better Western grommets are than Asian grommets. The fury that burns brightest is the briefest—thankfully IAFs don’t last long. They either get over it or get out.

Characteristics: The red-faced pedestrian punching the taxi grill while bellowing at the driver for some perceived infraction is an IAF. The foreigner in a pet about pedestrian rights and pitching parked bicycles off the sidewalk is an IAF. They’re everywhere.

The Backpacker: Present throughout Asia in their current iteration since the late sixties, they’re traveling through seeking experiences they can afford. Northeast Asia is the wrong part of Asia. Coming here for budget travel is like going to Dubuque, Iowa for the opera. The Backpacker can be annoyingly cheap as they try to make their exit date. They were responsible for many Asian stereotypes of Westerners when I arrived. My sense is this is changing as Asia gets more sophisticated in its view of foreigners and stereotypes evolve.

Characteristics: Backpack adorned with flags and vibram-soled sport sandals. They’re in wonder of everything, knowledgeable about nothing. Usually they’re fun for short periods.

Subset: The Begpacker funds their international backpacking by begging as they go. Recognizable by their cardboard sign, alms bowl, and ability to relax on any piece of shopping district sidewalk. Generally they’re young, white, and ridiculously entitled; you’d have to be to fly from Europe or N. America to Laos or Cambodia and beg from subsistence farmers. They’re the unsolicited dicpic of expats.

The Addict: From the kindergarten teachers on speed (children love it) to the drunk falling off his barstool, they are our ever-present id. The expat life—if not actively promoting it—certainly aids addiction. It’s a bit like the military; lots of young people, free from family constraints, far away from recognizable societal guardrails, in an unknown land where the party runs 24/7. The most common entry level expat job, cram school English teacher, [inadvertently] promotes the party life. Most of the work is from 3:00-10:00pm. After work, what are you going to do? You’re making relatively good money and can sleep until mid-afternoon, for many the answer is clear. It can be vertigo-inducing after spending your teen years in Bumblefuck, USA. For some older expats the party never ended.

Characteristics: They travel in fun-loving packs, and can be seen in large numbers in their native habitat—bars and clubs. They’re great fun to be around. To find the related subspecies, Homo Hungoveris, The Addict’s less charming cousin, check buxibans in the afternoon.

The Slut: Some men arrive here specifically to bag Asian women. I’m not talking about normal guys who arrive for a long-term stay desiring an active social life. No. I mean guys trophy hunting and collecting beaver pelts. These guys are young, dumb, and full of cum. They’re very predatory. Honestly I’ve never seen this behavior so blatantly displayed outside the expat community. I suppose it exists everywhere, but the phenomenon is on crack cocaine here. The expat lifestyle’s freedom from social restrictions combined with a depersonalized view of Asian women as easy china dolls allows it to flourish. Amazingly, despite being as charming as an abscessed perianal boil, some of these guys get more ass than a toilet seat. Toxic masculinity exists for a reason I guess.

Characteristics: Men with hyper-aggressive banter, heads on a swivel, and eyes on pinions. You’ll find the Slut hitting on your mother-in-law, the hottie in the bar, their students, or the local obosan collecting trash. As one told me, “always be closing.”

The Earth Muffin: All expat archetypes are annoying in their own way, but my choice for most annoying are Earth Muffins. They’re here on a spiritual journey of self-discovery and tofu. The magical mystical East is the place to find both. I guess what bothers me is they take Eastern religion, philosophy, and mysticism, add a gloss of new age spirituality, and masquerade it as depth and meaning. It’s a mish-mash of bullshit. The Earth Muffin shouldn’t be confused with people earnestly studying religion, meditation, qigong, kung fu, or whatever. You can find The Earth Muffin in the park doing their own creative take on Tai Chi because, “it is all about spirituality and individualism—not a set form—but free-flowing energy and communing with the universe.” [Read in a laidback, yet pretentious voice].

Characteristics: They look like they went on a granola run, got lost, and ended up in Asia. Male—Man bun, Thai print harem pants, embroidered Hmong satchel, day old granola in the hair, and morning tofu breath. Female—virtually indistinguishable from the male, except smelling of patchouli.

 

See More Expat Archetypes for part II.

 

Inappropriate Touching and Being Other

Being other in Asia has led to some bizarre experiences as the locals, unfettered by Western norms for dealing with minorities, have felt free to let their freak-flag fly. I’m just going to recount a few of my odder moments in Asia. If you want more on the social underpinnings of this behavior read  Anti-Foreigner Bigotry. These stories are just for shit and giggles.

I’m blonde, and hirsute compared to Asians, so it is common for strangers to play with my hair. Either they’ll ask first or just surreptitiously start touching my hair. Stroking the hair on my arms and legs seems to be practically irresistible for some young women. It’s fun. However, if you’re not expecting it, the light caressing of your leg can feel disconcertingly like a cockroach—one of those big flying motherfuckers—has just landed on your thigh and is threatening to crawl up your shorts. A suave James Bond type would have  witty patter ready and be off to the races. My normal reaction has been to clench my butt cheeks so hard I shoot out of my chair, windmilling backwards through the air trying to get away from the offending coleoptera. Smooth. [I remained unmarried until forty].

In social settings, such as a club or bar, it’s pretty flirty. From my side, inviting some pretty young thing to stroke my leg hair was a surprisingly effective icebreaker. I know, sounds creepy, right? I don’t recall anyone ever saying no, and it has led to many pleasurable flirtations. Sometimes the desire to play with my hair is more clinical. I’ve had platonic female friends—who’ve been hurtfully contemptuous of the idea of dating—ask to touch my hair, and proceed to engage in what can only be described as light petting. Just as I’d begin thinking I’d misread the signals, and maybe her animus was really coquetry, the fondling would stop and the conversation would continue down the road of mundanity, leaving me going, well, okay, thanks for the boner, I guess. These episodes can spring from genuine platonic desire to learn about another race’s physical features.

The groping expression of racial curiosity from cute Asian females, though slightly racist, has its charms. The whole inappropriate touching thing can have a darker side, moments that make you go, “Huh! I really am an alien.”

During my time in Korea, quite long ago, I was at a bath house, sweating out my hangover. One of the best things about living in Korea was the bath houses. You could go to one usually for around $1 US. You got access to a sauna, steam bath, large jacuzzi, warm tub, cold tub and a lounge, for as many hours as desired. Usually the set up was luxurious, and most Koreans partook of the bath house at least weekly.

Once at my local bath house, while enjoying a steam, a middle aged Korean man sat right beside me. I felt it was slightly odd, male public nudity and close proximity don’t generally mix. You don’t want to risk inadvertently grazing each other, or catching a glimpse of ball sack and needing months of painful psychoanalysis.  Still, having the guy perch down beside me wasn’t so socially awkward as to cause flight. Instead I ignored him. That went fine right up until he—totally uninvited—started stroking my chest hair and giving me a thumbs up, while telling me in stilted English that the mass of hair on my chest was great. Inappropriate, Dude. Inappropriate.

Would you call this sexual harassment? A bit of indecorous female touching is good clean fun, but when guys do it,…ugh. It helps me appreciate the #MeToo movement.