Taiwanese Motels = Opulence + Fun + Kink

Everyone has heard of Japanese love hotels. The Taiwanese have their own—superior—version of the love hotel. It is the motel. Taiwanese motels are not the utilitarian roadside refuge for long distance travelers that they are in North America. They can be stunningly elaborate love palaces. Even the most basic motel room probably includes a one- or two-person Jacuzzi and a spa shower, a shower cabinet with eight or more nozzles. It is common for a motel room to also have a steam bath, massage chair, at least three free porn channels (one American, the rest Japanese), and a sex chair.

The invention of an octogenarian Taiwanese women, the sex chair was inspired by her desire that she and her equally venerable husband could continue to enjoy an active sex life. The chair is an intriguing mash-up of a gynecological examination table and an elliptical trainer. Basically, the woman sits on the chair, placing her legs in the thoughtfully provided stirrups, so that she may… present, as they say in animal husbandry. At the business-end of the chair there is a pull-out foot stool for the man to kneel on, and a pair of long handles to aid in his exertions. The handles give the apparatus that gym equipment appearance. If used as a mobility aid the chair offers significant improvements to an elderly or disabled person’s quality of life, but, you know, it is used in much more creative ways by perfectly able-bodied people. [Caution: If there is a large weight differential, with the male being heavier, when he kneels on the pull-out foot stool—which is attached to the chair—the unit becomes a teeter-totter, with a fulcrum point between the stool and chair. In such a case, the female could easily be launched over your left shoulder, sent flying across the room, and land on the floor in an upset puddle of naked chick, hypothetically speaking,… or so I’ve heard somewhere].

Motel rooms get more elaborate from there. Plenty have bathtubs large enough to function as small lap pools, some rooms even have pools. Often there will be a room with an elaborate sound system and karaoke machine. These rooms function more as a party room than a den of iniquity. Some motels even have theme rooms. You know the type; a Hollywood themed room, a Hello Kitty room (because this is Asia), a pirate room, etc. Not all amenities are elaborate, sometimes it is the small touches that show they care. Many motels have a vending machine in the room selling various sex toys. If not, the room service menu will likely offer a dozen or two, in case you didn’t have a chance to stick a dildo in your purse that morning. Virtually every motel provides a complimentary condom and free lube. That’s just plain classy.

That conscientious attitude extends beyond the room. You don’t need to leave the car until you’re hidden away in the room. Check-in is done via drive-thru window. Afterwards, you’ll park your car virtually inside the room. The most common method is for your room’s private garage door to open upon check-in. You drive your car into the garage, close the door, and then take a private staircase—occasionally a private elevator—to your room. Some motels even have a button on the room’s sound system that mimics an MRT station or other benign environments, in case of an ill-timed phone call from home. If you’re using the room for something other than a rendezvous with your wife, don’t worry, the proprietor’s got your back.

One of the things that is odd about motels, and indeed Taiwanese-run hotels, is that they can be rented for a xiuxi (休息), or rest break ranging from 1.5 to 3 hours. A new motel, or one that is popular for some other reason, will offer a shorter 休息. A rest, generally, is half the cost of staying the night. For obvious economic reasons motels prefer to run a hot-sheet joint. Sexual swashbucklers pay better than tourists. Motels in Taipei normally don’t allow you to check-in for an overnight stay until after 6 pm. If the motel is very popular it might be later than that. Popular places also have a maximum stay of 8-12 hours.

Taiwanese think they’re copying Americans. Bless their kinky little hearts—but, no. From movies or visits to the West, they see motels are common along city outskirts. What Isn’t appreciated is North America’s size, and that if people are traveling by car, they might be in their car for days. Motels in North America serve a practical purpose. They provide a relatively cheap place for travelers, allow drivers to stay on the highway and avoid going into the city center. Indeed renting a room for a short stay (休息) is illegal in most places. The Taiwanese are way out in front of the West in the naughtiness sweepstakes. They just think they need to catch up. That’s natural. The grass is always pervier on the other side of the fence.

I’m a huge fan of Taiwanese motels. For what you get, they are stunningly economical, especially considering that rooms with these features simply don’t exist in the West, or are reserved for Vegas high-rollers. I don’t use the rooms for any nefarious purpose. I like to go to a motel that is slightly past its prime. During weekdays they’ll let me check-in for a stay between noon and 2 pm. As long as they have a spa shower and powerful Jacuzzi, I’m happy. All I want is to sit in the Jacuzzi for 10-12 hours, reading a book, and drinking. I’m married; my days of making a woman do a half gainer off the sex chair are probably in the rearview mirror…. I checked with the wife, she says—definitely. Still, motels are great for de-stressing.

 

A Low-Context Dude in High-Context Places

The following article continues from “The Unified Field Theory of Culture Shock” (here) by giving specific examples of differences between Chinese and English. The contrast between high- and low-context languages is at the core of the linguistic differences outlined here.

There are a lot of different languages, but only two styles of communication: high- and low-context. Asian languages tend towards the high-context end of the continuum, English toward the low-context side. There is a fundamental difference in the linguistic objectives of Chinese and English. Chinese is designed to obfuscate. The language aims to hide the speaker’s exact meaning, to obscure what’s in their hearts, and to conceal their thoughts. English’s raison d’être is to communicate as succinctly, directly, and clearly as possible exactly what you mean, want, feel, or think. These different goals explain the differences in structure and usage between Chinese and English. Much cross-cultural miscommunication is rooted in these differences.

One complaint of Chinese-speaking students of English is that there are “so many words”. In English there are many words with only slight gradations in meaning or feeling. A simple example would be the Chinese word kan (看) meaning look. English probably has over fifty words with a similar meaning; peer, peek, leer, stare, glance, glimpse, gaze, gape, scan, ogle, view, observe, etc. These words are used in daily conversation. Since English seeks to be as explicit as possible, it is necessary to have a plethora of words conveying fine deviations in meaning. Chinese has 看. They don’t need such a finely defined spectrum of meaning as precision isn’t the goal. [Before some pedantic student of Chinese tells me there are Chinese translations for every possible English word meaning look—I know that. However, those words are not in common usage. As you start trying to exactly translate the fine variations of English meaning you’re soon down a rabbit hole, looking at poetic terms from the Tang dynasty or something similarly ridiculous].

In Chinese, rather than trying to exactly outline fine differences in meaning, everything is chabuduo yiyang, 差不多一樣 or “about the same.” Chinese verbal communication is absurdly sloppy from an English perspective. For example, I had a student take a couple days off school because she’d hurt her 手 shou (hand). When she returned I was surprised to see her hand was fine, but her elbow (臂肘) was broken. When I asked her about this, she gave the very Chinese reply: chabuduo yiyang. How is a hand even remotely similar to an elbow? If you’re willing to accept that a hand and elbow are more-or-less the same thing, then the difference between glance and glimpse is virtually meaningless. The specificity of English words is a source of annoyance and confusion for Chinese speakers. There are endless examples of how inexact Chinese can be. What blew my mind when first arriving in Taiwan was ta (他, 她, 它) meaning he, she, and it respectively, but in oral communication being pronounced the same. How can you even begin to have a conversation if you don’t know if the person you’re talking with is referring to a pal, hot babe, or a lump of poop? How this pronoun confusion could be used to conceal endless shenanigans is obvious and indeed the whole point. I could go on forever, but I’ll just give one more example, specifically the way Taiwanese use comfortable/uncomfortable. If you ask a Taiwanese person the reason they were late, missed school, didn’t want to meet, etc. the most common answer would be, “I felt uncomfortable.” That’s the most disingenuous answer possible—what does it mean? Did you have a cold, the flu, broken bones and contusions, a heart attack, a psychotic episode, depression over a breakup, or just general lassitude? Can you imagine missing work and telling the boss it was because you felt uncomfortable? That kind of equivocation doesn’t fly in English, but it is at the core of Chinese communication.

Often Chinese-speakers, when speaking English, will seek to make English as obscurantist as Chinese. English doesn’t work that way. When you try to hide your real meaning in English, it is obvious and you are quickly perceived as a liar. Failing to be reasonably direct and frank is impolite. Chinese is the opposite—of course. Stating your meaning too directly and clearly in Chinese is rude. The example I give my female students is that if they have a boy chasing them, they are free—in English—to tell him directly that though they appreciate the attention they do not share his romantic feelings. The guy may not be happy, but it is polite and not particularly hurtful. It conforms to English’s goal of stating as clearly as possible what is in your heart. In Chinese, to be polite, you need to circle around the truth to the point of miscommunication and befuddlement. English guys misunderstand what females are trying to say all the time, so pity Chinese dudes. Nightmare.

These linguistic differences are not too important until your language skills reach a high level. If you’re a beginning Chinese-speaker, the listener will be happy you’re speaking their language, but as your skill increases, the expectation that you will have internalized the language’s logic increases. If you speak Chinese fluently, but construct your dialog with English logic it can be off-putting. In extreme cases being semi-functional in Chinese is better than having excellent Chinese without the commensurate cultural awareness. I knew a linguistically gifted diplomat who spoke phenomenal Chinese. He worked hard at it. Unfortunately, he was not similarly gifted when it came to perceiving and studying Taiwanese culture and history. In fact he quite strongly objected to the notion that the Taiwanese were anything other than white Canadians speaking a different language. He continually, inadvertently, caused grave insult with his tactless (English style) of speaking Chinese. Ironically it would have been far better if his Chinese was poorer, the Chinese listeners would have forgiven him any perceived slights as just a lack of language skill, but since his language ability was excellent they concluded that he was ignorant or rude.

My Taiwanese wife has brilliant English. She works for the Canadian government in an English-speaking environment, with native English-speaking bosses. She learned English entirely in Taiwan and despite near native-speaker fluency, her thinking remains Taiwanese. Sometimes she’ll come home from work and say something like, “Today my boss said, ‘blah-blah-blah,’ and then he said, ‘blah-blah-blah.’ So, what does it really mean?” Her assumptions are wrong. She is thinking in Chinese, looking for a deeper hidden meaning behind the words. I have to explain that if the boss said “blah-blah-blah” then he meant “blah-blah-blah”. That he is in fact trying to convey precisely what he wants, feels or needs, in as direct a manner as possible. The only thing that might make him inexact is a failure of language ability.

As hard as it is for Chinese-speakers to adjust to English precision imagine English-speaker’s problems learning Chinese. Direct talk is relatively easy to learn once you realize that is the goal. How do you learn to artfully circumnavigate precision in favor of conveying a whiff of meaning? The Chinese tendency towards circumlocution becomes manifest in formal situations, when dealing with the older generation, or talking to someone of a higher or lower social position. One example can be seen in the marriage negotiations between myself and my wife’s family (“Marrying Taiwanese”). Honest to God I have no idea how I got through it. My father-in-law has some good qualities, but the man seriously believes that he lives in the Qing Dynasty. Before the formal engagement negotiations, he called me to his house to discuss issues he wanted clarified before the formalized engagement negotiations that would involve my representatives, the matchmaker, Venus’s family, financial negotiations, etc. I had trepidations. My Chinese sucks, it is functional at best. During this interview he talked a lot, and to my credit I understood virtually every word—but, I had no idea what he was saying. First he would talk in circles, seemingly drawing closer and closer to making a point, but just as he was about to clearly state his concerns, he would jump to another issue and beginning circling around it, eventually almost saying something before leaping to some other nebulous point. I was expecting an intense discussion about the nature of love, commitment, family, etc. Instead he circled around in the clouds talking about arcane, random, unrelated points. I understood the words—but, I had no idea what they meant. At the interview’s end, I asked Venus (who was there the whole time) to clarify what had been said. She didn’t know, but said not to worry about it, as no one understood him. Why bother having language if no one (even native-speakers) can understand? That’s my English bias; get to the point, state it clearly, and move on. Chinese is not that way.

Chinese writing is likewise imprecise compared to English. I’ve taught academic writing to Chinese students for a couple decades, they have a really hard time accepting how directly English should be written. The notion of a clear and direct thesis statement being expounded at the beginning of an essay is antithetical to Chinese language’s logic. Often Chinese students will do weird things when writing in English. Sometimes they’ll write a pretty decent essay clearly proving something, only to say in the last sentence, “Despite the overwhelming evidence I’ve outline, I believe the total opposite.” End of essay. It is enough to give you vertigo. It is surprising how often students try to build suspense, have a plot twist, and denouement in their academic writing. They’re seeking literary beauty more than clarity (very Chinese style). It is hard to explain that simplicity and clarity are beautiful in English and the core of academic writing.

I also edit academic papers for Chinese-speaking professors seeking publication in English journals. They have good grammar, but retain an inability to organize their writing into a coherent argument. Most fail to clearly state their thesis. If they have one, it is left to the reader to guess what it might be, as they do their best to circle around it, and with what they undoubtedly perceive to be great artistry try to subtly lead the reader to their point. It is English with Chinese characteristics—and it is God-awful. At its very best you get a descriptive essay suitable for newspaper publication. More typically it is seemingly random musings loosely related to the topic. The professors are doing the same thing as the students. They are trying to create that artistic Chinese argument, where like the great sages of yore, they gently nudge the reader in a certain direction. Despite having tremendous English ability, they’ve totally failed to connect with English’s low-context nature. To some degree academic writing is an unnatural fit for Chinese. The fine gradations of meaning and careful explications necessary are the realm of low-context languages. English is great for scientific writing, academic writing, contract writing, technical writing, anything requiring clarity. Chinese is wonderful for poetry and literature, where the language’s vagueness adds to its ability to convey feeling and beauty.

Chinese-speakers forced to forsake Chinese’s ambiguity can reacted negatively to English meticulousness. I have a Taiwanese lawyer friend who does international negotiations. She hates dealing with English lawyers because of “their anal need” to clarify, define, and explicitly state everything in writing. Were the contract in Chinese there would be no way to achieve such succinctness. She prefers Chinese because in-between the lines, in Chinese’s indefiniteness, she can wiggle around with an eye toward helping her clients. Where everything is so cut-and-dry there is no room for “lawyering”.

The differences between high- and low-context languages affect communication in ways that are hard to grasp. Many people with advanced second language skills fail to appreciate the structural differences between their native and secondary languages, the results include culture shock, misunderstanding, and unintentional rudeness. This is particularly important for long term expats since as your language skills advance there is an unconscious expectation in the host culture that you’ll communicate in a culturally appropriate manner. The onus is on us.

Lantern Festival: The Perils of Chinese Folk Customs

Lantern Festival (元宵節) marks the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations. It falls on the 15th day of the Chinese lunar calendar’s first month. During Lantern Festival, Taiwanese municipalities hold displays of intricate lanterns. The festival dates back over 2000 years, initially the lanterns were rudimentary, likely crafted from bamboo with a simple covering. During the Song Dynasty the lanterns became elaborate and colorful, often portraying scenes from folk tales. Now they are usually made from a metal frame encased in fabric. The designs can be stunning, depicting scenes from Chinese history or mythology, along with the obligatory gaudy Hello Kitty lanterns, or similar nonsense. [What would a Chinese festival be without camp?] The pièce de résistance, the center of the display, and the largest lantern on the festival grounds, is the depiction of the coming year’s Chinese zodiac animal. The lanterns draw large crowds every year.

What I really like though are the sky lanterns (天燈). These are small lanterns made of lightweight paper, oblong in shape, with an opening at one end. Below the opening is suspended some type of fuel, usually ghost money, that can be burned, providing hot air that allows the lantern to rise into the sky, similar to a hot air balloon. People write their hopes, dreams and wishes on a lantern and release it. The lantern carries those messages to heaven. Lantern Festival has several origin legends. One holds that it was a time to worship Taiyi (太乙), the ancient Chinese God of Heaven, believed to control people’s destiny. I’m conjecturing here, but it makes sense that during a festival associated with Taiyi, people would want to send messages about their destinies heavenwards for his consideration. Whatever its origins, the sight of an evening sky full of lanterns—each holding someone’s aspirations—is poetic, ethereal and beautiful. In Taiwan, the best place to see sky lanterns and perhaps fly one is Pingxi (平溪) in New Taipei City.

I have only ever released a sky lantern once. As with most things I do in Taiwan,… it didn’t go to plan.

A good friend took me camping with his family in Miaoli (苗栗) during Lantern Festival. We were part of a large group traveling together. The group had arranged various activities for the children [and the retarded foreigner in their midst]. These activities included the normal things you would expect on a Taiwanese camping trip; loud karaoke on one giant generator-driven TV screen, movies on another TV screen, Mandopop blaring on several stereos, and of course lots of hotpot. As a Canadian, I don’t feel the necessity to overwhelm nature with noise and boiled meat, but they had also planned to release some sky lanterns. Though Pingxi is the place to go, sky lanterns are flown all around Taiwan during Lantern Festival. I was excited.

As the evening wore on, they pulled out the lanterns and invited me to write my hopes for the future on one. Despite feeling a bit awkward, I really opened up and laid myself bare. I poured my soul out, all my aspirations, my deepest and most dearly held yearnings were written on that lantern. I don’t remember everything I wrote, but I know I asked heaven to bring me my soulmate, true love, someone to share the joys and pains of my life. I got some light mocking, as this is not a Chinese style wish, but it was my ambition.

When I had finished, I took the lantern, placed some ghost money in the holder, and lit it. I watched mesmerized as the lantern slowly floated upwards carrying my deepest desires for the future. The lantern rose gently for about thirty feet, where a gust of wind took it and swept it into a tree. The lantern promptly exploded into a ball of flames, crinkled up, pitched, rolled and tumbled to the ground with the slow fiery grace of the Hindenburg. After dousing the blazing wreckage of my dreams, my friend sauntered by, casually threw an arm over my shoulder and said, “Oh well, maybe next year,” and strolled off to help his children with their lanterns. I was devastated. I stood looking down on the smoldering hulk of my lantern for a long time. I felt like Charlie Brown standing under the kite-eating tree. Sigh. Slowly I turned away and plodded back to my tent.

These Chinese folk customs are all very quaint—until they explode into a pile of flaming debris at your feet. I did not find love that year.

Chinese New Year’s Eve & the Lovelorn Expat

Chinese New Year is fast approaching and this year, by God, you’re not going to spend the holidays drinking alone in your crap taofeng (套房), binge watching downloaded shows for days on end. You’ve done your time, paid your dues, and are ready to move from being a total outsider to a quasi-participating member of Taiwanese society. This year is going to be different. This year you’ve got a girlfriend, and she’s invited you for Chinese New Year’s Eve, or chuxi (除夕), dinner with her family. Things really seem to be going well with the girlfriend, meeting the family, a big step, but you’re ready.

Slow your roll, Stud. The default position for most Taiwanese girls is to keep their family out of their business, especially anything related to love or libido. So, why are you suddenly being invited to meet her family on the most special family night of the lunar calendar?

There are two likely possibilities. One, she is firmly placing you in the friend zone and doesn’t feel threatened by the prospect of introducing you to her family on chuxi as you are of little romantic consequence. If your Chinese is good enough, you might even get to listen to her constant reassurances to her family not to worry, that you’re just a friend. She felt sorry for you during the holiday season and wanted to let you experience a bit of Taiwanese culture. [Been there, heard that]. It can be perturbing to receive word that there’s not much future in the relationship in such an awkwardly public manner. If you’re on the same page as her, relationship-wise, then it is a great opportunity to experience something beyond the reach of a tourist. I’ve had some wonderful chuxi experiences in this way. Don’t discount pity—my dating life would have been so much poorer without it.

The second, less likely prospect, is that inviting you to chuxi is her way of indirectly informing her family that you are a serious romantic prospect and marriage is a possibility. (It’s all very Taiwanese). This is precisely how her parents will interpret your presence at their dinner table on chuxi, unless your girlfriend proactively puts a stop to such thoughts. Are you beginning to get a sense of what kind of pressure cooker the Taiwanese family can be? Personally, the status of my relationship with Venus (my wife) became much clearer when she invited me over to her folk’s place for chuxi and offered her family no excuses for my presence. It amounts to a public declaration that you’re in a deep relationship. Two months later we were engaged. If your chuxi dinner plays out this way, and you’re not at that point in your relationship—run!

If you have a girlfriend, and she considers herself to be your girlfriend, but it’s like most relationships, on a spectrum of complication and affection that is hard to define, don’t expect an invitation to chuxi. You are in that vast middle ground between just friends and marriage prospect. Relax and enjoy getting drunk alone on chuxi, your girlfriend is looking out for your best interests by excluding you.

I did have one serious girlfriend who invited me over to have chuxi with her family before she’d worked out our relationship status in her own mind. When we were dating, she oscillated between firm commitment and an inability to accept a foreign boyfriend. She was a traditional Taiwanese. During chuxi her interaction with her parents flawlessly reflected her ambivalence.

Chuxi has been a very accurate litmus test for my Taiwanese romances. I’m not sure if this works equally well for expat women, but guys if you have any confusion about your relationship, chuxi will give a lot of insight.

Vignette #6: Red Envelopes and the Karmic Circle of Cash

Any company that wants to retain employees in Taiwan needs to give year-end bonuses before Chinese New Year. Typically these bonuses will be 1.5-2 month’s salary. In a private enterprise the bonus is linked to profits. I moved here in the middle of Taiwan’s tech boom and some computer industry workers were getting year-end bonuses of 1-2 year’s salary. It was amazing. In today’s more restrained times companies sometimes claim low profits and try to get out of paying a bonus, this is negotiable between employees and management. It is hard not to at least pay a month’s salary as a bonus. The negative press and employee unrest caused by trying to cheap out on bonuses is counterproductive for companies. There are reasons, beyond just the money that people fight hard for these bonuses.

They need those bonuses to keep the family functioning happily. Traditionally the bonus was required to buy household necessities and prepare the New Year’s feast. A lot of aspects of family life in Taiwan are transactional in nature. Chinese New Year is, partially, a giant circle of cash, where money gets redistributed from productive, middle-years members of society, to the young and old. Those year-end bonuses are used to stuff the red envelopes handed out on chuxi (除夕). If the year-end bonuses disappear then that threatens family harmony. In Taiwan, familial love is often expressed with money. Saying “I love you” is awkward, while “Hey, here’s 12,000元” feels more comfortable, and you understand what that really means, right? Or to paraphrase my Taiwanese family; can you count love? How many loves are in my hand? Now money, that means something.

People often try to compare Christmas and Chinese New Year, they are both the largest family holidays of their comparative calendars, but the feeling is different. Christmas (ideally) is all about family warmth and togetherness. Chinese New Year, like all things related to Chinese families, is about duty and obligation (filial piety). I’m not saying that Taiwanese families don’t enjoy their time together, or that Chinese New Year lacks family warmth, I’m just saying that the motivation is different. If it is your obligation to your family to deliver up red envelopes, and your whole family structure is built on filial piety, then you’re going to do everything in your power to make sure the cash gets into the right hands on chuxi, and that the size of your red envelope is not face impairingly thin. Woe betide the employer that tries to stand in your way.