Taiwan: The people, the language, and child abuse – Diary of a Mad Expat, pt. 21

19 July, 2015 – Taichung, Taiwan

There is a yellow one that won’t accept the black one
That won’t accept the red one that won’t accept the white one
And different strokes for different folks
And so on and so on and scooby dooby dooby

“Everyday People”, by Sly and the Family Stone

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Well, it’s that time again. I’m sitting here, on our bed, writing out another blog, and it’s finally, blissfully raining outside. Our little friend, Lost Samurai the gecko, is around here, somewhere, napping before he goes out hunting tonight. So, it’s on to our next subject.

The People: The Language

I’m going to break this down between genders, and deal separately with the children, whom I have more experience interacting with, as a result of my teaching job. But first, let me deal with the language. Everyone here speaks Chinese, specifically Mandarin Chinese, not to be confused with the aforementioned Hong Kongers, who predominantly speak Cantonese. Mandarin is the most widely spoken language in China, and the world, with nearly a billion people calling Mandarin their native tongue; that’s over 14% of the world population. To put that into perspective, Spanish is the 2nd most widely spoken language on Earth, and twice as many people speak Mandarin on this planet. Mandarin is, like most Asian languages, very difficult for westerners to get a grasp of. I basically know “hello” and “thank you”, but retaining any more than the most rudimentary parts of this language, for me, requires more time and effort than have at the present moment. Fortunately, about half of the people I’ve met here randomly, know some basic English. Unfortunately, you’d expect them to know more, considering that Taiwan has been a hotbed for foreign teachers for 20 years. I guess like most of us, who took a foreign language in high school, they learned it, stopped using it, then forgot most of it. And if you think about it from the point of view of a Taiwanese person, English may be just as hard to learn as Chinese is for us, if not more so. So, I have patience with them, and from what I’ve seen, they have patience with me. They love it when I speak even a word or two of their language, probably akin to seeing a talking monkey, but hopefully with more endearment behind it.

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It can be a beautiful language to hear, but it can also be like nails on a chalkboard, depending on the tone. If it’s whiny, as is often the case amongst the youth, you either want to kill yourself or the person who is speaking like that. When it’s angry, it can be either scary, like when a man does it, or hilarious, when a woman is shouting at her husband for something. You’re not sure exactly what she’s saying, but you can certainly infer from her tone! Sometimes, if you hear it in our stairwell, but you can’t see them, but it’s in conversational tone, it can almost sound like a conversation in English. It’s a remarkable, ancient language, thousands of years older than any form of English spoken today, and I’m quite certain I’ll never be able to completely learn it or understand it. Moving on…

The Men

Men here are generally polite and non-threatening towards myself, and even my wife, which kind of makes sense, considering that most of them are shorter than either of us. Some can be quite tall, well over 6-feet, which makes their fascination with basketball more culturally feasible. They are not lazy, like Vietnamese men tend to be in much greater numbers, though you will constantly see the older men in the park, which are meant for all people here, not just children. Just as often, you’ll see them at the community temple next to the park, smoking or playing Mahjong. Other than that, however, Taiwanese men (and women) seem to have a work ethic similar to that of people from Hong Kong or Japan. Whereas I want to work to live, they live to work.

Taiwanese men are not very aggressive towards women, from what I’ve seen, though as parents they can be, which I will get to. However, for the most part, I’ve found them to be polite and courteous, if not friendly, which often they are.

The Women

By most American male standards, the women here are not as beautiful as Vietnamese women are, which is to say they don’t all look like exotic, unattainable supermodels.

It, like totally rocks to be unattainably beautiful!
It, like totally rocks to be unattainably beautiful!

They come in all shapes, sizes, skin tones, and assorted varieties here, which personally for me, I like. I prefer girls that have, shall we say, more curves on them, so long as I only LOOK, right honey? They can have a sweet and shy charm, with glances that would make most western men think that they want something else, but that’s often not the case. They are genuinely shy, from what I have seen, and much slower to move further in the relationship process than American or western European women. But that’s okay…I think most American women move too fast as it is. Though the women here can come across as quiet and shy, which may be perceived by some as stuck-up, I have heard some be more boisterous (by Taiwanese standards), and can even be friendly and out-going, once you’ve said more than a few words to them. But in any relationship here, platonic or otherwise, it’s best to be patient.

The Children

The children in this country can be very whiny when they don’t get what they want. As a result, the younger generations are much more materialistic than the older ones, which makes this place seem much more like the United States, but with more Chinese people. However, as in most Asian countries, most of the children are adorable looking. They are easily the loudest, and most unruly, segment of the population, but coupled with the duality of how beautiful and charming they can be, it’s hard to stay angry or frustrated with them for very long, even in the classroom setting. Depending on which social strata their family is a part of, however, you can sometimes see scars on them, and with good reason: corporal punishment of children is very common here, which I find disturbing. I’ve had children in my class tell me that they are beaten, often with sticks, when they misbehave at home. I often hear violent tales of child abuse on the news, as that is an issue which still is not being addressed here. Domestic violence isn’t as bad between men and women, because just as often, the women give it right back. However, with children, they cannot, and the level of violence towards SOME of them has even led to death.

Because, of course, when you look into this adorable little face, your first thought is to find a belt.
Because, of course, when you look into this adorable little face, your first thought is to find a belt.

Between their regular school, and the private English language schools that most of them attend, they are up by 6am, in school by 8am, at their school, depending on age, until 2 and as late as 6pm, then to their language schools until 9pm by the time they’re 11 or 12 years old. From my point of view, their childhood is essentially taken away at about the age of six or seven, and they spend their rest of their formative years preparing for work, being tested every day, with little or no breaks during the day, being pushed constantly to excel. Not much time to play, which may explain why they sometimes try to take advantage of the “round eye” teaching English to them. Their young lives have very little respite, nor do they seem to have much of it when they get older. So once they learn to talk, they have about 4 or 5 years to play, imagine, and dream, before that’s taken away from them.

I'd rather sleep at school then go home for my nightly beating.
I’d rather sleep at school then go home for my nightly beating.

The people here are nice, that’s very true. In my first two weeks here, I was trying to order a taxi on this touchscreen at the 7-11, to get home, but it wasn’t working properly. So, one of the guys behind the counter offered to drive me home on his scooter. We’d never met before, but he was nice enough to help. That’s one aspect of a much bigger picture here. They are also workaholics, and push their children in that direction at a very young age. The fear of failure among the children of this country must lead to massive amounts of anxiety, ulcers, and thoughts of suicide here. While the people in this community are very nice indeed, even though I’m a stranger here, with all the bureaucracy I have to deal with to stay here long-term, I’d much rather be an American here than a Taiwanese child.

On that uplifting note, I’ll see you all next time when I cover food and drink, so bring your Imodium!

– For images of our journey, please visit my wife’s Facebook page: Mischa Elaine Johnston

Truth Within The Human Condition…

“Truth is unalterable, eternal, and unambiguous. It can be unrecognized, but it cannot be changed. It is beyond learning because it is beyond time and process. It has no opposite; no beginning and no end. It merely is.” ― A Course In Miracles

You, who read this now, may be from half way across the world. We may be separated by decades of age and experience or be from completely different races, cultures, and religions but we can all relate to the ever-present helplessness, fear, and disconnection we feel being part of the human race on planet Earth. But feeling lost, in reality, is a universal truth that connects us all. We share the same journey; to stop allowing fear to chose our lives for us, and end the control it has over our existence.

Most of us believe we need more of some THING to keep this constant fear at bay.  More money, more success, more ‘friends’ and ‘likes’ on our Facebook page. Many of us will do almost anything to get these THINGS.  Some of us dishonor our boundaries and compromise our true selves to feel accepted.  Some even try to conquer their helplessness through intimidation; living a life of greed and unhinged aggression, and taking advantage of their fellow human beings in return for a false and empty sense of superiority.  These facades prove yet another universal connection; WE ARE ALL HELD HOSTAGE BY OUR FEAR.

All these tactics and manipulations are defensive human staples utilized to feel, even for just a moment, a respite from our loneliness and fear. The truth is, fear is not real. Fear is created only by our perceptions. True connection is not something to be attained. It simply is… always whispering quietly in our consciousness while the world rages on, drowning out the truth, and roaring the lies our experiences have ingrained in us since childhood. The greatest lie being that the vulnerability which accompanies connection must be avoided because if anyone truly sees who we are – they will reject us. And there is nothing worse than that.

Pain and tragedy have become what defines most of our society. It is constantly screamed into our consciousness through every medium available. As it increases, it becomes almost impossible to let our guard down enough to empathize and truly SEE or understand the other humans who are all around us, and in the same stranglehold of fear and pain that cripples us.

Almost every sensation we encounter is now based in an instant gratification that stems from our need to distance ourselves from this primal pain the simplest way we know how; DISTRACTION. It is a web that both protects and suffocates which we willingly and gratefully envelope ourselves in. Our phones, computers, and televisions have become the way to live a false life of connection through the safety of disconnection. It’s empty and transitory but it’s easier than seeing the reality of what CHANGE honestly requires from us; facing ourselves, what has formed us, understanding and forgiving those who have had a hand in our formation, and ultimately forgiving ourselves. It is a momentous undertaking and understandably the most terrifying thing any of us can attempt.

It’s comforting to blame the external world for our fears. If it’s the outside world’s fault then we don’t have to take responsibility for how our lives turn out and we’re off the hook from the fact that we avoided recognizing the transformation desperately waiting to be embraced by us. It’s distressing to accept that we have always had the power at any moment to live our lives to the fullest but have chosen to deny it out of fear.

Because our past seemingly reflects our future, we don’t expect to see things transform and we are often blind to them when they do change. If hope and possibility are not within our Rolodex of life experiences, we don’t recognize the warmth when it finally shines on us. Most of our energy is put into imagining what life would be like if only we had more time and money. Then we’d feel safe. If only we were thinner or more popular. Then we’d feel accepted. If only we had more outside sources of love. Then we’d finally feel adequate inside our own skin.

THE TRUTH IS, if we have the courage to destroy the defensive walls we have built around ourselves, and become absolutely fascinated with our fellow human beings and enthralled with the world of miracles around us, we would finally and truly let ourselves feel the unconditional love that has always been available to us.

If we can forgive ourselves for getting lost in the human condition by letting fear control us, just as everyone else has, we can finally BE IN THE PRESENT MOMENT. Start by realizing that everything is made from atoms. If everything originates from the same energy source then EVERYTHING is really only ONE entity. We are part of an all-encompassing energy presence that embodies all of us. Therefore, whether we recognize it or not, we have always been connected. You and I have never been strangers. We as humans were never separate. I am you. You are me. WE ARE ONE.

All of you are precious to me, and we are not alone in this present moment. We continue our journey towards the collective realization that we are all one and always have been. Peace be with you all!:)

HANOI, VIETNAM: Diary of a Mad Expat, pt. 12

9 April – 2 May, pt. 5: Thaison Palace Hotel, Old Quarter, Hanoi

Adrian Cronauer: Mayday! Mayday! Dragon-Lady with incredible figure at 11 o’clock! Stop the car.
Edward Garlick: I can’t do that, sir.
Adrian Cronauer: Aw, Edward, you don’t understand. I’ve been on a small Greek island with a lot of women who look like Zorba, I never thought I’d find women attractive ever again. And now that I do, you won’t even turn the car around? Thanks a lot.
Edward Garlick: You have a very important meeting with the top brass…
Adrian Cronauer: -Oh, there she is again! How did she get ahead of us?
Edward Garlick: That’s another person, sir.
Adrian Cronauer: She’s beautiful and quick. Speed up, check her stamina. Oh my God, they’re quick, they’re fast, and small. Ha, ha, ha, ha! I feel like a fox in a chicken coop!

Robin Williams, as Adrian Cronauer in “Good Morning, Vietnam”

The People and the language of this country are, well, interesting. Let’s get started,

The People
In general terms, the people are friendly, but they have manners that could be construed by westerners, including myself because I never got used to it, as rude or even downright disgusting, especially with the men. Street peddlers can be aggressive and annoying, but some people we met were extremely generous. No one here has apparently ever heard of the term “personal space”. They love to touch you, sometimes inappropriately. They are not aware that from our perspective, there are boundaries. It seems like a blindingly obvious social rule to us, but it doesn’t exist to them! Like every member of the human race, they are judgmental, and they prefer to pass judgment on foreigners in their own language.

The Language
Make up a bunch of words that rhyme with “gong” and “home”. Now, do that while simultaneously imitating the sounds of a cat in heat. That’s what it sounds like to most Americans. We tried learning the language to a certain point, but once we realized we weren’t staying, we kind of gave it up. We found that saying “thank you”, like in Hong Kong, brought smiles to the locals, especially the woman I buy cigarettes from. We also learned to say, “no problem”, “sorry”, “hello”, and “excuse me”. I think we did pretty well most of the time, because we mostly got that smile and a bow back from people. We also found that the younger the people were, the more inclined they were to want to speak and learn English. I even taught some of the hotel staff some of our more “colorful” metaphors.

The Hotel Staff and Guests
We made a lot of friends in this hotel – some fellow guests, but mostly the staff, many of whom my wife became Facebook friends with. The guests were more hit and miss. There was a big ugly man from Austria that had a Vietnamese woman for a wife. She seemed VERY submissive, and he was just a misogynistic prick, blatantly checking out every attractive woman he saw. And he constantly complained, loudly, about what was wrong with this place. I kind of get it, but at some point, just shut up and leave! Then there was the hippie expat who now lived in Baja. He was a very nice guy, but damn, he could not stop talking! He could have you trapped in a conversation for over an hour without getting a word in edge wise!

Almost everyone on the staff was friendly, nice, and generous. The housekeeping staff were shy, but polite for the most part. One of them looked a little like a pissed off Himalayan cat, but when she’d leave after she was done with her shift, having already changed out of her uniform…damn, she had a body on her! The girls at the reception desk were all so sweet to both of us, and just beautiful. One of them could’ve EASILY been a model had she lived in America. Another one felt close enough to me to cry in front of me over a man she loved living in Malaysia, but whom her family didn’t approve of. They are both on Facebook with my wife, as is one of the doormen, who gave my wife a Buddhist beaded bracelet. He was a sweet kid (21 y.o.), as was our closest friend here. His real name is Phu, which in Vietnamese translates to “rich”, hence his Anglicized name, “Richie”. We always spoke at night, smoking, sometimes having a beer or two. If you’ve been on my wife’s Facebook page, you probably saw a video of him and me singing. She also has pictures of him with his girlfriend. Together, they are so adorable, had we had the money, we would’ve adopted them! They look cute enough to be in a commercial for the ASPCA, without the sad Sarah McLachlan song.

 

But one guy heavily contributed to us hating this place. His name is Joe, the one that greeted us when we checked in here. Picture the stereotypical snake-like brother-in-law, who works as a used car salesman. That was Joe. He was not meant to be a day manager for a hotel. This place also runs tours, and he was more concerned about that, than taking care of the issues in this dilapidated hotel. Hotel staff are supposed to be about customer service, and as someone who has worked in customer service for a long time, I know what that’s supposed to look like…and it doesn’t look like him. He likes money WAY more than he likes people. In fact, I’m not too sure if he cares about his guests at all, unless it’s somehow profitable for him to do so. If you are ever in this part of the world, stay away from this hotel!

The Men
Men here are incredibly lazy, with the exception of those previously mentioned on the hotel staff. I see tons of them, spending the entire day, sitting in front of cafes, drinking tea, coffee, or beer, and smoking with other guys, doing nothing, while their wife works, takes care of the kids, cooks and cleans. They are rude; they love blowing snot-rockets wherever it strikes them, and based on what I saw, they may have invented “man-spreading”. To the few that have jobs, I apologize for this generalization. But to the rest of them, get off your lazy fucking ass and help your wife out for a change! I will give them one thing though. Unlike America, there is NO rape culture here. In the household, and in most businesses, the woman is so in charge, I don’t think it ever crosses their male minds. They know most of their wives could take them in a fight, or belittle them to the point where they’d be rocking back and forth, curled up in the fetal position if they tried. Still they have access to all the money, whether they made it or not, because all laws here still favor the man in terms of divorce and finances. So all the women here need to do is kill their lazy-ass husbands and make it look like an accident!

The Women
Now we’ve seen women, AND men, of all shapes and sizes here. We’ve seen a few bigger girls, even a one or two that were taller than us! But if I could sum up the women here in two words it would be: stunningly beautiful. That’s not just a description of them physically, though. Yes, most of them are 5-feet, 6-inches, or shorter, slender build, but some are just slim all the way down, but most, to put it delicately, have some curves (guys, you hopefully know what I’m alluding to). But their personalities, once to talk to them for any length of time, are beautiful too. Speaking from a platonic perspective, they are sweet, soft-spoken, and very polite. And their manner of dress is stunning, more formal than our own, and meant to accentuate the female form. It is impossible not to be enchanted by them, so long as you only LOOK, if you’re married (like me). If you’re single, though, and you’re patient with them, take things slow and respectfully, and can put up with all the other crap here, in the long run, I’m sure you won’t be sorry.

Well, that brings us up to date. Tomorrow, May 2nd, we check out at noon, not a moment too soon, take a taxi to the airport, and wait for our flight at 5:30, and head to Hong Kong to spend the night in the airport, until our flight to Taiwan the following morning at 9:30. However, despite any difficulties as a result of spending a night in an airport, we’d rather spend a night in an airport in Hong Kong, than spend one more night in this Vietnamese ‘hotel’. And we’re looking very forward to going to cleaner, if not greener, pastures. I already have a lot of options to teach there, so things are looking way more promising than they were here. Still, a couple of things to keep it in perspective for you, and especially for me:
The other day, I was standing outside our hotel, having a smoke, listening to “All Along the Watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix. Think about that for a moment. I was listening to a song that was made at the height of the Vietnam War. Now, here I am, 45+ years after it was recorded, listening to it in what used to be the capital of North Vietnam. We have gone down the rabbit hole!


It’s been only five weeks since we left Oregon, and my wife and I have seen more countries in that time, than we have in our entire lives up to now. In just five weeks, we’ve gone from the United States, to Canada, to Hong Kong, to Vietnam, and now, to Taiwan! Wow.
On that note, thank you, Vietnam. For better or worse, we’ll never forget you.

– For images of our trip, please visit my wife’s Facebook page: Mischa Elaine Johnston

VIETNAM: Diary of a Mad Expat, pt. 9

Observations of Vietnam…get ready for the snark!:)

9 April – 2 May, pt. 2: Old Quarter, Hanoi

[as Walter Cronkite] “I just want to begin by saying to Roosevelt E. Roosevelt, what it is, what it shall be, what it was. The weather out there today is hot and shitty with continued hot and shitty in the afternoon. Tomorrow a chance of continued crappy with a pissy weather front coming down from the north. Basically, it’s hotter than a snake’s ass in a wagon rut.”
Robin Williams, as Adrian Cronauer, Good Morning, Vietnam

So let’s see, I covered our lovely accommodations, which improved only slightly a week or so into it, when they moved us up one floor, into a slightly better room. Still had the gnats though, which was okay. We needed some new friends…Timmy didn’t make it. Still, we had the whole outside world to explore! The people, the men, the women, the language, the sights, the smells, the sounds, the traffic, the weather, the hotel staff, the food, the shops, the currency, the culture!!!! Turns out that, for the most part, the only good thing about this place was it gave me a lot of material to be a sarcastic smart ass for this blog! So in that sense, thank you, Hanoi! Wow, look at all that material up there, three sentences back! Where to begin….

Buddhist Monastery
Buddhist Monastery

The Culture

OK, I’m getting the hard one out-of-the-way first. The culture is, to say the least, difficult to explain, and almost as hard to grasp. Most of their oldest traditions are based on Buddhist or local religious customs. I’ve seen a lot of hotels and other shops with little shrines just inside the door, where the workers or owners drop to their knees and pay homage. Just as common in the smaller shops and cafes (almost as numerous as the gnats), is burning fake money as an offering. This is usually done just shortly before or after opening or closing, in a metal container, out on the street curb. The smell of burning paper is one of the few things I came to like here for two reasons: 1] It reminds me of campfires, and 2] It drowns out the other smells, but more on that later.

There is of course, the customary bowing, which I generally return, as long as it’s someone I like or I’m in a good mood and feeling respectful, which at times was harder to do than it sounds, but most of the time I’m courteous, certainly more so than most people I saw. I even made a point to bow and step aside on narrow sidewalks where there was only room for one person to go through, particularly when it was someone older.

The Shops

There are tiny little shops everywhere, even shops on the sidewalks, selling various convenience store items in a couple of glass cases with wheels. Cigarettes are insanely cheap here ($1/pack at most), and almost ALL of the men smoke. We saw very few women doing so, but we’ve been told that more of them smoke when drinking, again, an occurrence we didn’t see much of. There are small markets strewn all over the Old Quarter, selling similar merchandise to what we saw in markets in Hong Kong. One difference though: Shoes. There are places to buy shoes everywhere, ridiculous numbers of them. They mostly sell either flip-flops, children’s shoes, or the most frequent, heels. Really. High. Heels. They’re usually 3-6 inches, and when women aren’t working, they’re usually wearing these. Shoes are an apparent obsession amongst Vietnamese women, and they all wear heels that any woman in America would be envious of. Personally, the heels made it difficult for me to know whether they were just dressed up for a night out, or if they were prostitutes, but that’s going into the subject of women here, so I’ll come back to that later.

The really bad one is a roaming street vendor. He or she is usually older, and either walking or cycling down the streets hawking shirts, hand fans, or shoe repair, just to provide a few examples. They are tenacious. At first, we tried being nice and polite, saying no while smiling. But early on, that wasn’t working. If we were sitting, we’d have to get up. If we were standing, we’d start walking, and they’d follow us, and keep trying to sell to us. On one occasion early on, a man called to me and pointed to my shoe. While I stood there, saying no, he grabbed my fucking foot and wouldn’t let go! I finally had to lurch my leg away from him to get away. That one really began my loathing of this place. Look, I know everyone here is poor and needs to find a way to make money. But I’m not going to pay for a physical assault (Yes sir, please repair my brand new shoe that doesn’t have anything wrong with it, oh and could you get all handsy with me too? That’s how I like it! Yeah, repair that shoe! Harder! Harder!). After that, we learned that if someone is approaching you to sell something, keep walking, show them the hand, and say no, without making eye contact. Deviate from that method, and they might get you or at the very least, persist in their sales pitch which we couldn’t understand anyway.

The Weather

See that quote up at the top of this article? That summed up most of our time here. There were some days that were cooler, in the high 70s, but even then, the humidity is insane!!!! It rarely dips below 50%, and is usually above 70%. Put that together with the fact that right now it’s 11am here, and it’s 90 degrees (not Celsius, for you non-American readers), and the humidity is currently at 70%. Combine that with my furry girth, and I’m flop-sweating my way through the Old Quarter. This place does get rain, usually at night, but we haven’t seen much rain, except for one really impressive night. A couple of weeks ago, a big thunderstorm rolled through Hanoi, and we got one hell of a light show, combined with a tropical downpour that made our heavy rains in Oregon look like a shower with bad water pressure.

More to come next entry!

– For images of our trip, please visit my wife’s Facebook page: Mischa Elaine Johnston