Wednesday, May 11, 2011

I, Expat


Let me start off this post by apologizing for the last post's incorrect link.

This link will treat your ears to a one minute snippet of an
extremely beautiful chant. And thanks for all of you who brought this to my attention.

Farthest Flung

It turns out that I'm not the only Carl in Taichung! On
Facebook I saw that Emily Walz had entered the Carleton Alumni farthest flung competition with Taichung, Taiwan (although she ultimately lost to someone in Singapore). I apologized for my web creepiness, friended her on Facebook, and we met up at the night markets. She was two years ahead of me but we had both played french horn in band together. She's here on a scholarship from the Taiwanese government to study Chinese language. Her boyfriend accompanied her and found a job teaching English.

I asked Emily what she had been eating, since eating is pretty much the number one (read: only) thing to do in Taichung. She said that she'd mainly been cooking at home since she had a kitchen. Unacceptable! I made it my mission to take her around to my favorite food stands and forced her to eat things like stinky tofu which she attempted to claim to like through a wrinkled nose, teary eyes, and a deliberate gulp. I tried to add more spice to her tofu to cover up the stank, but this only caused her more pain because she is from Minnesota. Pictured here is a more friendly food that stinky toufu, a "French pizza wrap." As the sign boasts on the stand, it is "delicieux."

I was more successful at showing her tea stands. Pictured right I am enjoying/choking on a sip of bubble tea. And you have to try bubble tea here because Taichung is its birthplace. According to unverified legend, way back in the 1980s a store began adding the pearls or bubbles, which are usually tapioca, to cold milk tea. Add a thick straw and you get a delightful gulp of milk tea with some tapioca beads in your mouth to chew over. The first time I had bubble tea, I thought I was going to choke, but now I can't get enough. My other favorite at the tea stands is grapefruit juice mixed with green tea and drinkable yogurt. The shorthand they use to mark the cup is QQ, meaning roughly "cute." I translate this though as "chick drink." I don't care if the drinkable yoghurt items are generally for little kids or hormonal women, I gulp it greedily and gladly. I claim I need more dairy than regular people because I'm from Wisconsin when actually I’m borderline lactose intolerant and must endure gastrointestinal cramps equivalent to those seen in the Alien movies to enjoy the taste of my yoghourt drink. I may have a problem actually.

I took Emily and her boyfriend, Wade, to Taipei to see the Chinese orchestra concert featuring Mongolian artists that I mentioned in the last post. It was good to be back in (I want to say myhometown but that’s not the right word) Taipei. I felt confident and relaxed back in the familiar MRT, to see the Ximen Ding pedestrian walkway where there’s tasty food and cool stuff being sold everywhere. But it was also refreshing to see how little I knew. I showed them my favorite eats in Ximen, but when stinky tofu, wheat noodle soup, roasted corn, and curried egg cakes weren’t to their taste I was at a loss for what else to eat there. Touring other people around forced me to realize what a creature of habit I am. I must make sure I don't get stuck in too many ruts, though that is preferable to being hit by cars.

Ex-Pat on Your Back

Back in Taichung, Emily introduced me to a whole community of expatriots that I had no idea existed. They were English teachers and Nike factory workers. Both groups generally didn’t know any Chinese and function in Taichung by eating in Xiao Ouzhou, Little Europe, a series of streets, which cater Italian, French, and Greek cuisine. Everyone who works at these places is fluent in English to accommodate the typically monolingual clientele. Hiring skilled English speakers is easy because they can be paid more as the food at these places is ridiculously expensive. Meals often cost 10 or even 12 American dollars! And since these are bored Westerners they typically order at least double that much in alcohol. In short, the restaurants make a killing.

I don’t know if you remember this or not loyal readers, but I have a major problem with racism in Asia. When I see other white people I typically become disgusted with them and imagine that they know nothing about the local culture and cannot speak any language but English and their attempts at using chopsticks resembles a myopic nurse's vain search for a vein. This is, of course, frequently untrue. So I was nervous as I entered the Londoner pub to join Emily and Wade for the English language trivia. But when I actually chatted with the other whities I realized, rather reluctantly, that they were people too. Mainly though it has been interesting to see this other way of living abroad. And really it’s the way that many Chinese abroad live in America. They just take their culture to the new country and build their own community to live in. Actually the biggest hypocrasy is that I searched for these Chinese communities in countries like Japan, France, Germany, Austria, and to some extent Singapore, but when I see my own people do it, I felt repulsion.

After trivia we went to an Indian restaurant called Bollywood. The prices here were also too damn high.

Emily and Wade live in a house with other foreigners: a British couple and a South African. There are many white South Africans in Taichung who claim that their native language is English (although it’s really Afrikaans) in order to get the cushy job of English teacher. Taiwan’s standard of living is higher than South Africa, and Afrikaans is super closely related to English, so it’s a good deal for everyone.

One of Emily’s friends goes running/jogging/walking in the countryside every weekend with a group of people. After the exercise they treat themselves to a scenic kegger. Last week though they, for reasons as equally confuddling to me as the hundreds of Taiwanese who witnessed it, all dressed in red dresses and ran from bar to bar, having a beer at each place before sprinting to the next location. Men and women revealed much skin and many donned neon green and purple wigs. There were also piggy-back rides and chicken fights. (Why is it when we carry each other we reference animals?) I followed the group for a bit, but felt awkward since I didn’t have a red dress on. Emily had offered me a red dress but I, surprised at my own prudishness, politely declined. The whole time I saw rampaging red dressed ruffians, I couldn’t help thinking, Westerners are so effing weird.

The Real Nike Wives of Taichung

I mentioned earlier that many of the foreigners in Taichung work at the Nike factory. They are designers and engineers mainly. Many of them are men who brought their purposely unemployed wives with them. These ladies spend their days beautifying their luxurious apartments with stainless steel appliances and being driven (they all have drivers!) around to their various appointments. One of these appointments is a book club which Emily belongs to. She reports back about their lavish lifestyles. The women all ask if she followed her boyfriend here, but she, proclaims as proudly as possible that her man followed her.

Singing for Slices

Wow, I'm blogging about something recent now! Such a weird feeling. It's easy to recall details. Like right now I'm in a bit of pain from being sunburned. I slept in until 10 this morning and was burned by the sunlight coming in through the window. I. Am. Pathetic.

Anywho, last Monday Emily and I were dining in Little Europe and enjoying pizza and an enormous jug of sangria when the owner of Salud, a middle-aged Taiwanese woman who speaks English enthusiastically came out to shoot the breeze with us. She had asked us our ages when we ordered the pitcher (did I mention it was enormous?) of sangria and was shocked at the high numbers we responded with. She came back again and asked us where we were from. We said, "America." She said, "America?! But you look so young!" I didn't follow the semantics of that 'but,' but we assured her that despite our nationality we did appear youthful. When I told her I studied music she asked if I would play in the bar. I agreed to play my mando and sing with Emily. The owner agreed to give us pizza. So Emily and I have a paying gig! Sure it is in slices of pizza and pitchers of beer, but the pizza there is really good! Emily wondered if a world tour need to have multiple stops. Hmm. . . I guess first we need to work out our set list.

Back to the Present and the Future

I leave for Hong Kong on Monday. My time in Taiwan has again been amazing. Before my accident I was playing with a traditional nanguan ensemble. When I couldn't play, I supplemented my Taiwanese friends with a trip to a temple, a glimpse into the lives of expats here in Taichung and got to make a new good friend in Emily.

Now, my hand has finally healed enough to be able to play again. My injury also delayed my departure from Taiwan because I wasn't strong enough to carry both my instruments through the airport. My hand is still numb along the index and middle fingers due to severed nerves, but it moves almost as good (Should I say "well?" That sounds so weird.) as new, so no complaints. I'm looking forward to my month and a half in Hong Kong. The last month may be spent in Tibet. I'll keep everyone updated!


  1. Nice blog. Good to be all caught up. I enjoyed the chants and red dresses.

  2. Westerners are so effing weird. <- So fucking true.

    And great that you had such a great time in Taiwan. When I was there I enjoyed it so much. So sad that I was there only for some days. And bubble tea ... I have some strange experiences with this tea, lol.

    And omg, Hongkong. I am so jealous of you! I always wanted to visit Hongkong *_*
    Have a great time there and make pictures! And have a safe flight! :)