Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Jan 10 2002

Last night after work I met up with Dean, Brian, G…

Last night after work I met up with Dean, Brian, Graham, Jaime and a girl whose name I’ve forgotten, over at My Other Place. Unfortunately, I wasn’t really in the right mood for the situation and didn’t contribute a hell of a lot to the conversation. I don’t know why it is, perhaps reading too much Oriented, but lately I feel like I can’t really communicate with most of the foreigners here in Taiwan. Although we speak the same language, it often feels like they must be living in some alternate dimension of reality. Don’t get me wrong, these are my friends and I enjoy their company. It’s just that lately I’ve been feeling a bit like I don’t quite fit in.

For my first several years here I didn’t actually have much at all to do with foreigners. In college in Taichung I took regular classes with the Chinese students in addition to Chinese language classes, but I didn’t really hang out with any of the foreigners there. After college I moved to Taipei after living in Hsinchu for a while, and the whole time I worked at jobs that didn’t have anything to do with foreigners or English. The only foreigners I knew were Boogie and Mindcrime, both of whom have been really cool people and good friends to me for a really long time (Boogie is still here, actually, although I don’t see him very often these days).

The first time Mindcrime took me down to the “Combat Zone”, I was shocked. Here, right in the middle of Taipei, was an area full of drunken foreign businessmen, older guys with suits covering ample paunches, flirting with Taiwanese bargirls in dozens of questionably named drinking establishments. It was (and still is) a relic of the US military presence from decades past, but I had lived in Taipei for years without ever having come across it.

It was really only after I started working for the newspaper, which was my first office/desk job as well as the first time I had really worked in a “foreign” environment, that I began making foreign friends in considerable numbers. At the time, when I began making a few inroads into the expatriate community here, people tended to be surprised that I had been here so long without them hearing about me or meeting me. It seemed that all the foreigners knew each other already, and to them it seemed that I had just popped out of the woodwork. To me it was a rather novel experience to have so many foreign friends.

But the world of expatriates in Taiwan is a small one, not just in size but in outlook, and it also seems segregated to an uncomfortable degree from the rest of Taiwan, the real Taiwan, the Taiwan that is, to me at least, really worth experiencing. Going back and forth between the two worlds is a difficult balancing act to carry out, and I guess I haven’t been doing such a great job lately. A lot of that is the fact that I’ve been too busy working on my book to get the hell out of dodge for a while. My recent trip back to Miaoli was a bit of a slap in the face in that respect, a sharp reminder that there is more to Taiwan than Taipei.

This isn’t, as some would suggest, about “going native” or some crap like that (If anything I feel like I’ve been “going foreign” over the past few years rather than the opposite). Rather, it’s about being true to oneself and following one’s natural instincts, getting to know oneself and being able to identify and manage the myriad parts of one’s own personality. It’s so easy to get lost, particularly when you’re out there all by yourself. After all these years I’m still learning how to zuo ren, literally “to be a person.” I guess it’s a life-long process.

I was walking around the Shi-da area looking for sunglasses last night when I ran into Kirk, who was let go from his job at Oracle just a couple of days ago. Now he’s looking for work during the day and going to college at night. We found a little hole-in-the-wall teahouse we’d never been to and chatted over steaming pots of fragrant leaves, accompanied by cinnamon pop-tarts. Kirk really likes to talk about his remaining cat. He originally had two, but one of the escaped when he took them to get fixed. The remaining cat is always doing all sorts of cute things, and it really makes me want to get a cat, but I’m afraid I’ll have to wait until I move somewhere more suitable for raising cats, and who knows when that will happen.

At the teashop we talked about feeling lonely around Chinese New Years, and I admitted that even though I enjoy being single I still sometimes wish I could have someone to hook up with now and then. I haven’t been out looking lately either. The Source is just more of the expatriate community, sort of like a little two-room Combat Zone, but Funky isn’t half bad, and there are some newer places to go as well. Again, I’ve been too busy with my book to be able to rationalize spending my weekends in such a fashion. Hopefully I’ll have more time after it’s done and published, hopefully within a few months’ time.

Several people have complimented my jacket, which is a bright yellow/red/black Tommy Hilfiger ski jacket with an ROC flag sewn on the back. The reason the flag is there is because I didn’t like the original Tommy Hilfiger banner, and I was afraid it wouldn’t wash, so I took it off. My friend Clar said I could sell the rubber flag on the black market or something, actually, but I just didn’t like it on the back of my jacket. It looked really bad without the banner, though, so I took the ROC flag patch I had laying around and sewed it on. The colors go together quite nicely, but there’s always the possibility I will come across a flag-hating cabbie who has no qualms about using his vehicle as a weapon. Then again, if the dude who drives around town with two flags, one PRC and one Soviet, stuck in his car as he blares the PRC national anthem can survive after all this time, my chances can’t be that bad.

Steve is back in town, or he will be soon. He’ll be in Tainan with his wife at first, but hopefully either he’ll get up to Taipei or I will get down there at some point soon.

posted by Poagao at 7:23 am  

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