Sunday, October 5, 2008

"Hello, you are very handsome."

For the past two hours, I've been journaling at what I thought would be a quiet park - that's been far from the case. Apparently, there's some sort of Concert/Festival going on. Just as I settled down on a hillside patch of very-unpleasant-grass, the stage in front of me lit up. For about an hour, teens and twenty-somethings dressed in outlandish garb paraded across the stage only to pause for a brief moment to sing, or twirl an umbrella, or wave a fan. Then off they went, to give room to the next contestant

Safe to say, I had no idea what was going on.

After that ended, and a few people cleared away, I spied an empty stone table at the top of the hill. This improved my writing conditions drastically. For the better part of the second hour, I was the table's sole occupant. There was a young Western couple who sat down near the spot where I'd left. I wanted to save them from the grass, but I never caught their eye.

It seems taboo for westerners-who-are-strangers to talk to each other. Rarely do we get much past "Hi, how are you." A knowing smile and a nod usually suffice upon eye contact. Last night, I tried to ask an American family-of-four how their dinner at Chili's had fared. For the typical "hellohow'sitgoin" salutation, they seemed pleasant. But their tone morphed into a short and flat "Fine" to answer the second question. Then they rushed away. I'm not kidding. You think I'm kidding, but I'm not.

Later, I was joined by a man with a cigarette and cut-off jeans much shorter than the pair I was wearing.
For a brief period following, a family sat down across from the man and me. After about two minutes, the father stuck his face between mine and my notebook and asked "American?" in Chinese. He then attempted to force his young teenage daughter to practice her English with me, much against her will. It didn't get very far, but I think her name was Selina.

This happens a lot. There are some perks. Two days ago, I was given two apples for speaking to a five year old boy in English. But still, I can't fully decide if I enjoy it or find the attention irritating.

Oh! Look at that, the costume kids are back. Instruments in tow, this time. It looks like the playboy-esque bunny is going to perform an air guitar/karaoke rendition of Sixpence's "Kiss Me"

No, wait, make that Moby.

No, it's British Parliament music.

Wow, okay, I don't know what's going on, again. Someone needs to learn how to use an ipod.

Maybe just a photo-op?
I need to walk around. This stone bench is a pain in my

...Ah, maybe I'll stay. Short-shorts and his wife just offered me a bottle of Green-Tea. Add that to the perks-list of being the only Westerner within sight.


Between the time of typing and posting the above entry, I went back to the Festival (by myself, again) for the Concert portion. There were plenty of happenings in Round:Two, so I thought I'd add a second portion. Sorry in advance for the length. And it starts... riiiight...nnnnn

So I went back to the festival.

I was told music started at 7, so I rushed to eat my 6 o'clock dinner, change, and walk back to Statue Park. As I neared the entrance at 6:55, sweat dripping from my brow (nothing I'm not used to here) I realized I was going to a concert. And concerts never ever start on time (Save concerts @ theVault, which always started on time...always...).

Needless to say, I didn't hear music til 8.

I didn't know what was going on most of the time, but it did prove to be an interesting night.

There were a few groups. Mostly pop, with one rapper and one pop-punk group.
The rapper sang three songs.
The first was called "Taichung Taichung" (I think)
The second was about MSN messenger (it featured the "Send Message" sound as part of the beat)
And the third... well, the only two words I picked up were "Taichung" and "MSN" (besides "yeah" "alright" and "peace out")

Before him, I heard the best rendition of "The Power of Love" ever sung by a Chinese man. (Okay, to be fair, it was the best I'd ever heard, save Celine)

The punk rock group was fun, and its guy/girl lead vocal team did a fine job pumping up the crowd. She did a half-decent rendition of Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend" (to her defense, look at the song she had to work with.) He decided to hold the microphone up to my mouth so I could sing. It was awkward, though, because he seemed to only put it up to my mouth when she said "Girlfriend" so I tried not to sing too loudly. Being that I was, again, one of the only Westerners around, the two photographers covering the event instantly swarmed me and the rockstar.
He posed. I smiled much too childishly-wide.

More than once, I heard "you are very handsome."
My favorite was from the same male-popstar who held the mic to my mouth so I was forced to sing "I don't like your girlfriend?" to 1000 people.
Before any of that happened, he made his first pass through the crowd. We caught eyes, and I nodded to him to say I was enjoying the show. He came over to me, and we shook hands. And while his female-counterpart was singing a lead, he brought the microphone to his lips and let those little words ring out over the loud-speaker.

"Hello. You are very handsome."

I assured him that he was too.

I swear though, this has got to be one of the first phrases they teach in English class. Somewhere between "Hello, nice to meet you!" and "Where is the toilet?" In my month of being here, it's been tossed around more times than I can count, and I'm convinced it's not because so many Taiwanese people are enamored with my looks and poor-Chinese charm.

Story to prove my point:
Sometime last week, I was at a restaurant, when the waitress used this phrase on me. I smiled, nodded awkwardly, and said "Thank you" in Chinese. Then she said, "You have a very good smile." "Your eyes are very beautiful." I was starting to become fairly flattered, until she turned to David and told him that was all the English she knew. When David translated, I looked at her and said "You can practice your English on me anytime."

Actually I didn't say that. I'm usually not that witty in the moment.

I just grinned, suddenly realizing the compliments were only to rehash the little English she knew.

But at the same time, maybe they do mean some of what they say. And again, I don't feel its because of my personal complexion.

I had someone tell me I reminded them of Enrique Iglesias (Side Note: Thank God for Google Search. The web-based spell-check suggested that I was trying to spell "Ecclesiastes").

Now, other than our un-kept 5 o'clock stubble, and maybe some chest hair, the two of us bare no resemblance, I assure you this much. Their point-of-reference and personal, face-to-face contact with Westerners is so little that they just draw lines wherever they can.

I feel like to them "Western" = "attractive"

This started to make sense when I began to pay attention to the billboards and posters that line the streets. No, not all, but the vast majority of the models either appear to be very Western-looking Asians, or slightly Asian-looking Westerners.

It's bizarre. And I wonder if they allow that Western image to define "beauty" here in Taiwan. I think it's safe to say what's on our billboards and advertisements back home has vastly shaped our cognitive understanding of "beautiful."
It's a shame, really. Especially when we consider what's on our billboards.

But I digress. And retire. I have nothing left for you this evening. And if you made it this far, I applaud you and thank you for putting up with me.

I hope you all have a wonderful Sunday. My Monday is off to a rocky start, since I had no intention on seeing 1 am (and it's now nearing 2, thank you Blogger.)

I'd love to hear from you all. Hope you are well.



swirly023 said...

hey chase,
shay told me about your blog. This entry was pretty fun! I had no idea you were in Taiwan! Of all places! Hope you're having a good time over there. See ya!


Nikki said...

It seems that the image of beauty is pretty skewed in most countries. For instance, I went to Bolivia about 3 years ago and we had the same thing. I must say they did feel very proud that they knew some English. I am glad you're enjoying yourself. I'm sure being over there is more interesting then being here. Oh and on a side note, Florida is pretty much sweltering as well, as always. :D Have a good one.


Alisoney said...

I think I like reading your blog mostly because it reminds me of my life. I don't know if people who haven't lived in a cross-cultural environment can fully understand the humor in this.

But as far as beauty goes, Russians are hot. Americans are considered sloppy and fat for the most part (and honestly after living here for a year and a half I can understand how they think of us this way).

Also, I have a friend who grew up in china (from 3-17) and she was quite the star while living there. She also lived in a fairly rural areas for the most part, she the little blond-haired blue-eyed girl who loved to talk was quite famous. She did modeling work for a while and quite a few commercials. The most memorable part she told me was that she was told to speak chinese poorly because the advertisers wanted to make sure that people knew she was an american and that they hadn't just died her hair. She remembers being indignant about the mistakes they wanted her to make because, after having lived there most of her life, her Chinese was very good. She is a very pretty girl. But still...this is strange...

San said...

ah my first time here and i dont think ive been so entertained in some time!! :)

i'm an indian studying in australia so i get what you mean only that the experience is at the other end of the spectrum.

my tummy hurts from laughing so much. thank you! :)