Writer's Block

The USA is the place I was born. Canada is the place I was raised. Taiwan is the place in my heart.

Sunday, June 01, 2003

It's official...

I can pass for a local Taiwanese person... at least that is what I assume based on what happened to me last Wednesday, as I was waiting for the bus to take me to the college for my evening class. Usually people can tell a mile away that I'm not local- just by the way I walk, talk or dress. I can't tell you how many taxi drivers have asked me within the first five minutes of the cab ride where I'm from or whether I'm an ABC. On this particular day, I was just standing at the bus stop waiting and minding my own business and wearing a face mask no less, when a young man who looked as though he was in his 20's approached me and asked me something in Mandarin. I didn't hear what he said and didn't realize that he was speaking to me since I've rarely had strangers start random conversations with me.

Well, apparently, my lack of response and the blank expression on my face didn't seem to deter him from launching into a line of questioning: Would you like to talk? Are you waiting for the bus?

I was rather peeved by his intrusion and simply said back to him in Mandarin, "Do I know you? No I don't, so why are you asking me all these questions?"

Unfazed he continued, "How old are you? Are you waiting for the number 69 bus? Are you going to Shiao Gang?"

Indeed I was.

Well this guy was just pushing all of the hot buttons- what kind of person asks a complete stranger how old they are and how the hell did he guess that I was waiting for the number 69 bus to Shiao Gang? That just gave me the creeps.

Finally I took the direct approach by simply saying, "I don't want to talk you you." Too bad I don't know any flaming insults in Chinese. Oh well, I suppose even if I were speaking in English, I would have been polite. I'm just not prone to telling people off unless I really feel threatened or endangered.

Thankfully he skedaddled after that and soon after the number 69 bus came.

Even after the exchange I was confused- what was _that_ about?!

And then I realized that he was trying to pick me up! Duh... and I thought I'd heard some pretty lame pick up lines in my day... and I was wearing a face mask- he couldn't even see half of my face. This guy didn't even make an attempt at some witty, lame pretense of interest. I just didn't get it. I just have to assume that this is how locals court. Later that night I spoke to one of my Taiwanese girlfriends and she confirmed it- it was definitely a pick up.

Come to think of it, at all of the other more "usual" places (bar, dance club, social gathering) that I've been picked up in, in Taiwan, I've noticed that without failure, the all-important-question always surfaces within the first 10 minutes of conversation: How old are you? I guess that's the not so subtle Taiwanese code for "I'm interested." No time for beating around the bush or negotiations... next...

Noise pollution

The second largest city in Taiwan, Kaohsiung is a remarkably quiet city compared to Taipei. It's not uncommon to be able clearly hear the sounds of children at play during recess at a school miles away and across the river, or the one "parade" in town, which is more aptly described as a funeral procession. Amazingly, many funeral processions sound extremely joyous and had I not been told otherwise, I wouldn't have known that all of the music noise and fanfare was for a funeral. Apparently, the flavor of the funeral procession is an indicator of the deceased's age and quality of life. Vibrant funeral processions are a sign that the deceased died at a ripe old age and had a satisfying, full life or was related to some prominent member figure with some clout in society (like a politician or gangster- as I type this I wonder why I even bothered to make the distinction...). Otherwise Kaohsiung is peppered with the sounds of the daily garbage truck tunes and local fruit and food vendors bidding people to check out their goods.

So, I'm certain that it's not my imagination- that the sounds of ambulance sirens have become a conspicously frequent occurrence. I now hear them on a daily basis- during the day and especially at night. With SARS showing little signs of abating, I can't help but wonder if the frequent wailing of sirens is correlated at all to SARS.


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