Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A foreign delight

I am sipping strawberry milk tea and munching on a chocolate bun, and someone wanted to fight me today. I have had 23 years to realize our world has problems, but this still seemed noticeable. I am simply not that intimidating.
Today was inundated with foreigners. Today, I believe I saw more foreigners outside of my school and foreign bars than my entire time here. Spotting the foreigner is a common sport of mine, and its beauty stretches from its difficulty to its baffling hypocrisy. If I see a Taiwanese person so much as wink at their friend upon seeing me, they are culturally insensitive. But if I nearly have a conniption seeing a British guy in a supermarket, that is entirely acceptable. Its funny, because I thought I would never grow old of the "super star stares" you get for having white skin. Trust me, it gets old, really old.
Anyway, typically I see a foreigner once a week or maybe twice a week. I have gone long stretches without seeing any random foreigners at all. When I do see them, I sometimes think, "go back home you weasel trying to cheat Taiwan." But I usually think, "hey brother".
I think, ironically, my time in Taiwan has pushed my feelings even more to the latter. The insanity of some of the things here eventually get to you, and you start seeing foreigners as "on the same team."
Anyway, today I had class at McDonald's (not my pick). There I spotted two. One was a teacher, who ran into a few of his students. The students were really nice to him and they had a great talk. He was learning Chinese and I thought it very good to see.
I then went to Starbucks (having just left McDonald's, a big part of me just said "ah screw it"). There I saw one looking for a table, but he did so in a pleasant manner, so no harm done. Later a foreign girl came and started studying Chinese, always a plus in my book, and later switched seats so a couple could use their laptop. All and all, foreigners are looking good.
While I was sitting there, another foreigner came in with Taiwanese guys. And by Taiwanese, I don't just people "people living or born in Taiwan," but "Mandarin is a distinct second language type Taiwanese." Their Taiwanese had the thickest accent, and I was not sure if the foreigner understood them, but I was impressed he fell into that crowd. They seemed to be making something (I sensed a movie in the works, but I have no idea why). Either way, I thought "hey, go foreigners." Next up, on the way out, I passed two foreigners in a language exchange. Again, learning Chinese, goes far in my book.
This was all near the University, so it was an unfair sample, but either way, my Foreign Tuesday (why could this not have happened on a Friday?) was looking good. Oh, by the way, if you were wondering why I was not at school, apparently the KMT government Killed Many Taiwanese some fifty years ago (go big blue), so now there is a day off from school [editors note: if the go big blue joke is moved to the end of the sentence, look at how much more morbid I come off!].
Anyway, next up, I spotted a foreigner biking near my house. She seemed to be exploring the territory. New foreigners were shipped in for the school year that started two weeks ago, so a few of them are finding themselves. I say, go her.
So then I go the gym. My teacher Rebecca is a member there. To become a member there, she had a long and complicated fight, in which they lied to her multiple times. I was supposed to help her as the manager is foreigner, but it got figured out before my mission...thank god...
I got to the gym ten minutes late (I underestimated the traffic and took a bad route). We go in, and Rebecca said that they were making us take a tour of the gym and sign a form. However, earlier that day she had made an appointment, which she explained meant that we did not have to fill out the form or take the tour. Her understanding was that it was not a problem if you had an appointment, and that you got a certain number of these special appointments a year (in retrospect, I believe this was a lie to get me ready and inside).
As we walked in, I saw a big foreigner and gave him my "we are in this together" smile that I have picked up. He seemed like a nice guy. In fact, before altercation, I said to Rebecca rather concisely "he seemed like a nice guy."
So one of the employees that works there has us sitting in a booth and says I have to fill out a couple of forms and take the tour. We try to explain to him that we don't have a lot of time (true) and that our impression was if we made an appointment that we did not need to take the tour (true).
I was ready to fill out the form, but Rebecca said again that that should not be necessary. So as we asked the staff guy, the manager comes over, and although it would have been very apt if he had said "is there a problem here?" and pulled on his belt, I think he just came over.
He said that the policy was we had to sign the form and take the tour. In me trying to explain what Rebecca had told me, I guess I really dug deep or something. I just tried to say that my impression was that we could not do the tour with an appointment, and that someone actually had told Rebecca this. I also tried to say the form was okay, but we did not have time for the tour (true in a way, but I don't know how long the tour really was).
I am not sure how, but it was clear this really made him angry. I try to be enough of a self-conscious person to be critical and say "well maybe I was yelling, I do have a tendency to yell," or "maybe I was being to lawyerly, it is annoying when you do that." But I simply can't assume that I adequately provoked what happened during the ten seconds where I explained an innocent miscommunication at best or us being straight up right at worst.
He started interrupting me, and dare I say, "raising his voice." He said "look, have you ever been a member of a gym?"
"Of course, a couple, but I have never been apart of a Taiwanese gym, just in America."
"Well this is standard policy with all gyms, and that is from back home."
"Well, the two gyms I was a member of you could bring in a certain number of guests without a worry or you had a little guest pass punch card or something."
"Well," (I am not good at dialogue writing, and these wells are me trying to be honest with what was said), "That is not World Gym's policy. I don't have a punch card from you. Or any card, or anything" (that last comment was actually was more inane and hard to describe, he even looked around so as to demonstrate his search for a guest card).
"Well she is a member," point at Rebecca, "her impression was that if she made an appoint..."
I think maybe I need to learn more concise speech in the face of interruptions, "Well that is not our policy. This is my gym, and our policies. And you are coming in here telling me what my policies are, you can either get sign the release form and take a tour or you can pay 675 and tour for the day."
This may have been where I really sent him off the deep end but I was really shocked by that last sentence, "675? Like $20 bucks, this must be a really good gym."
"It is the best by far in Tainan."
I looked at the Taiwanese spokesman, who much like Rebecca had a very deer in the headlights sort of thing going on and said, I feel rather earnestly, "does it have an indoor basketball court?" For the record, Rebecca had told me it didn't, so perhaps this came off sarcastic unintentionally, however in asking it I really did feel that that could justify an otherwise truly outrageous one day fee. Furthermore, I thought Rebecca might have missed it or something (though it sounds like they force tours at gun point at World Gym).
He responded "you can take the tour to find out" (if I was not appalled by exclamation marks, I would be using them somewhat haphazardly here). "You are wasting his and my time. Either get a guest pass for the day, fill out the form and take a tour, or leave."
Then he left. Rebecca started to talk to the employee, who walked over with a lot of confidence and was now speaking with far more, shall we say, passiveness to compensate. We tried to explain to him the misunderstanding and what was said in the telephone conversation.
I should have let Rebecca do her thing, but I was undoubtedly frustrated. I do know for the record, I spoke pleasantly at this point for the, now aware that the owner was somewhat of a loon.
I think the Engish part of my Chinegrish beckoned the foreigner back. He demanded to know why I was not either signing the papers/touring, paying, or leaving. He started yelling again.
This time I tried to respond with a certain amount of the genuine fear that I thought I was previously masking. This was an attempt to show I am a human and that he was being crazy (its silly, but it has worked at least one notable time). However, I say this like it was a completely controlled act of free will to look fidgety and make my voice squeaky and scared. It felt like free will at the time, but my confidence is not enough to say that for sure.
He even ended up saying "Look at you" in relation to my fidgetiness (at this point he was just yelling at me things like "get out now," "don't question my policies" and general threats). For the record, it was not only pride that kept me in my seat (that being wanting to express why this all happened 'cause I so damn smart), it was also the fact that I would have to get up and walk through a bottle neck that he was standing in order to leave. Although it felt like I choose to show my fear, I really was afraid. This place is not the wild west, but it is not Tokyo either. If he just started beating my ass in the middle of a mall, I am not really sure what would really happen (I have seen the news where cops just watch serious beat downs).
It was the first time I really did "look at me" at a time of frailty. Furthermore, I have reanalyzed the situation a lot since then. He said "look at you" like I should be ashamed, and perhaps yesterday I would have been. But I wasn't, I am not, and I don't think I will be. We are all weak.
I am weak. I make jokes that I wish I hadn't. I talk too much. I speak too loud. I am dedicated to a lot of things, but I am not really a master of anything. I get addicted to things (nothing serious so far, but that is because I am aware of this weakness). I want to look good, but usually don't. I am a form of greedy (not in the "step on those in the way" type, but I do have a mighty long shopping list). And I question myself a lot.
But I know all of this. I know far more than this list. And I do stuff about it.
He is weak. This man was a business owner and was yelling at a potential client in the middle of a mall. He said multiple comments that were profoundly stupid. Although it feels like high school to say this, I think it was a safe bet he was on steroids (I mean, a really large gym owner yelling in public is not the best alibi). Either way, he seemed pretty shallow. And the most obvious of all, bro has some really serious anger issues.
Then I said, "look, chill out, its okay, we are taking off."
Apparently unintentional reverse psychology works, because chill out meant "I want to fight you" in his language.
I am not sure if they were his exact words, but from the distance between the table and the door, he asked me some variation of "you want to start something?" a number of times.
He followed me out the door and kept yelling at me, making it clear that he was ready to fight and that he wanted to fight. He "got up in my face" (not with that certain indescribable intimacy of boxers before a match, but he definitely broke most American norms of personal space).
Outside the gym, surrounded by Taiwanese high school kids (hanging out at the mall that holds the gym), he kept yelling at me. I said something like "I am sorry. I am from Colorado, my name is Matt, I am a human b..."
He cut me off to yell, "I don't care who you are." And he walked back into the gym.
He said it very well, he simply didn't care who I was.
That is hate. That is the problem with the terrorists, the problem with the taxi drivers here, that is the problem. Too many of us, too much of the time, don't care who people are. Or more to the point, we don't care that they are people.
I still care who he is, and why he is the way he is. Now that I am a few steps away from my initial anger, I care who the Danish cartoon haters are. I am completely confident they don't have a "good" justification, but I would like to at least know what biologically and socially has made them the way they are. I still want to know what made him so angry.
After we left and were out of sight, I handed my bag to Rebecca and kicked some various metal (it was clearly solidly built) box outside the door. I kicked it really hard too. I am not proud of this, my mother has said she thinks people who hit stuff after an argument are stupid. I just think they are human and angry. I am not proud I kicked a box (and in doing so, scared the hell out of a whole flock of students). Yet I am not really embarrassed. There are times in my life where I would say I should have been more stoic and not so juvenile.
We all have problems in our lives. When I first got here, I had an altercation that left me sad, in a distant way, that was caused by someone I will never meet months before I got here. The pain was just sold forward.
I am sure today I caught the brunt end of some bad things. But World Gym man choose to pass those bad things on to a person, I choose to pass his bad things onto a box. And I am proud of that.
I am weak, but I know it. He is weak, but he does not know it, and that is his greatest weakness.
I think it is a strength of mine that within a second of my box assault, I laughed, and I really meant it. I told a joke to Rebecca, and I was okay. She is a nice girl and walked me to my scooter. We talked, I relaxed. I was in gym clothes and was still excited by everything, so I went straight to the basketball court.
I played for a long time. I met a really cool guy, I helped his English, and we played a lot. I met a crazy Taiwanese guy who made me mad by weird and cheap fouling. It was pretty standard stuff.
Afterwards, I ran into my first naturally discovered foreigners on a basketball court. The four of them officially made my day the most random foreign sighting filled day of my time here. They were Mormons here on mission. But more than that, they were good guys.
One of them and I talked for a long time. I vented a little, because I am a venter and telling my story helps me think. We talked Taiwan and Chinese, and it was relaxing. We did not talk religion and I realized why. Both he and I understood, we really are in this together. We may have things very different between us, but right now, in this place, we have a lot more in common than we have in contrast.
My favorite blog entry I have written here was the one about "jigga" and "nigga" being used by both Jay-Z and the Chinese. Since he was also a Chinese student, I started to tell him the basic premise but realized he may have never heard Jay-Z. At first he was not sure, but then he realized he had heard the album Jay-Z made with Linkin Park. Perhaps this is unfair to Linkin Park fans, and I really don't mean to generalize, but compared to Jay-Z, I definitely consider them more of a red state sort of band.
In America, I would have only thought of the things that made me different from this guy. I may be Blue Stasis, for two reasons now, but for those Green in Taiwan and Red in America, I still have a lot of common ground that I don't want to forget.

1 comment:

Erica H said...

It's a long article for me to read..., who knows I haven't studied English a long time. Did you mention the day I met you at Starbuck? Maybe, 228 is a holiday cause I met some people that day. Did you see the other woman sitted by me? She thought I know a lot foriegners in Tainan. ACtually, I just met people I know. And the other two guys, they are South African, and I found people from there are misanthropic... and they don't like American just like European. I don't know why, maybe just like some Taiwanese don't like Chinese.

And the most redicutious is a guy thought UK is great..., beacause of the history, the Empire! Screw you history and empire! Those are all lies!! (soryy...I'm too angry)