Showing posts with label dating. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dating. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Love and Cheap Sushi - my Valentine's Day meditation on dating for MyTaiwanTour

My second piece, just in time for Valentine's Day (not a holiday we actually celebrate, by the way, even when we were young and dating) for MyTaiwanTour.

It's the story of my date at Sushi Express - a restaurant I picked because I was new in Taiwan and didn't know better - with a friend who could have been something more, but wasn't. Eric Lin was not his real name, of course, but a dozen years on it hardly matters.

Plus, some thoughts on observing the dating scene from afar in Taiwan, as a boring old married lady!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Updated post: why are there so few expat women in Asia?

With the publication of an article on Western women dating Asian men that included a large contribution from my friend Jocelyn Eikenburg came a very good point from another friend: one reason why there are fewer Western Woman-Asian man couples is that there are fewer Western women in Asia.

Why is that, I asked to no one in particular.

I returned to my original post from years ago about why there are so few expat women in Asia (I could just as easily said 'Western women' - what working-class foreign women, mostly from China and Southeast Asia,  in countries like Taiwan face is an entirely different topic that I will cover once I feel qualified to do so).

I felt that the piece could use some updating, so I've updated it to add a few more thoughts and clarify or expand some of the original points.

I am not at all sure that everyone will like what I have to say, but since when has that mattered to me?

What would really improve the piece would be more firsthand experiences from a variety of women on why they chose to stay or leave - in fact, after I finish off a few other blogging projects I'm working on as well as get through the first in-person component of my Master's program, I intend to seek those voices out. For now, your comments are welcome.

The bulk of the changes - though not every change - to the original article are as follows:

As for the reasons why [dating prospects aren't great for Western women in Asia], it's hard for me to say, and I'll have to stick to heterosexual couples for now. Someone more qualified than me can write about gay dating in Asia.

My college crush moved to Taiwan, we started dating, and now we're married. I don't really have firsthand experience with this issue to share. It seems to me, though, that the issue is not what most people assume: that Western women don't want to date Asian men, so they stay single. Only a small minority of Western women I've met in Asia feel that way - most are quite open to it, or have dated (or married) Asian men. However, I do think it's likely harder. The culture barrier to dating doesn't work in our favor, as Asian men are often less likely to be clear about their feelings and ask for concrete dates, or don't show interest in the ways we've come to expect. It's easier to be a very clear Western man asking a local woman out than it is for a Western woman to figure out if an Asian man likes her.

Of course, I'm the sort of woman who once asked men out. It doesn't shock me - I think more women should do it! Again, however, that's a contentious topic in the West, though I'm not sure why. In Asia it's even more rare and is more likely to put men off. Take that even further, and it means there are fewer local men who possess the feminist chops many Western women deem a dealbreaker: I wouldn't date a man who would be put off by my asking him out.

After that, the culture barrier vis-a-vis traditional families also tends not to work in Western women's favor. If you are dating the son of Asian parents, while it's not certain that they'll expect him to run his family the way they tell him to, live nearby or use your shared financial resources to support his parents, it is certainly more likely than in the West. The expectations of male and female roles in marriage are also more likely to be traditional (though, again, this is far from universal: feminist Asian men do exist. I count some among my friends). Some Western women might see this as a difficult adjustment. Others, like me, view it as a dealbreaker.

This is not meant to be a blanket statement on the state of Western woman-Asian man dating in Asia, of course. Differing stories and successful and happy couples abound. It's just an issue worth considering. However, if the obstacles to that sort of partnership are greater, fewer women are likely to meet, date, marry and set up a home with a local man. This means fewer have that particular pull to stay (though, again, there are many success stories).

And, of course, there aren't that many Western men to date and the ones that are here might - see below - be oddly hostile to Western women. 

Does it really keep Western women away from life abroad, though, or is the correlation entirely spurious?

A little of both. For women who want to travel, the dating issue (which has no easy answer) is not likely to keep them away, though it may cause them to choose shorter-term trips: a one-year stint as a student or one year abroad teaching instead of staying long-term, for example.

* * * 

It is tiring to work for a sexist boss, have to address sexist beliefs even among friends, go out and meet people only to find that you are again being judged through the lens of gender, asked yet again about marriage and family, having children, having your appearance commented on and treated as the most important part of who you are. Always wondering if you are being paid less, and if so, because you happen to have a vagina. Always wondering if you are offered the fluffier classes (e.g. "Baking in English!") and work teaching children rather than the more challenging work (e.g. "Presenting in English") because you are female. Always questioning why, exactly, most of your colleagues are male, especially if you teach corporate English, IELTS or other adult classes.

Sexism is also a problem in the West - the hate and vitriol I see from some American men is astounding - but coming up against older-school forms of it in Asia is tiring. 

* * * 

I want to add a few more points here to expand this piece. I focused mainly on expats like me above: women who came here on their own as students or independently in search of work. However, there is a whole class of expat that I don't interact with much - nothing personal, we just inhabit different worlds - the corporate expat here on a fancy package. In Taiwan this means the ones who have luxury apartments rented for them, drivers and live-in help, who send their children to international schools we couldn't hope to afford. That sort of money would be nice, though I'm not sure I'd like the life very much. In any case, corporate sexism is a huge issue, and as a result most of the employees being offered these stellar packages are male. They might bring their wives, but they are the ones drawing the salaries. When women are offered something like this, they may find they're in a tiny minority and that when they arrive, the non-Western corporate world is even more hostile and sexist than what they left behind. Professional Taiwanese women have more advantages than almost all of their counterparts in the rest of Asia, but corporate sexism here is no better, and likely worse, than what you'll find in the West.

And, finally, I'm going to add something that may anger a few people, but here we go. It is my personal opinion from observation that women tend to be less tolerant of mediocrity. What I mean by that is, those of us who don't come as students or well-paid, cosseted expatriates often start out teaching English. Few of us are qualified, and we are given a title ("teacher") that we don't exactly deserve. I don't exempt myself from this: I was once this sort of so-called "teacher". Most "English teachers" in Taiwan know this (though some don't seem to have figured it out). Some, like me, decide the work is meaningful and fulfilling and eventually become professional educators. Most don't. Some leave after awhile, others decide that teaching without any real qualification is good enough and stay. Guess which group I have noticed is more likely to not be content being an unqualified "teacher"? If you guessed women, then you get where I'm going. And guess which group I've noticed is more likely to decide that what they're doing is fine?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Just A Few Delightful Things


Eat here: 台灣原味滷味, 新北市中和區景平路493-5號 / 捷運景安站

Original Taiwan Flavor Lu Wei (braised & boiled things) Zhonghe, Jinping Road #493-5, MRT Jing'an, fastest to grab a 262 next to Sushi Express and take it to Zhonghe District Office (中和區公所) and it's across the street and up a short walk further next to Five Flower Horse (五花馬), which is also pretty good.

First, I have finally discovered the joy of eating pig's feet. I never liked it when I got a big bowl of nothin' but pig foot - kinda gross, actually, it just looks visually unappealing - but I have found when it's sliced up into tender pieces of meat and trotter, that mixed in with rice it's really quite delicious.

I discovered I liked it, after all these years of being too unimpressed with the look of the stuff to take a bite, when I passed the place listed above and this unholy delicious smell enveloped me and I had to try their food that very instant. So I pointed to what some other people were eating, not aware that it was pig's foot with rice (豬腳飯), and ordered that. It comes with tender bamboo shoots, a piece of braised tofu and a braised hard-boiled egg. I also got Taiwanese tempura (甜不辣) - their tempura sauce is also delicious. So good I poured the remainder on my rice.

So that was a good discovery.

Also, this News In Brief feature is just full of gems:

Taiwan News Quick Take

I mean, first there's "Canada Warning Issued", which is the best headline ever. We all should be warned about Canada more often.

Then there's the entire paragraph detailing the state of President Ma Ying-jiu's butthole. It's really more than I ever needed to know about President Ma's ass, but there ya go.

I guess he needs to keep it in good condition so it can be reamed by China. (BAM!)

Finally, there's this website:科技心,醫師情.

It seems on the surface to be just a dating/matchmaking website for Taiwanese professionals, and in a sense that's exactly what it is. The application page (no, I'm not going to apply, obviously, I was just curious) says that not only are engineers and doctors welcome, but that all sorts of professionals, from teachers to entrepreneurs ("anyone with a proper job", to quote it, but I think that comes across a little less offensively in Chinese, more like "any employed professional") may apply.

A student of mine (female, doctor, married) said, however, that their real market niche is setting up single male engineers, who are often (not always!) too overworked, too shy and too socially awkward to go out and date easily, with female doctors, who are too overworked and not in a good place in society* to find a life partner if they didn't marry a classmate (apparently male doctors who didn't marry a classmate are more interested in nurses, and both these women and men generally prefer that a man be on an equal footing, career-wise, to his wife**). Another student, who is a fairly high profile person (tech industry, male, married), said that they called him to ask if he'd be interested in signing up (me: "you could've said 'just a second, let me ask my wife. Hey honey, am I available to sign up for this dating website?'").

I personally think it's brilliant. If female doctors really want men who are at approximately their level professionally (although some engineers in Taiwan might disagree that they are) or acceptably close enough, engineers fit the bill. And while the older generation of Taiwanese men, including engineers, might have preferred a stay-at-home wife (or a wife to help run the family business), the younger crop of single thirtysomething male engineers, observed from my interaction with them as a teacher, seem far more willing to have a wife with a demanding career and the high level of education that goes with it. They wouldn't necessarily be scared off by a female doctor (some would, but I'm speaking in generalities).

Two segments of society that often have a hard time dating, being specifically matched up because they wouldn't have many chances to meet each other normally (it's not like all the single female doctors and all the single male engineers go to the same bars after work) is pure genius. I wish I'd thought of it.

*which is totally sexist bullshit, I know, as it is in any society, but this is a legitimate issue single female doctors face in Taiwan

**I don't care for that opinion either. In the US I'd call it sexist bullshit so I'll call it sexist bullshit in Taiwan, too.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Fact and Fiction: on the love lives of Western women in Taiwan


Not long ago, this ended up on my Facebook page. It was an amusing use of the Batman-slapping-Robin meme, and it was definitely channeling general sentiment (and general assumption) about what it's like to be a foreign woman in Taiwan.

But it also got me thinking - how true is it really? I suppose that could be easily answered with "of course it's true, everyone says it's true, articles and blog posts focus on it, women themselves will tell you it's true", and case closed.

I thought about my female friends, though (focusing on unmarried ones), who live or have lived in Taiwan, and my conclusions were that it's...actually...not true. In fact, I could think of very few who suffered or were suffering from a dead dating and sex life.

As a married woman, I wasn’t sure what I could contribute to that conversation and I wanted to explore this more from other perspectives, so I reached out to all of my unmarried friends. I asked all of them for their input, and some kindly agreed to talk. What I found instead shows issues far more complex. I've included responses from several women (rough ages included because, while it shouldn't matter, sadly, in Taiwan it does).

First, I found that pretty much every woman has chances to date casually or to have a sex life. Of course, that might mean casual hook-ups, and not all women want that (I sure wouldn't if I were single). So in that way this picture is wrong: sex isn't the problem.

Dating - real relationships that last, especially - is the problem. Here, options are limited. We all know why so I won't delve too far into it: the classic points that "the male expats aren't men we're interested in, and anyway they aren't interested in Western women, they're here for Asian women which *can* in some cases be kinda racist/fetishist but isn't always", "Taiwanese men don't go after us” and "Taiwanese men are a possibility but the culture differences in terms of how women are supposed to act and what they are expected to do in a relationship make it harder/impossible”. I'm not a fan of any of these narratives and just don’t want to have that discussion because it's too fraught with stereotypes.

To quote a friend: "I wouldn't ever feel like it's impossible for Western women to find love and, yes, sex in Taiwan. But, I certainly believe that Taiwanese men are much more shy, hesitant, and reserved than what you might be accustomed to in the West. So, I believe if you want it, you'll have to go out and get it.”

The common refrain was "it's easy to find hookups. It's hard to find guys to date."

 Of course, dating and pursuing real relationships is a problem all over the world. This is hardly unique to foreign women in Asia! It may be a little harder here, but it's certainly not very easy in our home countries, either. I see a degree of difference, but not an insurmountable one. And if someone like me, who is not conventionally pretty (I don't think I'm straight-up ugly, just not 'candybox pretty') and not thin, can garner interest (and I do) most women can. Even in Taiwan. Even in Asia.

I found from my friends that experiences attracting interest varied wildly, from "it happens sometimes - it's not so unusual that it'd shock me" (me), to "I get hit on ALL THE TIME" to "it's rare, or I am just approached for hook-ups" to "I feel invisible". But then, isn't that true back home, as well?

Interestingly, a lot of people I know - including women -  "a lot of Western women don't like Asian men", but while they all say that this is a "thing", it's all pegged on these "other women" who "don't like Asian guys" - - but I've truly yet to meet many such women. Either women saying this are trying to disguise their own feelings, or it's an assumption that is not nearly as true as people think.

I also found that the vast majority, when they did date, stuck pretty much to Taiwanese guys. In fact, looking through my friends, I couldn't think of any who'd hooked up with or dated, let alone married, a fellow expat (ed: I've made more friends since this post came out, and that's changed.)

This might be where the stereotype comes from - a few women complain about decreased opportunities (true - but that doesn't mean no opportunities). Then foreign guys notice that they and all their buddies are dating local women, single expat women they meet aren't dating anyone they know, and they know this is an issue in other countries in Asia, and so the assumption that "foreign women can't get none” is born. Without that many foreign women in Taiwan to refute it, it becomes canon.

Add to that the assumption by many expat men - and upheld by foreign women who (as discussed above) don't actually feel that way - that Taiwanese guys aren't desireable, it's easy to see why this idea is so firmly entrenched in the expat community.

Anyway, enough from me. I'm just a boring old married lady who's never actually dated a Taiwanese guy. Instead, listen to a sample of women who have. You'll start to notice a few patterns - you may even think I hand-picked these responses to fit with my theme. Not so - I asked pretty much every Western female friend I have in Taiwan (including Taiwanese/Chinese women born and raised overseas) and these are the responses of those who wanted to contribute. Other than the fact that obviously my friends will fall into the demographic of "older than early 20s" and "people I like and get along with", they're about as close to a random sample as you could ask for.


"I came to Taiwan married, and am still in Taiwan. As I believe from my first-hand experience that it's easy for western men to find sex here, I found my way to the door of divorce court. And as a newly single American woman in Taipei, I opened myself up to new possibilities.

Over the five years that I've been here, I have been approached several times by random Taiwanese men asking me if they could "be my friend." The first time I naively said yes to Mr. Yikes, thinking, I was married and friends are acceptable. I explained that I was married and living with my husband in Taiwan. This man said it was okay, he was just looking to be friends. Not so! Mr. Yikes proceeded to grow increasingly affectionate over MSN (at the time) and then he began to profess his love and longing for me. Needless to say, I was married, so I stopped using MSN all together! No more "friends" for me."

"After my separation and divorce, I ran into Mr. Handsome, the guy I'm now dating. He worked under my former company. In the beginning, I went back to his company to look for him, but he wasn't working those days. So, I chatted with his friend/boss. We became friends. He was cute and I thought there definitely could have been something more there. But, anyway, I was looking for Mr. Handsome.

Mr. Handsome was finally there one day after I had gone back several times looking for him. He, unlike Mr. Yikes, was much more shy, reserved, and tender. I was the first to make a move. He was busy acting cool or shy, not sure which is was, so I just told him directly that he was indeed Mr. Handsome! He replied in kind, and we hit it off. We exchanged numbers, went on dates, and quickly feel in love and into bed!"

- from a friend in her late 20s/early 30s, American. She, like most of us, realizes it's not necessarily as easy as back home to date, but that no, you're not totally bereft of possibility.

“Dating in your late 40s and early 50s is challenging in most situations, but doing it in another culture, let alone another country, can be either down right hilarious or one of life's greatest disappointments. 

“Take Chinese culture for example, Taiwan specifically, most men in this age group are quite set in their ways and lack the spontaneity and energy I require.  I’m not your mother, cook, maid, personal assistant or spiritual advisor.  

I was recently “spending time” with a guy in his mid-40s, divorced, a 13-year son, owned several properties.  In the beginning, it was a nice experience, easy and relaxing, but after a few months of movies and dinner, I wondered out loud why we didn’t eat near his house.  His response was that his son might see us and be upset. 

Well, you know how that went down, but wait, maybe you don’t. Turns out the kid is very jealous of the father’s time since the divorce of a few years ago. 

Things cooled a bit after this discussion, but revved back up about 3 or 4 weeks later. 

He suggested we might want to take a trip.  Yeah…this is pretty much the equivalent of a sex weekend and I don’t give free samples, but I do love creativity and imagination.  So I declined the weekend, but suggested phone sex instead. Thought he was going to faint.  Out came this little, feeble, old man response of not doing that in his culture. What’s the difference? Really, I mean foreplay is foreplay, come on, get in the game. 

It’s not that I really intended to follow through with this, but just wanted to gauge his willingness. 

I don’t need the fountain of youth, but I do need someone who can keep up with me on my 40km bike rides and is willing to jump the culture divide for some fun and play. 

I’ll keep on looking around, but remain disappointed in how constrained the duality of women’s roles remain in many societies.  You can have a job, but you’ve got to come home, cook, do the laundry, take care of the kids, maintain the house and more.  Watch out world, women are making their own money, have their own apartments and with electricity and imagination, men may become obsolete.”

- from a friend and coworker in her early 50s, American, who was previously married to a Chinese man. 

“I came to Taiwan solely for career reasons. I had lived in Thailand for a year when I was younger and dated a guy there so I certainly find men of all kinds attractive (lucky me!).

When I first got to Taiwan I lived in Hsinchu and ended up dating an international student there briefly who was from St. Lucia. Then, after I moved to Taipei, I dated another international student for a little while from Belize. I should note that, for career reasons, I only ever planned to stay in Taiwan a few years at most and that made me a little shy of getting involved with anyone, especially a Taiwanese guy (not that I saw many opportunities). Most of the time, the interactions I had with Taiwanese men were kind of bizarre and bordering on harassment, but that can be true of dating in any big city.

I met my boyfriend through mutual Taiwanese friends and he was really well-traveled and highly educated which I think did contribute, to some extent, to his open mindset. I think we had some minimal conflicts related to culture, class, and language misunderstandings (Chinese and English) but mostly it was good. He was a wonderful person and very good to me and we had an enjoyable relationship until he went to Guatemala for the Taiwan military service and I came back to the U.S. I guess we just really were able to relate well and our personalities really fit. I do not think I fit American cultural norms and I don't think he fit Taiwanese cultural norms and our personalities were more similar than any of those differences.

I still think it was more difficult to date in Taiwan and maybe I had less of a selection, but that might be "my fault" too in that I felt way more self-conscious and less relaxed in Taiwan. I found, overall, that it was much more difficult to meet people and create friendships in general so, for me, dating was just an extension of that. I also worked in an office full of white men who were terribly misogynistic so that soured some of my day to day thinking about men, lol. Overall, it wasn't that there weren't any opportunities, just that I knew I didn't want to stay permanently. Back in the U.S., I feel much more relaxed and can meet people much more easily.”

- from a friend in her 20s, American, who had an office job here for a few years and has recently moved back to the US. She's absolutely right that it's harder, you have to be more proactive, there isn't as much of a selection etc. but note that in the end she did have a Taiwanese boyfriend after dating a few international students. The pattern holds: it's harder, but not impossible, and "Western women don't like Taiwanese men" isn't nearly as true as people think it is.

“My husband is quite unique and was not the norm at all. I made a huge effort to win over my hubby at the time. There is also the fact that lots of Western women are not attracted to Asians. I was different because physically my husband is not typical in that he is broad and has body and facial hair that I find attracts me to a "guy". And, my husband's family is not traditional and does not influence him so him so he had freedom to date me.

Let's also not forget that it is easy to "hook up" and hard to seriously date. If Western women approached Taiwanese men aggressively there would be lots of success stories. All I can tell you is that if a girl is assertive and takes the lead the guys will follow. It is true that the Asian men are intimidated and probably won't make the first move.”

- from a friend in her 30s, American, who came here to study, came back to visit, and on that visit met the Taiwanese guy she'd later marry.

“I have lots to say about this. My experience is pretty different from what I hear a lot of Western women talk about. Overall, I feel like I get hit on or have guys ask me out in Taiwan on par with or maybe even more than in the U.S.

Just last night, for example, I went to a small local bar I'd never heard of because a Taiwanese female former colleague invited me there to chat. Over the course of a few hours, the Taiwanese bartender started chatting me up, we played the dice game (I'm not sure what it's called but something akin to Bullshit), he asked me if I'm married multiple times, told me I'm beautiful and otherwise flirted with me, walked me out to a cab and stopped just short of trying to kiss me. Another guy, an ABC, who we had barely chatted with, came up and quite directly asked me if I wanted to go home with him. This kind of thing doesn't happen every time I go out, but it's not terribly unusual. This isn't just in bars - I've had students aggressively hit on me in the middle of class, dudes approach me in coffee shops and someone ask me out on the MRT.

I'm not sure what to attribute this to, but I have a few ideas. I think I generally have an attitude of not really giving a fuck, that is to say, I don't put out the vibe that I'm looking for someone. I think that this is pretty attractive to some people. I'm also fairly outgoing in a social situation and will be friendly and shoot the shit with strangers, which I think can put people at ease a bit. I tend to go to more local places, as opposed to places that cater mainly to foreigners, and a lot of people I have met seem really pleased about that and tell me I must be Taiwanese at heart.

One Taiwanese guy I dated told me that a main reason he was attracted to me initially was because I am "manly" (his words). He went on to explain that I don't act super "feminine," meaning that I don't seem obsessed with my appearance, am not submissive and very different from most Taiwanese girls. (These comments could generate another very lengthy discussion entirely).

I'm certainly not the bee's knees, either. I'm 34 (with no husband or kids!), which basically makes me useless to society. I think I'm pretty charming and brilliant, but I'm not a knockout that people would trip and fall gawking at on the street. I've dated 2 Taiwanese guys in the last year and I've had guys ranging from 20's to 50's ask me out and at least 3 local girls ask to make out with me.”

- from a friend in her 30s, American, who has been here for a little over a year. Since she's been here she's dated two local guys and garnered interest from others. Her experience truly is a bit atypical in that she's had more luck than most Western women, but the pattern still holds: Western women do date Taiwanese men, they do like them more than is often assumed, and they do have opportunities. We're not all chaste nuns over here, jealous of Western men swaggering around with women hanging off their arms. In fact, we're not even dating those men for the most part. We're not interested. 

"I've observed this from afar as someone who's been attached entire time living in Taiwan, HK and Indonesia. The general quality of guys who move to Asia compared to the standard of women they believe they can get is something of a contrast. But after five years in Asia I know a few happy expat couples who met here. Yes there are a lot of horrid little men who date Asian girls and believe they must also be a serious catch for Western women. But lets not fight over them, ladies. Quality guys are few and far between. But its also very difficult to identify quality single guys aged 30 to 40 in London.

 Taiwanese men are often lovely, aren't they? Must be the aboriginal mix? Tall and handsome often. Life is a bit harder for Western women in HK.”

- from a British friend in her 30s who has since left

“I was warned before I came here, but did not take it seriously because I thought I would be an exception the rule. Maybe others experiences are different than mine, or maybe the warnings were just not specific enough and not in enough first person voices to convince me that they applied to me too. For instance, I have the impression that Western men outnumber Western women by a large margin. Off the top of my head I can think of 9 Western women I know personally here. Two are married to Westerners, one is in a relationship with a Taiwanese woman, and the rest appear to have been single a long time. Through others, I know of a couple Western women married to Taiwanese men, but not well enough to know their names. If you wanted to look at patterns, age is probably a factor in how things play out too.

Age matters. I have met impressive local men, but they were younger than me and in marriages with small children. There's a definite stigma against older women with younger men that some of the younger men who seemed interested in me could not stand up to. The other issue being the importance of having children to Asian men. So the large number of chronically single western women I know here tend to be in their late 30s and older.

There is a crop of men who become available in their 50s here, after their children have grown up. Some are divorced or some just permanently separated from wives. Many of the divorced guys are not educated, or don't have money. The separated guys I've met are sometimes quite wealthy, but are rather old school and sedate, with or have well established habits in terms of what they expect of a woman. One issue I find with retired men is that they are at a different stage of life from me.

I feel more of an affinity - and probably share more assumptions in common - with specific younger Taiwanese men than I do with older ones, men in their 20s and 30s, but I am nearing 50. "Lao niu chi qing cao," (老牛吃青草) one man in his 30s who flirted with me constantly said, indicating that he did not have the strength of character to stand up to the stigma. Moreover, he did not want to disappoint his mother, who expects grandchildren.

My advice to a young American woman who majored in Chinese and asked me if I am making my life here and what I think about her moving to Taiwan - my advice was to put a time limit on it. If you don't want to teach English and don't find a job doing something else within one or two years, then leave.”

This is from an American friend who is in her 40s (I believe - I've never asked) and hasn't had the same luck, and feels overall her love life her has been a negative experience. She's right that age does matter.

She agrees with a lot of my other friends that there are men you can hook up with, and Western women are generally more interested in dating them than one might think, but it's a lot harder. She's invited male friends over to her apartment - as friends - and had them act really weird about it, or show up and be "nervous", until she realized that they just assumed it was all about sex. It hadn't occurred to them that she had friendship in mind. One, she said, would not cross the threshold from her patio to her apartment out of "respect", and one said he was surprised she'd invited him and he had to gather the courage to come over (indicating he thought more was intended by the invitation).

She's noticed that it's different from China, in that in China men were interested in sleeping with her because they assumed American women were “easy” or out of sheer curiosity and intrigue - whereas here they're more just shy. This doesn't mean they're uninterested, just that they don't have quite as strong assumptions about American women and they don't act on their thoughts. 

In keeping with that, pretty much every Taiwanese male friend I've had has admitted that the idea of a Western girlfriend intrigues him, but he's either already in a relationship or too shy to act on that interest. As she said above, the older men aren't on her wavelength or are already married (although some become available in their 50s following divorces) and the younger one too put off by the stigma of dating an older woman.

She also noted that there seems to be a cultural space for "pink friends" - friends of the opposite sex (or that you have some attraction to if you're bi) with whom there is some chemistry, and to whom the married of the pair of friends can pour out, as to a confidante, all his (usually his) marriage misery. Sometimes those relationships turn sexual, other times not. She's not interested in them, having been through it once. 

* * * 

Looking back on these responses, all I can say is this: sure, stereotypes about Western women in Taiwan exist, mostly negative ones. We're sexless, female incels. We're not attracted to Asian men. We can't compete with 'local women' (oh man that statement is so fraught with racist/sexist stereotypes that I don't know where to begin).

But hear this: Western women in Taiwan have their own stereotypes of the typical male expat here. You know - horrid little misogynists who think they're hot shit because they can get here what they couldn't get in their native countries. Charisma Men.

These stereotypes are not always true - many of my friends are Western men who are super cool guys, whether they are single (which not many are these days, a function of age and my social circle settling down), married or dating and whether their partners are foreign or Taiwanese. But there is a basis for them, and I've met a few Charisma Men as well.

But then, I wouldn't necessarily say it's harder to meet good men here (though admittedly I haven't tried). Not because it's easy, but because it was also hard to meet them in the US. Before I married, I might have had more dates in the US, but that doesn't mean the men were any better or any more worth my romantic time. Most weren't.

I, and most foreign women here, avoid them. We live our own lives, make our own friends, hang out with the cool guys, form local friendships and in some cases relationships, and are basically normal people living normal lives.

So, expat men. If you think we're angry celibate shrews just because we're not dating you, then perhaps you just don't know enough expat women and perhaps you just don't know much about our experiences, because you haven't lived them. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Type of Guy You'd Bring Home to Mama

I'm not usually one to watch the Super Bowl (Didn't the Lakers beat the Yankees this year?), not even for the commercials. This one came to my attention, though, and I wanted to give it a shout-out from both feminist and pro-diversity perspectives:

First, I love Amy Poehler. I love her humor, I love her smarts. Like Tina Fey, I love her attractive-but-normal non-megawatt glam. I don't love Best Buy, generally (just ask me what they did with Brendan's computer that one time...go ahead, ask), but I love that they chose her as a brand representative and not, say, Busty LaRoux or whatever Hollywood's sexy new ingenue is named. If I met Amy Poehler in real life, after every woman part in my body exploded with happiness, I'd probably just really like her and want to hang out with her, to the point where that might almost be creepy.

I also love that the Best Buy guy is a cute Asian dude who is clearly being flirted with. It's starting to erode - finally - but there are still too many stereotypes of Asian guys being, well, nerds, geeks, scrawny dudes, Mama's Boys, funny or comical even when doing martial arts, and they never, ever get the girl. As Slate notes, in an action movie with a male and female lead, in which the man is white (it doesn't matter what ethnicity the woman is as long as she's super hot), the hero always gets the girl. Not so with the Asian hero: since when has Jacky Chan gotten any? And there's "Romeo Must Die", in which Jet Li doesn't get Aliyah.

So, it's a small thing, but this commercial, seen by millions and garnering critical acclaim (I haven't heard a bad thing about it yet beyond "but...Best Buy sucks!") in which a pretty woman shamelessly flirts with an Asian guy - an attractive Asian guy, not a super-thin dweeb or klutzy kung fu guy, but the kind of guy you'd bring home to Mama - is a step in the right direction. A conscious, but not self-conscious, step.

And it makes me love Amy Poehler even more.

And maybe hate Best Buy a tiny bit less.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

In Defense of Taiwanese Men Part II

Not Effeminate! 

I’ve been trying to write this for awhile, but have struggled with it (as I did with cultural appropriation, which, as you may have noticed, I gave up on. The words just weren’t forming, and the thoughts just weren’t coherent).

Not long ago I wrote about how, while Taiwan is still a country that has room to improve when it comes to sexism in society and in the workplace, that I appreciate how I don’t feel subjected to the same hate and vitriol that I hear lobbed at women back home.

Now, I’m going to take aim at another issue – the pervasive notion that Taiwanese men are “effeminate”.

I’ve decided to write about this now because of something I heard recently – in a nutshell, that jokes about Taiwanese men being girly aren’t funny. I was hoping the reason given would be that this is because it’s lazy and stereotyping thinking, but no. Apparently it’s because duh we all know they are, so it’s not a good joke.

Ugh, no.

I just don’t think it’s true – but don’t just ask me. Pretty much every woman in Taiwan I’ve ever talked to on the subject – local or foreign – has agreed: there seems to be very little support among women for the idea that Taiwanese men are effeminate (although there are certainly also women who would disagree – imagine that! We are individuals!). I can say that exactly one woman I’ve talked to, a Taiwanese friend of mine in her twenties, does believe that their dress sense can be a bit girlier than she’d like (OK, Imma let my bias show: I agree with her in that I’m not a fan of skinny jeans on anyone, male or female, but especially on men, and I really do not understand the fedora thing). She doesn’t extend that to a judgment on personality, though. I’ve heard a few people relate secondhand anecdotes (ie “well my wife who is Taiwanese thinks Taiwanese men are effeminate!”) but really, none from anyone’s mouth directly.

So where is it coming from? I don’t hear it from women, generally. I hear it from Western men. Why? Well, here’s a handy list!

The judgment of Taiwanese men from a Western cultural standpoint

So…uh, Western men? Your “home culture” definition of masculinity, and what differentiates it from femininity, is not universal and to be honest, not even all that good. I can see how a man carrying an umbrella, or carrying his girlfriend’s purse, or wearing skinny jeans or drinking 2% mango beer (which is pretty good, by the way, just don’t call it beer when it’s only 2% alcohol) or spending an hour getting their Pop Star Hair just right would be seen, from a Western perspective, as effeminate.

But that’s just one perspective. From that same perspective my husband wouldn’t be seen as “masculine”, because he doesn’t care about sports, or my friend J would be seen as effeminate for carrying an umbrella (J is ridiculously fair, I’d carry an umbrella under the Taiwanese sun too if I were that fair – but we tease him anyway because that’s what friends do). I don’t think either of these men are effeminate in the least.

Frankly, I’m just not into a definition of masculinity that says you must drink, you must dress a certain way (either completely lacking fashion sense, or James Bond, apparently), you must not care about your hair and it’s best if you like sports more than, say, museums. Where catcalls are maybe kind of jerky but basically OK (and don’t tell me they’re not that common), but using hair product isn’t. I’m not into a definition of masculinity that says you shouldn’t have too many close female friends, that taking an interest in their interests isn’t OK, and that if you do have female friends they should either be hot, or know other women who are hot. And, y’know, is it really a huge deal for a man to carry an umbrella when the sun is beating down? It’s not my cup of tea but is it really so important that you find it appropriate to form a whole worldview on who is a man and who isn’t based on that?

Let’s go ahead and add the wearing of pink and purple to that – pink and purple are only feminine colors in the West because we’ve decided as a culture that they are. They didn’t used to be, and they are not universally so. I don’t think it effeminizes a man to wear a pink polo shirt. If anything it looks less ridiculous than the many ways of wearing a baseball cap, or a popped collar on a shirt of any kind.

While we’re at it, let’s add the peace signs in photos and the interest in family (there’s a reason why 聽媽媽的話 was a hit song here) to the list of things that are culturally based and can’t be judged to be objectively feminine or masculine – they can only be so judged through the lens of culture. In this case it helps to try not to judge another culture through the lens of your own (although we all do it – I do it, too). And purse-carrying – which I do believe says something about how the sexes in Taiwan relate to one another and show commitment in a relationship (and has its own pros and cons), but which I absolutely do not believe is related to effeminacy.

The family thing is an important side note – I saw on one forum a post that said that Western women aren’t interested in Taiwanese men (not true! but I’ll get to that later) because Taiwanese men are so beholden to their families. While women do tend to be wary of men who need to cut the apron strings, generally speaking this is not true, and I wonder how many Western women that guy talked to: my guess is none, and he was mansplaining. If anything, a such a commitment is a total turn-on. I know I think it’s great to see a guy who really cares about his family. We may not want to visit every weekend, and we’re not going to procreate on a mother-in-law’s schedule – cultural hurdles that needs to be negotiated – but women generally like, rather than avoid, men who love their mothers. It is generally a sign that he was raised right.

Frankly, I’ll take umbrellas in the sun and mango beer over “huh huh women don’t know anything about cars or football they just care about shoes and books with pink covers huh huh” anyday. I’ll take skinny jeans – even though I really don’t like skinny jeans on anyone – over “we’re totally privileged and refuse to admit it”.

Don't discount these guys just because they're carrying an umbrella and have Pop Star Hair.

Taiwanese men are more indirect and can seem more introverted

Well, on a general basis – I’ve met individuals who have broken that mold. To a man who’s been raised in a culture of “if I want a woman, I go ask her out” or in some more extreme cases “if I want a woman, I go get her – she won’t say no because I’m entitled to her”, the Taiwanese and Chinese norm of talking to a girl, then hanging out with her, and then slowly easing intodating her can come across as effeminate. Whatever – that’s not so different from how I started dating my husband (although it took 8 years) and both methods have their pros and cons.

There’s an assumption that they’re effeminate based on their portrayal in the media.

Also, Taiwanese men on Taiwanese TV. They often look ridiculous. But they are not representative of typical Taiwanese men, just as Real Housewives aren’t a representation of typical American women.

Western men just don’t seem to have Taiwanese male friends

…unless they’re his girlfriend’s family or friends.

Seriously, though, I don’t know what local men, if any, most expat men hang out with, but if they knew my Taiwanese male friends and acquaintances, I don’t think they’d use the phrase “effeminate” to describe them. Honestly, the one who might be described as the most effeminate is the one who, until recently, said he “never” wanted to get married because he didn’t want to get too attached or spend too much time with one person, which isn’t a very effeminate thing to say at all (he recently did a 180 and is now married to a wonderful woman, though). I’ve had to call a few of them out for Facebook posts – “check out [the back of] this hot girl running in front of me on the track” or a post of a photo of a book entitled “不會跟老婆做的事” (well, I just teased him for that one by posting a picture of Daniel Henney for his wife under the phrase “不會跟老公做的事”, his awesome wife did the calling out).

Otherwise, they’re just normal guys.

Single expat women in Taiwan totally do want to date Taiwanese guys – but nobody seems to believe this.

Why? Why??

Well, probably in part because there aren’t that many expat women in Taiwan in the first place, so you’ll see fewer Western woman-Taiwanese man pairs just based on statistics. In part because it’s harder to get over that initial cultural difference – we’ve been conditioned to wait for a man to directly ask us out or make his feelings obvious, whereas that’s not always how it works in Taiwan – it is, so my single female friends have told me – far too easy to miss the signals that interested Taiwanese men are sending. When Western women complain about dating in Taiwan, it is generally not “I can’t get a date because I don’t want to date the local men”, it’s “I can’t get a date because the local men don’t seem interested”, even though that is quite likely not true.

Another reason could be that expat men don’t seem to have that many expat female friends – I mean, they do, but fewer of them because there are fewer of us. Those of us who are here are looking for a cultural experience and are likely to spend our time with local friends, or need women to talk to and make female friends. I can’t deny that many of the expat-centered events I’ve attended seem to be overrun with men with very few women, and the expat women I know here don’t have very many expat male friends (but do have on average more local friends). Anecdotal evidence, but that’s what I’ve observed.

And with that in mind, it is easy to see how there might be a misconception that expat women don’t “want” to date Taiwanese men – based on misinformation or a dearth of firsthand or informed observation.

There’s probably some mansplaining in there too – men deciding they know better what expat women think of local men than the women themselves do.

From here - this is Daniel Henney. Feeling threatened, white guys?

Expat men feel threatened

I say this because I rarely hear expat women saying “Taiwanese men are effeminate”. I almost always hear it from men. I am sure some women do say it, but it is notable that that has not been my experience. Why would they feel threatened?

Well, first, the fact that we expat women don’t want to date them.

No, really, we don’t. OK, some of us do, but mostly, nope, not interested, sorry. The expat women here who want to date Western men (who are, say, single and don’t have a cool “we were friends before and got together in Asia” story as I do) will usually go home after a few years because they’re not going to lower their standards and the pickings are so slim. The rest of them generally either want to be single for awhile, or want to date Taiwanese men.

It’s true: most of the Western women I know here are either attached (and many are attached to Taiwanese men), or feel alienated by the dudebro culture of their home countries and are totally down with the local fellows. If I were single, that’s how I’d feel. When a Western guy approaches them – if he does – they feel not relief that a man wants to talk to them, but a sense of cynicism and guardedness that stems from the aforementioned alienation (and please, no, don’t try to mansplain that away: go talk to some women and see how they feel about it rather than telling us how we really feel. I know it alienates me). One refrain I frequently hear is “Expat men are the worst, so entitled, so arrogant, so in love with themselves, and the ones who have it worst are the biggest losers!”. That’s not always true, of course - there are good and worthy expat guys here (see – my husband and my friend J, and a few others I know who are pretty cool).

The way to tell the difference – do they have true local friends (more than “my girlfriend and her friends”)? Have they learned Chinese or are they trying (I have found a correlation between a foreign guy being cool and how earnestly he studies Chinese)? Do they not prattle on about how “effeminate” Taiwanese men are, or how hot the women are? Do they do things on the weekend other than get blotto at On Tap? Do they actively seek out cultural experiences rather than be, well, this guy? Good – you’ve probably got a winner.

Still, the idea that a Western woman would actively choose an Asian man over a Western one, when Western men have had it hammered into them that Asian men are effeminate (see “the media” above) has got to be somewhat threatening.

I’ll end this section on an anecdote. A few weeks ago I was at Carnegie’s (we wanted to witness the train wreck that Cougar Night promised to be, and some friends of mine would be there so I figured why not go this one time – yes, I do have to justify this) and I was alone for a few minutes. Brendan did not come. Some older guy – fiftysomething? Not ugly but too old for me and not exactly a handsome older man -  started talking to me. I tried to make my wedding ring obvious and tried to insert into the conversation that I was married, but I don’t think he heard me. Then, this:

Him: “So, do you speak any Chinese?”
Me: “Yes.”
“So a little Chinese?”
“No, dude, I speak Chinese.”
“Speak some Chinese for me.”
“{sigh} 我快要回家因為我老公比你帥喔.”
“Oh, you speak with an American accent. That’s so terrible, isn’t it?”
“No, I don’t think so at all.”
“Oh, OK, I guess not. I’m going to go find my friend.”
“You do that.”

Seriously, dude? Negging me? You’re a fiftysomething dude in an expat bar and you’re negging me like it’s going to work? And foreign guys wonder why we don’t want them? Fer serious?

Men don’t understand women’s preferences much of the time

Not all of the time, but much of it. It starts with the whole “women don’t like nice guys, they like jerks” – if a man says this, he’s probably a jerk who thinks he’s a nice guy. It’s not true – we like nice guys. We just don’t like pretend nice guys. They think we want “tall, dark and handsome” when what we really want is an equal partner who respects us as we respect them. They think too-fine facial hair or a lack of chest hair or a man being of slighter build is a problem for us – it’s generally not (well, the last one is for me because I’m tall and built like Magda the Polish Plow Pusher – and I am part Polish so I can say that).  They think we want the hypermasculine traits that their dudebro culture prescribes – but we don’t. We want the sweet guy who has Facebook photos full of himself playing with his kids, who isn’t afraid to say they don’t want to drink, who is secure enough in who he is to be who he is without worrying about whether it makes him “effeminate” or not. Like my husband – a man who is who he is and he doesn’t need to be aggressive or dismiss others as “chick stuff” to prove that he’s a man. We want men who can take criticism, talk openly, not be afraid to be called out by women when they’re wrong, who won’t whine about museums, concerts or what-have-you but who instead enjoy cultural immersion.

You can find that anywhere, but just due to numbers – there are more Taiwanese men in Taiwan than there are Western ones – expat women here are more likely to find that among locals than among expat men. That idea is even weightier when you consider this: most of the bodysnarking, the “[Insert Nationality Here] women are too fat/loud/angry!” and the Asian fetishism I’ve heard in my life I’ve heard from expat men in Taiwan and China…and much of the sexist remarks, too (of course, I’ve spent most of my adult life in Asia so that does dirty my lens a bit). They are absolutely not all bad, but the loudest among them do great harm to their image overall.

In summary…

No, I don’t think Taiwanese men are effeminate. I hear it a lot, but usually from men who are likely either uninformed, prejudiced or threatened. The reasons I hear to back it up either don’t stand up (“Western women don’t want to date them”), or aren’t markers of effeminacy vs. masculinity (“He’s carrying her purse!”), aren’t things women think of as effeminate (“They are so tied to their family!”), or things we actually prefer (like not being catcalled or harassed or hit on by sketchy dudes) or are skewed through a cultural lens (“They don’t go after the women they like”).

In the end, one big reason why Taiwanese men are not effeminate is not a good one, and I am saving it for last for that reason – because sexism is still a huge problem in Taiwan. It just doesn’t really compute that men are both effeminate and sexist. I suppose it is possible, but generally those aren’t two traits that go together (and not all men are sexist – the culture can be in some ways, and that is perpetuated by men and women alike, but not all men or women). If anything, Taiwanese men are just as prone to the pitfalls and downsides of masculinity as Western men – being afraid of losing face because of, shown up or called out by a woman, justifying paying women less for the same work, not doing a fair share of housework and child-rearing, having unrealistic ideas about what women should look like: all the good ol’ sexist crap we put up with in our home countries.

Rather than whining about some pink polo shirts and funked-out hair (I kinda like the funked-out hair – I didn’t always but it’s grown on me), let’s work on that, shall we?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Dating Debacle

Some interesting thoughts on Bamboo Butterfly on Dating in Taiwan (Part I and Part II).

I wrote a piece on dating advice in Taiwan awhile back (edited not long ago), but of course, my thoughts in that area are to be taken with a grain of salt, seeing as I've never actually dated a Taiwanese guy. I was in a relationship with the man who is now my husband within months of first moving here.

I don't entirely agree with Bamboo Butterfly, but it's interesting and true enough that it is definitely worth a read.

Basically, my findings are this:

It's true that your average Taiwanese guy is generally more likely to prefer what you'd say is generally an average Taiwanese girl (note the very heavy use of "generally" and "average" here - I don't wish to stereotype): quieter than your average foreign woman (although not nearly always: I know plenty of very outgoing Taiwanese women and just as many very quiet American women), slender...I'd say "more modest" and "not as showy" but really, c'mon, with all the fake eyelashes and butt-shorts I see in this country I don't really buy that old cliche. It's true that your average Taiwanese guy is probably going to be just as judgmental about qualities he doesn't like in women in both personality and physical characteristics than your average American guy or wherever-guy. know what? I'm, err, curvy. And by curvy I mean overweight. I'm flamboyant. I'm loud. I have bright red highlights and my favorite color is eye-assaulting aqua or cobalt. I'm talkative. I'm aggressive. I'm tall - taller than many, but not nearly all, guys here. I am everything a "typical" Taiwanese guy is supposed to not like. And yet, I've had plenty of interest shown in me - I've been chatted up (in a totally not creepy way) on the MRT, had students who clearly had crushes on me, was once told it was too bad I had a boyfriend and had compliments on my looks (which aren't much of anything, really) and had guys who initially seemed interested later on show an interest in friendship (which I tend to brush off, it's a bit weird when you're married), indicating that it wasn't just an interest in a fling.

Bonus! Here's me looking like a drowned rat in Fugly Pants and hair plastered to my head while river tracing in Yilan.
So, as you see, I am not slender, I am not girly, and I am not afraid to wear Fugly Pants.
If Taiwanese guys could like me, they can like you. Your pants are probably not as fugly anyway.

All this just proves that for all those guys who like what you'd expect, there are so many who like something else. I do think a lot of Taiwanese guys who like a foreign woman (or foreign women generally) are the ones who don't want what they see as "normal" in Taiwanese women (I have no doubt that plenty of these guys will go on to meet awesome, cool, outgoing, flamboyant Taiwanese women, in addition to foreign women, though). They're the ones who don't mind a little curviness, who don't want the quiet, sweet, highly manicured "presence" that Taiwanese women are encouraged to cultivate - please note, I don't think all Taiwanese women actually are those things, just that the culture here encourages them to be that way more than, say, American culture encourages women to do so. Who think a little bit of loud&crazy is not only fun, not only acceptable, but desireable. If those guys didn't exist, I wouldn't have any Taiwanese male friends, but I do.

I don't agree that men in Taiwan generally aren't into foreign women the way that women in Taiwan are into foreign guys: I've had more than one guy tell me that they'd actually love a foreign girlfriend, but don't know how to go about making it happen, or are too shy and know it. I think this perception that Taiwanese men don't like foreign women is a false assumption based on the fact that they don't show it as much when they do like someone, and they often won't show it at all when they like someone they know they can't have (or are too shy to go after). Not always - I had one student who had a pretty obvious crush on me and, while he said absolutely nothing inappropriate, it was just really obvious. You know what I mean - a lifetime of being outgoing but really a big dork at heart means I'm not the best at figuring these things out and even I could tell. He probably could have hidden it better - so no cultural observation is universally true.

I do think a lot of foreign women don't realize it when a Taiwanese guy does like them, because it is true (and I completely agree with Bamboo Butterfly on this) that he's not likely to be as forthcoming, not as likely to act on it, and not as likely to make the first move, or any move. It's been pretty well documented by my local social network here that what we see as "friendly" stuff that a guy friend might do with a girl-bro is seen as what we'd call "casual dating" in the West. By the time a local girl and guy go out on an actual date in Taiwan, they're far more "official" than we'd consider ourselves to be in Western culture. A few of my foreign female friends have noted this: dating just happens differently, and a Taiwanese guy could be thinking he is making a move by going out for coffee, hiking or whatever one-on-one where a Western girl might think he's just being friendly. He might not be aware that his intentions are not nearly as clear as they would be with a Taiwanese girl, and she may not be aware at all that he likes her.

I've seen it happen more than once! This is an extreme example, but it happened to a friend of mine who went hiking, jogging etc. with a local guy several times and thought of him as a friend. Then one day he started talking about how they'd have to compromise their cultural differences as a couple and she was all "wait, WHAT!?" Not the norm, I think, but it makes a point.

Final thoughts: laydeez, look for the cool, quirky Taiwanese guy who wants what you have to offer. Don't get discouraged thinking that they as a whole are not interested. Chances are, they are. Don't think you have to morph into some stereotype of a quiet sweetling (which doesn't even hold much water in Taiwan: it's a cliche for a reason) - there's probably a guy in Taiwan who likes you for who you are now. Be more alert: what you might think of as basic friend stuff might be, to that guy, more. So don't write him off because he isn't approaching the whole thing the way a Western guy might. Be on the lookout for cultural differences and attitudes: you don't want to end up with a guy who seemed great while you were dating but then ended up having some pretty sexist ideas about what sort of girlfriend (or wife) you should be. Guys who are happy to buck those notions do exist - find one of them instead.

And don't lose hope. There's probably a Taiwanese guy out there with a crush on you right now - you just don't know it because he's not showing it in the way you'd expect.