Showing posts with label expat_women. Show all posts
Showing posts with label expat_women. Show all posts

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Updated post: English-speaking OB-GYN in Taipei

Just wanted you guys to know that I've updated my post on an English-speaking OB-GYN in Taipei, as my old clinic has closed and Dr. Wang seems to have stopped practicing (I suspect she retired). You can get information for Dr. Hsieh here - I've just edited the old post as the old information was no longer relevant.

If anyone else has other recommendations or experiences to share, feel free to comment or contact me personally (I'm pretty easy to find on Facebook). 

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Gym Recommendation: The Key

Over the past few months I've been gearing up to write my dissertation, and was feeling a bit blue about having lots of reading to do because I didn't want to sit like a slug on the couch doing it. A friend recommended The Key, them my husband joined and liked it, and I thought: there are surely exercise machines I could use while reading, even if it's just a bit of light elliptical or stationary bike.

I knew I could do this at the local municipal gym (which is not far from my house), but never seemed to make it down there - in part because the one in my district is in an odd location that isn't too close to anything else I need or want to do. Before The Key, none of the paid gyms really appealed to me either: either they always seemed crowded, or they were too heavily skewed toward weight training, or they were too expensive and only had annual memberships available (I travel often so don't necessarily want to pay for a month when I won't be around.)

Or, in one memorable instance, I had already heard some concerning things about the management at another gym and they way they treated people and interacted with the expat community - only to have those concerns abundantly validated recently. I didn't want to give money to a place that wasn't welcoming to everyone.

So, I joined The Key. From their Facebook page:


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It currently costs NT$1500/month (renewable monthly so you cancel if you won't be in town and then return), is conveniently located near other places I often go (just north of Zhongxiao Dunhua) and at the nexus of useful transport hubs, has a big-enough room of cardio exercise machines (not just a preponderance of weight training equipment, which isn't useful to me while I'm trying to get reading done) and has a decent cafe on-site - with discounts for members - as well as a comfortable rooftop relaxing space accessible to members.


I certainly recommend it for everyone, but especially for women. Most importantly, I've never once felt judged or unwelcome as a...um, plump woman who isn't even necessarily there to lose weight the way I have at gyms in the past. Management is friendly and always accessible if you have questions or issues and they make a real attempt to remember their clients' names and faces. Overall it's just a place where I think women can feel comfortable. It's hard to put that sense of 'comfort' into words, but it's there.

The space is nicer and more inviting than the municipal gyms (though I'm happy those exist), with big windows looking out over leafy Dunhua Road. The actual gym portion of the space is above the cafe starting on the 2nd floor, so nobody on the street can see you huffing and puffing away but you can look out at the scenery. There's good wifi and free water. There are lockers (bring your own lock) including ones you can rent longer-term as well as changing rooms and showers which are clean and well-maintained.

Most of the cardio machines come with televisions and USB plugs, so you can watch TV or Netflix while you work out if you're not a hardcore nerd like me. The displays can be set to a number of languages, including English, and are fairly easy to use. They have classes where you can learn how to use the weight-training equipment (and other classes too, as well as personal training, but I'm there to work out as I read so I haven't explored those yet). There are English speakers on staff.

The space is tall and narrow as it's designed to fit into the building it occupies, but they make the most of it with an elevator so changing floors isn't too much of a pain.

So yay, The Key! If you're looking for a place where you can work out without feeling judged or potentially discriminated against or just want a place that's more conveniently-located, this is the place for you.

Note: I was not asked or paid to write this post. The opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

A new hair stylist recommendation in Taipei

In part because Lao Ren Cha's initial goal was to write about life as a female foreign resident in Taiwan, and in part because I just can't face another political post right now (it really hurts, you guys), I'd like to update my recommendations for where foreign women can get their hair done in Taipei.

I recently decided to switch stylists - my old stylist did a good job with my haircuts (at least once he stopped giving me short bangs), but I wanted to go in a new color direction and, frankly, a change in price points. Around NT$6000 seems reasonable to me for a cut and all-over permanent color with Olaplex, and that's usually about what I pay in US dollars or British pounds when I get it done abroad, if not slightly less (my last cut and color in the US was $170, in the UK I paid £125), so that was what I was looking to start paying.

So after gathering recommendations from friends, I went with Yves Yu Tsui (find her on Facebook as StarletLaDiva - she's very responsive to Facebook messages), who gave me this lovely, current style in my preferred length:



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I'd been looking for a color specifically that was bright, but not the very deep violet-toned red I'd been using. It had started to look fake in a bad way (I'd previously liked it because it was bright, and looked fake but in a cool, hip way, like I wasn't trying for natural hair). I wanted a more natural red with coppery, fiery undertones, but which also covered my encroaching gray. 

Yves gave me that - a red that hewed toward flame without being orangey - with a bit of base color to ensure the grays got covered. She also put Olaplex into the dye which lessened the time I had to spend in the chair and lowered the price point.

In the past, I'd often have to have my hair gone over twice with dye, because it wasn't left in long enough so it streaked, or was very obviously different on my roots (which I tend to let grow long, though that will have to stop now that I'm really graying because I'm ancient) than my pre-dyed hair. I knew that leaving it in longer helped create a more even color on my difficult hair, and wanted that to consistently be how it was done.

Yves was super great about it, and left the color in my hair almost up to the upper recommendation on the product. The result was that I only had to go through the dye process once, which was like a revelation!

Although it came out slightly darker than I'd wanted, I know hair color is not a perfect science. In any case, I appreciated that Yves warned me in advance that before the first wash it would be on the darker side because of the base color used to cover my gray, but it would turn into the color I wanted shortly. And it did!

I also appreciated that she did the whole thing herself. Generally I find stylists do listen to clients (I don't have a horror story to tell) but I have to say I felt especially listened to by Yves.

The whole thing took less than three hours (I was used to being at the salon longer, but had chalked it up to my difficult-to-dye hair; it turns out that it didn't have to be that way) and cost right around my price point - slightly less, if I remember correctly, which made me amenable to tipping. And the prices are set - there's no awkwardness around being charged more for "extremely long hair" (my hair is merely long, but I'd been charged for "extremely long hair" before) or what hair lengths mean exactly. The price is the price. I like that.

Yves also doesn't try to sell product at the end of the visit. I don't particularly mind being offered a product at the end as sometimes I do want or need them and saying 'no' doesn't make me uncomfortable, but I know a lot of people don't like it when stylists do that, so I figured I'd mention it.

Anyway, go to Yves. You won't regret it!

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Reason number six zillion why international media coverage of Asia sucks

My new queen Joanna Chiu hits the nail so perfectly on the head that the nail goes straight through the wood, through the table and right into the foot of some guy who was probably standing over her explaining how hammers work in this piece about men, journalism and Asia. She also manages to get Foreign Policy to publish the words "fuck", "swinging dick", "dick pic" and "sexpat", which is kind of wonderful.

Chiu firsts outlines some of the horrific, unprofessional, misogynist and also just downright rapey behavior she's experienced while covering Asia:


Once, a fellow journalist exited our shared taxi outside my apartment. I thought we were sharing a cab to our respective homes, but he had other expectations, and suddenly his tongue was in my face. On another evening, another journalist grabbed my wrist and dragged me out of a nightclub without a word....

The incidents aren’t limited by proximity. I have received multiple unsolicited “dick pics” from foreign correspondents — generally on the highly monitored messaging service WeChatI have received multiple unsolicited “dick pics” from foreign correspondents — generally on the highly monitored messaging service WeChat. Somewhere deep in the Chinese surveillance apparatus there is a startling collection of images of journalists’ genitalia....

Most disturbingly, a source tried to rape the correspondent while she was on assignment in China. She never told her bosses for fear that disclosure would hurt her career.


Then she reminds us that these are the exact same men covering sensitive local and regional issues in Asia which include women's issues.


I have seen correspondents I know to be serial offenders in private take the lead role in reporting on the sufferings of Asian women, or boast of their bravery in covering human rights. In too many stories, Asian men are treated as the sole meaningful actors, while Asian women are reduced to sex objects or victims. And this bad behavior — and the bad coverage that follows — is a pattern that repeats across Asia, from Tokyo to Phnom Penh.

There's a fair bit of intersectional fuck-uppery going on here too, with large numbers of underpaid local staff hired at news bureaus across Asia, the vast majority of them female, treated like errand girls and second-class employees, with little or no recourse or channels for reporting misconduct:



The problems are worsened by the unequal power dynamics in the offices of multinational media that employ “local staff” to provide translation, conduct research, and navigate complex bureaucracies, but pay them a fraction of what their foreign colleagues earn. In China, these “news assistants” are mostly young women. This pattern is mirrored in other countries, where the pool of those with the English-language skills needed for the job often skew female....

“They have no job security — if there is any conflict, they can be fired the next day,” says Yajun Zhang, a former news assistant. As a result, sexual harassment and gender- or race-based discrimination can occur with impunity. Even if they raise concerns, investigation can often prove extremely difficult over distance and cultural barriers.



Considering this, are we still surprised that international media coverage in Asia is so bad (you were aware it is mostly bad, yes, with few gems shining through the murk)?

It ties together a host of issues why the media has, in a lot of cases, failed in giving the world a somewhat accurate picture of what really goes on in media (and expat circles) in Asia. It's not only that men who treat women like garbage then report on women's issues here, but also that the people with real local knowledge who could add detail, nuance and accuracy to their reports are often at best ignored, treated as "less than" and sent on non-work-related errands, and at worst are sexually assaulted.

There are not only so few non-male voices not only in international media in Asia, but in the expat community in East Asia generally (and, frankly, local communities too - from Taiwanese student activists to the CCP and their propaganda machine to Japanese corporate leadership and politics, the voices are still overwhelmingly male). As such, those with the life experience that will help them notice and pick up certain stories are systematically discriminated against (or assaulted) - and those stories get ignored.

And it's not only that so many people who report on Asia - even for highly pretigious media - are "parachuted in" and don't know the issue on a local level at all, which shows in their lackluster coverage. Even these reporters act badly - they are mostly male, because the world runs on penises spouting their penis opinions:


Journalists parachuting in from the home office for one-off trips have also developed a reputation for treating local residents they rely on for their stories badly — especially women.


But it's also that - Imma be honest here - most of these swinging dicks are bad at their jobs. I don't know, in the craptacular coverage of Asia I've read (and there is a LOT of it), how much of it is written by dudes who are decent guys who just aren't very good reporters, and which are sexual assailants or misogynist pricks who will disparage women or troll victims of sexual assault. I just don't know. I'm sure some of the sexual assailants are men who write brilliant copy. But I can say with a fair amount of confidence that the Venn diagram of mediocre (mostly male) reporters doing a bad job in Asia and reporters who sexually harass and assault (or denigrate) women likely has far more overlap than most people care to think about.

Is it such a leap to think that a dude who is so arrogant, entitled and self-absorbed that he thinks he can grab any pussy he likes (not every man who does this is Donald Trump) would also be the sort of dude who thinks he is qualified or able to cover Asia well, when in fact he is stunningly mediocre at it?

A final thought:

This story broke about a week ago. As usual, people climbed out of the primordial Internet soup to find some way, truly any goddamn way, to blame the Asian women who go with these guys for their behavior rather than blaming the assholes themselves, at least when all the sex they're having is consensual. Because why point fingers at a guy who sends unsolicited dick pics and gropes women in taxis when there are women you can blame instead?

There was one stupid comment calling the Asian women who go for these guys (the ones who do so consensually) a "threat to Asian culture": as though it's women's choices which need to be policed and judged, not men's behavior. As though they are responsible for upholding some other person's idea of what their culture should be. As though they aren't making a personal choice. As though they shouldn't be allowed to have any choice at all (if some choices are deemed 'unacceptable', then that simply is not choice.) As though consensual sex - even a lot of it - is necessarily a bad thing.

Some will blame the men too - in true "they're rogering our women!" fashion. Instead of screaming "culture traitor!" at an Asian woman who makes a choice they don't like, they cast her instead as a stupid victim who isn't capable of making the choice. That's just as bad.

That's just for the women who go with these guys consensually. For the ones assaulted non-consensually, well, they get this instead:


As the New York Times reported, former club president Jonathan Kaiman, who had resigned in January after being accused of sexual misconduct by Laura Tucker, a former friend of his, was now accused of sexually assaulting a female journalist, Felicia Sonmez. After the second accusation, the Los Angeles Times quickly suspended him from his role as Beijing bureau chief and has begun an investigation. But as the Hong Kong Free Press noted, the original accusation had prompted many male correspondents to launch misogynistic attacks on Tucker in online conversations.

Such actions, and entitlement, reflect a sense of privilege and a penchant for sexual aggression that threatens to distort the stories told about Asia, and that too often leaves the telling in the hands of the same men preying on their colleagues.



Lovely.

These are the guys who write the stories about Asia that you read.

How do you feel about that?

Friday, May 4, 2018

The white male conversation about Asian women's dress (but not how you think)

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I borrowed this photo from here, but hey, go ahead and buy their sticky rice sausages! Free marketing!
Those sausages sure look good. I think I might buy some.

First, a quick note: I've received some valuable feedback that the font on Lao Ren Cha is too small - it hadn't seemed that way to me - so I'm kicking it up one notch. If it seems oddly large, yes, something has changed. Let's see if the next font size up works better. 

I'll say it: I don't really care about the dress. I don't really want to weigh in on the dress. I understand the racial/historical/power dynamics at play, but find it a super weak example of these, easily dismissed, making it more difficult to persuasively argue that there are race-based power dynamics in the US that express themselves when white people use things from non-white cultures and are complimented while people from those cultures continue to be marginalized.

(And yes, that is absolutely a thing.)

I do care about the conversation going on among foreign residents in Taiwan about the dress, however. Although it's fine to have a range of voices, and everyone gets to have an opinion, it seems to me that the most interesting and relevant opinions would come from Asian female voices, as the garment in question is an Asian women's garment. There is a point where growing up having these experiences and being seen a certain way gives you the ability to talk about how you are treated vis-a-vis your race, culture and choice of clothing in the US as opposed to Asia more fluently, and with more gravity, because you've lived it.

Yet I can't help noticing that most of the discussions going on in English in the Taiwan foreign resident community about the Great Qipao Panic of 2018 - at least the ones marching across my Facebook feed - are started by, and propelled by, white men. There are so few women participating -and no Asian women - that it's almost comical.

This isn't necessarily a deal-breaker. A lot of what's being said is pretty smart, and there is no problem with a plethora of opinions - I'm not a fan of identity politics and I don't want to shut men up for the sake of it (though some of you might think I do, that's not the case). Nothing crass or offensive. Mostly in touch with the real issue - the people involved are mostly solid, intelligent, thoughtful dudes whose opinions I respect. But, it's not a "plethora of opinions" - it's all white male opinion - and it still feels mighty awkward to have a whole series of conversations going on about Asian women's dress among residents of an Asian country that involve almost no women (I counted a grand total of four women across all threads, one of whom was me), and no Asian women at all. 


This one issue isn't very important - again, I really don't care about the dress. But this isn't the first time I've noticed just how white and male the Taiwan expat world is, and as a result, how white-male flavored all the conversations within it are. It's not nearly the first time I've been the lone woman contributing in a sea of men (or been one of only two). It's not by far the first time I've noticed a dearth of non-white, non-male perspectives. Looking at offline real-life interactions, I can't tell you the number of times I've been the only woman around. 

This is troubling for a few reasons. First, in a conversation that's touched upon how, when we essentialize a culture and say "it IS this" or "it ISN'T that" and allow self-appointed experts to claim decision-maker status of what is and is not offensive in that culture, the narrative that emerges is almost always male, because "expert" status gets conferred upon dominant voices, and dominant voices tend to be male voices. So having a conversation about that which is also almost entirely male is a problem.

This bleeds into other issues - when we as foreign residents talk about issues focused on Asia, it would make sense to seek out and listen to more varied opinions, but we don't, and it becomes "white guys discussing Asia". The ideas aren't always bad but the lack of diversity in voices is a problem.

I don't think anyone means for it to be this way - there's no sign that says "Boys' Club NO GIRLZ ALLOWED!" and no intentional shutting out of women, including Asian women. But, it's there. There is a segregation of sorts.

Second, it doesn't seem as though the men themselves notice how monochromatic and single-gendered the community is, and therefore, I question how many of them realize how un-diverse the perspectives they are hearing are. That means they don't realize that this imbalance is reflected in the true demographics of the (mostly white, mostly male) Westerner community in Taiwan (the Southeast Asian foreign community seems more gender-balanced in my observation.) And if they don't realize it, how can we work to change it? In a community based in Asia, surely we can do better than this. I have many Taiwanese friends of both genders, most of whom speak excellent English - I find it difficult to believe that these conversations should necessarily be so segregated. I can't be that unique.

It makes it so that when you point this out, you always wonder who is going to get defensive about it, or insist that a white man's opinion is just the same, with no difference in terms of distance from the issue or lived experience, than someone who might actually wear a qipao. I have quit groups and forums over this, because it's just such a nonsense point that I didn't see any reason to stick around, if the majority of people thought that their white male opinion on issues affecting women (including Asian women) was exactly as valuable as the women themselves.

This leads into the final point, which is that as a result of the conversations in the Taiwan English-speaking community being so thoroughly dominated by white men, not everyone is going to be a 'good guy', and a lot of times, women stay away because of (as one friend put it), the K.A.C. or "Known Asshole Count". We don't always have the energy to counter the mansplaining, the defensiveness, the ad hominems, the intentionally-and-unintentionally sexist comments. This has improved somewhat in recent months, as more of the good guys are realizing that the jerks in their midst don't listen to women - so a woman telling them off has no effect - and are adding their voices to the chorus telling them to step off, and allowing the natural consequences of being one of the Known Assholes to finally be felt


Some also stay away, honestly, because it's tiring in other ways too. I've noticed other women posit good ideas, be (often unintentionally) ignored, and then have people credit a male commenter who pipes up with those same ideas later. (This has also happened to me, though it's rare.) I've thought about how to word my points carefully because I worry that even the good guys will get annoyed or defensive when being called out, and then decided just not to bother, because if I can't express myself plainly, I don't necessarily want to do so at all. It's tiring to be the lone female voice and therefore have to always be the one saying "oh hey, so, from a woman's perspective...". And it's tiring to be piled on for pointing out actual discrimination - e.g. sexist job ads or ads that blatantly violate Taiwanese gender non-discrimination laws, only to get piled on with the same tired rebuttals ("but if they want to hire [person from a certain group even though it's illegal and discriminatory] they should be allowed to do that!") that are still wrong but never change.

All this does is highlight, once again, just how male the expat community is. A lot of the time, there are few female commenters because there are few Western women in Taiwan. I've been to many events where it's me, a bunch of foreign men, and their Taiwanese wives. I have no problem with this generally, but in a more balanced community, there would be a larger cohort of foreign women. At the two annual parties I have typically attended (now down to one, as I quit the other job - and I was the only Western female employee), I am either the only foreign woman, or one of just two or three in events with dozens, if not up to a hundred, people.

It absolutely does create a bubble, and I'm not sure what to do about it. I don't really want to continue to be the only woman in conversations full of men, and I don't want to keep seeing white men talk to each other about issues affecting women and people of Asian heritage without questioning the fact that nobody from those groups is a part of the discussion, but I see no clear way to changing that. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

If you're a foreign working woman in Taiwan planning to have kids, you're probably going to get screwed

I'll be expanding this more in the coming weeks, but I feel like I need to say something now, however short and underdeveloped.

If you are a foreign woman working in Taiwan, and you are intending to have children here, there is a very high possibility that you're not only going to get screwed by your employer, but that it's already happening.

A huge percentage of foreign workers here - even the "foreign professionals" - work jobs that pay an hourly rate. The vast majority of these jobs are cram school/buxiban jobs (some of which pay a salary, but many/most don't.) (Most of these jobs are not remotely professional, even though they ought to be, and are poorly paid by real professional standards, but that's a different discussion.)

We're already getting screwed out of benefits we're meant to have, such as paid typhoon days and national holidays. Employers - private language schools, mostly - just don't provide them, and good luck leaving and finding another job that does.

Well, here's another benefit workers - even foreign workers on hourly pay - are meant to have: paid maternity leave. Your employer is meant to calculate your estimated hourly pay during your absence and, well, pay you that.

But how much you get paid for maternity leave depends partly on how long you've been employed there, and partly on labor insurance, or 勞保. To get the paid maternity leave benefit, you must be signed up for labor insurance.

And most private language schools that employ foreign teachers never do this.

I have heard varying accounts of whether labor insurance is required by law for foreign employees. Notably, however, it is absolutely not true that an employer can choose not to offer it. An employer telling you "we don't offer labor insurance", and then insisting they don't have to, even if you want it, is lying to you. They typically try to evade the issue by simply not telling you it's an option, hoping you'll never find out that if you ask for it, by law they have to register you.

If you do ask...well, results vary. I typically say good things about my various employers, save one really bad experience I had. They've been, for the most part, a cut above the typical clown academy here in Taiwan. But I'm going to go ahead and say a few critical words now:

At one school where I taught exam prep classes (I've since left for unrelated reasons), I was first ignored when I asked about labor insurance, then told they "don't offer it". I replied that they had no choice, they ignored me again. I said that if I was not signed up for it, I would report this issue to the government. I didn't particularly want to report anything to anyone, but I kept getting stonewalled when trying to access my rights. Then they acted as though this made me the "problem" or "high-maintenance" employee (it didn't - I just wanted what I was legally entitled to and kinder, more private entreaties were ignored.) I got my labor insurance. Others are not so lucky - I can handle being unfairly thought of as "difficult", because at least I won, but not everyone wins.

The problem is, most foreigners either don't know they are entitled to this, think it's something the company can "offer" rather than something that cannot be denied them, or don't realize that it matters. So most working foreign women here have a safety net they don't necessarily even realize they ought to have.

So if you're a foreign woman here, and you decide to pop out a screamer, whether or not you get paid maternity leave - which you are entitled to by law even if you are on an hourly wage - depends entirely on whether or not you signed up for labor insurance. If you didn't sign up, no paid vagina-healin', baby-wranglin' time for you. If you let the issue slide when your employer refused to sign you up, same deal. You just got screwed.

What's worse is that even if you are signed up for labor insurance, a huge number of schools underreport income (my former exam prep institute employer sure did). You might think this isn't a big deal, that "that's how it is here", but your labor insurance is based on your reported income, so if you get pregnant and take maternity leave, the pay you are entitled to matches the craptastic income that's been reported for you, not what you actually earned.

I have also heard stories of schools being reluctant to grant maternity leave even if their employees have labor insurance, although that hurdle can often be gotten over if you are willing to call (or threaten to call) some relevant authorities. They might try to screw you in other ways, though (e.g. extending your probation for vague reasons that don't quite make sense to justify paying you less).

Of course, Taiwanese women face massive issues accessing maternity leave too, something that seems to be rarely written about. Most of what I see in English consists of lavish praise of Taiwan's maternity leave policies - and at least compared to the USA (which is a legitimate horror show in this regard) - which rarely includes the uncomfortable truth that, while employers can't exactly deny their employees this leave, they can and do pressure them to take as little of it as possible and find other passive-aggressive ways to punish female employees who don't comply. Plenty of Taiwanese women don't feel they can access their full legally-entitled maternity leave either.

There is a difference, though: Taiwanese women know this is a problem. They are at least aware of what they are supposed to be getting. There is a foundation there for fighting back.

Foreign women in Taiwan? They may not even realize they're getting screwed. But chances are, they are.

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!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Expat men don't hold other expat men accountable.

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I had a dream last night that I was allowed to run for office in Taiwan.

My district was an amusement park which seemed to be swathed in eternal night. I ran on a pro-marriage-equality, pro-immigration, pro-womens-rights platform (to get the NHI to cover birth control mostly).


My opposition published a "scientific" graph titled "How obnoxious Jenna Lynn Cody is" where the x-axis was time and the y-axis was "obnoxiousness quotient". It had several lines on it including "loves gays", "hates traditional Chinese culture" and one mysteriously called "Jenna Lynn Cody is such a fucking bitch who hates men". Of course, all the lines showed an upward trajectory.


Below it was a low-quality meme with words on it that said "Jenna Lynn Cody's obnoxiousness has grown by #13.5!" (with the hashtag).


So I'm standing in this dark amusement park with all of these 老兵 (retired soldiers) looking at this glossy leaflet with this graph on it, and everyone is looking at me, and I say "if these are the people calling me names, I take it as a compliment."

And the 老兵 went "boo!" and some people on the ferris wheel went "yay!" and I woke up.

It struck me as I struggled awake that it no longer seems totally bonkers for a political faction to publish "data" like that with a straight face.

I'll let you draw your own conclusions regarding connections between my dream above and my point below.

* * * 


It's been a couple of weeks since someone was a garbage can to me online - that is, a man insulting me as a woman in ways that men specifically insult women - but I see it happening to my friends too.


And it's being done to them by friends-of-friends. That is, other expat* women in Taiwan being treated like crap by expat men in Taiwan that we might not like, and certainly don't spend time with in real life, but with whom we share many mutual friends - most of them male. I don't see it all the time, as I've blocked the worst offenders. This is itself a problem, as I can't support other women being treated like dirt if I can't see it happening.


So I get ridiculous insults thrown at me, or other women get insults thrown at them (often out of the blue, completely unrelated to whatever was posted/said, or often diving straight to a set of unfair assumptions without thinking). It goes without saying that the woman being treated this way is absolutely capable of handling herself, and doesn't need a man to "step in" and "defend" her like a victim or wilting flower. None of these women are shrinking lilies in need of protection.


And yet, when nobody comes in to voice their support and hold the men accountable, women get ganged up on, and to some people, that starts to look like proof that the harassers are right and the woman is wrong. It doesn't help that, as capable of defending herself as every one of these women is, it doesn't mean much when the men in question simply don't respect anything that woman - or often, any woman - says.


It's happened to me for sure, so I know how that dynamic works.

So far, it's only been verbal in my case, but sometimes real physical assault is involved. 


When the women have often blocked these men, and the other men stay silent, that's how it always seems to go down.


Days later (or even sometimes on the same day), I see those same men who are being total garbage cans to women engaging with my male friends online - good men, all - and being treated normally. Complimented, joked with, thanked for offers of help, being engaged in plans to meet, treated as though nothing just happened, or has been happening. They quite literally get a free pass after being asshats to these guys' female friends.


I have, at times, brought this up to more than one male friend - this is by no means an isolated phenomenon - and gotten replies like "Really....him?" "But he's actually a really nice guy." "Yeah, that's how he is, but if I step in..." "It's not for me to say..."


Nothing ever changes. There are no real consequences. The expat men who treat women - mostly expat women, they seem to be nicer to Taiwanese women - like garbage get to continue, with no loss of friends, no diminishment of their reputation, no falling in standing in the expat community.


I want to add here that this doesn't describe all of my male friends, and it doesn't describe anybody all of the time. Some of them will hold men they don't know in person accountable, but not ones they do - perhaps it's a bridge too far to jeopardize a chummy in-person relationship. Some don't fall into this category at all, and really try their best to be great allies.


I don't want to insist that the expat men of Taiwan have to treat other expat men exactly as I would like them to, or that they are immediately beholden to cutting out of their lives anyone who has pissed me or another woman off. That's not reasonable, in the same way that it's never okay to ask your friends to choose between you and someone you hate.


It's especially difficult to ask for in such a small community - everybody knows everybody, or has mutual friends. Frankly, if I meet an expat and we share no mutual friends at all, it sets off a red flag. Even if you live a mostly local life, if you're an expat, you're an expat - there is a real social cost to holding shitty people accountable when those same shitty people may be at the bar that weekend, or the event next weekend, or the party the weekend after that, or your future coworker, or whatever. It's a tough situation because in such a village-like atmosphere there's no real escape (and I'm not a fan of villagers-with-torches-and-pitchforks style justice, anyway).


This is also why it's more noticeable here. It happens where I come from too, all the time, but it's easier to avoid - if I can't deal with a toxic man in one friend group in the US, I could always take some time away and spend more time with another friend group who wouldn't know him at all. Here, everyone knows everyone, and there is no "I don't know that guy" group.


But I would like to see some accountability. Maybe a bit more "dude we're friends so I'm going to be honest - you just treated ______ like crap and that's not okay. Do better." Or not saying "you're so great / you're so cool / you're the best" while a bunch of us are sitting here thinking "no, he's not that great, he literally just went off on ___________ for no reason."


What happens, though, is that there are no real consequences for these men, who then think their behavior is acceptable (again, making it look quite unfairly as though it is the women's fault, not theirs), and everyone but the women gets to go on enjoying a smooth and happy social life. Whereas the women might think, "ugh, do I really want to go out tonight? He might be there, and nobody will have my back. I might even be pressured to be nice to him." So there's no social downside to being a crap dude who's crap to women, but plenty of social downsides for being a woman who doesn't want to deal with being treated that way.


It creates a whole host of social tripwires, a whole chessboard of thinking "____ is a friend but he doesn't really have my back and do I really want to deal with that right now" - so that the only consequences are borne by the women. 



I'm not sure what else to say, or how to meaningfully address this problem. I can't force people to act the way I want them to. All I can do is point out that there absolutely is a problem.

*I'm using "expat" loosely here. Some of us are expats, others immigrants, but I don't know what everyone's end game is: whether they'll stay in Taiwan forever or eventually move away. I am referring to the community that includes foreign professionals and some students, and their circles.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

My first for MyTaiwanTour: traveling in Taiwan as a woman and a person

A piece of mine is featured in the MyTaiwanTour blog this week - hopefully the first of many - on traveling the world as a woman (it's not possible to unhook gender from experience especially when traveling abroad, among different cultures and people) and also as a person, pointing to the (mostly) good and (some) bad of being a foreign woman in Taiwan.

I hope you'll check it out!

I have to say, I wouldn't be here, in Taiwan, nor would I have stayed so long if I didn't feel comfortable as a person here - not just as a gendered person, but as a whole one. It's not perfect - no place is - but I do not feel nearly as constrained by my gender here as I have in other parts of the world.

Monday, October 2, 2017

...that's a lot of rapists

Focus Taiwan reported yesterday that a special operation that took place from March to May resulted in the apprehension of 31 fugitive rapists.

While this ought to be good news - 31 is a lot of rapists - it raises more questions than it answers.

First of all, would a "special mission" have been necessary if the Taipei City police had paid more attention and allocated more resources to catching rapists generally? I don't think anyone knows how many people in a city the size of Taipei would, on average, be rapists, but...this just seems like a lot, no?

Assuming we should not be nervous that there even were 31 rapists to apprehend - again, I have no idea how many any given Taipei-sized city would typically have on the files - I have to wonder how they managed to catch so many in 3 months. Could it possibly be because they had some idea who these people were, and therefore once it was made a "special mission" with "extra resources", finally bothered to go out and nab them?

Could they not have apprehended any of these fugitives sooner? Because really, I cannot emphasize this enough: 31 rapists is a lot of rapists.

I know I'm supposed to be applauding the police, but I can't shake the feeling that they were sitting on their hands before, not taking rape cases seriously when it was even remotely challenging - or perhaps not even challenging - to find an accused rapist and take him (or her - but usually him) into custody.

Let's keep in mind that the rape law in Taiwan was only changed in 1999, which is a very long time to wait for a change in such a law. Until then, the old law was written to define rape as an offense against women, in which the offender used force so that she "could not resist", and was a "crime against public decency" (it is now a "crime against sexual autonomy"). Under the old law, men were not included, and not all types of coercion or non-consensual pressure or activity were covered. The 1999 change was an improvement, but I have to wonder if its being less than 20 years old has anything to do with current attitudes towards rape: not that I think the police don't care, but that they don't care enough to devote resources to finding offenders, or perhaps still think of rape as an issue of "chastity", or something that is perhaps, to them, not as much of a crime if the use of force was not as violent as they might expect.

I know that's a pretty strong accusation to make, and to be fair, every police officer is an individual, and I am sure many of them take rape reports seriously. However, if there is no truth to it, why is it that it took until May of this year to apprehend so many rapists, and how were they apprehended so quickly?

Finally, I fear that the general attitude of law enforcement is laid bare in the final paragraph of the Focus Taiwan article, and it is deeply problematic.

Although the mission has ended, police efforts to crack down on sexual assaults will continue, Taipei City Police Department Commissioner Chen Chia-chang (陳嘉昌) said. He also urged women to take precautions for their own safety, such as avoiding walking alone in remote areas and always locking their car doors after getting in. 


Ahem - excuse me?

First, this ought to cause any woman in Taipei to question the old belief that the city is completely safe for women.

Secondly, while I understand the impulse to warn women to be careful, I can assure you that more or less every woman is already well aware that the world is a more dangerous place for her than for men. By admonishing women with something we already know, Chen is not only being condescending, but drawing very close to victim-blaming.

Instead of telling women how to be safe, Commissioner Chen, how about working to make Taipei safe for women? How about continuing to spend the resources necessary to apprehend rapists in a timely manner rather than waiting for a "special mission" so that women can safely walk alone in remote areas and don't have to fear being chased into their cars? You know - so that we can walk around safely and not feel nervous whenever we get into said car?

A woman being as safe as a man on the streets of most Western cities is often considered a distant dream, but it is possible in Taipei, which is generally regarded as safer. I walk around in Taipei, alone, at all times of night. Just this past Saturday I walked from my sister's apartment to my own - Brendan had gone home early - at 2:30am and did not feel unsafe.

Taipei could be a city where women are safe in public as men are, but it won't happen if it takes a special mission to capture all of those rapists - really, let's just consider one final time how many rapists that is - and it certainly won't happen if the police themselves, rather than allocating resources to keeping women safe, admonish women that Taipei is not safe. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Women are not your cultural ambassadors





Please "enjoy" this (mostly bullshit) article in the Japan Times.

What he says about his relationships to the women he has dated is striking, if not a bit annoying:

In my early relationships with Japanese girlfriends — I’d dated a Kyoto University student when I was 20 — I’d followed the standard pattern of being the curious Western male being introduced to the intricacies of the Japanese language and culture by a helpful girlfriend. But by my late 20s — when I was a graduate student in Japanese literature at Kobe University — I’d discovered that the dynamic of that type of relationship had started to fail.
Slowly it dawned on me that my language and cultural proficiency had finally come to the point where I no longer needed to be “tutored” by a girlfriend. Liberation!
By then I felt quite comfortable — indeed, slightly bored — in an exclusively Japanese world. I was spending all week in university libraries, taxing my brain, reading Japanese books. The last thing I wanted to do in my spare time, at the weekend, was indulge in more “Japanese.”

I can relate to this guy's desire to want to have his relationship to a culture be on his terms rather than deal with the ins-and-outs of expectations and obligations that come with dating someone from that culture, I couldn't help but feel squicked out by the whole article.



Yes, it is a common enough dynamic: man discovers exotic new world through woman he dates who giggles at his adorable cultural mishaps as she leads him to better knowledge of the secrets of this foreign place. I won't say it's essentially wrong - frankly, what goes on in a relationship I am not a part of is not my (or anyone else's) business. I'm not even sure it's always a bad thing. But there is something icky and 'conquering explorer'-y about it that rubs me the wrong way. 

Perhaps it would be different if a whole raft of gender expectations and stereotypes shaped by culture didn't run right up against a (mostly white male) power differential in terms of white privilege and, in some cases, socioeconomic development. It is impossible, however, to remove those from the equation.

Although this scenario can happen between any two cultures - I could just as easily imagine someone thinking a cute young girl they meet from, I dunno, Amsterdam will introduce them to European culture - I can only best describe what I see in Asia. However, I can imagine someone treating a non-Asian woman this way too, and I certainly don't want to make it sound as though I think all Asian woman/Western man pairings have this problem. The problem is the problem, not who chooses to date whom. 

 I have a lot of Taiwanese female friends and more than once I have heard, essentially, that they are whole human woman, not reducible to some foreigner's Cultural Attache.



What other reaction can one have to a man who says he "doesn't date ______ women" because he doesn't want the "cultural ambassador as girlfriend" role to play out again: why would he decide before he knows her not to date her, based on a role he doesn't want her to play that she likely didn't want anyway because she's a whole person? Why would he assume she would want that role in the first place?

It just bothers me that some men still seem to think women, from anywhere, exist primarily to highlight, change, influence, brighten or complicate the lives of men, rather than those women having their own lives. I am not qualified to comment on what happens when that attitude of treating women as an accessory or catalyst on your own journey, rather than as wholly realized human beings on their own journeys. They're trying to beautify their life paths by adding a partner to it, rather than looking for another person whose own life path is compatible with theirs. A tagalong, not a travel companion.

Again, this is not limited to one culture. I've had (mercifully brief) dating experiences where it felt as though the man was looking more for someone to liven up his journey, rather than respecting mine. Or as though I were there for his benefit, in service to his life plans: to entertain, teach, free or enlighten him, rather than being a full human being who has her own life going on. And I'm a boring white lady, not even a conventionally pretty one at that! And kind of acerbic, frankly. Why anyone would think they could shove that role on me is beyond me - if it happened to me, it could happen to anyone.

And while there are certainly women out there who do the same thing to the men they date, I've just observed that for the most part, it's men who treat women this way. I could comment on the way this attitude intersects with the whole "Western guy 'finding himself' in Asia" narrative (that is to say, "privileged guy using someone else's country, culture and society as a stage for their personal life drama in which they are the star and the 'foreigners' bit actors" narrative), to the point where this particular writer seems to first categorize all Japanese women as, I dunno, Manic Pixie Dream Asians.

And then, after casting them all in a role they never said they wanted, paints himself as the better guy for not wanting them to play it. Barf. He is even so kind as to acknowledge that there is more than one kind of Japanese woman, before categorizing all of his relationships in them as, well, kind of the same.

Are we supposed to applaud?

But I'll stop there, not only because the commentary coming from that wouldn't be particularly enlightening, and not only because I'm not really qualified to comment, but also because this is just one guy whose relationship to a foreign country and to the women in that country seems deeply problematic, and cannot be used as a treatise against all Western men who live and date in Asia, nor all cross-cultural relationships.

But this guy, creating in his head and then trashing "Manic Pixie Dream Asians"?

Fuck this guy.

Women, of any race or background, are not your cultural ambassadors. You invented that role for them, and it doesn't fit.

So stop it. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

In which I ask Westerners in Taiwan to do better when discussing women

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Could this imperious-looking man surveying the city below him have any connection to my post? Naaaawww...



I've been busy with grad school and also traveling around Europe at the tail end of my trip, so haven't had time to really blog much beyond a few thoughts that popped into my head as a result of my classes in England. I'm in Czechia now, just hangin' out for a bit. 

In fact, before I begin, please enjoy a small selection of photos of what I've been up to:


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Taking a break on the stairs with swollen feet


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Three angry figures 


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At a bar called...uh, something to do with a tiger


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Taken on my final day at Exeter


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I took this one selfie. Just one. 


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Blue and yellow water street


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At a cute cafe 




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A church attached to other buildings


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Having a drink with a friend in Brno


Now.

One of the things I've missed while away from Taipei was this teapot typhoon. I'm linking to a more recent video commenting on it because this is the one worth watching. The original...ugh.

Some Spanish vlogger - I'm not going to name him because he's well-known, and anyway I don't care about him at all and don't really want to bring him more traffic - posted a video advising Taiwanese women on how to painlessly lose their virginity. In it, he calls Taiwanese women "妹妹" (Little Sister, really a diminutive that some people might find insulting), telling them to "relax" and "breathe deeply" and "not force it", and "not to get expectations up".  A friend of mine called this out as mansplaining, which I agree with, because here's a man who can't know, on a physical level, what a woman's experience is because he will never experience it.

If he were a biologist, anatomist, health education professional, doctor or other expert and he gave advice without calling the recipients literally Little Sister and doing an imitation of them that is simpering and insulting, then maybe nothing would need to be said. He's just some guy, treating women like kittens who need to be comforted at the vet and trying to drive up clicks for his YouTube channel.

I don't vlog and I don't speak Spanish. I have never had a penis nor used said non-existent penis. How would he feel if I gave him advice on how to vlog better (actually I would like to give him this advice), speak Spanish more accurately or directed a video at his demographic giving advice to men on how not to lose their erections when they have intercourse for the first time?

But then, a friend of mine who is way cooler but unfortunately less influential than this guy put up a social media post calling the video what it is, and his friend made the video in the link above. And this guy hit back saying he was being "bullied" and threatening to talk to a lawyer (oh please).

Then it all died down and who cares, right?

Well, I care. I care because the more I think about it, the more annoyed I get. Not about the original video - that's just silly. Something needed to be said about it, that happened, and now I think we'd be doing that guy a favor by saving him the embarrassment of acknowledging he made, published and defended it.

What I mean is that a video like this could seriously be made, with very few people saying anything about it - my friend, his friend and now I are some of the only ones, at least in the expat world (though I doubt anything is being said in the local sinophone world either). And, at the same time, so many foreigners in Taiwan expend so much energy criticizing and complaining about "how sexist Taiwan is", and "how sexist Taiwanese men are". Yet when they themselves or one of their own says or does something sexist, mansplainy or misogynist...not a peep.

I've heard it said or implied more than a few times that, because the local culture is "so sexist", that foreign men are surely better, because...oh I don't know, I usually stop listening around this point but it usually has something to do with a reasoning that these foreign men - usually the speaker is including himself in this too - understand women's equality better because they come from Western contexts where women's rights are more established and understood. Or something.

It's a tempting tale to tell oneself - nobody would deny that Taiwan doesn't still have room for improvement when it comes to women's issues. Not even me, and I think this is by far the best place in Asia to live as a woman and am consistently heartened by the willingness of many people, especially in the younger generation, to embrace values just as progressive as the most progressive voices in the West are championing. But, just as there is room for improvement in the US and other Western countries, the same is true of Taiwan.

However, it does not necessarily follow that, because feminist discourse took a different and perhaps more direct path in the West and on the surface things seem to be more egalitarian there, that men from the West are necessarily more attuned to women's equality. And yet, so many Western men here will use this faulty logic to prop up their own fantasy that they, by virtue of the culture they were raised in, are somehow by nature better co-workers, friends, boyfriends and husbands than Taiwanese men.

When one of those Western men does something distasteful, like make a video for no good reason other than to get clicks telling women about their own bodies, imitating the women in question in a simpering voice and calling them diminutives...

...nothing. Forget a larger conversation about whether Western men are really "better" in this way (I happen to think they're not necessarily), or whether misogyny is a problem in the foreign community (sometimes, yes) there wasn't even a direct criticism by these "enlightened" men of the video itself. But they're so much better and more egalitarian and really respect women more, yeah?

Yeah, right.

When Western men say the sorts of things said in that video and other Western men don't say a word about it - my friend can't be the only foreign guy who saw it, come on - do they really have any high ground for continuing to pretend they are so much better than locals? It goes beyond the video, too. How many of you guys have been out with friends or at a party and heard some other foreigner make a shitty comment about women, and said nothing? How many have heard other foreign men talking about all the ways they treat their Taiwanese dates, girlfriends and wives poorly - and I know this happens, because I've heard it myself and been surprised that others were surprised that I spoke up - and stayed silent?

Is it not deeply hypocritical to ignore misogyny in your own community while you attack its existence in the local one?

Because, after listening to a former coworker go on about how he "only cheated on his girlfriend because two women were offering me a threesome and who could say no to that?" and all sorts of angry and dismissive comments about Taiwanese women ("cutesy", "psycho xiaojie", "shrill", "high-maintenance" etc) and men ("girly/not masculine/effeminate"), comments about "fatties" and more, I can't believe y'all don't hear this stuff among your own. You know perfectly well that you probably have male friends who treat their partners like crap and make sexist comments. I don't keep such company, and even I know people like this (we are not friends, however). I've been around to witness a legitimate complaint about being sexually harassed at a gathering - foreigner organized but locals turn up - turn into a bunch of people saying that making an issue of it was the result of the horrors of "militant feminism", being then asked to consider how the assailant feels (apparently guilty? I dunno, and who cares). If I've seen it, and I don't go to many foreigner events, then I know you have.

Why aren't you calling it out more? Why might some foreigners focus on sexism in Taiwanese society while allowing this kind of talk from other Westerners to pass without comment?

I don't think every Taiwanese man is a superhero or that every foreign man is a jerk, of course. I try to take a more balanced view: around the world there are mostly good people, a lot of people who aren't that good but aren't horrible, a few kinda-jerks-with-some-okay-qualities, and a few rotten grapes at the bottom of the carton. That's true of the local Taiwanese population, that's true of the country of my birth and every other Western nation, and that's true of the foreign community in Taiwan. We have some advantages in the West (marginally less ageism and pressure to marry, marginally less overt sexism at home and work) and some disadvantages (seriously, I can't even walk down the street at night in my home country without feeling and being comparatively less safe than a man whereas in Taiwan it's fine), and some things both cultures struggle with (on neither side of the Pacific have women achieved equal pay). Most likely relationships here and in the West are good or bad in comparatively equal measure, including intercultural ones.

Therefore, most foreign guys here are most likely either good or not-horrible people. Perhaps some well-meaning ones don't speak out when they should, or have over-inflated views of just how great the West is for women, or how terribly they think local women are disadvantaged. However, it doesn't make them bad to the core.

I do believe this - although it is more accurate to call behaviors, rather than people, "good" and "bad", at some point an accumulation of behaviors comes to define your character. For most people that can be reversed, if they want to do something about it. Others, while not inherently rotten, are not very likely to want to do the introspection that is necessary for change.

Most likely, the vlogger in question is a not-horrible person who made one mansplainy video and followed it up with a whiny video targeting my friend. He could do better, but he is not necessarily a bad person. But, to repeat, he could do better and I hope this is the clarion call for him to do so. And we could all do better by calling out this sort of thing when we see it and not putting ourselves on a pedestal about how great we are.

Frankly, coming from a country that just elected a blubbering misogynist clown over a competent - if ultimately neoliberal - woman for reasons that would not have stopped any man in her position from being elected, to a country that elected its first female Nerd in Chief and she got there without any sort of family political dynasty, I find the assumption that the West is so much better hard to swallow.

I can't reach the rotten grapes, but I can ask all of the good and not-horrible men in Taiwan to please have this conversation and please speak out more about misogyny in the foreign community rather than simply complaining about it in Taiwanese society. I can reach you, I hope, and I am asking you to do better. 

Friday, June 30, 2017

Triple Threat Female Expats

The Cool Trailing Spouse

Last week, we ended the traipsing-about part of our massive summer adventure, rolling up at our friends' flat in Greater London for five days in the city. We started in Athens at the end of May, wound our way across Armenia and Georgia wandering in ancient churches, enjoying gorgeous vistas and drinking succulent wine, looking up at the monumental stone edifices of Yerevan and hustling up and down the steep hills of Tbilisi old city under carved wooden balconies. Then we hopped a Tbilisi-London flight to start the British leg of our trip.

My friends are what you might call traditional expatriates, though they are not traditional people in any pejorative sense. They're both arty types, young fun liberals, far more similar to me than to the businessmen and trailing wives of Tienmu who send their children to international schools. Who can even consider affording international schools.

We had a lovely time with lovely people, both them and my in-laws, at times comparing aspects of the expat experience. This is a life not at all new to me and Brendan, but still two-years new to them. I remember well that even two years in, my life still had that new expat smell and it was interesting to trade proverbial notes.

I couldn't help but notice, though, that despite being more like us in personality, values, predilections and life goals, that their expat situation was far more like those of the Tienmu international school crowd than ours. They could afford a decent-size flat near a tube station, something two teachers most likely could never do, even with salaries adjusted to reflect the British economy. They could afford for one of them to be the 'trailing spouse' (and as always seems to happen, the trailing spouse was the wife). They could afford this and to raise a child (to be fair, in the UK one needn't worry so much about where to send a child to school).

We both knew the new expat smell, but their model was far more luxurious. It had upgrades.

I wouldn't say I was jealous - I chose my circumstances. I don't mean to criticize either: this is the opportunity life handed them and it was fair to take it as-is. If anything, it served as a lesson to be avoid drawing such thick lines between 'Us' and 'Them'. People in Their situation may very well be people like Us who just found themselves there.

That said, I do find distinctions that are worth a quick exploration. A lot of people assume 'expat' means excellent relocation package (something my friends got and I didn't, because I moved without a clear job offer - and even had I had one, nobody was going to pay my relocation costs let alone cover them generously). They often assume it means serviced flats, possibly domestic help including a driver, very high pay, being able to send their children to international schools and attending events, clubs and associations designed for networking with other expats (and almost never locals - though that is likely more common in Asia than, say, the UK). They often assume it means a trailing spouse, usually the wife, and nobody ever seems to question why it always seems to be the wife supporting her husband's career, or why more women don't get these sorts of offers to move abroad from generous employers.

That's all fine - other than pointing out the gender gap in who gets the plum offer and who is the trailing spouse, it's not a criticism. However, it seems to be the predominant view Westerners have of expat life, which is why articles like this fistful of garbage are spawned. The writer of that thing only has a point if the only kind of expat is the well-paid kind who has a serviced flat and a driver, and the only kind of immigrant is the poor kind. If this is true, what am I? A well-off immigrant or a poor expat? What about those of us for whom neither term fits?

It means that all of the advice you see is geared toward a demographic of foreigners abroad I've never been in. It's all coffee mornings and no 'how to make it work as an independent woman abroad'.


Mercy in a new place

It was interesting, then, to read Janice Y.K. Lee's The Expatriates while on this trip. Yes, it deals with exactly the demographic of well-paid expats and their stay-at-home spouses that I just spent two and a half paragraphs saying I wasn't in, but it was a worthwhile read (and I recommend it) for two key reasons: one of the protagonists is more like me than the well-to-do women who make up the rest of the book, who are also portrayed very sympathetically.

Mercy, a young Korean-American Columbia graduate, moved to Hong Kong on her own, without a job in hand. She more or less makes it work, until it doesn't any more. I don't have her bad luck, but the feeling of moving to a new place with a small savings account and a suitcase and making one's way without a corporate helping hand - and working a job to make it all happen - that's my expat experience. I gather that is the experience a lot of us have, but few people seem to write about it. Its depiction of the Korean community in Hong Kong further reminds one that those who live abroad cannot be packaged up into tidy communities of (white) expats and (everyone else) immigrants. And, of course, the character of Olivia serves as a reminder that even the wealthiest expat cannot compete with a successful and well-connected local.

Swashbuckling tales of adventure and derring-do of handsome men aside, the focus on expat women, not men, in The Expatriates further reminds us that lives of women abroad are often just as interesting as those of men, if not more so.

However, it was also a reminder that, as much as we ought not to create divisions between us as expats, some cannot be ignored. I may do better than a typical cram school teacher, but I'm still an English teacher and have, despite my professional status in the field, resigned myself to forever introducing my work as "an English teacher...but a real one." That, as much as I might make more money and have a better lifestyle than the sort of fresh young blood I was in 2006 - no crappy rooftop apartments for me - I will never, as a teacher, be on the same financial level as the Tianmu set. Brendan and I will always have to do things ourselves, we won't have a company connection setting anything up for us, likely ever. I'm 36 and still a liberal artsy-fartsy night owl type, more like the fresh young blood than the greying businessmen; this is not likely to change either. Every piece of advice is geared toward them; none seems aimed at me. Most of them won't stay long. Most will never learn Chinese or integrate locally. There simply are not that many overlaps in the issues we face.

And I might not be a trailing spouse like so many expat women, but the majority of long-termers I've come to know here, who were birthed into expat life as I was, are male.

My first real arrival in Taiwan took place late at night. I dropped my bags in my cruddy-but-temporary Gongguan perch, collapsed into sleep, and woke up the next day to explore the city. I had a vague offer of a teaching job, a few thousand dollars and a backpack. I navigated work, language, finances, socializing, paperwork and visas and adjustment to a new country and culture on my own. I don't think it takes away from the experiences of more well-heeled foreigners to admit that I'm proud of this. I'm proud that I did it on my own, and that I was never a trailing spouse (I am also confident enough in myself now that, if a fantastic opportunity arose for Brendan, after all these years I finally wouldn't balk at the idea of being one for a temporary period).

Like Mercy, I had no help, and like my brand-new idol and also crush, Janet Montgomery McGovern, I had financial concerns. I had to generate an income to make it all work. I was a woman doing what most people associate with young men doing. Like them both, I'm not the typical 'Go East, Young Man', well, man. 


English-wallah

On our last day in Tbilisi, I turned the final page of my last book for the 'intensive travel' portion of my trip: Justine Hardy's Scoop-Wallah: Life on a Delhi Daily. Although I hadn't planned it this way, my reading tour across the Caucasus was also a reading detour from books about Taiwan or books about teaching, linguistics and education into a short list of books about women living abroad.

Hardy's story also resonated with me, not only because I used to live in India, but because she too chose to return to Asia, sought out work, found it and made things happen for herself. She, like Janet McGovern, had the sort of adventure most people associate with men. She, like both me and McGovern, had to make money to stay afloat. And she, like us, had no employer helping her. She, like us, was perhaps an expat who lived like an immigrant, or maybe an immigrant who knew she couldn't stay forever. I do wonder, however, what kind of visa she was on as it was clear that her employer wasn't helping her with it, but it is extremely hard to get a visa to work legally as a foreigner in India. You certainly aren't allowed to be offered a job in India and then transfer a tourist visa to a working one (I know, because I looked into it).

Hardy describes a hardcore hustling to make her daily bread, to make a name, to make life possible in a foreign land, that I can identify with. What I peddle is different, but we're both working the same street. She has McGovern's mettle, translated to the present day and proves yet again that the stories of women abroad are not limited to managing the help, choosing between Taipei American School and Taipei European School and going to coffee mornings. That we hustle too, that we have stories too, and we all make it work.

That Hardy might have been writing soft features, but under that she's a professional journalist who simply loves India and plies her trade well. That I may be 'teaching English', but I'm also a professional educator who is days away from starting Master's in the subject at a prestigious university.

That we don't always have help. That arguably the most interesting expat in twentieth-century Taiwan was not Indiana Jones, but his mother, and she too was an English teacher.

That even the trailing spouses, who may have never thought they'd be 'trailing'.

With that in mind, during a quiet moment on the outskirts of London, I wrote a short inscription in Scoop-Wallah and, when nobody was looking, popped it into a corner of my friends' book collection. Not the husband's, although I've known him longer and we are closer, but the wife's. He might be the expat with the cushy job, but she has a story too, and under it all we may have different situations but we're not all that different.