Showing posts with label nightlife. Show all posts
Showing posts with label nightlife. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Where I'm drinking in 2019 - I get older, the bars get quieter

Fancy G&Ts at Xiang Se

Because I can't write about politics all the time (literally, I can't - it induces too much anxiety), I decided to punt for the day and write up something about where I've been drinking in the past year. You know, to give the world a few more Taipei drinking choices - and one place in Tainan! - reviewed by a real person. I've tried to avoid the big restaurants, the fancy hotels and the huge (and already well-known) expat bars, because I prefer quieter, more intimate drinking experiences with friends. But, just to make a point, I'll address the big expat bars at the end.

My recent post on cafes also includes a few places that are good for drinking (notably Cafe Costumice, Cafe Le Zinc and Shake House), and an upcoming post on where I'm eating in Taipei in 2019 will also include a few places that are good for drinks (including Tanuki Koji for high-end sake and pretty much any of the Italian restaurants I'll mention for wine, Aperol spritzes and more). Of course, there will always be some overlap. 

Trio Original and Trio Bitters

A lovely specialty cocktail at Trio Bitters

Some local friends introduced me to Trio Bitters near Zhongxiao Xinsheng. They have pretty good bistro food, a range of both regular and specialty cocktails, and a wine list. The wine is neither particularly cheap nor overly expensive and is fairly good, but I'd particularly recommend the specialty cocktails. I don't think I've ever seen another foreigner here, but it's popular with Millenial Taiwanese.

Another popular bar in this area is B Line By A Train - it's on the 2nd floor of a nondescript building on Zhongxiao East Road. I haven't actually been, but it's also very popular with the hip Millenial Taiwanese crowd, so it's probably worth a try.

I found Trio Original after trying Trio Bitters, and am reasonably sure the two bars are related. This one is just off Xinyi-Anhe - they have plenty of seating downstairs (though I like the upstairs atmosphere more) and will make you an excellent Manhattan with proper maraschino cherries, not those bright red things you can buy in any supermarket. 

L'arriere-cour (Backyard)

Hands down the best whiskey bar in Taipei, though it can be hard to get a seat - and there's nowhere to stand, so reserve in advance, even on ostensibly 'slow' nights. While not cheap, they have over 400 kinds of whiskey, the staff is friendly and will chat with you if you're alone, and the wasabi popcorn chicken is excellent. Get water with that - whiskey doesn't do a great job of cooling the heat of wasabi. I especially love the low lighting that makes you feel like you're in an upscale whiskey cave for hedonistic nihilists (or nihilistic hedonists).

The best part? They have so many types of whiskey that you won't be limited to the big names and the smooth, non-peaty blends popular in Asia. If you want a whiskey so peaty that it smells like the bottle smoked a cigarette by the ocean, this is the place to go. 

23 Public

This tiny little beer bar with floor-to-ceiling windows is simple and comfortable, and has a good mix of local and foreign. Right between Shi-da and NTU, it's not surprising that the local crowd is very grad-studenty. 23 Public only does local craft beer, and many of its beers are Taiwan themed (there's Taiwan #1 IPA, Love Motel Love, 22k IPA, a DPP-themed cucumber sour beer and more). They have light bar snacks - think small pizzas, spicy edamame, salted pork slices and rosemary fava beans. This place gets crowded so either go on a less popular night or make a reservation. 

Prozac Balcony

Cool presentation at Prozac Balcony - the drink was good too

I haven't been here in awhile, but I like the shabby chic feel of this place, and their signature drinks are sometimes displayed in very fancy ways. I had a cocktail with fresh blood orange here once that cost NT$500, was absolutely delicious and was served in a large traditional teacup with a dragon design perched on a tray strewn with flower petals.

It's near a few more watering holes on Fuxing South Road south of Heping, including at least one whiskey bar with tinted windows that looks so masculine, I just want to go in there, order a drink and boast about how great I am while manspreading or something. Haven't done it yet, though. 

The Local 

Another beer bar! These are super popular in Taipei these days, at least until the next craze comes along (rum bars anyone?). The Local doesn't have a lot of seating but it's rarely crowded so it's easy to have a conversation. There are some video games you can play, and usually some amusing sport or other on the TV - who knew drinking beer and making light fun of extreme skateboarding could be so engaging? The big selling point of The Local, though, is the grilled cheese sandwiches, and the nachos aren't bad either. They occasionally have special events or food trucks stopping by. 

Xiang Se

This is the most hipster of hipster places to drink. With a funky garden - try to do some weekend day drinking in it, you won't regret it - and Brooklyn-meets-Miss-Havisham decor (think candles in weird holders with wax dripped artfully on reclaimed-wood tables - like that), you'll feel like a cooler person for having come here. The food is fun and unique as well, though I remember the atmosphere more than anything. A bottle of white wine in the garden on a hot summer weekend day is an excellent way to spend the day, and their gin and tonics come with sprigs of rosemary and the fancy tonic in glass bottles. Do reserve.

Zhang Men

Oh, yes, another beer bar! Like the others, this has a great atmosphere and local beer on tap. I habitually steal their coasters because they look so cool, and it's a solid drinking choice in the Yongkang Street area, which is more known for cafes and Japanese tourists than drinking, generally. 

Tavern D - The Rum Bar

This place has good mojitos and great atmosphere

This place could go on a food list for its excellent Cuban sandwiches, corn tortilla chips and homemade salsa, but I'm putting it here because the real highlight is the excellent rum selection and fancy mojitos. The decor - think wooden bar, big green ferns, a Cuban-style wall mural - accentuates the drinking experience. It's not cheap but worth it for the best mojitos in town. It's not the only rum bar in town, but it's the one I prefer, and the only bar in Xinyi that I'll recommend here. Huge bonus points: they have fancy mocktails for your teetotalling friends. 

Le Puzzle Creperie and Bar 

This place could - and probably will - also go on a food list. Run by a friendly Frenchman whose name I've forgotten, I'm including it in the bar list because New Taipei deserves a mention, plus you can get a good bottle of wine for NT$700. You honestly can't beat that deal. They also do cocktails. The crepes here are absolutely worth trucking out to Banqiao for (it's a short walk from Xinpu MRT) - imagine an evening of wine, lemon crepes with sugar and delicious sorbet, or go all out and have one of their excellent dinner crepes as well. Just don't forget the wine. 

The Hammer

While we're in New Taipei, let's head on over to The Hammer, a small bar very close to MRT Dingxi Station. The San Miguel draft is a good deal, they have some nice bottled beers and you can get a decent glass of house wine. The food's pretty good too. It gets a bit loud and busy downstairs on weekends, but you can try to score a seat upstairs or come at a quieter time. A great place to go for a beer after a spicy dinner at Tianfu (天府川菜) which is right nearby, and has the best Sichuanese food not just in the Taipei area, but quite possibly all of Taiwan. 


The area between MRT Zhongshan and Dihua Street is slowly becoming populated with bars, cafes, teahouses and more. I could name a number of places in this area to drink, but I'm choosing this one not because the drinks on offer are particularly special (it's another beer bar), but because...guys. They have two cats. They have two cats. You can have a beer and pet a cat. You can beer and cat in the same place! BeerCat! The cats are pretty friendly too. We went to this place to drink away our sorrows the night of Taiwan's 2018 elections, and having beer to drink and a cat to pet really was therapeutic. 

Bar Ansleep

You would never know this tiny Japanese bar existed if someone didn't tell you, so here I am telling you. It's hidden away in a quiet lane near MRT Zhongshan Elementary School, on the 2nd floor. I don't even remember if there's a sign. The space is narrow but there are a few larger tables, and they do excellent cocktails in a quiet atmosphere.


Generous wine by the glass at Tuga

While technically a Portuguese restaurant (try the pan-seared green chilis - yum!), the real selling point of Tuga is the massive wine selection and inexpensive, generously portioned house wine by the glass. You can also buy wine by the bottle here - some bottles can run quite pricey, though - as well as some Portuguese condiments and cooking ingredients (think sardines, piri piri sauce). It's also near ABV, which has good-enough food, and an absolutely amazing beer selection.


Yes, yes, yes, another beer bar. This one is run by the folks at Taihu Brewing. I've had some great beers here, and a few misses (but not too many). The huge selling point is that it's pretty spacious and uniquely decorated, so you can probably get a seat. Ximenting, once the haunt of local teens and tourists, perhaps a few tattoo shops and not a lot else, is starting to become a great place for beer. Driftwood is one good option; try Ximen Beer Bar for another (yes, another beer bar). 

Bonus! Taikoo (in Tainan) 

The balcony at Taikoo, in Tainan

It's not in Taipei, but hands-down it's our favorite bar when traveling in southern Taiwan. On Shennong Street in Tainan - you know, the famous old street with lots of quaint shops in lovely old buildings - there are two Taikoos, run by the same people. A cafe, and a bar. We prefer the bar. Taikoo (the bar) is in a two-story old house and has comfortable couch seating downstairs, with outdoor seating in the courtyard and even more seating in the (non-air-conditioned) building behind. Up a set of extremely dangerous old stairs, there's even more seating in a dimly lit space. The original roof beams are still visible, and there's a lovely balcony back here (it creaks ominously but I assure you it's safe) where you can sip your drink looking out over the courtyard below. They have a reasonable beer selection and make very good cocktails - I've never had anything I didn't love at Taikoo, and the staff is super friendly (and they speak good English, if that's something you prefer). 

As for the popular expat bars: 

Here's the thing about the Brass Monkey, Carnegie's, Revolver, Bobwundaye and relative (but very popular) newcomer, Red Point Taproom - I like these places quite a bit for drinking, at the right times. Go on a typically slow night - that is, avoiding Friday and Saturday (and in some cases Wednesdays, if there's a Ladies' Night) and grabbing a table or seat at the bar on a Tuesday, Thursday or Sunday. Brass Monkey has a solid selection of British beers, including Old Peculier, a particular favorite of mine. They also have an excellent range of British food. Carnegie's has an affordable "Crazy Hour", excellent brunch and they do make good cocktails, though they messed up once by putting sours mix in a Tom Collins - which might have been the worst drink I've ever had. Red Point has a great selection of local beers on tap, excellent appetizers and a fantastic Reuben sandwich, just don't go when it's busy. And Bobwundaye also makes a fine cocktail (some of the meals are good, but I've not been keen on the appetizers). Revolver is a great place to hang out when it first opens for the evening (around 6:30) and their nachos are tops. I find it's time to go, though, when it starts getting loud.

The main reasons why they get their own paragraph rather than a spot on the list are 1.) you already know about them, 2.) they aren't 'quiet, intimate' places to have a drink and 3.) they are extremely crowded on weekend nights, which is something I try to avoid these days.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Drinking in Taiwan's beer cafes: my latest for Taiwan Scene

I'm in Taiwan Scene writing about expat lives old and new, how the beer and food scene in Taiwan has changed, and what's on offer today from the viewpoint of someone who came to Taiwan long before such options existed. And, of course, drinking lots of (local) beer. Enjoy!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Confucius and the Department Store

 photo DSC05353.jpg

It just so happens that I wrote this while listening to this.

Two weeks ago, a confluence of things happened.

First, I planned and executed a Mid-Autumn Festival barbecue near my apartment, which doubled as my birthday party because I knew I wouldn't have the energy, what with Delta Module 3 going on, to hold two parties in one month.

We hadn't noticed the sign that had been posted in our building, as there are a lot of notices and things that are usually irrelevant. So on the day of the party, we were upset to find out that maybe we should have read that notice after all: no barbecuing would be allowed in the main courtyard areas around where we live (which are perfect for barbecuing). The reason was not clear but usually it has to do with "smell and noise".

Two years ago, you could barbecue anywhere in this area. We barbecued in the small courtyard just outside our apartment. Then the next year, that was prohibited and you could only barbecue in the large courtyard further out. This year, they prohibited that too and we were only allowed to barbecue in a small, dark little area down by the wet market, and policemen constantly rode by on bikes making sure we adhered to that rule (this was the first year there was a police presence).

I can't help but feel that it's a slow, systematic attempt to ban barbecuing on Moon Festival in all urban areas, but to do it slowly enough that people don't complain much.

Then, I had a discussion on Facebook with Alexander Synaptic about this fascinating blog post of his about old "entertainment centers" in towns and cities in Taiwan. It's a coincidence, but a telling one, that he entitled it "Dreams of Empire". There's one in Sanchong that functions mostly as a string of pool halls rife with gangsters, and a closed-down one in Zhanghua.

I noted that while until recently, street-level commercial activity and entertainment was mostly-happily tolerated by local residents, and a proliferation of night markets and other "re nao" (fun) spots were allowed to thrive, which has given Taipei, at least, a sort of vibrant street life and sidewalk scene that Beijing and other cities in China are lacking - and which is a part of what makes Taipei a great place to live - that there seems to have been a culture shift.

This happened around the time that Brendan and I celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary. We had wanted to go to Opa! Greek Taverna, which has hands-down the best Mediterranean food in Taipei (Sababa is good for falafel, but I make better hummus). Turns out their old street-level restaurant near Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall was closed, and they'll be re-opening in ATT 4 Fun at the end of the month.

Those old entertainment halls are now closed, but they're being replaced by glass monstrosities like ATT 4 Fun. Night markets (like Shi-da or Shilin) are being shut down (except for a few boring "fashion" and cell phone cover stores) or the food stalls relocated to indoor areas, which drastically reduces their appeal. Streetscapes are ruined as giant granite obelisks of luxury housing go up, leaving no room for shops or comfortable passage for pedestrians. Trees are torn down as a huge event arena is built - nothing wrong with Taipei Dome but those trees were a part of the street scape and we loved them. Restaurants are relocating to department stores. Street-level storefront rent is skyrocketing and only chain businesses can afford them, so interesting local spots are being crowded out. As ornery residents start complaining - which they didn't seem to do before - everything that was fun in some neighborhoods is either being shut down, or moving and often they end up in ATT 4 Fun or the equivalent.

Rather than go to Chun Shui Tang (which I know has been implicated in the recent gutter oil scandal) in one of their well-decorated branches which create street-level visual interest, I basically have to go to Chun Shui Tang inside Shinkong Mitsukoshi. One of my favorite Indian restaurants, Calcutta Indian Food, moved from a street-level shop on an interesting stretch of Kunming Street to a basement-level restaurant in a somewhat grody building called "U2". All the good places are slowly moving indoors, but the indoor spaces are expanding: walk underground from City Hall MRT through the basement of Hankyu Department Store to Eslite Xinyi, and it's a veritable food festival of eating options. All indoors. In the basement, even. Outdoors, you'd have to walk for awhile to find something decent to eat.

I don't care for this at all - and as a Taipei resident, I do believe that counts for something.

If I wanted to live in a city with dead streets, where you walked between huge edifices, some new and marbled, some old and marbled in a different way, and cars whizzed by on the road, and I had to walk inside some concrete magnate's wet dream just to eat dinner at a restaurant I like, which is no longer within walking distance because they couldn't afford the rent, I would live in Beijing.

I don't live in Beijing, because Beijing sucks. I do not fancy walking a mile along a sidewalk flanked by a wall and a six-lane highway, with one overhead crosswalk every mile, and big empty spaces dotted with steel monoliths that spear the pollution floating overhead, where people hustle in and out of sliding doors into slightly less polluted air conditioned buildings to eat, drink and shop. Beijing is one of the worst models possible for urban planning.

And I don't want Taipei to become just like it.

I feel like all of this is related. There seems to have been a spike in old-school, stick-up-the-butt Confucian values, more influence from China (which has a distinctly different culture from Taiwan, and to Taiwanese or those used to Taiwanese culture can seem a bit stick-up-the-butt although I realize it's not always), and increasingly authoritarian leaders telling the public to basically go screw themselves. To the point where I wonder, as Letters from Taiwan implies, if the recent deaths - I believe that's a plural deaths too - of various high-profile Sunflower activists were, ahem, accidents. It would not surprise me at all if the government, taking its cues from China as it tries to force the Taiwanese to accept the idea of eventual Chinese rule, decided to off them. People complain about noise and smell on the streets, and the city slowly morphs into Beijing's stepsister (I'd say ugly stepsister, but it's hard to get uglier than Beijing).

I feel it's related to the increase in gang activity - White Wolf not only allowed to return to Taiwan but to rub shoulders with Ma Ying-jiu's sisters. A gang fight resulting in the death of an off-duty policeman which raises many questions about what exactly he was involved in (it's fairly well-known that the police let the gangs run the clubs in exchange for kickbacks). The subsequent inevitable closing down of Taipei nightlife (so it can reopen later, under the protection of newly-strong gangs who give the police better kickbacks). I won't even get into what happens if you cross a gangster in a KTV.

Some other gangsters, deeply entwined in real estate development, convince local politicians to ignore laws about having to provide "green space" for every building they erect in exchange for letting those politicians buy units in the buildings before they go on sale. The politicians can later sell those units at substantial markups. This is all perfectly legal. And we allow it, because they are Our Leaders.

We like to think that the heyday of gang violence in Taiwan was the '80s and '90s, but it wasn't. It's as bad now as it was then, only now we have "democratic" leaders acting like dictators telling us they'll do something about it, when clearly they won't. They'll shut down a few nightclubs, but nobody really important will face punishment.

Increasingly authoritarian "leaders" leaning both on the Confucian ideas regarding the masses doing what they say, inextricably intertwined with gang activity, huge corporations and development companies tearing down the city (and quite possibly encouraging "citizen complaints" about noise and smell from restaurants, night markets and even barbecuing, which is a Mid-Autumn festival activity associated mostly with Taiwan) in order to rebuild it in China's image.

I do not think this is deliberate. Nobody is sitting behind a desk going "mwahahahaha, let's make Taipei look more like a Chinese city, so the Taiwanese will accept annexation by China! Bwahahaha! My evil plan!" I know to imply that these events are deliberately connected is only a few steps shy of donning a tinfoil hat. My point is that the mood in Taipei has changed, and not for the better. And that these issues are all effects of that - the slow migration of street life to department stores, the budding New Confucianism in which we are all told to follow the rules, the increase in gang activity, the increasingly authoritarian government that is quietly trying to push Taiwan towards China and a future the majority of people do not want but many feel powerless to stop.

There has been a culture shift, and it's starting to really be felt.

So, to me, they are related even if not intentionally so. The same overly conservative, regulation-loving Neo-Confucian "follow the rules, do as we say" ideas that brought us the tragedy that is the KMT and President Ma have also brought us the steady department store-ification of Taipei. It's a whole culture shift, even if it is not deliberate.

I still think Taipei has gotten a lot right in terms of urban planning, and I hope that this is a temporary phase.

Sadly, I fear it's not.

Everybody shut up, everybody shop here, don't protest or your motorcycle will suddenly go off the highway outside Pinglin. You just don't understand because you don't know 'correct values' and you need it explained to you like you're four years old. Listen to your leaders! Confucius said so! Buy these items produced by our good friends at Uni-President who swear they didn't know about the gutter oil, in a building they built, so they can profit more. They need profit. They need to make sure the politicians and police get their cut, you know, so they need it. Stop shopping near your home in stores that line your sidewalks. We have air-conditioning, and your favorite shop is here! We're not in bed with both gangs and politicians, and real estate developers hell bent on driving out every bit of soul this city has! You don't like those street-level shops anyway, you would rather it be like this. Come on, lay down, calm down, it'll hurt less that way. You know you want it. Listen to us. We are your leaders. Confucius says that the emperor is above the people. We are above you. And we are Chinese. Therefore, so are you. You must identify as Chinese. This poll said that you do.

There's no reason to muddy the waters like this. We are all Chinese. We don't like noise on the street. We do like strong leaders and air conditioning. We want our residential areas quiet and our entertainment to be safely contained, in a building built by someone rich and powerful, in another part of the city. We like it to be clear. Don't you hate these blurred lines?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

And Now For Something Completely Different: Cafe Dalida Drag Show and Charity Fundraiser (and thoughts on charity in Taiwan)

This is totally the photo I will use from now on to reply to offensive things people say on the Internet.

Before I get into my post - here's my dilemma. I'm out of photo space on this blog, but I don't want to pay and I don't want to change addresses, and I don't want to never again post photos. Any ideas on what I should do? Is there a way out of this?

Anyway, so last night we went to a drag show and charity fundraiser at Cafe Dalida, one of the bars behind Red House in Ximending. I love going to that area - Red House is one of my favorite Taipei buildings, and itself houses a lovely cafe and gift shop. Behind it is a strip of gay bars with hilarious names like G2-Paradise and Bear Bar (you get used to the hilarious names when you live in DC as I did - we had a place called The Fireplace) which, all together, make up the best area for outdoor seating in, well, in all of urban Taipei (Maokong excluded). You can usually get good deals on drinks, although don't ask for anything that needs to be done really well (like mojitos - details like muddled mint are skipped and lemon is substituted for lime), and you can always get a seat to enjoy Taipei's rare good weather. 

Also, no dodgy guys hitting on you! Well, maybe if you're a guy. Brendan claims it's never happened, but he's totally cute, so I figure it's because when we go we always go together. 

Isn't he totally adorable?

The weather last night was crap - but the table umbrellas came out and kept us basically dry. Well-known drag queen Gina (above) put on a drag show for her birthday, which doubled as a fundraiser for  Harmony Home Taiwan, a very worthy organization that cares for people with and children affected by HIV and AIDS.

It could have been a function of where in China I lived (the rural southwest), and the time I lived there (ten years ago - wow) - but one thing I've noticed that sets Taiwan apart from China is the prevalence of charity organizations and willingness to donate to them. I know such organizations exist in China, but my observation was that donating to charity wasn't a *thing*. You might give to a beggar - the most common being kids in tatty school uniforms claiming they couldn't afford their school fees - but a local where I lived wouldn't generally donate a chunk of change or the proceeds of an event to a charity. I'm sure there's more of that in the cities, but even with that in mind I see a greater charitable impulse in Taiwan than I do in China.

Here are some stats.

An interesting paper but only compares a few countries

A study done in the US showing low-income people tend to give more (in the USA that's mostly due to donations to churches).

Charitable giving by country - now we're getting somewhere - this photo shows Taiwan ("province of China" - ICK!!! Do I have to write and complain now?) at about twice the amount of China.

Here it is on Wikipedia - with a quote from Ma Ying-jiu calling the results "unfair" ("President Ma Ying-jeou described the result of a poll ranking Taiwan 72nd among 153 countries for charitable behavior as "unfair, " saying it has transformed itself "from an importer of love into an exporter of love") I can see where that's coming from - if results don't include charity donated abroad - such as sponsorship of impoverished children in other countries - and if it is true that the Taiwanese have done a great deal of that, to the point where it'd affect their ranking, then it is a fair point.

And yet Taiwan also beats out Japan and, in fact much of East Asia. It's beaten out by Mongolia (barely) and Hong Kong (by a lot - I'd say "British influence" but that'd imply a sort of Western supremacist racism that I do not wish to imply - just that Britain ranks far higher, and Hong Kong culture is obviously strongly influenced by the British. Make of that what you will, I won't make anything more of it for fear of it being misinterpreted). seems I'm right. Taiwan is a far more charitably giving country than China, which ranks really horribly low. Unconscionably low for a country that openly aspires to become a world - no, the world, superpower. So my powers of observation are pretty dead on in comparing Taiwan and China in this way, although I would not have guessed that we ranked below Mongolia (or Tajikistan etc.).

Small as it is, it's something to be proud of. I'm not just spouting crap when I say that I feel people in Taiwan are kinder, more socially aware and more giving than what I noticed in China. Taiwanese will often say "我們比大陸有人情味“ or something along those lines (I don't think they'd quite say it that way, seeing as I'm a stilted non-native speaker!). I know other bloggers have said the Taiwanese are not as friendly as they think they are - which is not the same as being "giving", but the two are kind of related, are they not? I disagree. The Chinese do not "run ruder on the surface and friendlier below" - there are rude and friendly Chinese, just as in any country, but on average run ruder...and below, will sometimes be nice to you, but will always keep a greater distance from you than your Taiwanese friends, who will treat you like a true friend, not a "foreign friend". I find the Taiwanese to definitely be kinder than the Japanese, who are polite up front, to a fault, but distant down below. I don't have enough experience in Korea to really talk about life there, but my husband has said I certainly would not get along with Korean men as well as I get along with Taiwanese men, due to a more deeply ingrained sexist streak and a cultural inability to laugh at oneself. The only Asian country I've been to where I've felt as comfortable and able to make true local friends is India.

Anyway, those are "on average" observations and not meant to reflect on individuals, so please don't take them that way...and it's on a tangent from "charitable giving". I included it here because I do believe the two things are related. How kind and friendly you are often translates into how charitable, generous and giving you are - and despite some expats claiming the opposite, I find the Taiwanese, on average, to be all of those things in a way that the Chinese, on average, are not.

But back to the drag show.

Woo-woos (sweet, not very strong pink cocktails that include apple, cranberry and rum) were sold, with a portion of the proceeds to Harmony Home, and the queens and staff came through with donation boxes while we were treated to the show. The bar itself was booked out, but we were able to get a small table after some time waiting in the seated area outside the main drag (see what I did there?), and could see just fine by standing. It was not super packed, but it was full.

The show did run a bit short, starting at 10:30 and ending around maybe midnight with a lengthy break. I was hoping for more all-night action, like what you'd get in DC, but hey. This is the first time I've even heard about a drag show in Taiwan, let alone been to one (obviously they exist, I had just never heard about them). And the queens looked great.

Another thing I noted was the diversity of the crowd. Expats and locals mingled much more freely than I usually see on nights out in Taiwan. I have more Taiwanese friends than foreign friends (although I have a lot of both), and I find that when I go out with either group, generally it's a place where most people are either foreigners with some Taiwanese  or Taiwanese with a smattering of foreigners, but not a huge mix of both (or if there are, it's white guys and Taiwanese women, which is fine unless it's a meat market, in which case, OK, have fun, I'm outta here). And when I do go to gatherings that are mostly foreign, I am often one of the only women there unless I organize it!

Here I can't say who was in the majority - the queens themselves were both local and foreign, as was the audience, in a pretty even mix of male, female, Taiwanese and local. That's great - we need more of that. We might have less misunderstanding and cultural posturing between foreign and Taiwanese men, and move away from the old expat-local cliches if we had more mixing.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Saturday Night

It’s another Sunday, and I’ve been working my butt off at a local savings bank , stayed out until 2am with friends and feel like writing more fluffy musings (because that’s just about my mental capacity right now).

I’ve lived in three different countries (India, China and Taiwan) and was musing this morning while lying in bed considering whether or not to get up – as one does on Sunday mornings – on what it was like on Saturday night, that iconic bit of free time, in each country.

Bad Girls in India: 2000

I read a comment online recently directed at someone whose boyfriend was about to move to India for a year to study. “While she’s at home on Saturday morning waiting to Skype, you’ll have opportunities to go out, meet people and have beers with other expats. On Sunday morning when you’re ready to Skype, she’ll be going out back home.”

Yeah, uhh…maybe in some of the bigger cities, but that wasn’t my Saturday night experience in Madurai. Mine went something like this:

After spending the day doing some sort of student group activity, I might stop downtown at the tailor’s and then retrieve my bike parked at the post office (the closest place to downtown where I could ride without getting killed and park my bike). I’d ride home on quieter back roads – by quieter, of course, I mean there were only about a million people and forms of livestock walking down the road instead of ten million – stopping off for a Limca and waving to various locals manning their storefronts. The snack guy, the “Indian pizza” guy (it was a chapatti covered in sugary ketchup and paneer), Zum Zum Tailor and the folks who hung out outside the nearby shrine.

I’d rumble on home down a bumpy dirt path as the neighborhood kids shouted “HELLO SISTER!”, maybe swerve to avoid a goat, take my shoes off in the anteroom and head upstairs. A quick cold-water bucket shower and fresh salwar kameez later and I’d reappear downstairs to chat with Meena and Kumar, watch cartoons with Shiva when he wasn’t doing his homework and watch the cook prepare dinner.

Amma would come in, wash her hands, grab a blob of chapati dough and plop down on the floor in her sari. She never had never really gotten used to the idea of chairs. She’d insist on TV rights and Shiva would grumblingly hand her the remote. The cook would roll out a length of wax paper, right there on the floor, Amma would turn on her favorite TV show and watch while rolling out dough rounds.

Meena would begin studying with her son. "He's really dedicated to learning his multiplication tables," I noted once.
"Yes, he is going to be engineer isn't it?" Meena replied.

"Really? He's nine years old!"

"Yes. He is going to be engineer."

This wasn't the desperate push of a mother living vicariously through her son - who seemed to be genuinely good at math - she was an anesthesiologist and her husband was a zoologist. Amma's late husband was a prominent linguist. This was not a family who shied away from intellectual pursuits.

The show was a well-known Tamil drama about three “prostitutes” who live together. Of course, nothing tawdry ever goes on during the show – it’s just understood that these three single Tamil women who live together and solve crimes (???), and who are visited regularly by a gun-wielding fat man, are Ladies of the Night. My Tamil was never all that great but I got the impression that their profession was likewise never openly mentioned – you were supposed to know they were prostitutes because duh, they’re three single women over twenty living together, and one of them wears lipstick! For shame! India has a long and distinguished history of cosmetics – from kohl-lined eyes to whitening cream – but Western-style makeup such as lipstick in more traditional parts of southern India are a major taboo – only prostitutes wear it (it’s fine in cities and in northern India, brides generally wear tons of makeup, including bright lipstick).

Amma thought this show was terrible, which is of course why she watched it so religiously. “Oooh…so bad…those girls are very, very bad,” she’d mutter – in English – as she sat on the floor idly smacking a chapati. “Bad girls. So, so bad only.”

I would sit on the floor next to her, trying and failing to match her chapati-making skills, the edges of my kameez tucked primly under my knees, watching women no less prudishly dressed as I was cavorting on TV.

So bad. So very very bad, only.

Cement and Beer in China: 2002-2003

When I first moved to China, I had no friends. That tends to happen when you pick up and move to an entirely foreign country where you know exactly no-one. For the first few months my Saturday nights consisted of going to the Western-style coffee and teahouse in Zunyi, down by the bus stop and Honghuagang, and studying Chinese while people stared at me…and doing a poor job of it.

Later, Jenny arrived in China and we became fast friends. We’d occasionally have the good fortune of a visit with a coworker and mutual foreign friend, Julian. By then, I’d discovered that the hoppin’ place to go on Saturday night was down by the river – the riverbank was paved over; a long concrete esplanade replaced the natural grassy shore. Along this strip, old laobanniang would set up portable carts selling peanuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, beef jerky, various small snacks, beer and ferocious baijiu (rice wine). Jenny and I would head down there, often with Julian, and drink cheap chemical-laced Chinese beer – Moutai if we were cheap, Tsingtao if we were feeling spendy. We’d get plates of snacks and shoot the breeze, make fun of China – not in a mean way, but in a “blowing off steam, culture shock can be stressful, really we’re having a great adventure” way. OK, also sometimes in a “China sucks” way, but only after bad weeks. If it was just me and Jenny, we’d bring cards and play rummy or canasta.

During the colder months we’d stay home, crank up the totally-not-safe-probably-going-to-explode heater, buy local hawberry hooch and mix it with horrific “citrus” soda, grab a bag of beef jerky and some White Rabbit caramels and play canasta at home while watching bad Chinese TV. We’d tell stories about the adorable children we taught, and make jokes about Huang Qi, the school head’s ne’er-do-well spoiled younger brother who had horrible teeth, smoked too much and called me fat to my face, in Chinese, thinking I couldn’t understand. My Chinese wasn’t great at the time, but I could indeed understand.

On my second-to-last day in Zunyi, there was a going-away party held in my honor (awwww) on a Saturday night. Julian and Jenny came, as did Huang Min and the unwanted Huang Qi – the same one I mentioned in this post, who elevated himself in my estimation on the last day I ever saw him and probably ever will see him again – by telling his story. As much as I may dislike a person, I always want to hear their story. To shorten an already-told tale, he was studying in Beijing in June of 1989, was at Tiananmen, and saw his friend get shot in the face. This forever affected his view of the Chinese Communist Party, and I see him as a symbol – an archetype – of the average Chinese person who knows what their government is up to but lacks the ability to do anything about it.

The party was held on a Saturday night and after the obligatory banquet, at which I wore my only remaining ‘nice’ shirt, bought in Hong Kong, a group of us retreated to the riverine cement beer garden.

Another teacher, Angel, was there, as was a random Englishman that Angel literally picked up off the street (and the only other expat in town besides an antisocial Dutch woman). We all got impossibly drunk on beer so bad that the cancer we’ll all get in ten years will have been directly linked to it, Angel went off in search of whores and we found him with his pants down, face down in a gutter (The Englishman dragged him out so he wouldn’t drown in fetid water). Huang Qi told his story and started crying. I got so blotto that I started shouting dirty words in Chinese (not that uncommon on the riverside – nobody really thought anything of it). Jenny and I sat on a bench trying to recover with the Englishman – I’m not sure what happened to Julian. I left for Beijing two days later – the next day I had a hangover that shook the universe and drank six cans of coconut juice – and had my brief romance with Brendan years before we started dating seriously (let’s face it, deep down under everything else there was always a spark between us). Jenny and Graham later got married. Julian moved to Beijing, met a Sichuanese woman and married her. I wandered the globe, dated inappropriate men and then finally got my act together enough to deserve a gem like Brendan. I never did see Angel again but hopefully waking up covered in Chinese gutter sludge made him rethink his lifestyle.

I would say it was something of a life-changing Saturday night.

Taiwan: Funky Student Pubs 2006-present

Last night was a typical Saturday night for me here in Taiwan. I’ve never been much for thumping music in bars, and although I do enjoy dancing I don’t necessarily want to do it more than once every few months, if that. I can’t stand the smell of cigarette smoke that clings to every pore when I do go out to a crowded bar (yes, if you are curious, I have tried a cigarette. It was thoroughly disgusting. Brendan is more sensible – he knew they were disgusting without ever putting one in his mouth, but I’m the sort of person who has to try things, even if I know I won’t like them).

Instead, at about 7 or 8pm I am far more likely to throw on jeans and a beloved t-shirt, a pair of funky earrings and beaded sandals and head up to Gongguan or Shida. Brendan and I might hang out together- we might dissect films we both enjoyed or hated, or talk about politics or travel plans, or make observations about books we’ve read or religious tenets we do or do not agree with (we both agree: religion as a force teaching kindness and tolerance = great. Religion warped into judgmentalism = bad). We might shoot the breeze about current events or just crack jokes over beer. We might just enjoy each other’s physical presence and read or blog, knowing the other is right there, occasionally reaching over to squeeze a knee or give a smile. We’re both big readers, politically engaged enough to keep up with a few news sources each, and I’m into blogging – as you can see - so we don’t always feel the need to talk. Gongguan and Shida are lined with funky student cafes and we’ll pick one of our favorites – La Boheme, Shake House, Drop Coffee, Café Tea or Me, Zabu or Red House.

Or we’ll text a bunch of friends, see who is at loose ends and invite them out. We’ll pick one of the above places, get drinks and talk about much the same things that Brendan and I would normally talk about on our own, although generally more people = more witty banter. We’ll drink but not get drunk. We’ll enjoy good beer – you know me, I always want the best if I’m going to have anything at all – and we’ll keep great conversation going until 2am or later.

Last night was no exception. We went to Red House in Shida (紅家), a long, thin bar built into a funky old brick house of indeterminate age. We met our friends Joseph and Catherine, ordered Belgian beer and fries and kept lively conversation going until the wee hours.

I know a lot of people imagine being thirty, especially married and thirty, means quiet nights at home and settling down, generally acting older. I’d say we’re acting older in the sense of being more mature, but no less fun. I no longer get smashed on Chinese riverbanks, and a Saturday night out in Taipei is far more stimulating than a Saturday night in provincial India, although my India experience was definitely local, eye-opening and authentic. That aside, I like the people we’ve become. Educated and conversant, happy to go out and be sociable but not desperate to find a thumping bar somewhere. Comfortable in our skin, and with discriminating enough taste in beer that we’ll actually consider whether to get the Rochefort Tripel or the Kasteel Rouge rather than “Beer? What’s cheap?”

I do think Saturday night in Taipei is symbolic, in a way, of life here. Equal but different halves of a wonderful whole with my husband, older and wiser, more well-read, maybe not quite as wild as I used to be but still lively and hoping to be so for a long time to come. You’ll have to pry my Abbey Tripel out of my cold, dead hands – and if I die with a Belgian beer in hand I will consider it a good way to go!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Why are there so few expat women in Asia?

Female friendship, as Lindsey Craig noted, can be hard to come by in Asia. But it is possible to find if you hang in there.
There's been a lot bouncing around blogs, newspapers and other social media about this article by Lindsey Craig (which I did mistakenly spell as "Lindsay Craig" at first) - about culture shock and not being able to adjust to Taiwan:

Teaching English: Culture Shock

Now, I agree with one commenter on Michael Turton's post that this isn't really journalism and was fine for a blog but has no place in a newspaper, but that's not why I'm writing about it here.

I've decided to examine - again, with no real answers because there are so rarely nifty solutions to these things - why there are so few female expats living in Asia, starting with this quote from the article:

Dealing with it all may have been easier if I’d been able to build a stronger network of support. Although I was there with my boyfriend, I longed for female friendship. I’d met a handful of foreign women, but we didn’t have much in common. I did become friends with an Aussie named Kate, but we lived far apart and didn’t see each other that often.
Foreign guys seemed to be having an easier time. Insects and chaotic streets didn’t seem to bother them as much, and Taiwanese women treated Caucasian men like Hollywood stars. The bigger the nose, the more handsome the man, they said.


I haven’t seen one Caucasian female yet ... is there a reason?

Well, there isn't a clear reason but there is a lot of speculation and a few likely culprits. So...why aren't there more foreign expat women in Taiwan? Or in Asia, in general?

I'm coming at this from years of firsthand experience living in Asia - in India, China and now Taiwan. I can confirm that the general perception that fewer Western women come to Asia than men is entirely true. There are fewer of us across the board, although as vacationing goes I'd say the numbers are more equal (and skewed somewhat towards women in India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka).
So why is this so? I am specifically trying to expand the issue to encompass the rest of Asia - at least East and Southeast Asia, although my experience in SE Asia is more tourist-based than expat-based.
From my (Taiwanese) friend Roy:

"It's because they prefer to stay home and don't want to deal with the problems of traveling overseas, because they'd rather be near their loved ones, isn't it?"

From several folks on Forumosa, suggesting that it's about the dating prospects:

Pardon me asking the obvious question, but why come to Asia at all if you aren't interested in the men? Why voluntarily choose to live in a culture and society in which you have no interest in the people? That's what I don't understand about many foreign women in Asia - they whine about how their dating life sucks, yet snub their noses up at 99.999% of the population. Why just not move to Sweden or Brazil or wherever, where you actually like the men? 

Which is echoed here, too:

Single "western" women don't have a very good chance of dating here. Single foreign men tend to date local women and there aren't many chances to date the local men either. If you're a single woman in your late 20's or older and want to date, then you may be disappointed while in Taipei. This is the case for every single foreign woman I have met in Taiwan.

(The sentiment of this quote has appeared elsewhere but I was so offended by the context of it on those other sites - implying that women should 'lower their standards' - that I'm not linking it).
There's also the "women can't handle it" approach (in the comments):

Western women or people coming from the a developed world with good social systems less likely to tolerate living in a place as the Mainland, rude people spitting, jumping queue enough to turn them off. Many men tolerate the place simply because they could save up more money by living in a 3rd world country.


Men can easily adapt to foreign countries. Maybe.

From a student:

"Maybe they're just not that interested in traveling, or they don't want to learn Chinese or they want to travel to countries in Europe or easier places?"

I look awful in this photo but I'll add it anyway - I stand by the idea that the best way to have a good time as a single female expat in Asia is to find a mixed group - male and female, local and foreign - in which to socialize

So, to this cacaphony, I'll add my own two cents.

First, the folks who say it's because women can't adjust to living abroad, or we're more disgusted by the roaches, the spitting, the dirt and the pollution? That's just bollocks. Complete and utter BS. Lindsey Craig's complaint about the giant roaches of Taiwan aside, I've found this to be exactly not the case. There is a fairly equal gender ratio of men and women who serve in the Peace Corps, despite the fact that female volunteers are at disproportionate risk of threats and sexual violence. We wouldn't see as many women excited about Peace Corps if "women couldn't handle life in a third world country".

We are adaptable, we can be tough when necessary and we are good at forming the social networks necessary at getting us through trying situations, something that some researchers say men often have trouble with. We are not the shrinking violets of yore who can't handle
some spit 'n bugs.

Western women in Asia (China to be exact), handling the spit, the bugs, the toilets and the pollution just fine.

While studying in India, I was in a group of 9 American students, and there was another student group in the same town. Our group was made of 7 women and 2 men, and their group was
slightly more equal but still seemed to be skewed towards women. The women were the ones cracking up telling "Did I ever tell you about the time my Amma fed me so much idli that I puked on the table?" stories.

Years later, when I traveled alone around India and Bangladesh for two months, the independent travelers I met were disproportionally women. Sure, we didn't stay in truck stops or flea pits for basic safety, but we were the ones laughing ourselves red over pooping in a ditch only to realize that a dog was trying to lick your butt (true story), or making up insane recipes for some of the more horrific smells we encountered (two parts deceased, fetid cow, three parts urine, six parts moldy food, four parts dog droppings, one part vomit), puking at inopportune times, or trading stories about the largest cockroaches and worst bathrooms.

Adding to this is the fact that plenty of holiday destinations attract more women than men - you're more likely to meet groups of women vacationing in Bali or a mixed group in Goa, and just as likely to find women as men traveling across Vietnam, the beaches of Thailand or rural China - there are entire volumes of stories and compiled articles from women writing about their travels abroad.

If anything, the reaction I've heard to most female expats who do stick it out to Lindsey's article is along the lines of "wow...she's not very tough, is she" and my own "well, she's going to need an all-inclusive bracelet if she ever decides to travel outside of Europe - most of the world is worse than her complaints about Taiwan."

Trust me, we can handle it. In fact, here's a warning: don't ever get into a pissing contest (pun intended) over the "worst bathroom story" with me. I'll win.

For those who say it's that we "miss our families", "don't want adventure" or "prefer to stay home", well, that's not entirely true either (sorry, Roy). There is some truth to it - more women than men are starting to get Master's degrees, so it makes sense that a higher proportion of women who might otherwise consider life abroad instead decide to invest in graduate school, dodgy investment though that can be.

It's also true that if there is a romantic prospect back home, a woman is fairly likely to decide to see where it's going rather than picking up and moving abroad - although this is not always true. I have two firsthand accounts to draw from on this: my expat friend who lives in Japan (and is getting married in ten days, yay!) moved to Japan despite being in a relationship. She moved just because she wanted to and had been planning to, and trusted life to work things out on the "I want to be with this guy" and "I want to live abroad" fronts. Life did work itself out, though it doesn't always. She ended up staying for years because life was better than back home, and he eventually moved to Japan to be with her. That said, she waited a year after her initial planned departure date to let her relationship grow a bit before making the move and committing to long-distance love - which makes perfect sense.

Expats in Asia - UNITE! See, foreign women live in Asia, too.
(Japan 2009)
Another friend who did two stints in Taiwan returned to Australia for her boyfriend, whom she'd officially gotten together with at a distance, while he was in Australia and she was in Taiwan, but there were other reasons for the return (namely, graduate school).

I do understand this - if there is one specific person, and you are in a serious relationship with them (not just faffing around), and want/need to make some sacrifices because it's important to you to see where things are going with that person, then it makes sense to give up expat life for that, at least temporarily. That goes for men too, though: sometime sacrifices are necessary in life and when it comes to making a relationship work, both parties are on the hook.

In the absence of higher education or a specific relationship, though, I have seen absolutely no evidence in favor of "women generally prefer to live closer to home so they don't move abroad". As such, I'm calling BS on that one, too. I have found that parents of women living abroad tend to worry more or want their daughters to come home more strongly, or at least to visit home more often, but that doesn't seem to affect whether the women go in the first place.

I don't know if I can even seriously consider "women just aren't as interested in learning Chinese". (Note: or Thai, or Indonesian, or Japanese or Korean or Tamil or Tibetan). I don't think it's true at all, although I have no evidence to back it up. While studying Chinese formally, I met just as many foreign women as men. Women are often - not always, I refuse to over-generalize - more language-oriented and Chinese is a fascinating language to learn. It makes no sense to say that women are simply not interested in it or in other languages they could study in Asia, and at the student level I've seen nothing to support this.

In fact, if I had to pick one area in which expat numbers are roughly equal, I'd say it's among students. Nowhere else in Taiwan have I seen a more equal distribution of foreign men and women than in the various Chinese schools around Taipei. For the record, I've attended both TLI and Shi-da. The same has held true in my experience for students in other countries, including my stint studying in southern India.

Now onto the hot-button topic - dating prospects.

Sadly, I have to admit that there's some truth to this. There always has been, ever since moving abroad and not being an explorer was something one could conceivably do (and something women could also do) - which basically came about in Victorian times if you don't count the American colonial period (which was entirely different kind of "living abroad"). If you've read The Map of Love or seen Lagaan you'll know that unmarried or widowed Victorian and Edwardian women were at times encouraged to travel a bit in "the colonies", but even then it was far less likely that a woman would do so than a man, and also far less acceptable for a white woman to marry a local man than for a white man to marry a local woman. I think we all know why this was in the light of the status of women in their household. (In those days marriage was a real issue; we can substitute "dating" in the modern context).

It is true that, excepting some older foreign service officers, "I came, I loved it, I opened a backpacker cafe and I never left" types and businesspeople, the average age of a Western expat in Asia and elsewhere is between 20 and 40. It is true that this is the time when most people find a life partner (if they do at all). It is also true - as much as I hate to say it - that it is harder for Western women to date in Asia than back home. A lot harder, although not quite impossible.

I refuse to get into any tripe about how our "standards are too high" or we're "bitter and fat" or "we won't even look at what's available" or "we're not interested in local men" - a few anecdotes does not make a body of evidence and these are all unfair stereotypes. I have met very few (if any, come to think of it) Western women abroad who conform to them - it's almost as though this White Harridan is some sort of projection of a collective knock-kneed male subconscious. I certainly haven't met her in the flesh.

As for the reasons why, 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 absolutely true that the nightlife, as well as any of the avenues by which single women generally meet men, is stacked against us. In India, with the exceptions of a few cosmopolitan cities, women do not go to bars. They just don't, and you better not either. Not that bars have ever been the best way to meet people with whom one might actually start a relationship!

In Bangkok, where I spent a few weeks once cooling my heels as I waited for a visa to come through, there is plenty of nightlife and it's mostly safe for the Western woman, but that doesn't mean the average Western woman wants to partake of it (go check out Soi Cowboy sometime - you'll see what I mean). Why go to a bar or club where you don't know anyone, you're quite possibly the only foreign woman there, and neither the men (foreign or local) nor the local women want to talk to you? The situation is a little better in Taiwan, fortunately, but I'm not sure I'd say it's appreciably better. I can't give an accurate viewpoint on that as I was single for less than a year while living in Taiwan and never went out to bars or clubs specifically seeking a dating life. Not that I ever did that normally - I am a firm believer that one most likely meets quality partners through mutual friends or shared interest groups. I did have one date in Taiwan before my now-husband moved here - it was a disaster.
In other areas there are chances for women to socialize, mostly in backpacker cafes and bars, although those are geared toward more transient traveler types.

Don't even get me started on expat bars or places like Carnegie's, by the way. Just don't. A visit to some of them (not all) is just as depressing as a visit to Soi Cowboy.

Actively trying to make local female friends, as well as coordinating larger friend groups, is one way to feel less isolated as a female expat. Making local female friends helps, too.

It is also true that a woman contemplating moving abroad might well do some advance research - something Lindsey Craig should have done more of - realize how few other foreign women she was likely to meet, and be less inclined to go (not saying she wouldn't go) than a single man of a similar demographic whose head is filled with stories of how easy it is to date the local women. She's hearing stories of woe and he's getting pumped up on a dating pool skewed in his favor. Who's more likely to go, and who's more likely to stay long-term? I'd say though that it is more a case of men being more inclined to go after hearing the stories rather than women being less's not less women, but more men. Add to that how much BS the average Western woman abroad hears about how all Western women are bad, bad, bad and that's why the men date the locals, and yes, she might be somewhat less inclined to go than the man who is told "you can date soooo many girls! It's a feast!"
Of the women who do stay long-term, I can't help but note that the vast majority of them are in serious relationships or married - count me among them. The friend I mentioned above has been in a relationship, at first long-distance and then not, since she set foot in Japan five years ago. When I lived in China, there was another female teacher when I arrived - she was married and teaching along with her husband and two teenage daughters.

Yet another woman, now a good friend, showed up halfway through my stay - she ended up dating and eventually marrying the only other expat in town, a British guy. (Well, there was a haughty girl who never talked to us and eventually moved to Tibet, but she doesn't count). They stayed in China for a bit and then spent almost a year in Thailand before returning to England, and then the USA, to live. She now frequently travels to Guatemala for field work and he visits. Other long-termers tend to be married. The foreign women in my various Chinese classes? Mostly married or not planning to stay long term. Every foreign woman who's stayed even remotely long term at my company? In a serious relationship or married. Every. Single. One.

Of course, as I said, some anecdotes does not a body of evidence make, but it does present a strong case for we can handle life abroad, we are interested in it, and the second that the specter of dating is lifted from our shoulders it makes it easier for us to contemplate staying. It has nothing to do with having a man there (disclaimer: I do make my husband kill the cockroaches. I know, I am a disgrace to the feminist cause). It has everything to do with not having to deal with the complicated world of dating and relationships in a market stacked against you at a time when one's love life tends to be the most active and when people generally meet their partners.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I still would have come to Taiwan and likely stayed a year or two even if Brendan had never existed, but it is absolutely true that after two years I'd have just as likely moved home for awhile.

But, as I said, the dating issue isn't the entire reason. It is merely one important element, and I think better explains why women are less likely to stay, rather than why they're less likely to come. I am curious if the clear dearth of female expats is caused in part by the fact that the women go home sooner (for graduate school or dating prospects or whatever, or because the anti-woman expat scene depresses them), not that less women overall come in the first place.
Some other ideas I've come up with?

First, that once they get here, women are so inundated with complaints about them on expat forums online as well as in expat or traveler bars and cafes that they get a bit deflated about the whole thing - why even try to make friends if there aren't many other women staying long-term and the men they meet complain about how the Western women are "bitter and fat" - who wants to form a social network with people like that?

It is rarely remarked upon yet absolutely true that the expat world is man-oriented and, to an extent, anti-woman, or at least anti-Western woman. While I've found a space for myself and been welcomed by the better among male long-term expats here, at times it is clear that the overall state of things is inexplicably hostile to Western women. You would think men who'd traveled around the world would be more egalitarian and less sexist, but that seems not to be the case. The number of Neanderthalic opinions I've come across in the expat community here that expressly devalue women is shocking. It makes me not want to hang around such people (so I don't).

Consider Forumosa before it got cleaned up a bit and they started a Women's Forum - it was very discouraging for any woman posting there. TEALIT? Full of people looking for hookups, even in the "just friends" and "language exchange" sections. Between the nightlife issues, the complaints about foreign women and the lack of other women, I can see why female expats might get discouraged and go home. Consider too how many times I've been mansplained to, talked down to or ignored because at expat events - at times feeling that quick appraisal of my (eh) looks and then completely dismissed. Why would any woman find that appealing? 

I would like to add here two things: one, that just because some parts of the foreigner scene (at least in Taiwan) can be discouraging for female expats, it doesn't mean the entire scene is bleak. There are book clubs, sports pickup game leagues, happy hours and plenty of friendly faces - both male and female (though mostly male) - and not every male expat out there bashes Western women - far from it. I'd say most don't but the ones who do are prevalent enough that it is all too easy to generalize and get discouraged or feel lonely. It's not all bad: there is just one very vocal segment of that population that can sometimes cast a discouraging pall over everyone.

Second, that it's a vicious circle: women move abroad, realize how few other women there are, how hard it is to create female friendship (though there is always the option of sticking it out and making local female friends), and leave earlier than they otherwise might. The support networks are just not there, and they need to be. That's why I do go out of my way to cover women's issues in Taiwan and, to some extent, in Asia. There needs to be more support for women abroad online and in real life.

Chances are, if you are looking for female friendship, other female expats are, too.

Third, that women abroad feel challenged by basic tasks that men have no problem with, such as haircuts and shopping for clothes or shoes, and have to deal with cultural differences and expectations regarding weight that are unfairly (ahem) weighted against them - as though saying no to a French fry is going to make them as petite as the average Asian woman. As though it's their fault that Western women have body types that Asian women often (not always!) don't. We have to deal with the Old Taiwanese Lady weight and appearance comments, the forthrightness about size and the absence of basic necessities (tampons, gynecologists who speak English, clothes, shoes) in a way that men don't, and it can get very discouraging. When you are challenged with everything from personal care to clothes to shoes to hair, and made to feel gargantuan in the process, even if you aren't, it wears a woman down. 

A few thoughts from a friend provide Nos. Four and Five:

Fourth, that women looking into moving abroad are aware of the fact that sexism is far more of an issue in Asia (not nearly as much in Taiwan, though it's definitely there), just in terms of local culture. That likely keeps some women away, and for those who come anyway, it may be a reason for those women to go home earlier: imagine how much greater the culture shock is for a foreign woman in a country with traditional (and therefore, by Western standards, sexist) values than for a man. Foreign women do get trump cards in many cases - basically, "It's OK that you're weird and you don't share our social values because you're foreign" - but there are still some real issues here, and the ensuing culture shock is likely a huge factor. 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. 

All I can say is that I hope someday, our daughters will grow up in a world where this isn't an issue and people won't hide behind bogus science or ridiculous claims of "it's our CULTURE to treat women badly".

...and fifth, as suggested by a friend, there is the idea that Western women aren't expected to be as adventurous as their brothers - that the urge to go out and explore the world isn't something people generally associate with women, even in the USA (or other Western countries) - women are more encouraged to nest rather than hunt (as one commenter below said - though I think that is just as 'nurture' as it is 'nature'), and as a result fewer women decide to live abroad.

I'm not sure I buy this, but then I'm from the liberal Northeast US and raised in an environment where I was absolutely just as encouraged to travel as I would have been had I been born male. However, I will say honestly that once abroad more permanently I felt more pressure to visit often (at my expense) and move home from my family than my husband has felt from his. That could be a difference between families, or it could be that I am a daughter and he is a son. It is possible that this is an issue as you head to more conservative parts of the USA, though I can't say I buy it regarding Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and other countries that lack America's rural conservative fervor. I can dismiss it regarding my own cultural background, but I don't have enough experience in rural American culture to definitively call BS.

That said, one friend and (former) expat, B., is female and from that part of the country, and despite being heavily pressured to stay home and follow a traditional (and religious) life path, she managed to spend a year in Shanghai and two stints of a few months each in Taiwan. Another comrade from the road, T., was someone I met in 2000 while studying in India. From a small South/Midwestern town, she too came from that background and yet not only studied in India but came back as a program counselor. These two examples show that if this social pressure is real (and it may well be), that it clearly doesn't work on every woman, and I'd say that men from these backgrounds, while possibly not as actively encouraged to "stay home", are passively not encouraged from moving abroad for long periods.

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?

Yup. Men. In my personal observation.

So which group, if this is true, is more likely to stay longer?


For the record:
Good haircuts in Taiwan for Western women - no more Japanese femullets!
Shopping in Taiwan - sorry, but you're probably stuck with Plus Size stores, as annoying as that is, or getting clothes made in Yongle Market
As always, just some thoughts. Like everyone else, I don't have the answers - just a lot of questions and opinions. :)
Expat women of Asia, if you're reading this - your thoughts and comments are welcome (and men too)!