A public journal, entry #2: Taipei and girls

I’m writing a journal of sorts, only I’m doing it publicly on the blog as an experiment. Here is the first entry. I’ll try to maintain a similar style to how I write in my actual private journal, an activity – more like a thought process – that I’ve kept since high school (although I have since lost most of the high school and college entries, which is a crying shame since they would be hilarious and embarrassing to read now…how little things mattered in hindsight and yet how much things seem to matter today, it’s just samsara, the cycle simply repeats).

I mentioned briefly in the last entry that I feel like a floater here in Taipei: no direct family here, no job that requires a local presence, only a personal preference to live here (for now) and not in America (for now). Three minutes into most conversations that I have here with unknown people, especially Taiwanese people, after they discover that my family is from China and I don’t have a local job, they immediately ask: “Why are you in Taiwan?”

I suppose many of them can’t understand why someone would personally choose to live here, of their own volition, if it weren’t requested by relatives or dictated by a boss. It does highlight the narrow worldview of some Taiwanese, a quality which also has its charms. But the question annoys me and I’m on the verge of just fabricating a story, like “Oh, I started a wholesale company here to export local goods to America.” That seems simultaneously specific and vague and boring enough that people will want to switch topics.

I basically like being a floater, in much the same way – or perhaps for the same reasons – that I like to spend a lot of time by myself. It’s a conscious choice to extract myself from the regular pressures and workaday expectations I had known so well. I am reminded of a throwaway line from an anime called Rurouni Kenshin which my friend Brian introduced me to: “Becoming an artist is the best way to avoid annoying, ordinary society”.

A good friend in Taipei read my first entry and the one thing that stood out to him was my failure to mention girls as a factor for why I chose to live here. Girls, as in how Taiwanese girls are beautiful and friendly and easy for foreigners to date. In his view, perhaps the main reason (or the only reason?) why a relatively young and single American would choose to live in Taipei (as opposed to perhaps China or Europe) is because the dating life is so good.

He’s right, of course. When I look at expats here in Taiwan, or in China, the only other country I know well enough to assess, and specifically I mean expats who actually reside in the country and not college students on a lark for six months, there are two types: type #1 is usually a tad socially awkward, likely not fully integrated or comfortable in their home country, and has a strong interest in Asian culture which is vaguely defined as Asian food / movies / the language; type #2 is horny and largely motivated by the prospect of sex, whether because they were starved of it through their formative adolescent and college years, or because they struggle to develop intimacy in normal relationships and use sex as a kind of physical band-aid for an emotional wound, and are in Asia to take advantage of their more exotic and elevated status in the local dating hierarchy. Or all of the above.

That all sounds very hater-ish, and it is. But most of it also applies to me, and to ABC guys in general. The dating scene is easier for me, too. if I had to make up a number I’d say 25% easier. You are perceived as having more money or status; you’re a different cuisine than the local meal. Pair that with the Asian female tendency – taught from childhood and reinforced by social norms and vague concepts like Confucianism – to be more outwardly submissive and agreeable and naive, and you have an equation for greater amounts of superficial fun.

This craziness was definitely an attraction for me. But like a new laptop, it runs slower and crashes more with each passing year. And now that I’m 33, whether due to declining testosterone levels or hedonic adaptation or rising boredom, popping bottles at Omni or bar hopping on the Bund and trolling for party girls has lost its appeal. If a cute girl flirts with me and gives me obvious signals and the chemistry is good, I might take advantage of the situation if I’m not too tired or hungry or need to pee. But it’s more like a tired dog that eats a treat placed in front of its paws, than an eager puppy who lunges for his food. When I do go out, say for a birthday or holiday party, which still happens at least once a month, I find myself needing to get blackout drunk to have fun. In other words, I have to not be myself. Or else I just find the whole charade to be pretty stupid now.

I suppose at some level, both my body and brain (coordinating finally!) are telling me that it’s time to settle down, it’s time to find a serious partner and start a family. My desire is to find someone who is more local to China or Taiwan. Someone who can help fill that missing part of my identity and who has a worldview that is entirely different from mine, but also relatable. This plays a big role in why I choose to stay out here. I simply don’t see myself marrying an ABC in America, and I haven’t dated enough of the other races to have a strong view. All of this I will save for a separate and more elaborated post. But I’ll stop here because I’ve rambled for long enough.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.

A public journal, entry #1: A return to America for the first time in 9 months

I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed blogging. These days everyone’s attention is given to Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Instagram: I’ve never been much into photos. Facebook: I don’t care to see how people’s supposedly wonderful lives are supposedly spent. Twitter: I like it, and check it often, but it’s too clever a medium for my kind of writing.

Blogging is to me is like the little bear’s porridge is to Goldilocks: just right. So, starting today, I’m going to experiment with keeping a public journal on here. The idea has been with me for awhile: what if you could write in public with the same raw honesty and rambling truth as you do in a private journal? After all, I’ve kept a journal since high school. And if any of it were somehow leaked, I would be devastated. But then again it’d make for better entertainment than 99% of the posts I’ve published here.

To emulate a “private journal” is probably impossible. But the process will be interesting. If past projects are any indicator of future success, this series of events will likely happen: I’ll start with an exciting bang, slowly get bored of it, and over a few months drop the project like an iPhone when you’re drunk.

So here’s a start.

Two weeks ago, I visited America for the first time in 9 months. For 9 months I have lived in Taipei, and been somewhat at peace here, and sometimes even happy. There isn’t anything particularly special or memorable about Taipei. I say this not to offend its nearly 3 million residents, but as a practical matter: anything you can find here, whether the tasty food, or its friendly people, or even its vaunted nightlife, you can find in bigger, better, and cheaper quantities elsewhere. Perhaps what makes Taipei special is that, like a popular and well-rounded scholar-athlete in high school, there simply are no obvious weaknesses. But exactly like that scholar-athlete, it’s still just high school.

I digress. My goal with this post is not to talk about Taipei but about the 10 days I spent in America. It was ok: I had a variety of errands to run and people to meet, and all of these were accomplished. I also wanted to see whether I was ready to return to the Stars and Stripes, but I wasn’t. Not yet.

Why? For one, I hadn’t been happy living in the States, not for years. There had been a growing frustration, a growing sickness, like a soft mold slowly spreading itself. There are many great aspects to living in America, but what I saw around me, mostly in the big cities, was striving, striving everywhere: for money, for youth, for status, for ego. And while I had been among those strivers, was as guilty as any of them, slowly I had stopped caring so much. If I continued to live within this rat race, I wouldn’t be able to stop running.

People in Taipei might feel like this, too, but here I am a stranger. A floater and expat. So I can feel distant from its daily pressures, ignorant of its particular problems, shielded from some of those social cracks. At least for now, I prefer this way. Maybe I will for a long time.

The trip had many great moments, to be sure. Like my first visit to a CVS in downtown Austin, seeing the racks upon rows of soft drinks of any imaginable flavor and size and color, the pharmacy upstairs with 5 different kinds of lower back pain ointment, the order and cleanliness, everything brightly lit, the store employee who said “good morning, sir”. All of it. I went in to buy two bottles of water. I came out with 6 items including dog treats and travel-sized mouthwash and I thought, “This is America.” The experience was frankly a bit spiritual. It has never been more clear to me that if America today has a universal religion, it involves credit cards.

Austin: I had come back to see old friends, attend Austin City Limits for the first time, and take care of personal errands. Austin is a stew of original hipster, Hispanic immigrant, and Southern white. This hasn’t changed, although the city itself has grown and sprawled and its blood has gotten richer. Over 2 full days of ACL, I saw fewer Asians than I’d see in a small Starbucks in suburban Taipei.

To me, Austin is home: the BBQ on butcher paper, the southern smiles and greetings, the blistering sun, the slow crawl of pedestrians. Even the oversized trucks and SUVs, shades of red white and blue, dominating the highways and street level views, are a sign of familiarity and not fright.

ACL was fun despite my lack of knowledge about music. We rolled both days and saw Jay-Z and Chance and Red Hot Chili Peppers and hung out with friends old and new and after coming home Saturday night, crawling under my warm hotel bedsheets, exhausted and depleted but still blissed out, I just wanted to fall into a deep sleep for 48 hours and then go home. Like a bachelor party in Vegas, you know it’s been a good weekend when Sunday rolls around and you want to get the fuck out of dodge.

After Austin I flew to LA, the city I’d likely return to when my time in Asia has run its course. LA offers an almost postcard-ian collection of the best things America has to offer: year-round sunny weather, easy attitudes that are in reality not so much hospitable as apathetic, hordes of good-looking people, big city glitz if you seek it and relaxed suburban rhythm if you don’t, all with its somewhat awkward consumerism of taco trucks parked next to Porsche dealers, a liquor joint one block from a flagship Gucci store, Bentleys beside beat-up Civics. I made these combinations up, but hopefully you understand my point. LA is gentrification that never finished the job, and yet with these obvious disparities in car models and house sizes and lifestyles, people are fine with each other, as long as the tacos stay tasty and the weather stays above 70.

In LA I drove a lot, ate a lot of ramen, saw the bestest of old friends, kept my drinking and drugs-doing to a minimum, and ultimately moved my return flight to a day earlier because I didn’t want to stay longer, wanted to be back in the safety and ease of my Taipei apartment and routine.

That’s it for now. Until next time. Email is the best way to reach me if you have any comments or reactions or suggestions.

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.