the last of the three entries harkening back to the original 3 entries that launched the blog. my dream funeral, a blog entry about my visit to taiwan in 2011 for my grandmother’s funeral. (yes, this entry is a little overdue)
costcos in taiwan. apparently costco is gangbusters is taiwan and has 3-4 stores in taipei already. we ended up going on a saturday before a taiwanese equivalent of… july 4th (in the sense that people bbq and hang out) and it was a madhouse. we always give my mom a hard time because she always makes us pack overweight luggage full of costco to bring to taiwan…. and the relatives are often like “oh thanks!! we just saw this last weekend at costco!!” her rationale is that stuff in the taiwan costco is more expensive which….. (suspense) i’m sad to report is actually true. we compared items that we could also find in the states (sometimes with identical english-only packaging) with a 30% premium (which is sort of crazy given salaries are about 25% those of the states). western culture: expensive! huy was glad to see that they were handing out free whiskey samples and their foodservice area had some regionalized choices, including mango shaved ice.
irrational obsession with owning property. apparently there’s a big obsession with owning property in taiwan. imagine the united states, where cost of renting is generally higher than cost of buying (with the obvious exception of large cities like sf, nyc, etc). in SF, let’s say that a 2BR might be $700K that you can rent out for $3k/month. the same place would rent for less than $1k/month in taipei. salaries and cost of living is just so low… with the exception of property prices. why is the own/rent ratio so out of whack?!
and then you hear stories about how girls won’t want to marry guys until they own property. or you hear stories about how only women under 30 are considered desirable to marry, and then you just have really disintegrating marriage cultures.
The first change is that people are getting married later, often much later. In the richest parts—Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong—the mean age of wedlock is now 29-30 for women, 31-33 for men (see chart right). That is past the point at which women were traditionally required to marry in many Asian societies. It is also older than in the West. In America, women marry at about 26, men at 28. If you take account of the cohabitation that routinely precedes Western marriage (but not Asian), the gap between East and West is even larger. The mean age of marriage has risen by five years in some East Asian countries in three decades, which is a lot.
Take this uplifting column from March 2011 that ran just after International Women’s Day:
Pretty girls don’t need a lot of education to marry into a rich and powerful family, but girls with an average or ugly appearance will find it difficult. These kinds of girls hope to further their education in order to increase their competitiveness. The tragedy is, they don’t realize that as women age, they are worth less and less, so by the time they get their M.A. or Ph.D., they are already old, like yellowed pearls.
After knocking some good sense into those misguided women who pursue a higher education, the column accuses educated, single women of sleeping around and having degenerate morals:
Many highly educated “leftover women” are very progressive in their thinking and enjoy going to nightclubs to search for a one-night stand, or they become the mistress of a high official or rich man. It is only when they have lost their youth and are kicked out by the man, that they decide to look for a life partner. Therefore, most “leftover women” do not deserve our sympathy.
NYTimes – China’s ‘leftover women’ (women over 27yo)
why do ABC’s look different from native taiwanese people? i have this anecdote from way back when, where i was walking down the street in taiwan, and not really paying attention, and then a construction worker yelled “STOP!!!!” (in english) to me to warn me of some construction activity. ever since that moment, i realized that i looked different from other people in taiwan, even though i had the same genetic makeup of everyone else there. i’ve done some interviewing and observing, and the following are my theories, in decreasing order of likelihood and increasing order of interesting:
theory 1: different fashion. i would say there are significant differences in male hairstyle patterns, and minor differences in clothes and accessories.
theory 2: different nutrition. americans eat more and are thus bigger, more muscular.
theory 3: different culture. american culture promotes certain types of beauty, activities, consumer excess, which then leads to changes in behavior (ie more exercising) that then leads to different builds and appearances. american culture is in general i think a bit more physically expressive, which manifests itself in a different physicality.
nobody should tell you who to love. we ended up going to a meal with one of my female cousins (approx 21yo) who had been dating a guy for a year. her mom clearly did not approve. and then it devolved into a mom/daughter intervention that led to tears from the daughter after trying to defend herself from her mom, who is one of my most aggressive aunts.
the aunt was fucking ridiculous. she was listing absurd reasons for why she shouldn’t date him: flat feet! blood type! bad astrology sign! but i think it was obvious to everyone that her main gripes were that he was not very attractive and he was not very well off.
one of the things that i’ve always said is the best part about being gay is that you start asking the question: how dare anyone tell you who you should and should not love. how dare they think that they know you better than yourself. how dare they impose their own beliefs for what makes a good significant other on you. how dare they ask you to choose a significant other who would make them happier instead of you. especially coming from my mom’s siblings; my mom is divorced, the aunt in question is on terrible terms with her husband, so many of my aunts and uncles are in loveless relationships or relationships that have teetered in divorce and abusive relationships and infidelity, do they not understand how difficult it is to find someone who is a good match, how important it is? why are they still steeped in ancient beliefs on what makes a good significant other? you are the one who can best determine who is a good match for you, and the idea that anyone else can tell you that you are wrong is an idiot and should shut the fuck up.
so the counterpoint is obviously: james, you are such an arrogant, disrespectful son. how dare you think that you understand “life” and “happiness” more than people with 30 years of life experience and perspective on you? the paragraph is especially insensitive given the asian culture of elder respect.
so, yes. that is a fair counterpoint. i imagine the situation where i am a parent and my kid wants to date a meth-head or some sort of deadbeat. i know, i know that this is not a good choice, and i want to tell my kid that they cannot/should not date him. okay, exaggerated. fine, my kid wants to date someone for the wrong reasons, because they’re too smitten with something involving short term happiness than long term potential. and… i know better than my kid. so… inconsistency. empathy.
i will give credence to the argument that my elders know better, but at the point where their number 1 complaint is that they disapprove of my relationship because he is a guy?! or because they’re not attractive or they aren’t a doctor?! or because they’re not very smart? or because their parents own a small business?! it totally eliminates any and all credibility of your judgment. i know i’m younger than you, but i am old enough to know which reasons are absolute bullshit. if you want to come back to me with genuine concerns about finances, safety, lack of good problem solving skills or respect, because you believe they are mistreating me, i am all ears. but i find that parents completely ignore how happy a significant other makes their kid. and i get it, they expect us to make that determination before we introduce them to our parents. and no, they might be great on paper, but does any of that really matter?
if you want us to respect your opinions, you have to earn our respect. and it’s not by passing patently unreasonable judgments or by not considering our best interests. (“but your parents ARE only thinking of your welfare!!” my answer would be that they have a very poor understanding of what would ultimately make me happy.)
one of my cousins has been struggling to get pregnant for a year now. they had tried a ton of stuff, seen several fertilization doctors, and none of them could figure out the problem. she really wanted to be a mom for a long time. my sister relayed a conversation she had with the cousin, where the cousin sounded totally defeated and was telling my sister: “i think i need to accept the idea that i may just never be able to become a mother in my lifetime.”
her 30th birthday rolled around, and her husband cooked her dinner. on the table, he had written her a card. in the card, he wrote about how it would be totally fine if she could never get pregnant, and that he would always love her just as much, and that she shouldn’t stress over it. and it’s just so touching, because i can only imagine the stress and shame that my cousin felt, and my cousin was already dealing with her own grief about not being able to have kids and experience one of the most basic, human journeys, how she felt like she was letting down her husband. and that he was able to realize this, be empathetic and comforting, i just find that really heartwarming.
the morning, on a whim, she took a pregnancy test…. and it turns out she was pregnant!!!!!!! (and just had her kid the week before xmas!!!)
(the variant of this story that i also tell is that all the western doctors she went to could do nothing for her. there was a “world renowned” eastern medicine guru in LA that they ended up going to monthly, and they largely attribute eastern medicine to getting her pregnant. which… of course bothers me as someone who is very evidence based and dealing with a mother who constantly pushes eastern medicine. ugh!)
lying to grandparents. “do you have a girlfriend yet?” “you should find a girlfriend who can speak chinese!” it’s pretty great being my only paternal grandson. carry on the family line! fun fact: the person who tells me this the most is my mother, who is divorced from that side of the family. it’s weird.
it’s gotten sort of ridiculous now, that everyone in the room knows that i’m gay when they’re asking me these questions, and i just play dumb, with a goofy grin and cartoonish “i don’t know!!!!” expression. everyone already knows that i’m lying to the grandparents and participates in the ruse. if that’s the case, then shouldn’t they be equally supportive of my hiring someone to play my girlfriend? my grandparents would be so happy! and isn’t that ultimately the goal? why lie and make them sad when i could lie and make them happy?
it’s weird because my grandparents are extremely loving and warm in some ways, but it still seems shockingly conditional. anyway, they traditionally give a gift to each grandchild after they get married, but “weren’t sure if they would be around when i got married”, so gave me money early. oof.
asian parent guilt and obligation. so the grilling of my cousin and her boyfriend was taking place in the background, and i was talking to my cousin. “is this fucking crazy?!” i asked her. she was like “well…. i think that it’s helpful to hear what your parents have to say about your significant other.” REALLY. UGH
at some point, she ended up telling this story. she had spent some amount of her teenage/college years in canada, and really liked it. she graduated, and was semi-supporting herself and was dating a guy she sort of liked. and then her father told her: “you don’t have a career in canada. i have spent so much money and time on your upbringing, and i feel like now is the stage when we really can enjoy each other’s company. could you please move back and just spend a year in taiwan? i feel like you owe it to me and i really want to spend time with you.” UGH
it speaks a lot to me, because i’m obviously really grateful for everything my parents have done for me, and while i do feel guilty being so far away from home, i also, again, owe it to myself to be in san francisco. it helps that my mom has my sister around, but… i don’t know. how can my cousin’s dad ask her to do that? i get it. anyway, she’s still in taiwan after 3 years. she doesn’t particularly enjoy it, but she doesn’t really have the momentum to move anywhere (free rent! again, impossible/stupid to move out!). asked if she would still be with her guy today, and she looked into the distance wistfully: “who knows…”
which cousin won “most improved”. i have an uncle/aunt pairing who are both professionally very successful (if not the most successful in that generation) (who, fun facts, 1) are both actuaries (*points at me* “ta-da!”) and 2) also did probably the poorest academically of all my aunts/uncles). and, especially the uncle, is now a high powered executive, so he both 1) has a habit of being really evaluative all the time, and 2) sounds really authoritative. which all fine and great. or scary and mortifying. like you will do the most inconsequential thing like pouring tea for my grandparents, and he’ll read into that my entire personality (and relevant flaws). so it’s always a little bit mortifying because i never know what small thing i do is going to be his window to my soul. the worst part is (i’m not sure if it’s because he’s actually right or because of his delivery), but i generally think he is quite accurate.
anyway, at one point, my uncle goes: “james! you are the most improved cousin” (out of 3 cousins, so we’re really setting a low bar for how exciting this is). i definitely do think i have gotten much better at some things; smalltalk, defending my own points of view, interacting with people of the previous generation, smalltalk jokes. not really sure what i attribute this to. dating? sean? just maturing? anyway. okay, fine, *pats myself on the back*
my sister got “best performer” out of all the cousins on my dad’s side, though the working hypothesis is that he just said that because she paid for a dinner that he was supposed to pay for, and he needed an excuse to give her money. (asian customs are serious.) but in all seriousness, my sister was fantastic and is great with everyone (grandparents, aunts/uncles, cousins, nephews) and a good leader and has a great smile and a pleasant attitude. while our age difference is only 7 years, i feel like my soft skills are much more than 7 years behind hers. there are honestly incredibly varied social tests/minefields thrown at her/us (how do you handle your english speaking husband? what are you trying to convey in this smalltalk session with your grandparents? people are discussing your mom and dad, whose side do you take (if any)? someone has offered to pay for lunch, what do you do? when a cousin asks if your brother is gay?)
my uncle and aunt, extraordinarily, extraordinarily generous, put us up in a nice hotel where my dad and his brother got married (on the same day!). and surprised everyone with cake, said some nice things about my dad….. and then looked at us all expectantly and… requested that everyone give a toast to my father!
my sister’s jaw dropped (she would have to give the first toast). hah. she lightly protested, i was hoping that it would go through, but my uncle wouldn’t have it. everyone awkwardly cobbled together impromptu toasts. my cousin about how he was a great teacher. my sister said something about how she was glad he seemed healthy and happy. even my brother in law said a variant of his wedding speech, that he was glad that my dad did such a great job raising my sister/his wife. my aunt saved “the best for last” and her toast consisted of her telling him that he should lower his standards for life?!?! presumably because she doesn’t want him to get divorced and leave his 2nd wife!? i don’t know. definitely stretching the bounds of what can be considered a toast.
i think i put together a pretty good speech on the fly, saying that i recognized everyone’s sacrifice being there together (collective ego stroking) and then saying how i was really impressed that he recognized what made him happy, and he just fucking went for it, everyone’s else’s opinions be damned (because he cheated on my mom and people are upset about that?!). which is very true to myself in the sense that i am very much so about proactive pursuit of happiness, but also because it’s a nice parallel to my own life, chasing my own happiness, even if everyone else disapproves (OF THE GAYNESS).
my dad got emotional. i mean, on the one hand… i get it. he sees so little of me and my sister. having a child is a big deal. investment. sacrifice. on the other hand… does he really care?! i’m unconvinced. i don’t know, i felt a mix of emotions. somewhere between confusion and guilt.
seeing family, dali/lego exhibits, webcamming with daniel, night markets, hotpot buffet with garlic, dingtaifeng/XLB, national palace museum, vacationing in luxury without worrying about price, getting new glasses, hearing my grandfather’s story, going to sun moon lake, the cultural village/theme park, playing 13 card poker with my family, writing an angry email to daniel, elephant mountain, getting the shirt from 7-11, shopping at 7-11, danshui game playing, gay district/cafes/arcade with jon/jon
a bucketlist for taiwan i made for dave.
- XLB at din tai fung
- pan fried dumplings at shi da night market
- hao da ji pai at shi lin
- some sort of shaved ice somewhere
- tom’s world near ximen
- GO TO THE GAY DISTRICT!!!!!!!
- hotpot buffet somewhere
- omg LUXY or some sort of other random crazy taiwanese club
- 40 7-11’s
- OMG CAT CAFE
- go to an eslite sometime between 1AM and 6AM
- go to danshui and win something at a carnival game
- ktv (which tbc i would hate but i think you would love and it’s very taiwan)
- buy some sort of office supplies that you can only get in taiwan
- do some sort of run/exercise at some sort of park, preferably daan
- go eat mexican food in taiwan (italian food is a reasonable fallback)
- play a temple game and have your fortune told
- go to xianyuxian, it’s the best shaved ice place ever
- go to some sort of mountaintop and see the nightscape of taipei (xiang shan is where i always go, though there are many options, like jiufen 九份)
- locate two 7-11’s across the street from each other
- order breakfast food for 5 people for $10. or, go get some kind of service that only costs 25% of what it would cost in the states due to lower labor costs, lax regulations, etc.
- go to the jade market/flower market under the highway on the weekends. or guanghua for the electronics superstore
- book your movie ticket seat at a theater
- haggle with a night market vendor. watch them scamper away in a coordinated fashion.
- go find a hip hop dance group somewhere (maybe CKS or some MRT stops) and join in