Sometimes words function inadequately here. Some recent examples:
I meet up with a woman I know, Hong-mei, at a disco. We leave to get some food and to chat for a while. Hong-mei thinks I should write her a love letter, and is becoming insistent. So we go out to eat, have some food and chat for a few hours. Good conversation, appropriately revealing and frank for that hour of the morning. Finally, it starts to get light out. I mention that perhaps “we should go home.” I assume it’s the misinterpretation of my meaning that leads her to explain that she, though she wants to, she can’t “do sex” with me now because she is having her period. But perhaps it wasn’t. By the time we get to the car, she is planning our holiday break together.
In the office of my language center I run into a friend, W. She says in Chinese that I have gotten “more fat” since I have been here. “Before you were more skinny and now you are more fat” she continues. Well, screw you too, I think. My shock at the statement is only exacerbated by the fact that K., who now joins the conversation, insists that yes, I was more skinny before but now am more fat. At least that’s what I think was said. Maybe it was the other way around. I was more fat before but now I am more skinny. I don’t know. I haven’t noticed any difference at all. Either way, the Chinese habit of commenting on the body is disturbing. I slinked out of the room to teach my class, having lost all concentration and thinking that I will never grow accustomed to these types of comments. We have several “Teacher Wang”s at my school. The easiest way that most people find to distinguish between them is to call one moderately overweight instructor “Fat Teacher Wang.” Does this mean that I will be the “Now More Fat and Less Skinny than Before Foreign Teacher”? Hell, I would go swimming for exercise, but the university’s pool has no water in it, which makes the prospect of laps more daunting.
Cut to yesterday. I have a conversation with a belligerent Brit named Malcolm. When he learns I am learning Chinese, he tells me not to bother. What works for him is to get really angry and say “fuck” a lot because “these people” hate that word. After that, they will start speaking English to you. What an inspiration Malcolm is, huh? The two Taiwanese listening to him bluster give me looks that tell me that they have heard this from him before, and are too polite to tell him that he is an idiot. Dakota John is there and has heard it before too. Later Dakota John and Scottish John and Kelly and I head out to the dance floor of the Pig and Whistle. I end up talking in Chinese to a gaggle (collective noun for 9 nurses? Gaggle works for me) of nurses from Pingtung who have ridden for an hour to get here. I am glad Malcolm and his ideas are far away. Dakota John tells me that this way is much better than Malcolm’s and I agree with him.
Now Hong-mei gives me an update. I explain to her about the comments I received this week and she corrects my vision of what happened. The “you are fatter than before” is a way of saying that you were a bit skinny before and now you look healthy and happy here in Taiwan, rather than you have gotten fat. I think I will choose to believe her.