a thousand stories in the naked city

The thing about Taiwan is, it’s never boring. Every time you go out there is something surreal or something new, a small annoyance or a tiny triumph. Today dragonboat practice provided all four, and we were the surreal element. First I went to 7-11 to pay a couple of bills, only to be told I couldn’t – they weren’t bills, just receipts from auto-payments. Which is nice, but reminds me of how much I hate being functionally illiterate. Then I caught a cab to the bar where we practice; it was a triumph when I was first able to give an address to a taxi driver, or tell him when to turn left or turn right, but this may have been the first time I understood what a driver was saying to me in Mandarin (basically, I handed him the card of the place, he studied it a bit, I asked “OK ma” (= OK?) and he replied with the equivalent of “Yeah, yeah, I know it.”) Then since I’d caught the cab on the wrong side of the street we went down some different streets than usual and I was pleased to notice a new Thai traditional massage place right around the corner from home.

Our dragonboat races are this weekend, so tonight was not really a practice, just a change to hand out the shirts and caps we’ll be wearing. A few people showed up who hadn’t been at practices before, and we did a bit of, er, ‘sweep rowing’ with our brooms for photo ops. With more people there we were in the main area of the bar instead of at one end, and the bar was a sea od Dutch orange – I think we provided the surreal experience of the night for a number of patrons. Unfortunately, my camera battery was dead, so I don’t have pictures.

I was thinking on the way home, there are a thousand stories in this city, and not all of them are Taiwanese. I’m getting a picture of the Philippines from here, too. Filipinos I knew back in the US had mostly been of fairly high status back in the Philippines; they emigrated because of a change in the family fortunes, or to give their kids more freedoms and more options, or because they were on the wrong side of a political change. Now I’m getting a picture of a country with a sharp divide between rich and poor; a lot of the Filipinos here seem to have emigrated to escape poverty. Taiwan is a lot closer and presumably easier to get to. Many work as maid or caretakers of some kind (they speak English and so are in demand among expats; our biweekly cleaning people are Filipino). There’s a whole infrastructure for sending packages or money to relatives back home, as with Mexicans in the US, and as in the US there are some issues with workers who don’t have proper permits to work. But two data points isn’t much to base a theory on, and of course I could be totally wrong.

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