I was rushing through Taipei Main Station, worried I was going to miss my train to Hsinchu, when a tall Taiwanese 20-something approached me.
“Hi. Can you help me practice English?”
After a rushed conversation, I gave him my phone number and told him I’d come back up to Taipei sometime. Roughly a month later I met him on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Our plan was to visit the National Palace Museum, somewhere I was anxious to go. We watched the rain for a few minutes while making small talk, then ran to a bus that would take us to the museum.
I learned he was an “agent”, which I puzzled together meant real estate agent. He mentioned an interest in bodybuilding, and we talked about the differences in body shapes between most foreign women and Taiwanese women.
He asked me about the word “curves”, and I told him not to use it to describe men. “Curves include breasts and hips, and men don’t want to have breasts.”
He smiled. “You have curves. You have… big hips?”
“Yup,” I said. “Most Taiwanese women are straighter, but my bones are different. I have wide hips.”
He nodded appreciatively, and after a few moments we realized we’d missed our stop. We quickly got off the bus, and I immediately put up my umbrella in the driving rain. We made our way to another bus stop to go back. He kept his umbrella closed in his hand.
“Don’t you want your umbrella?” I asked.
“No. I want to use yours!” he replied, putting his arm tightly around my shoulders and walking hip-to-hip with me. My umbrella, meant for one person, didn’t cover either of us entirely, and my purse and right side were getting wet. I was a little surprised at the impracticality, but he seemed excited to be sharing.
After catching a second bus, we rode the short distance to the museum. I again took out my umbrella as we climbed the stairs to the entrance.
“Hold it with your left hand,” he said, leaning in and pulling me close as I switched the umbrella to my other hand. As we walked up the stairs we ran into low-hanging branches, and my right side was drenched. I laughed, but kept thinking about his unused umbrella. This was a downpour; what was his deal?
Finally inside we separately purchased tickets and then made our way to the restrooms. I used paper towels to dry my skin and clothes; once I emerged, I found him and proceeded to happily watch a local school orchestra play in the foyer. We talked for a minute as I took in the performance, but soon his arm was around my waist, pulling me away from the music. “Let’s go.”
“Can I put my water and umbrella in your bag?” he asked. As we made our way through the throng of people, I stuffed his dry umbrella next to mine, which I’d slid into a plastic rain sleeve, in my purse.
Once we were back upstairs, I looked at the signs. “Where do you want to start?” I asked. I checked out a map on the wall.
“You’re so serious. I’ve been here a lot. I want to see the vegetable.”
We walked up a wide flight of stairs. “You have a good body,” he said, matching my steps and wrapping his right arm around my back. This would become the theme for the day: him handling me, and me ignoring him or pulling away.
We found the exhibit. I made my way around, reading signs and inspecting the artifacts. His impatience was palpable – literally. He’d come over to me, put his hands on my shoulders or hips, and pull me close. Each time I’d pull away and walk to another sign.
While we were viewing the jade cabbage exhibit, which was supposedly what he’d wanted to see, a small crowd encircled the showcase. He stood behind me and murmured, “That woman in red is pretty.”
I was confused. I was wearing red, but there was a woman on the other side of the showcase that was quite pretty, and she was also wearing red.
“Hmm?” I asked.
“The woman in the glass in red. She is beautiful.”
I checked the glass, which reflected nothing. I figured he was referring to the other woman. Good, I thought, maybe he’s getting my signals.
We discussed the difference between pretty, beautiful and gorgeous as we wandered through the exhibits. He commented that I was beautiful.
Standing in front of three large paintings, I told him that I had a boyfriend back in the US, hoping it would calm down his advances.
“He is far away,” was his response.
I asked him about what he liked to do.
“You’re serious. I like to draw. My parents do not want me to draw. They say I cannot make money. So I don’t.”
Pandora’s Box: this opens a whole new conversation, a scolding, about how lucky I am that I can be selfish and do what my parents don’t want me to do. I was to hear about my selfishness multiple times that afternoon.
I countered, feeling slightly attacked. “It’s not that I’m doing what my parents don’t want me to do. They want me to be happy. If moving far away makes me happy, they want me to do that.”
He seemed unimpressed and was quiet for a moment. Then he spoke about how foreign girls were stronger than Taiwanese, how we have our own thoughts and do what we want.
“Well, some are, some aren’t like that,” I responded. “Just like Taiwanese, we’re all different. I want someone who is equal, my friend. I don’t want him to think I’m below him or above him.”
He scoffed. “Many Taiwanese men are weak. They date and marry Vietnam, Thailand, or Indo girls. They can’t get Taiwanese girls.”
“Wait,” I said. “There are a lot of great girls from those countries.”
“They are not pure,” he continued. “One out of ten children in Taiwan is mix. They are not pure. The men are weak. They cannot get Taiwanese girls. Taiwan girls are too picky. They want money, good job.”
I furrowed my brow. “But you want to be with a foreign woman. You don’t want to be with a Taiwanese woman, either. And not all Taiwanese women are like that. There are a lot of good women here.”
“I don’t want to get married. I don’t want kids. I want a big house in Hollywood with Ukraine and Russian women everywhere.”
“You will be a good mother,” he says suddenly.
I smiled. “Yeah, I hope so. Someday.”
“You will be very serious. Eat at 7:30. Go to bed at 8:00!”
“I won’t be serious. I think I’ll have fun.”
More and more I realized that I was on a date, whether I wanted to be or not. Apparently I was a terrible conversationalist, because he stated opinions about me that were fairly insulting. There was zero chemistry. He invaded my personal space every chance he got.
I was happy our plans didn’t extend into the evening.
Exiting a hall, I looked around, a little lost. I wasn’t sure which exhibits we’d already seen.
“Sorry. I keep forgetting which ones we’ve already gone to.”
He laughed a little too loudly. “Forgetting already! You are very old!”
“You’re only three years younger than me,” I said. “I’m not old.”
We went downstairs. Once we were in an exhibit, he moved close and smelled my neck and shoulders, taking in deep, loud breaths.
“Wow, your hair. It smells so good!” he said, taking fistfuls and leaning into me.
“Uh, I use shampoo?” I hunched my shoulders as his nose assaulted my ear.
“You use champ!” He laughed and sauntered away.
I stopped at a display. Suddenly I felt his body from behind, pushing hard into me. His hands clasped onto either side of the exhibit, caging me in, and he brought his face to the back of my neck. I ducked, wiggled out of his grasp, and forced a laugh. “No, no, no. Can’t do that here!”
He found a bench, sat, pouted, and then motioned for me to sit next to him. I started to walk out. I turned and told him to get up, but he patted the bench again. I relented and sat with a large space between the two of us. He beckoned me closer.
“Nope. I’m good,” I said.
He reached around my waist with his left arm and yanked me next to him.
I leaned away and tried for a new conversation.
“Do you have a mentor?” I asked.
The conversation was dead before it began; I did most of the talking. At least he didn’t touch me for five minutes.
I got up and motioned that we should keep moving. He mentioned going to the restroom and that he was cold. As we looked for the bathrooms, he asked if I was cold, too.
“No, not really. I’m good.”
“Help me be warm!” He wrapped his arms around me, and I walked with my hands pinned to my sides. Was I really not being obvious enough? I wasn’t touching him, I wasn’t flirting. What was going on with this guy?
He wanted to leave after we visited the bathrooms. I’d only seen half the exhibits, but was fine with the decision.
Outside it was muggy, but no longer raining. I started taking pictures, and he told me to pose. When he lifted his phone, I shook my head and told him to take a picture with mine. He took two: one with his phone, one with mine.
I told him to take a picture with me.
“I don’t take pictures.”
I wasn’t having it, so I got a picture of the two of us.
I’m almost 30, for goodness’ sake. You’d think I was smarter than this.
He turned and leaned against the railing while I stood looking out over the grounds. He indicated the railing next to him. When I finally joined him in looking at the scene in front of us, his hand found his way to my shoulder and pulled.
I could tell he was getting frustrated with me, but I couldn’t believe he persisted. We began walking to the parking lot, and he brought up chess.
“Let’s go to my home. I will teach you chess and play my guitar for you.”
“No, I need to get back and get ready for my night.”
“Do you want to take a taxi?” he asked, grumpy.
“No, the bus is fine,” I replied. I looked to the other end of the parking lot and saw one waiting. We boarded and sat together.
“You won’t come to my house. Why are you scared of me?”
“I’m not afraid of you, but I have to be careful and take care of myself.”
He was quiet for a while. Then:
“How many boyfriends have you had?”
I considered my answer, then replied, “Three.”
He seemed surprised.
“What about you? How many girlfriends have you had?”
Oh. We weren’t talking about relationships.
He asked me to have dinner with him at Taipei Main Station before I boarded the train back to Hsinchu. I agreed. We rode the metro downtown, him constantly on the lookout for a seat and leading me through the cars. Finally he gave up, and we leaned on the car wall.
“I feel like a tour guide.” He had a sourpuss expression on his face, and I laughed.
“I’m sorry if today wasn’t what you expected.”
He glanced at me. “Will you give me a kiss?”
With that he grabbed me, and I pushed away and turned my head.
“No! I don’t kiss on the first date. Sorry. I don’t. It’s not you. I just don’t.”
His feelings were hurt, and I started explaining my reasoning, but he didn’t care. We reached our stop and make our way through the terminal. He was distant.
Then we saw another white woman. She was heavier than me by 20 pounds, at least, wearing unflattering black pants that showed a thick pantyline. He grabbed my arm.
“Did you see that girl?”
“Yeah,” I responded. I expected him to criticize her appearance or call her fat.
“She is another foreigner,” he said, and I saw his eyes. And then I understood.
“You want to go get her number? Go! I’ll wait over here. No problem.”
He brightened up at my permission. The realization hit me like a bowling ball to pins: this 27-year-old Taiwanese, a hypocrite and general curmudgeon, was a chubby-foreign-girl chaser. And he had chased me. And I, the gullible prey, had been caught.
He came back, telling me he’d gotten her number. “But I talked to her before. When I texted her, nothing. No reply.”
We made our way around, and he told me to hold his arm. When I reached for it, he kept his arm limp at his side.
“When a girl holds your arm, you should crook it like this-“ I moved his arm into a 90-degree angle, “-so she can hold it like this.”
“You’re too serious.” His voice was glum.
I let go and walked in silence. We found a place to sit and eat. He mentioned again that I was lucky I could be so selfish.
“Well, you like your job, right?” I asked. “You can keep working and do what you want to do.”
“I don’t like my job.”
“You don’t? I thought you were a real estate agent.”
“I’m not. I lied.”
“Oh. Okay, so what do you do?”
“I work in my father’s factory.”
We talked for a moment about this. I told him he could still do something he enjoyed.
“No I can’t. I didn’t go to college.”
“Oh, I thought you did.”
“No. I lied.”
We talked a bit more, about how I was selfish and very lucky, about how he’d slept with six foreign women since he started bodybuilding, and how unfair life is. After I was chided again for being privileged, we sat in silence.
Then: “You have good, big thighs.”
“I need to make them smaller.”
“No! Don’t! They are good!” He took my left thigh and wrapped his hands around it. I quickly stood and told him we should go so I could catch my train.
“Let me take your picture,” he said, motioning for me to stand in an open space. “I’m going to take five pictures.”
I stood, awkwardly, ready to go. He took one. He shuffled around and took a couple more, and then he moved to take a profile picture.
“Nope, that’s enough. Let’s go!” I said, suddenly uncomfortable. As I walked, I realized he wasn’t next to me like he usually was, and I turned around. He was walking a bit behind me, using his phone to record me walking.
“Don’t do that. It’s weird,” I chided. He laughed. A few seconds later I turned around again, and he was still taking video. I walked to him, put my hand over his phone.
“I should make you pay me for the pictures and the video,” I said.
“I will pay you. 1,000 dollars.” He considered. “I will pay you 2,000 dollars if you take off your jeans.”
“Uh, no. If you thought I was strict about kissing, you have no idea.”
“How about a goodbye kiss?” he asked, and suddenly he was forcing me close again. I fought my way out of his grip.
“No! I told you. No kiss.”
“Can I touch your big booty?”
“Just a little touch?”
I could feel his hand tracing down to the waistline of my jeans. I turned out of his reach.
After a very awkward, weak hug goodbye, I went through the gates to my train.
Abruptly the adrenaline subsided, my amusement faded, and I sat in my seat, stupefied. I was finally angry once I got away from him and was alone, able to digest the past several hours.
“You’re too nice,” my housemate Cameron told me, his eyes wide after hearing the story.
He’s right. I should have been blunt; I should have said, “Stop touching me.” I shouldn’t have laughed to ease the tension. I shouldn’t have worried about his feelings, because he certainly didn’t care about mine. I shouldn’t have allowed him to have dinner with me.
I should have left. I definitely should’ve thrown his phone against a wall.
This past year in Taiwan, culminating in last Saturday, has evidently been to teach me not to help strangers. Every time I do, I get in trouble. I’m too nice, and that makes me weak.
I’m done being weak.
…and hey, Steven? 我希望它腐爛。