The White Guy / Taiwanese Girl thing seems to be a powerful myth for straight Western men here in Taiwan, and I’d like to point out some of the fictional elements of this myth.
Taiwanese girls love us! Could it be that we hang out in the places that also attract the minority of girls who want to date us? After all, very few of us Westerners can speak decent Chinese, or are able to do less ambiguous work than English teaching here, and most of us plan to leave within two years. We are on the periphery of this society, and our lack of assimilation forces us into the places that are set up for us. Although we talk about “getting into the culture”, I invariably encounter most foreigners in foreigner-friendly spots: Wellcome supermarkets, Grandma Nitti’s, Svenson’s… How many Taiwanese friends do you have that you didn’t meet through your job, or in one of these expat – orientated establishments?
Western guys trade stories of the “Psycho Xiao Jie” (who sends 500 text messages a day, and is also sleeping with two of your neighbours), but this kind of woman sounds quite different to the kinds of Taiwanese woman that I’ve met via teaching or through friends. The more typical Taiwanese woman seems to date a total of three men through her teens and twenties, and aims to get married before she’s thirty, so, for a woman like this, dating an English teacher will be a big mistake (he will soon leave Taiwan). There does seem to be a group of women who only want to date foreigners, but they seem a very small minority of the English speaking girls in Taiwan; a much larger number of women feel ambivalent about the idea. We foreigners underestimate our isolation – even in Taipei, I think most local people have no foreign friends, and are not looking for them (hence all the questions about whether you can use chopsticks).
You don’t need to do anything – these girls just come on to you! If anything is an abnormal Taiwanese trait, it must be to begin a conversation with a strange foreigner in order to have sex. If you accept that this is a culture where talking to strangers is often a stressful event, you are either describing a very unusual Taiwanese person, or you have been brainwashed by the myth. I know many single male Westerners here, and it’s clear that they aren’t being hunted down – they ponder the strangeness of this to me (“Maybe if I were taller…”). Perhaps instead, the standard Taiwanese view of us is more accurate: male foreigners who do well with girls spend lots of time on the prowl. I’ve watched friends go through the whole cycle of trying out Tealit, visiting bars, doing language exchanges – all the while sharing recommendations and tactics with each other… My other impression is that we foreigners have very little to do here in Taiwan, which creates this drinking, going to the gym and looking for girls culture. If you’re not learning Chinese, or have something creative to do with your time – what else can you do after work but go to bars?
The girls are beautiful! Well, I agree, but are we saying that particularly beautiful girls seek out foreigners? Is it possible that Taiwan, still rather patriarchal, puts huge pressure on women to look perfect, while men don’t have to do very much? A common sight, after all, is the “Tai-ke” couple: the slim girlfriend in heels and mini-skirt, the chubby boyfriend in a loose t-shirt and flip-flops. Is part of why women seem eager to date you not just because you’re a Westerner, but that social pressure makes it hard for women here to be single and content?
But, at this late stage, most foreign men have been swallowed whole by the myth, and so reality no longer matters. A bar with four “hot” Taiwanese girls and fifteen white guys crowded around them is still a great bar, even though at home, you’d move on immediately; a girl that back in London, you wouldn’t pay much attention to, now is incredibly interesting, because you’ve decided that all girls in Carniege’s must be beautiful and because you’re embarrassed that you haven’t had any luck in three weeks.
Taiwanese women are better than the feminists back home! Now you’re really smoking crack. Many of your instincts about right and wrong will routinely be flouted by your partner: if you would like to date someone who will be chatty and confident in house parties, for example, you may be disappointed. If you want, God forbid, someone who has vaguely similar ideas to yours about raising children, you may be disappointed. The Western men I’ve met here who are married to Taiwanese women rarely talk about how easy it is. Oh – perhaps she’s just joking about needing to get married, about looking after her parents and so on… I suspect she isn’t. And of course, realising all this, many Western men in Taiwan begin the new quest: for the Taiwanese girl who isn’t like other Taiwanese girls. Perhaps it’s impolite to point out that Taiwan is not the best place to look for such a person – could I instead suggest somewhere like San Francisco?
This article was previously printed in Taiwanease Magazine