As we zipped through the city, passing countless shops and restaurants, I wondered where we were headed. It was still relatively early in the evening, around 6:30 pm, so perhaps we would meet my cousin’s friends at a restaurant. Finally, we stopped at a corner. Looking up at the sky, I saw that the sun was setting. We hopped off the moped, but Da Mao didn’t take off his helmet. After a few minutes, two boys showed up on their respective mopeds, who I assumed to be the said friends. If this were America, Da Mao would’ve introduced us and I would’ve shook their hands and said, “Nice to meet you”. If this were Paris, Da Mao would’ve introduced us and I would’ve kissed their cheeks (once to the left and once to the right) and said, “Enchantée”. But this was the streets of Taiwan, so we did neither.
The two of them ignored me and began to speak with my cousin, so I took the opportunity to observe these Taiwanese gangsters. They certainly looked the part, with their shaggy bleached hair and stained teeth. The boys had a too-cool-for-school attitude and they appeared apathetic to whatever Da Mao was saying. I could only pick up parts of their conversation (my gangster Mandarin was not up to speed). Before I knew it, we were back on the bikes and we set off into the sunset. My thoughtful cousin asked his friends to drive slowly, since I was a moped newbie, but they didn’t listen. Through the busy streets of Kaohsiung, we tried to keep up, squeezing in between cars and gunning the accelerator.
Finally, we arrived at our destination. It was a beautiful area, with a couple of touristy plazas and the open sea. In the distance, I spotted large ships and a lighthouse on a cliff. We parked the bikes and walked along the pier. Being the American that I was, I was beginning to get slightly unnerved at being left out of the conversation. I couldn’t tell if they were nervous to speak to me or if they weren’t sure if I could understand them. My cousin mentioned me a couple of times in passing, telling them that I played League of Legends from time to time. This was interesting to them, since they were avid LoL players and they’d never heard of a girl who played. I explained that it was my boyfriend who introduced it to me.
It was the one with glasses who first spoke to me directly. Let’s call him Bruce. “Is America fun?” he asked with curious eyes.
We’d sat down on the concrete wall, our legs dangling precariously above the crashing waves. “Well, it depends,” I explained. “It’s a big country, so there’s a lot of variety. You can eat food from different countries, see really beautiful state parks, do any kind of sport. But it’s not like Taiwan. I think it’s a lot more fun here, because of how convenient everything is. And you can find small things to eat for really cheap.”
After that, they began to warm up to me. Excitedly, I tried to explain the American concepts of Greek Life and hipsterdom with the limited vocabulary I had. As it turns out, it’s quite difficult to define “hipster”. As I told them about the rampant alcoholism that characterized our universities, I wondered if they thought I was a drunk. Quickly, I realized that these Taiwanese gangsters were not so badass after all. Besides chain-smoking, they stayed away from particularly dangerous activities. They only drank when one of them had just suffered heartbreak and they rarely went to clubs or bars. My cousin was the only one who had even smoked a joint. A quick round of ten fingers revealed that, while they weren’t virgins, they certainly weren’t sexually experienced. Despite their rough exterior and dark reputations, these boys were teddy bears at heart.
Chuckling to myself at how I’d misjudged them, I asked them about Asian women. In my experience of Asian culture, Asian men were notoriously attracted to cute, girly girls that were either underage or acted like it. I didn’t get the charm at all, another consequence of my Americanism. I thought that girls should be independent, strong, and sassy. They could be feminine, but they should also be able to swing an axe if need be. I had to explain the concept of “girly” to them. When they finally understood, they asked me if guys could be girly. I replied yes, and elaborated that gay men were often seen as girly.
At that, Da Mao laughed and raised his hand. “That’s me,” he said. “I’m girly.” His friends slapped his back and exchanged knowing glances with him.
Squinting my eyes at him, I went over his words and wondered if he’d meant what I thought he meant. I’d spent the whole night trying to figure out if Da Mao was gay. Growing up, I’d always heard stories of his latest female conquest, and he was the last person I’d expect to come out of the closet. But a few days ago, his mother had confided to me that her son had informed her that he like boys. She didn’t know whether or not she should be concerned. Watching my cousin banter with his friends and tease them with homoerotic gestures, I was on the fence.
The conversation about girls continued, and we established that Bruce liked what we referred to as kittens — girls that batted their big, wide eyes at you and dressed as if they were in preschool. The other guy (we’ll call him Sandy) said he preferred tall women, which were a rare commodity in Taiwan. Finally, my cousin said that he liked older women. “I don’t know, I feel like they have more…flavor.”
It was my chance to ask. “Are you…gay?”
“Your mother told me that you told her you were gay.”
He laughed in half-shock and half-annoyance. “She believed me? It was a joke. I didn’t think she’d take it seriously. Hold on, I need to do something.” Da Mao proceeded to pick up his phone and dial his mother’s number. “Ma, you thought I was gay? Well, I’m not.” With that, he hung up. Turning to me, he asked, “You didn’t think I was, did you?”
“No,” I shook my head as I smiled. “Of course not.”
That concludes my adventures in Taiwan. Stick around for my tales of Taiwan’s longtime nemesis, the People’s Republic of China.