Reading Habits

It’s funny, really. When I spend time in Canada, my reading habits tend to be focused almost exclusively on Asia, when I read books at all. But, when I’m in Asia, I read voraciously, and a large part of what I read is related to North America and Europe! I think it has something to do with connecting with the society I no longer feel a part of, alone here, I am reaching for a piece of home and I get it through the written word.

Actually, I consider it one of the happy side effects of living here, I do enjoy reading and regret that I don’t do more of it when I am at home in Canada. I read mostly non-fiction, but I do try to catch up on books I have been curious about for a long time or know are classics but have never touched. Especially in my current job, I have to travel about the city and wait a lot, and this affords me a lot of extra time with nothing special to do. For a while I was reading the newspaper, the Taipei Times is an excellent English language newspaper (one of 3 English language papers in Taiwan), but I got bored of always doing that so I started to make trips to the bookstore instead. I find it takes me a week or so to polish off a novel, maybe less if I get so into it I spend all my free time reading it. (Good books suck you in, what can I say?)

Recently I’ve had an interest in the Napoleonic era of Europe (don’t ask why, I have no clue) so when I went into the Page One (the biggest bookstore in Taipei) and found a copy of Horatio Hornblower sitting on the shelf I knew it was what I wanted to read. Set in the Napoleonic Era, Hornblower is the story of how a young seaman goes from Midshipman to Admiral in the British Navy. C.S. Forrester wrote 11 Hornblower novels, and apparently they’re considered major classics of British fiction. I remember reading once that Gene Roddenbery based some of the character of Captain Kirk off Horatio Hornblower, which I guess I will understand more when I reach the point Horatio is a Captain. Right now, he’s still a Midshipman, and I have to say the first book is a really good read that I can say I recommend wholeheartedly.

One interesting comment I read today was:

Hornblower was of the type that would continue to observe and to learn on his deathbed.”

When I read this, I thought to myself, that’s not just Hornblower, that’s me! It’s interesting how a good book can actually teach you about yourself. Time abroad isn’t just a time of learning about the outer world, but the inner one as well.

The Mystery of the Well Dressed Woman…

Well, continuing my research into where all those well dressed women that populate the streets of Taipei in the absence of men come from, I consulted with a new all female class that I just started to teach. I decided that since they seem to be the people I’m talking about, I should just ask them. To a degree, they were as perplexed as I was as I laid out the situation, and one of them stepped up to bat to point out to her classmates that I was indeed right, there was a disproportionate number of women in the streets of downtown Taipei during the working hours. But, as a group they came up with an answer, which was that what I’m seeing is the result of Taipei being such a huge city. With millions of people living in Taipei and her suburbs, and with the Asian female focus on fashion, what I am seeing they decided was an influx of women shoppers from the suburbs. There aren’t malls in Taipei like there are in Canada, people here come downtown to shop in fashionable stores, and so while their significant others and family members worked they are here making their shopping trips. Because of the sheer number of people living around Taipei, it only takes a very small part of the female population making the trip to fill the streets on a daily basis.
Your average woman is indeed working or involved with her family like any other place, we concluded, but others are enjoying their extra time shopping. The men, it seems, just have no reason to leave their air conditioned homes and offices to come downtown.


Far from home…

It’s interesting how things affect you when you’re living far away from home in a foreign land, your habits change, your point of view changes, and some things that aren’t so important when you’re at home suddenly become very meaningful. Probably this is part of adapting to life in an alien environment, but it doesn’t help when you wake up to things like a news article about a shooting in your hometown. Of course what happened in London was shocking, but to me it was moreso by the very fact it was in London, and I am far away, so everything that happens there seems somehow magnified from my perspective.

Actually, that shooting may be connected to me in more ways than just it happening in London, because I noted that the people involved were all immigrants. I’ve noticed that when crimes like this happen it often seems to be immigrants that are involved, whether in Canada, the US or England. I don’t think this is because there is anything wrong with the immigrants, per se (although obviously something was wrong with this man), but I do have to wonder if the stress of living in a foreign country might not have something to do with events like this. People who never leave their home countries will never understand the subtle stress and pressure that you are under all the time when you live abroad. You are not at home, you are adrift in an environment you can neither control nor understand (interestingly enough, one article about this case I read notes that the parents only barely spoke English after 15 years in Canada) and you cling to whatever you can find.

If I have to guess, in this horrible case I would suspect the mother had a boyfriend (with another lonely dispossessed soul) while her husband trucker was away, and decided to break it off with him for the sake of her family. The boyfriend lost it, and this is the result. Given that the mother was very likely stuck raising the kids alone for long periods of time in a foreign environment where the loneliness can be crushing, I can sympathize with her. She probably started the relationship out of desperate loneliness with her husband away all the time and no other Polish speaking adults around her, and things got out of control.

A sad story that repeats again and again…One which could probably be cured if there was more community support and outreach for immigrants trying to struggle with a new life in a new land. Sure, they chose that life, but oftentimes they got more than they bargained for.



Hey all! (If anyone is still checking this blog after not updating in so long!)

Contrary to rumours, I am still very much alive! Not that I can fault a local bug for lack of trying, as I spent the last two weeks sick with one of the worst colds of my life! I am feeling much better now, however, and trying to get back in the swing of things with a healthier diet and lifestyle this time. As I commented to someone recently, I think we foreigners get sick more often than local people in any given country do because we’re not immune to as many of the local bugs.

In any case, things at work and my life in general are fine. I’m currently working 17 hours a week and that should be bumping up to 20 in three weeks when I start teaching a new writing course to college and university students at my home branch school on Friday nights. Of those 17 hours, things currently break down something like this:

3 hours a week teaching conversation at NuSkin, which is the local version of Mary Kay Cosmetics or AVON.

5 hours a week teaching business writing at American Pacific Lines shipping company.

2 hours a week teaching business English at the Tomen Corporation, the Taiwanese branch office of a Japanese chemical manufacturing company.

5 hours a week teaching conversation and writing at the Green Seasons Biotechnical Company, a chemical and food testing company. (One of the most advanced in Taiwan.)

2 hours a week teaching conversation at Welltech, which is a furniture and home furnishings supplier and dristributor. (Yes, they even sell Garden Elves!)

This takes up my lunchtimes and evenings from Monday to Friday, with Welltech taking up my Saturday mornings. The rest of the time I sleep, travel, eat, watch videos I download from the internet and recently spend huge amounts of time reading. Actually, I have found that I read far more here than I do in Canada, and about quite a variety of subjects. Maybe it’s the isolation factor (although I am making more local friends recently with other foreign English teachers) but I find I crave knowledge when I’m living in foreign countries. Yesterday alone I found myself researching the history of Martial Arts, but not Asian, European. Europe actually had quite the Martial Arts tradition is seems (despite how Hollywood shows clumbsy guys with swords) that pretty much disappeared once the gun became a practical weapon of war. Now we’ve only got sport forms of Fencing, but once upon a time there was quite a variety of schools of personal combat and technique for armed and unarmed combat. Facinating stuff. As a side effect I’m going to start reading more about rennaisance Italy and Spain, and even found the most fascinating article on Scottish Martial Arts Schools….

Anyways. I better go, the people behind the counter here are giving me dirty looks for hogging the computer. I have papers to mark and dinner to eat. My best to all of you, and I will update when I update!


A question of gender…

When I first got here, I noticed something. As I walked out on the streets of Taipei during the day going from company to company, it seemed that I was always surrounded by women. Women on the street, women on the bus, women in the cafes…and I started to wonder to myself the obvious question: Where are all the men?

Not that I was complaining of course, women here in Taipei like any of the major cities of the world are well groomed, well dressed, and generally of above average levels of appearance. Walking in downtown Taipei at certain times is a little like walking in a living fashion show, and as a heterosexual male I can hardly complain about being surrounded by beautiful and well dressed women!

But, back to the question at hand…Where were all the men?

So, I started to ask around among my students and the people I knew here. And, perhaps not surprisingly the answer is got was “working”. The men were in the office buildings which surround me working away while the women…what? Shopped?

At first, I was pretty amused by this, the women shop and the men work, how classically old fashioned! Of course, many women work too (most of my corporate students are in fact female) and then there’s those who are mothers and homemakers (not my students, of course, but various other women around me) who flit in and out from their homes during the day.
But, as I took a bus through the high-fashion district today on my way to the McCafe I currently sit writing it, I started to rethink things. Was there really anything to be amused about? These legions of women (many of them in their 20’s and 30’s) who seem to spend all their time shopping and chatting…who was paying for this coffee? Who was paying for these clothes? Neither of those things are cheap here in Taipei, and someone has to be paying the bills. My students (male and female) are working themselves to the bone doing overtime, so it’s obviously not them as they’re busy working all day.

So, where is this money coming from?

Well, obviously some of them are still living at home, so their parents supply the cash. And, part-time work will explain some of them as well, with them wandering the streets in the afternoons as they work in the evenings or on weekends. But, as has been pointed out to me recently, wages here are pitiful, and raises are few and far in between. Lord knows the credit cards here in Taipei spend a lot of time being maxed, but unlike our credit cards, theirs must be paid back at faster rates or they will accure high levels of interest.

So, I came back to the answer to question I had been asking.

“Where are all the men? Working hard so the women can buy clothes, makeup and drink coffee all day.”

Suddenly it doesn’t seem so funny anymore. Is this a symbiotic relationship? (As I first surmised.) Or is this a parasitic relationship? I honestly don’t know the answer to this question. Maybe this is my North American “men and women are equal” thinking kicking in, the idea that both partners should be equal in earning their keep. Here in Asia, the thinking seems to have been “a woman’s job is being a wife, mother, and beauty for her husband” and that thinking it still part of their culture. It’s changing, but when I look out on the streets of Taipei I have to wonder sometimes, how much has it really changed?

I have to say that growing up in a very socially confused time in North American culture I used to marvel at a culture where men and women had clear social roles like Japan, Korea or Taiwan. Men and women are different animals, we naturally are better at certain things, and the idea of us being “the same” to me is a modern politically correct fallicy. We’re equal, but we’re not the same by any means. Biologically, psychologically…we’re different from each other and that’s something we need to accept. I always thought “old world” culture was more realistic about this, and I saw the gender differences of the sexes here as representing that.

But now…Now I begin to wonder. Maybe the more egalitarian North American ways really are more fair. Here women seem to be exploiting men (not as a whole, of course, but it does seem rather common) with the men following the traditional roles and the women using the free time modern life gives them to…consume? play?

Is this fair to say? I’m not sure. I’m really just thinking aloud at the moment. Maybe I’m not seeing the whole picture. Maybe I’m seeing women enjoying their freedom during the time before they marry and get trapped at home because there’s not enough daycare to go around. But, then again, once they hit school age here, children pretty much spend 24-7 studying at public schools and afterschool tutoring schools. Also, Taiwan apparently has one of the lowest birthrates in the world right now, so apparently these women aren’t getting pregnant and having kids after all.

Husbands, boyfriends and families are paying for their lifestyles…But what are all these women really contributing back to their familes and society? Or are they just excess people enjoying life in an affluent society? That’s the new question I’m trying to find the answer for…