Decided to catch the MRT to Jianton, where you can find ShiLin night market, Taipei’s biggest and most famous. Throngs of Taiwanese were here – the colourful lantern-lit streets were awash with competing music from every store, shop assistants dressed in cartoon character uniforms touting their wares, stalls selling all manner of snacks and drinks, and young Taiwanese dressed in ways that would get you into trouble or called names in ‘forward-thinking’ England. Hmmm. Miniskirts over pink and black hooped tights for the girls, with a completely different patterned and coloured tight sleeveless t-shirt, denim waistcoat, and loads of little furry mascots on keyrings, in hair, and peeping out of bags for the girls; skinny patched jeans, checked shirts, leather waistcoats and porkpie hats for the boys. Fashion is so creative in places like Taiwan, Japan and HK. I love it. The rhythm of the night market, helped by the sing-song sound of Mandarin – a language I was finally beginning to appreciate for its softness and melody – gave me a renewed energy, and I shook off my alcohol come-down and tried some local food – spring onions wrapped in pork, dusted with chilli and sesame, and sprinkled with squeezed lime juice. Pretty good. I also had a roti wrap, filled with vegetables and spicy beef. I drank white ocha tea, sweet and refreshing, and chatted to a few stall owners who dared to speak to me in English.
I noticed a friendliness in the Taiwanese that is absent from the Chinese in Singapore. A genuine warmth. Even though they don’t speak English like the Singaporeans, they are more willing to help. I wandered some more, and had a stroll down Pet Street, where the puppies in the dispay cages seemed to have been hand-picked for cuteness – some were just like a big piece of candyfloss with beady eyes, or the balls of fluff like a dead dandelion waiting in it’s soft white ball waiting for its seeds to be blown away. Very cute. And this is important in Taiwanese culture.
I jumped back on the MRT, and decided to try and find the ‘Combat Zone’, named for when the American soldiers came who were stationed in Taiwan. Of course, an area where American soldiers frequent is an area of sleaze and prostitution. So it’s a bit like Seoul’s Itaewon area, or like Orchard Towers in Singapore in some way. I got off at Minquan W Road, and set about trying to find some life. I managed to locate the main road, Shunagchen Street, and found the alley where all the action was. Being a Tuesday night however, there was no real action to speak of. I walked down the alley, mama-sans racing out of the bar after me, sensing fresh and naïve young blood. I made it to the bottom without getting dragged in anywhere, and talked to a couple of Filipino girls who worked in the bar, one of them had also worked in Orchard Towers. God knows how they got to this little corner of sleaze in Taipei.
I didn’t stay for a drink, and went to My Place instead, a Brit-owned, hassle-free place. It was quiet, so I just sat at the bar and ordered a pint of Taiwan beer. A guy called Jeffrey was there, a real-estate agent, drinking water and trying to sober up. A girl called Nicole, the manager of the bar, was also there, with a bottle of silver tequila, which she was drinking shot after shot. She was very friendly, and eventually persuaded me to join her with a shot of tequila. It tasted good, the silver stuff. I was impressed. I hate tequila usually. I bought another pint. And then another. I wasn’t going to go mad like last night though, but I did almost go blind. Nicole had a bizarre hobby/fetish. She kept commenting on how beautiful and blue my eyes were, and asked to take a picture of my eye ball. ‘This might hurt a bit’ she said, as she held the lens of her phone camera mere millimetres in front of my right eye ball and squeezed the trigger. The close proximity of the resulting flash almost had me in epileptic convulsions. Horrible. I was blinded in my right eye for the next 20 minutes. Don’t try this at home. Nicole then showed me my eye, blue and bloodshot, being prized open by her fingers. I looked in pain and fear. She then flicked through about 50 other photos of people’s iris’s, all different shades of brown, green and blue, and all of them white people. She was a collector of Caucasian eyes! I didn’t like my eye in the photo, but I certainly didn’t want a second photo, so I didn’t say anything. Nicole wanted to take me to her ‘special bar’ for another drink, and I was about to leave when 2 young lads walked in, a guy from Brighton named Frankie, and his Aussie mate John. John grew up in Hong Kong, attended International school there, and spoke fluent Madarin, after going into exile in mainland China’s countryside for 6 months. Frankie worked as a teacher – an English teacher, in a primary school.
Frankie was hilarious – your typical no qualifications teacher, hired because of his white face. The school that recently hired him hadn’t even asked him for ID. He never even had an interview! He told me some really funny stories. He’s on an adventure, loving the new experiences, good on him. He team-teaches with a Chinese teacher, and is the classic English speaking human tape-recorder that the students mimic parrot-fashion. Unfortunately, Frankie can’t control his swearing, so his kids all come out with ‘will you fuckin’ shut up?!’ in a Brighton accent. All he has to do in most classes was say a word and the kids repeat it. I remember the days I did the same in Japan. Frankie told me he sometimes teaches with a terrible hangover, then he tells them to ‘turn to page 17 and copy each word 10 times.’ He teaches them sentences like ‘The elephant has white shoes’ ‘The rabbit has a t-shirt.’ The kids mimic these sentences too, and so end up repeating totally out of context vocab. I used to do the same when I taught. I didn’t even know what context was. Sometimes, Frankie sticks on a video – one of his favourites – for the duration of the class. He doesn’t put the subtitles on. ‘I’m gonna report you!’ yelled John after this story. ‘This man shouldn’t be allowed in a classroom!’ Frankie’s duties range from being a human tape-recorder to teaching 60 5-year-olds how to wash their hands. He got another round in. It was 3am. He had to teach at 8:30. His stories reminded me of being back in Japan – the dark days for me as far as teaching went – turning up still drunk, knowing nothing about grammar. I wonder how many Frankie’s are out there in schools in Taipei, teaching random totally out of context words or colloquial phrases to kids, no knowledge of grammar or anything loosely related to lesson structure, winging it totally. The power of being white all that matters. Loads of them, I reckon. I was one of them once!
They were great company, and John, who was going to be working in the Grand Hyatt as part of his studies, was gonna have a blast with Frankie. I left at 4:30am, determined to get back, pack, check out, get up early and go to Tainan. I wasn’t gonna waste another day.