I wrote this over a month ago. I wondered whether to publish it or not. I held onto it. But now – what the hell, here it is. Something deep and personal. Just in time for the new Year of the Dog. Here’s hoping it is a good one for you!
“It should have been the best holiday ever. And at the time it was.
“Let’s go to Asia over Christmas, sweetie,” my boyfriend of nearly a year said to me. “What about Singapore?”
“No way, Taiwan is much better”, I answered.
Taiwan had been my second home. Although I now live in Australia, I lived in Taiwan twice – once as a foreign language student studying in the snack food capital of Tainan, and again on a three and a half year work posting.
As a struggling student in the late 1990s, I lived with a traditional southern Taiwanese family. They were parents of a close Taiwanese friend I had met in Brisbane. Her parents kind of adopted me, frowning on me going out late at night and screening phone calls from anyone male. I loved them so much.
My boyfriend at the time was a Taiwanese student who I had met at the University of Queensland. He came to visit while I was there. He later became my husband, and we have two beautiful Taiwanese-Australian sons together.
“Why do you want to date a Taiwanese guy,” my female friends constantly asked. “You could have an Australian guy, and isn’t that so much better?”
There weren’t many foreigners – lao wai – in Tainan at that time. I think I knew most of them through the National Cheng Kong University mandarin studies program and the Hess Language School I taught at. There weren’t as many foreign women. Most were men who enjoyed the (then) easy lifestyle of teaching English and going out to bars an pubs. Nearly all had Taiwanese girlfriends.
I can’t remember a single Caucasian/non Taiwanese guy I knew who did not have a Taiwanese girlfriend or wife. I didn’t see it as unusual at the time; it was just the way things were. If he didn’t have a steady partner, then it was because he was enjoying the flirting and dating scene too much and hadn’t yet decided to settle down. The women were beautiful, the men sometimes handsome but often ordinary, and everyone seemed happy.
I didn’t do the bar scene, but I heard stories – both in Tainan and later when I worked in Taipei. Even in the modern, commercial centre of Xinyi you could see the trend of Western man/Taiwanese girl, and the willingness of Taiwanese women to accommodate. It was so rarely the other way around. Taiwanxifu like me (and there were a few) were oddities, unusual, noticed.
I remember once going out with my (then) husband to listen to live music at an upmarket Xinyi bar. There was this middle aged American guy who was so clearly trying to score, and from where I was sitting he seemed to be doing really well. For weeks afterwards, I would see him as I walked back home if I had been working late – always on a mission to the same bar in search of pickups.
I worried that my boyfriend might not like Taiwan. Not many Australians have been there, and few knew what to expect. I spent a lot of time planning the trip, and I pulled in personal favours. A good friend from Taiwan who lived in the same city as me, for instance, had friends from her university hiking club who ran a minsu in Hualien. Not only did we stay there but her friend took the day off work to show us off the beaten track places around Taroko Gorge.
It was a fun, romantic and beautiful trip. My boyfriend was wowed by the majesty of Hualien, marvelled at the trains (MRT and High Speed Rail), snacked like a local, bathed in hot springs, used the Easycard I bought him everywhere, sang karaoke in front of a crowd at a smoky piano bar and got the local experience on a trip down to Tainan where I paid respects to my homestay parents (who have sadly died). We ended the trip on a bang on the rooftop of recently met friends, seeing in the new year by watching fireworks from afar and drinking Kinmen Kaoliang.
“Did you like Taiwan,” I asked as we snuggled on the plane together, heading home.
“I loved it,” he said. “I want to go back – I really do.”
I smiled, thinking it was because we had shared a magical and romantic time together. But that turned out not to be the reason.
I don’t know how he managed to meet her so quickly – we were only apart in Taipei twice, and each time less than an hour. But meet her he did.
Not that I knew – all that I knew was that once we returned to Australia he became arrogant, selfish, cold and indifferent. He was sending me conflicting signs. He was keen, for example, to socialise with my Taiwanese friends but ignored me almost completely when he took me to a wedding. “I want to go back to Taiwan by myself,” he declared at the wedding while drunk. That should have been a sign.
Three months after we returned, I ended it with him. His behaviour gave me little choice. “You are wonderful, but …” he said to me during the breakup.
We had been close. I was devastated and did not understand what had happened, especially after we had shared such a special time together. We continued to be friends over the next three months. We spoke regularly, emailed regularly, and he accompanied me to some events. Friends thought we had gotten back together because of the easiness between us.
Then one day I noticed from his Instagram photos that he was back in Taiwan. I thought this odd as we had had an email exchange the day before and he hadn’t mentioned it. I looked closer and noticed a woman in every picture. Then I worked out who she was and realised from her matching Instagram photos what was happening.
She is much younger than him. I don’t know her age, but he is over 50 and I doubt she is much older than 30 (she looks 25). She looks hot in a bikini and he liked to show that off, affixing semi-pornographic hashtags such as #asianpersuasian and #asiancutie. Their thing, according to their lavish Instagram photos, is weekend trips away in luxury hotels, drinking Australian chardonnay by the pool, Shiraz at high altitudes or French champagne. Their photos centre around hotel rooms and hotel pools. The worst part of it is that many of the things he was doing with this woman, such as cooking classes and travelling in Taiwan, were things he would have done with me. Except he was with a younger Taiwanese beauty.
I felt sick and disgusted, nauseous in the pit of my stomach. I still am. For months I could not sleep properly at night. I could not believe that I had dated someone so crass and shallow, and it was harder still to believe that a man that I trusted, who I thought was a close friend, could have lied and betrayed me in such a personal and cruel way. If she didn’t know at first that he was two-timing, she does now yet I believe she continues to be involved with him.
Everyone has the right to fall in love. But truly, is this love? A 52-year-old, overweight Australian man dating a Taiwanese woman years younger, who he only appears to see on quickie weekends away? If this was a Taiwanese man, would this woman pose for such sexually explicit photos and allow herself to be represented this way online? Maybe, but I suspect likely not.
Why is it that dating a Mr Grey sounds more alluring than dating a Mr Yang? Why do so many Taiwanese women aspire to be Mrs Smith?
Being with a Western man represents a potential window to a dream lifestyle, a way of living that represents liberation from the social and financial pressures of the Taiwan treadmill. I understand, having myself been a Taiwanxifu the pressures that come with marrying into a Taiwanese family. Being with a lao wai represents freedom from this hierarchical structure.
But it concerns me, greatly, that young Taiwanese women are not empowered to believe in their own destiny. Why are they so wedded to the Westerner/Prince Charming saves Cinderella aka Asianella fantasy? Do they really think that the Mr Grey’s of the world are going to whisk them away to a new life over the ocean where the moon is always bigger? Even if this happens, do they really think that such men are looking for a life partner who they will treat as an equal? More usually they are looking for a submissive Asian bride (if, indeed, they intend to commit at all).
I know this man, I know what he has done (not just to me), and I know things he is not telling her. I was fooled myself, although thankfully I had the self preservation to end things. I know the truth about what his life is like in Australia, including the reality of his financial and family situation, and it is not pretty. He is not a man of integrity and honesty, and when you are blind to the romance of a lao wai rushing to save you it is difficult to discern a man’s character objectively. There might be a happy ever after ending, but most likely she will be used and discarded. In any case, there are plenty more like her to choose from, with even younger versions waiting in line.
A beautiful and graceful Taiwanese friend who I met while in Australia on a Working Holiday Maker trip told me how the Downunder experience changed her. “Before I travelled to Australia, I used to think that my destiny was to marry a man who could provide for me and our kids,” she said. “I wasn’t really thinking about my own career or path. But now I have seen how Australian women are strong and resilient, how they have the courage to follow their dreams. That’s given me the encouragement to follow a similar path with my life.”
Women of Taiwan, I call on you to stop throwing yourselves indiscriminately at lao wai. Not all lao wai in Taiwan are jerks (I have several lovely and decent friends). And not all cross-cultural relationships are bad – I am privileged to count several happy Australian/American and Taiwanese couples as friends. But some foreign guys are selfish bastards who are just seeking to lay an #asiancutie. If they are in Taiwan scouting for talent, and if they are more interested in your body than you mind, then maybe – just maybe – it is because they can’t find a decent woman at home who will put up with their crap. If you do not have self-worth and self-respect, they will take you for a ride. Do you really want to end up like my ex boyfriend’s Taiwanese woman, being paraded on social media as a sex object? Or find out that he already has a girlfriend or a wife and kids back home? Is this the sum total of your value? Aren’t you worth more than that?
Stand up tall and be proud of yourselves. Reclaim your destiny. Jia you!”
Postscript: I am now engaged to be married to a caring Aussie, who I met in during the heartbreak of finding out about my ex boyfriend’s cheating and lies. Something good came out of all of this. But more than the fact that I have a new man, in the aftermath of the breakup I reached deep and found myself. It was not easy. I don’t look nearly as good in a bikini as the other woman, and it didn’t help my self esteem much having gone through this. But somehow, through it I regained confidence and strove to live a life consistent with the strong values that I model for myself.