I live in Houston. It is not safe. It is awesome, but not so… well, safe.
My apartment was once robbed by, in the words of the sole witness, “3 mexican males, medium height, medium build”. This describes approx half the people in this city. They took everything, cooked my food, broke a hole through the wall so they could steal my neighbor’s 10 guns (sir, why do you own a gun safe if you’re not gonna lock it??), then threw American cheese all about (yes, I purchase American cheese. I don’t care if it’s not made of actual cheese, it’s delicious), jacked my ½ gallon of gin, and apparently hung out all day havin just a faaaaabulous time.
Two of my friends were once robbed at gunpoint about 3 blocks from my house (and yeah, they DID keep their shoes, but not for lack of trying on the part of the gunman). I walk home here alone all the time, clearly I’m retarded, it’s just, it’s a fact of life, you know?
Whatever. The point is, every time I go travelling, I think, gosh it’s nice to be safe again! My mother thinks I’m crazy. She e-mailed me the first time I went to Asia to tell me that there were ACID BOMBINGS in HONG KONG! I mean, yeah, I was in hong kong for xmas, but like, really? ACID BOMBINGS? Nobody even died! She should thank god I’m not at home, where shit really goes down!
So I went to Taiwan after that (the hypothetical point of this trip, actually, visiting a friend who was teaching English in Chiayi, south Taiwan (I love you, Rachael!)) and realized, these people are the crazy ones. I swear you could pass out drunk in the middle of the street, covered in cash, drooling on yourself, and they’d probably see you, put your money back in your wallet, put your wallet back in your pocket, call you a cab, pay for the cab with their own money, and then walk you upstairs to your bunk-bed. It’s not that they’re that nice (although they really are very super sweet), I think it’s that they legitimately don’t understand that crime exists, that it might be potentially possible to just… take the drunk chick’s money and leave her be. After about a week, I actually caught myself subconsciously wishing that someone would rob me, or scam me, or even just annoy me! The Taiwanese are like… really sweet, intelligent, 4-year olds. They’re so fucking nice you just want to smack them.
Case In Point 1: I’m in Hualien, on the east coast of the island, and I’m drunk. Stupid drunk, in fact. I’ve had like, 8 Taiwan Beers (yes. That’s really what they’re called), and they’re like, the big ones. The 40’s, in fact. I’ve been drinking with some Canadians I met at this shack that this Taiwanese chick owns, and it’s been awesome. And then they were like, well let’s just walk over to this hippie surf bar down the road and have some shots, and I’m like, sweet! So now it’s about 3am, and I’ve lost everybody cause the bar closed, and I’m in a cab, and the dude doesn’t speak English, and all I can say in Mandarin is “hello”, “thank you!”, “delicious”, and “bye-bye”.
It turns out “bye-bye” is really super useful in Taiwan, btw. It also turns out you should really not tell strangers that their children are “delicious”, which Ireally thought was just the closest word I had. I mean, I didn’t want to name the small human clinging to my leg “Hello”. Or “Bye-bye”. Or “thank you”. So I called it “delicious”! I mean, so what if I found out later that I’d told a nice Taiwanese woman that her kid was a word that actually means “good to eat”, and she screamed, called me a “white devil” (yeah, I learned that word too…), and ran off. It’s just all about the acquisition and exchange of cultural knowledge, right??
I should also mention that I have failed to note the location of my hostel on the hand-drawn map given to me by Hostel Chick, that I have failed to remember or write down the name of said hostel and, further, that I have failed to figure out how the fuck I walked to where I am but can’t for the fucking life of me retrace where I came from. So cab-driver man and I troll around for a while. He’s very concerned that I don’t have a destination, but way too Taiwanese-polite to like, actually go and do anything silly about it, like extract me from his cab or something. I’m thinking, maybe it’ll look familiar in a bit? Indeed not. We spend some time poring over the afore-mentioned hand-drawn map (useless), call the switchboard (preeeeety sure that’s what he was doin anyway), and finally, in an act of desperation on his part (not to get rid of me, I swear, but just to help this poor lost laowai (white devil)), stop another cab driver. The two of them con-fab for a while, I’m hangin in the cab, and eventually, at about 4:30am, dump me at a building that looks suspiciously like my hostel. I promptly throw ever bloody Taiwanese dollar I have at this lovely man, and he patiently gives each one back and explains (I think??) that you don’t tip in Taiwan, and he’s just really very pleased to’ve helped. So, clearly, tonight is over.
Oh wait! The hostel’s locked? I also failed to get a key?? Awesome-sauce. And just ask me what Hostel Chick says when I spend $3 on my goddamn American iPhone to call upstairs, wake her up at 4:30 in the bloody morning, and get her to let me in? Can’t you just guess? “Oh! But I was so worried about you! Have you had a nice evening??” If this were America, I’d’ve left me for dead, and I’m nice, dammit.
Case in Point 2: it’s New Years, and I’ve finally met up with my friend in Kaohsiung. No real idea what to expect out of Taiwan for this holiday, as it’s not Chinese New Year and we’re really unsure if they even care. How wrong we were! Fireworks, fiestas, everyone’s out and about, totally super fun. But, of course, it’s Taiwan, so everything’s also orderly, polite, and ever so slightly… way-too-fucking-nice. Also, at precisely 12:15am sharp, everyone has queued and subway-d and gone to bed. Undeterred by our well-behaved new friends, we decide to go to some Canadian bar and get royally smashed. I mean, it’s New Years’! And as my posts clearly shows, Canadians are always entertaining? And now I’ve just won a giant beer mat?? From Beefeater??? Yay gin! Yay chopsticks! Yay for my new friend Debbie!
This quickly devolved into me and Rachael drinking Taiwan Beer from the 7-11 on a stoop with some old men at 4am, at which point we decided to move our Two-Person-Party to the park with some wine. 7-11 wine, clearly. Now, if a dressed-up American family were to take a New Years’ Day stroll through their neighborhood park with their kids at 11am and discover some drunk-ass foreigners slobbering all over themselves, screaming at volume, peeing in strategically located bushes (it was a really really big bush though, I swear… Also it was totally not me that peed in it.) and generally creating a ridiculous ruckus, they’d probably call the cops. Not in Taiwan though, we didn’t even get a 2nd sideways glance.
Nor did they object when we returned to the hotel and crashed Chinese breakfast. Which we did not enjoy (Taiwanese food: awesome. Chinese breakfast: vomit. Apologies to all the Chinese chefs out there, but no one ever wants nasty cold noodles à la unidentified goop when they should be having lovely fried pig products). And which we complained violently about, at obnoxious volume and length.
And finally, not a word from a single overly-polite-ass Taiwanese when we acquired more wine (how many bottles was that now? 6?), boarded a train home (how did we get those tix? Or find that train??), and migrated our fiesta, at an even stupidly higher volume, to the floor between compartments (I mean, what? It’s so not our fault the train was booked double and there weren’t any seats…). Nope, what they did do was: politely step over our prostrate, wine-guzzling selves, mention nothing when we started bitching, obscenely loudly now, about fuck knows what and all, and kindly leave a double- wide buffer around Rachel’s scooter as we sloshed and bubble-tea’d our way back home.
Taiwan: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. Even when it’s comin’ out the mouth of a wine-spewin’ drunk-ass laowai.