Thursday, December 29, 2005
Saturday, December 10, 2005
I joined an underground boxing club. I've never even thrown a punch before, but my dastardly cousin Steve decided to skip basic training so that he could punch me in the face. The comic is 100% true and factual. Only the mustaches have been changed.
Click on the left to see a bigger version, then zoom in to read the words easier (zoom by clicking on it again). My thanks to Rick for drawing it.
Saturday, October 15, 2005
The cockroaches slept; I could not. I tried Chinese medicine, and bought a hot water bottle, but I didn’t have a decent night’s sleep until I bought a space heater. By then it was nearly spring. I wish I’d bought it three months earlier – Susan might have slept with me then. That’s how cold it was.
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
“Susan, you can stay here as long as you want. Really, it’s no problem.” At this point most hot women I’ve met would frown and call me ‘creepy’. But Susan smiled and said, “Oh, that’s so sweet!” She spoke with a Dutch accent. She was sexy and beautiful. She had long hair, was tall, and wore a blue scuba diving outfit. “You must be Andrew," she said. I’d only been obsessed with her for two minutes and she already knew I existed. I was making tremendous progress.
She got into the bed next to me, and Dani got in next to her. They didn’t like the movie I was watching, so they talked. Dani said she had slept with a Chinese girl in Beijing, and the Chinese girl had worn paper underwear. Susan squirmed with delight. To understand the word ‘squirmed’ in this context, imagine seductive dancing as a reflex action. “Paper underwear! Paper underwear!” I said, trying to make her do it again.
As Susan talked, I stared at her. Her hair was burnt umber, she had an earring in the top of her ear as well as the bottom, and one tress of hair liked to fall in front of her right eye, which was the equal of the left for perfection. Her lips were suggestive; cameras dreamed about her cheek bones. Her tight scuba outfit left little, and yet so much, to the imagination. Imagine the most perfect woman you have ever seen, and then know that Susan makes her look like a bored child’s drawing on a balloon.
I asked if she had a job. She said she ‘made art.’ “Oh good,” I said, switching to a low, sincere voice, “Art is really important to me. I think art speaks to me about my life. Art helps to show me how to live. It tells me about who I am and where I am going. I really try to make time to think about art and what art means to me.” Susan was moved. “That’s how I feel about art!”
Dani changed the subject so she could complain about Martin. She was annoyed that he was pretending to be a gentleman instead of ravishing her. Susan said, “So he never even tried to kiss you, you just watched DVDs together, he never said, ‘Oh we’ve been doing this for some time now, I think we can be more than friends,’ or something like that?” “No.”
I realised my 20-minute relationship with Susan had developed along similar lines to Dani and Martin’s, i.e. we watched DVDs together but didn’t talk about our feelings. I drew myself up and turned to look into Susan’s eyes. “Susan, there’s something I’d like to tell you,” I said. “We’ve been doing this for some time, and I’d like to express my true feelings for you.” “Do you mean ‘express’, or ‘tell’?” She was leading me on! I had lost the element of surprise. “Er… tell. Please allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and respect you, as a woman and as an artist.” She giggled. Dani shook her head at me. “Andrew, you’re not interested in art. I’ve never heard you mention art, ever. Why are you being so weird?”
Dani hadn’t seen me flirting before so she didn’t know that’s what it was.
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Sunday, September 25, 2005
There are some things I need to say to her, so I asked some Dutch friends to translate three sentences for me. Here they are:
1: Wil je alsjeblieft deze kleine handoek aandoen?
2: Is er een kans dat je je vriend in Mexico dumpt?
3: Mag ik je nogsteeds tegen je kont slaan?
And now in English:
#1 - Please wear this miniature towel.
#2 - Is there any chance you will break up with your boyfriend in Mexico?
#3 - Am I still allowed to slap your ass?
Want to know more about Susan? I do! Let's find out together - in Amsterdam!
But in the next few entries, I'll tell you how it all started...
“Marriage is too expensive; divorce is too final. When marriage turns sour, people have nowhere to turn. I sought a creative solution, one fit for the modern
I had accepted an invitation to meet Yan
“After my divorce I was very unhappy,” she said, “while my ex-husband found contentment in brothels, gambling dens and all-night sex parties. I set out to correct this injustice and find some way to reduce divorces. However, although Taiwan is the world’s best country and our tourist slogan is ‘Our Country is Better Than Yours’, it is well known that Taiwanese people are not creative. I used the Internet to research foreign culture and came across the term ‘sin bin’. In some of your barbarian sports, the judge can make unsporting players leave the field and think about what they have done. Marriage is very much a team sport, so I adapted the idea.”
“But,” I said, “In sports the sin bin is a bench next to the pitch, whereas you have erected a concrete prison cell on every street corner in Miao Li.”
“Yes,” she said enthusiastically, “it’s a very elegant system. If a man fails to notice his wife’s new haircut, or stares too long at a pretty waitress, or commits any of the 999 Spousal Hate Crimes listed in the legislation, his wife can call the hotline. A squad attends the scene, interviews the witnesses, and can place the husband in the local sin bin.”
“Doesn’t it lead to more divorces?”
“No, because the squads take the view that the woman is usually right. Within a very short space of time, men learn they have to keep their wife happy or face cold, foodless nights in the sin bin. Miao Li is like a paradise now.”
“Have there been any unexpected side effects?”
“Yes,” she said, “there have been no marriages for two months. But no marriage means no divorce, so I have achieved my goal. The Mayor of Miao Li will be delighted – when his wife lets him out.”
Friday, September 23, 2005
Classic unpublished blog from September 2004
My girlfriend met me at the airport when I got back from
A game was scheduled for a couple of days later, and Satine was keen to go.
We walked into the stadium without paying so I assumed it was a friendly, but Robin saw a banner: “Germany 2006 World Cup qualifying match.” In other words it was an important game. It didn’t seem right that
We sat on the concrete terrace of the main stand, the only place with a roof to shelter us from the rain. We listened to the anthems, and Satine asked me why they were playing the ‘national song’. “Does it make you love your country?” I asked. “No,” she replied, puzzled. The game kicked off, a
I’d brought some Perrier water with me, and Robin and Satine had sushi. The nearest meat pie was 6,000 miles away. Satine tasted my expensive water and pulled a face like I had given her sour lemon mixed with poison. She didn’t see the point of drinking fizzy water. “It’s expensive,” I reminded her. “It tastes like ass,” she said. I’d been teaching her English.
The game bored me, but it was a new experience for both Robin and Satine.
At half time we went to get some food. Robin left to go on a date. Americans are like that. I bought some little rice cake things and kiwi juice from the sushi place and we went back to the stadium. Someone had taken our seats so we had to move. We ended up in front of an English guy with two little kids. Satine loved their cute British voices. “Will your children have cute voices like that?” she asked scarily. Did she say ‘your children’ or ‘our children’? Alarm! Alarm! “Let’s watch the game.”
The two people in the opposite stand had been joined by a friend. He didn’t have an umbrella so he sat in the middle. Three people covered by two umbrellas – It was real teamwork. There was more good teamwork on the pitch.
More goals came. For
After giving both teams a warm round of applause, everyone left. We walked out of the stadium into the drizzle, and we saw a very nice coach parked outside the main entrance. “Eh? Some fans hired a coach to see the game!” said Satine. “Um… maybe that’s the
Sunday, September 11, 2005
I overheard my mother and brother talking about getting some Chinese food. I went in to the living room; they were perusing the menu. 'Please can I have some hot and sour soup?' I asked. 'Do you have any money?' asked my mother. 'I have two pounds thirty pence.' 'It's not enough,' she said. 'If you want food you shall have to perform like an abused Thai Elephant,' said my brother, his face twisted, his smile malicious. 'Whatever do you mean?' 'I will buy you some food if you embarrass yourself by speaking Chinese on the phone.' 'I lack the Chinese for such a task.' 'You shall talk, or you shall starve,' he said, and he ran his finger along his neck.
He dialled and handed me the phone. My mother said, 'When you call she will say 'number 7?' – You won't even need to give the address. It's so funny.'
'Can I order a delivery?'
A long pause.
'Do you want the address?' I asked.
'So I want sweet and sour chicken. But no pineapple!'
It was time to speak Chinese. 'Meiyou Pineapple,' I said.
'Okay. No pineapple.'
'And lemon chicken, and beef with peppers. And rice.'
'Okay fifteen minutes.'
I took a breath and pretended I was in
'How much is it? Duoshao qian?' I was saying it perfectly.
'What language are you speaking?'
'It's called.... Chinese...'
'Say it again.'
'Duoshao qian?''Oh! Duoshao qian? Fourteen pounds.'
'Your Chinese is bad,' I told her, in Chinese.
'No, your Chinese is bad.'
'You're a bad egg,' I said. I'm allowed to insult Chinese people because I'm cute.
'I'm not a bad egg, you're a bad egg.'
'I'm not a bad egg, I'm a good egg.' This is the funniest thing you can say to a Chinese person and so hysterical that the phone call ended.
'I am pleased that you lost face', said my brother. 'You will eat tonight. But next time, ask her if she has a boyfriend.'
Thursday, July 07, 2005
Dumbledore vs. He Who Must Not Be Named
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Preamble A lovely morning here in the Hogwarts grounds with a worrying mass of storm clouds gathering. The bad news for Dumbledore is that there seem to be three HWMNBNs here. Or maybe I shouldn't have gone out drinking all night knowing I had to do this match report first thing.
1st round: You Know Who's first spell flies over DD's head; he's very nervous. DD replies with a Silly Midriff spell which leaves YKW prone.
2nd round: Again YKW aims awry, and DD replies with a textbook Oak of Ages spell, turning Voldemort's legs into trees. He follows up with some vicious hexes aimed at leg stump which YKW does well to deflect.
"Why doesn't Harry Potter apparate into the grounds and help Dumbledore?" writes Angela Doyle. Go and read Hogwarts: A History! Sheesh!
3rd round: It's obvious now that YKW is controlling the storm. I should have realised earlier but to be honest I had too much I-Can't-Believe-It's-Not-Butterbeer last night. YKW summons a tornado and crashes it toward Dumbledore, who dodges. Gosh, there was a lot of spin on that. DD is looking like an old man now.
4th round: The end is nigh, I fear. DD fires some Beamers at YKW, who is moving his feet less than Marcus Trescothick, but is timing his spells so well. He casts Black Ice, covering the floor around DDs feet. DD edges away but slips.
5th round: It's all over... Dramatic scenes here. Sensing defeat, Dumbledore called for help from Fawkes, his phoenix, and was suddenly engulfed in flames - YKW's last spell looked like Black Ice but was in fact some kind of highly flammable oil. DD burned, his screams not helping my sore head one bit, and was reduced to a small mound. YKW is ecstatic.
Okay, I'm off to the Three Broomsticks for breakfast. Join me next week when Harry Potter fights YKW for the ashes.
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
Two foreigners arrive home to find their living room is a tornado of flying termites. The smart one retreats to his computer room while his friend runs to buy an electric bug zapper in the shape of a tennis racket. He forgets to buy batteries and hides in his room. After ten minutes, the nervous men peer into the living room to find the flying bugs have vanished. "Perhaps they are migrating south," suggests one. The other stares in horror at the floor. "My god," he says, "it's full of wings!" The termites have shed their wings and are crawling around the floor like maggots. One of the men begins stamping on the villains; the other turns pale and sweats cold sweat. "They're... they're evolving," he mutters.
The more proactive of the two heads to the kitchen. He makes a noise that sounds like a distended hippo on heat. "UUueehhheehHHhnnnn," he gags. "Look!" The other man reluctantly approaches the kitchen. The floor, doors and surfaces are crawling with termite maggots. Five or six cockroaches are running round eating them. The foreigners have never seen cockroaches eat before, and it is not something they will forget. "We got to kill the termites," says one. "What about the cockroaches?" whines the other. "The enemy of our enemy is our friend," comes the reply. "They're on our side this time." He begins sweeping the termites into a central mound. The mound, completed, is a heaving mass of pale disgust.
"Here's my plan," he says. "You take the brush and keep them here in the Pile," he says as he brushes some escapees back, "while I go put my boot on and squash them all." "Uh! No! Just put them in a bucket and drown them," replies the logical coward.
One week later all signs of the termites are gone. Next year they will return, and the landlord will tell the new tenant it is his fault for not paying the gas bill on time.
Sunday, May 08, 2005
It took me a trifling 30 minutes to get from my house to
There are 3 main features of a Chinese wedding. First, the food is plentiful and delicious. Second, old men give long speeches. Third, the bride changes dresses three or four times. My student, her parents and I ate food and listened to speeches. I asked my student to translate if anyone told a joke or an amusing story. 40 minutes later I reminded her. "I know," she said, "I will if they do." Later still, I reminded her again. "But there haven't been any!" 2 hours - no jokes.
The first course was lobster. My student's father dumped half the lobster on my dish. I don't like seafood and it makes me die so I ate it slowly hoping some of it would evaporate. It didn't. Then my student's mother noticed how much lobster I had. She seemed angry. "Andrew! Why do you have so much lobster? Ayy!" "But..." I said. My student whispered to me, "Lobster is very expensive." "Well, I don't like lobster very much so maybe you can help me eat it," I said to the mother. She looked offended. "It's very good lobster! Very fresh! Delicious! Eat it!" She picked up another bigspoonful of lobster and dumped it on my dish, and stared at me viciously until I started eating.
The food was good but the most sumptuous, well-presented dish was the bride. She came in three flavours - white, burgundy and blue. While she was wearing the burgundy dress, complete with frilly netty silky gloves and subtle body glitter, we went over to present our respects. I didn't even try to understand what my role was supposed to be, nor did I try to understand any of the conversations. I simply stared at her, enchanted.
Then I went home, alone. It took less than half an hour. Taipei - the MRT is good.
Saturday, May 07, 2005
A hot spring is a series of little pools filled with tap water (in
Blant warned me as we went to Beitou that a trip to the hot spring is a zen-like experience and that I should behave accordingly. "Don't move too quickly in the water for the waves will disturb the concentration of the other bathers. Don't speak too loudly; control your breathing; try to place yourself at one with nature; be silent and watchful." Blant had also invited Paul Mastiff, a fellow Brit. When we arrived Paul was already in the hot pool. I got changed and ready and dipped a toe into the hot pool, then another, and another, until I felt confident enough to put in my whole foot. By the time I got to my neck, six minutes had passed and it was time for Paul to get out. He charged like a water buffalo attacking a hippo, and bellowed, "HEY I'M GEDDIN OUT NOW ANYONE WANNA COME TO THE COLD POOL MAN ITS HOT HERE HEY YOU SPEAK ENGLISH HOW ARE YOU?"
With Paul attacking other pools, and Taiwanese people taking flight like startled pigeons, I tried to find my Zen. I looked around and saw that the hot spring was carved into the side of a leafy mountain. Hot water trickled along bamboo half-pipes into the hot pool, creating marvellous swish and splash sounds that made me think of the ocean. "Pretty nice," I thought to myself. The place was small and popular but not crowded. The day was a sizzling one, but although the hot spring was outdoors, the air was pleasantly cool. "Very nice," I thought, and closed my eyes.
When I opened them, an American had appeared to my left, and his Taiwanese wife, and her mother and sister were getting in to my right. "Don't talk to me," I said with my eyes. "Hey!" shouted the wife, "We hear you're single!" "What? Who-" I began. "So we thought maybe you'd like to date my sister. Let's all go to lunch!" I glanced at the smiling girl to my right, and, assuming her to be the sister in question, played my get-out-of-jail-free card. "Right, that's.... yeah, but I'm leaving
"How did you guys meet?" I asked. She spoke rapidly for thirty seconds. I could only pick out the phrases '
I left the
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
"It's quite interesting," he began. "Over the last three months your neighbours have made no improvement at all. It's counter-intuitive, I accept that. Most people, when they repeat an action many times, be it speaking a foreign language or hammering a nail, improve. That is to say, they get better. Practice makes perfect. In Chinese we have the idiom, 'The Mating Frog Lacks Not Patience,' which I think says it all. Improvement generally follows the Fisher-Wight curve. In the case of your neighbours, the complete lack of improvement is, frankly, contrary to all scientific notions. Fisher and Wight, not to mention Einstein and
So what was the song about? The researchers told me that what sounded to my barbaric Western ear as one Chinese song endlessly re-butchered was in fact three hundred different songs. They downloaded and printed the lyrics of half a dozen. Seeing the Chinese gobbledegook on the page, I visited top translator Tiffany Yen in her sumptuous coffee shop office. She charged me $4000 to translate the words into English and then told me that I should have bought a $280 book which contained the English translation of many Chinese songs.
These are the choruses from the three most popular Chinese songs, as warbled indefatigably by my neighbours.
3 - I Love You
I love you
You don't love me
We are not together
I hope you'll be happy
2 - You Love Her
I love you
You love her
We are not together
I hope she makes you happy
1 - You Love Me
You love me
I don't love you
We are together
But not for long
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
The donut craze, like everything cool in
At the moment there are only three Mister Donut branches in
Parties, English lessons, family reunions – nothing is safe from the new breed of professional gate-crashers in
Monday, April 04, 2005
Dr. Han led me into a small room. A white-coated scientist controlled two computers and four CCTV monitors, and looked through a large one-way mirror into an adjoining room. Dr. Han jabbed his finger at the other room. "We call this Restaurant Therapy. A lot of foreigners are deeply unsettled by their experiences in Taiwanese restaurants, coffee shops, cinemas, and other places of relaxation. The simplest purchases can quickly degenerate into complicated, surreal, or even life-altering ordeals."
I turned to look at Subject B. His doctor offered him a choice of apples, red or green. Subject B nodded like a homeless woodpecker.
"Subject B's case was more complicated. He went to a local theme park on a hot day and was attracted to an ice-cream stall. The ice-cream came with real fruit toppings. It was possible to have two toppings for a small extra charge. He asked for a kiwi/strawberry mix and the staff of the ice-cream stall told him it wouldn't taste good. At first he was very polite and assured them that, strange as it seemed to them, he did indeed enjoy that mix of flavours. However, and this is I'm afraid somewhat typical, the workers insisted that kiwi and strawberry should not be mixed and absolutely refused to make it." Subject B stopped nodding. His eyes wandered vaguely around the room." So what happened to him? Why is he here?" I asked. "As I said, it's complicated. We think his brain went into some kind of meltdown. His psyche equates civilised life with boundless choice, almost complete freedom of movement and action. He thought Taiwan was a normal country, so his experience with the ice cream was dangerously unexpected. If he had been expecting something of the sort, things would have been better. Now, if you ask him a question he just nods his head. His therapy is currently ineffective."
We walked to the top floor. "I'm afraid you can't go inside any of the rooms, but you can take a quick look through the windows. Just don't make any grammar mistakes while you're up here." "What do you mean? This is the place we put our demented English teachers. We've got some very sorry cases here. Chaps whose students just never improve, guys who really want to do some good and are frustrated at every turn. Some people can't handle it. It affects men more than women, and Canadians more than other nationalities." I peeked inside one of the rooms. I saw something appalling. "Is he... is he Canadian?" I asked. "Yes, I'm afraid so." "What's he doing? He's flashbacking. In his head, he's teaching his advanced class. The one that made him freak out." I leaned in a little closer to the glass. His eyes were red and puffed; his tie had been tugged askew. He wagged his fingers at his imaginary students and, his body tense and hard, raised his shaking hands to his shaking head, and screamed, "The past tense of 'go' is 'went'! The past tense of 'go' is 'went'!" I gagged on some stomach acid that had risen into my mouth. "I'd like to go home now", I said.
Sunday, April 03, 2005
On flight EVA1276 from
Sunday, March 27, 2005
Outraged by the bullying tactics of their giant neighbour China, more than one million Taiwanese people and a handful of foreigners took to the streets of Taipei in a vast protest march. They jammed the subway system so comprehensively I was forced to interview some of them as I walked home.
"I'm here because my mother taught me to stand up to bullies. And bullies don't come bigger than China. Except maybe America. And the New York Yankees," said Bei Jianbe, a computer engineer from Danshui. I asked him if the bullies in his school had 700 missiles pointing at his house. "No," he said, "they didn't."
I talked to some girls. "I love Taiwan more than I love my boyfriend," said Cherry Lin, a pretty high-school student wearing a blue and white school uniform and blue knee-length socks. "Actually a future-teller told me my boyfriend - he's a computer engineer - would die aged 19, so I don't love him very much. When China made this new law which says they will attack Taiwan, I cried. It took me twenty minutes to re-cake my face with whitening powder. Now I'm here to wave these inflatable green balloon-sticks and sing songs about peace. That will show the governments of the world that Taiwan is a country and a democracy."
Tiffany Yen, a curvy middle-aged woman with pleasant short hair said, "This issue is so important to me that I cancelled my study group today. We were going to do the chapter about nonrestrictive modifiers, so you can tell how excited we were. Of course, it's my study group so I should have realised there would be a scheduling conflict. Today's march has been publicised for a long time."
But why are you protesting? "At first I was angry about China's new law. How can they prance around the world trying to position themselves as a major world power while they point their vile missiles at us and threaten our peaceful way of life? Then I thought about the implications of a Chinese invasion. The end result would be millions of stunning Chinese women flooding into Taiwan, taking our boyfriends and husbands. My anger grew into thundrous rage. My boyfriend may be fat and old, but he's mine. Like my study group. And the sooner that bitch Maggie Zhang, who wants me to move it to Sundays, which are more convenient for her, understands that, the better. It's my study group, and my country. That's why I'm here wearing a missile costume asking strangers to spank me." By the way, is your boyfriend a computer engineer? "No, he's a software engineer. Why do you ask?"
There were some white people there too. I spoke to a Canadian who asked not to be named. "Oh, man, Taiwan, yeah, those missiles, that's scary, right? Fuck that shit." And why are you joining the protest? "Oh, dude! Look around. 1 million people, half a million chicks. Emotionally charged. Hot, sweaty, vulnerable. I've got 20 spaces left on my cellphone and I'm gonna get 20 numbers today. I love democracy." I stared at him. And took out my phone.
I had 80 spaces open.
Saturday, March 26, 2005
Restaurants come in all shapes and surprises, especially in Taipei where owners retain a healthy hatred of all customers. Faster Pasta adds a delectable twist - uncooked meat in the bolognese.
I spoke to 49-year old Michael Chen, the forward-thinking entrepreneur who believes his idea will transform the way we eat. "When I opened the restaurant we made a lot of money, but I wanted to make more money so I could go to Vegas and pay to urinate on blonde women. I watched customers come in to my restaurant and was dismayed by the inefficiency. They sat down, they took time to choose their food, it took time to cook the food, and after their meal they sat around for ages without giving me any more money. It was intolerable. I suddenly realised that I could solve all three problems by reducing the menu to two items; spaghetti or spaghetti with raw meat. I stood up in the dining area where I'd been masquerading as a customer and shouted 'Stop cooking the meat!' Since then we give them the cold meat. When people finish that they clear out real quick because I blocked off the toilets. They gotta go someplace else to do their shit. Business is booming, I gotta tell you."
Did he go to Vegas?
"Sure I did."
And did he urinate on the women?
"Dude, finding a girl who'll let you do that is as easy as writing a check for 400 bucks."
"No, I didn't. Couldn't do it in the end. I can't go if someone's watching. She was pretty disappointed."
Taipei City, 565 Zhongshan North Road, 212-715-2400
Lunch, Monday through Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.; dinner, 5 to 10 p.m. daily.
Spaghetti, $20–$25; with meat, $35–$40. A.E., M.C., V.