Sunday, May 30, 2010

Devo Diary Chapter 42


Phil

Oct 2003
I land in Taipei full of hope and excitement. I'm so happy to be living in a big East Asian city again. It reminds me so much of my time in Seoul, although of course the culture is quite different. I don't speak much Mandarin beyond ni hao and xie xie but I'm going to learn. Taiwan is such an unusual place--colonized by Japan for fifty years, then claiming to be the real Republic of China after the Kuomintang arrived fleeing the Communists, but to this day never fully recognized as a country. Now it's the most liberal country in East Asia, and will probably be the first to legalize gay marriage. And the food, oh my god, I think it's the best in the world. You know you're in a serious foodie culture when even the potstickers from a tiny takeaway are better than the best restaurants at home.
From the minute the plane touches down, I feel refreshed at being out of Raser City, away from the US, ready to start over in a new place.
Although I have never been here before, I have a friend who has offered to help me get set up. Phil, an old friend from Lester State University has been living in the boho Shida district for a year. He's letting me stay with him until I can rent an apartment. This is a lifesaver for me, and a huge favor. I'm super grateful. Also, a little intrigued since I've had a tiny crush on Phil for years, ever since he sprained his ankle and was on crutches for a few weeks.
Apparently, my dev desires make me demented because those few weeks on crutches three years ago were all it took to flip a switch in my brain. Now, the minute I see him again, as I stumble in the door with my huge suitcases, jetlagged and sleep-deprived, all those feelings arise again. Tentatively, uncertainly, but definitely still there. And I know he has a similar, uncertain interest in me because he's secretly intrigued by SM but has never had the balls to tell me directly. He's the guy who once asked if I whack guys on the back of the head with a gardening shovel. What the fuck, Phil?
As soon as I arrive, it's like no time at all has passed; we're chatting away and enjoying each other's company. He looks the same: baby face with blue eyes and floppy dirty blond hair. He's not exactly classically handsome--his ears and nose are big, and his chin kind of receding, but he can be sweet and goofy in a boyish, endearing way. He's the kind of hipster who plays Ultimate Frisbee and enjoys avant-garde performance art in a non-ironic way. His apartment is vintage 1970s, both the decor and the building itself.
It's strangely intimate to be staying in this small apartment with him. He gives me the bedroom and sleeps on the sofa in the living room, but I still see him when he gets out of the shower in a towel and first thing in the morning with him pajamas on. He's more solid and muscular than I realized. The first few days, in my jet-lagged state, I find myself falling for him even more.
I arrive on a Friday afternoon, so the first weekend we just take it easy, and Phil shows me around. He takes me to dinner at Din Tai Fung, which serves the best food I have ever had anywhere. Their specialty is xiao long bao, little steamed round potstickers filled with pork and broth. You eat them with soy sauce, vinegar and sliced ginger--the rich meaty sharp flavors are heavenly. He also shows me the best little café, a Rococo delight with tanks of koi lining the walls, even in the bathroom. The owner, a tiny man with a giant handlebar mustache, plays the baby grand piano that takes up half the room. The hot chocolate is sinfully rich and thick.
Phil shows me the best English language bookstores, the best night markets, and how to navigate the convenience stores, which unlike in the US are actually convenient. I'm heaven.
Then on Monday it's time to start getting settled in on my own and it all goes to hell. First the person who had agreed to sponsor my internship reneges on the deal, then I can't get any bank to let me open an account because of new post 9-11 anti-terrorism rules, and I can't find an apartment with a short term lease. As the week wears on and the defeats pile up, I start to slowly lose heart. On a Friday afternoon, I return to Phil's apartment, having been turned away from the fifth bank that I tried. Phil happens to be at home, and asks how it's going. As I tell him every painful detail, I start to cry. Not just a little, but huge heaving sobs.
"What the hell am I going to dooooo?" I wail, collapsing to the bedroom floor and leaning against the bed. I'm sort of hoping he'll help me out somehow. Introduce me to a better sponsor, point me towards an apartment, anything. But he just gets a funny look on his face and slowly backs out of the room. There are some guys who can't deal when a woman cries. I can see in his eyes that I'm making him uncomfortable, because he feels like he should do something but he doesn't want to, or doesn't know how. He just wants me to stop already.
I feel embarrassed for losing it like this in front of him, and also sad and frustrated that he won't help me. I mean, even if he can't help in a material way, can't he at least offer emotional support? Fucking guys, man. I wish Lulu were here. She would help me feel better instead of worse.
So I put on my big girl pants and deal with it myself. I work all the connections I've got and through sheer luck find someone else to sponsor my internship. Phil finally makes himself useful and suggests trying to open an account at a small credit union, and it works. I locate a better real estate agent and land what seems to be the perfect apartment: fully furnished, month-to-month lease, not too expensive, the kind of place used by businessmen on assignment.
My new apartment is centrally located in the Zhongshan District, actually maybe too centrally located. It's in a little alley just off Linsen North Road, the biggest red light district in Taipei. Whenever I tell someone the address, they look at me kind of funny and ask, "Is it...safe?" Please, I scoff. Even the most dangerous part of Taipei is like a thousand times safer than the safest part of Raser City.
The apartment is on the third floor of a small five story walkup with only one unit on each floor. I get a really good deal on the rent because it's right next to a big construction site where a pachinko parlor is being built. Right now it's just a big hole where they are pile-driving supports. As I am sitting in the apartment with the real estate agent signing the lease, the shockwaves from the pile-driving cause the whole apartment to shake, the papers sliding slowly sideways across the glass coffee table. I wonder for a moment as I sign my name if this is a mistake. But the noise is only during the day, I reason. I'll be out most of the time anyway.
As I'm moving in, hauling my enormous suitcases up the twisting, narrow stairs, the whole building sways precariously, and I curse the construction even more. It's not until I talk to Phil later on that I realize it was an earthquake. Living in Raser City I've felt a few tremors over the years and become inured to it, but Phil has not.
"You know we're due for another big one here," he says over drinks at a little neighborhood hole in the wall. "It could be right now. Or...now...right...now..."
"Cut it out!"
"NOW!" He seems both genuinely nervous and perversely relieved to pass his anxiety on to me.
Once I move into my own place and start working, I fall into a routine and things start to feel more comfortable. I get a pretty white flip phone that is light years ahead of any cell phone available in the US. I get internet in my apartment--staying connected with friends back home helps my emotional state immensely. It's such a change from the year and a half I spent in Seoul where I only had internet at work. I can hardly imagine living like that anymore.
I had been hoping to make friends with local people and not only hang around with expat Americans like an asshole. My internship is ok but not the sort of place to make friends. The people who work there are mostly much older, and the few young people are super weird. I watch one pasty dude drink bottled tea at his desk all day, pouring it into his open mouth without ever touching it with his lips. To achieve this dubious trick, he has to turn his whole head upwards, like the world's dorkiest fountain. The only woman who seems to be around my age wears a mask all the time, the kind people in East Asia wear when they have a cold and don't want to spread it around. Except she wears it all day every day. I never see her without it. None of them seems interested in getting to know me.
Ok, so I'll have to look elsewhere for my social life. I default to hanging around with Phil and his friends, who are all American. Through him, I get to know two women, let's call them Shamela and Malison. Malison is tall and skinny with a bob of straight red hair, and Shamela is shorter with curly blond hair and a little upturned nose. We're all in our early thirties, single, and bumming around Asia as a way to delay adulthood. Like kids a decade younger, the four of us go out drinking and clubbing every weekend. Because I live within walking distance of the bars and clubs, they all stay over at my place, sleeping on the floor in a big pile like puppies, even knowing the construction will wake us without fail at seven am. The pile driving is still going on, making the whole building shake.
 Phil has this theory that people who never partied in high school make up for it later. That's certainly true for me.
For a moment when I first arrive in Taipei, I feel like Phil is flirting with me. Or maybe thinking about flirting, or something. We spend all this time together, having long intellectual conversations about art and music and everything. He shows me the gross-out dudebro fiction he writes with friend of his I call Skanthony. I have nothing to say about a short story that is just two guys discussing their shits and who needs to flush the toilet. But when we're all out together in a group, then later having sleepovers on the floor of my bedroom like drunk, oversized teenagers, I feel like there's something between us.
Then he tells me he's started dating Malison. Ok, I guess that flirty vibe was aimed at her. It stings, but I don't say anything.
Right before we all go out for a Halloween party on the last Saturday night of the month, Phil tells me that Skanthony likes me and hints that we should try going out together. I don't know him that well, but Skanthony is my type--blond hair, blue eyes, stunningly handsome with his square jaw and dimple, and Phil seems to be vouching for him. It's always nice when a guy says he likes you. I start to imagine dating him, and strategizing for how to ask him out myself.
Our Halloween plans are to go to a BDSM event that Phil found out about, in a club called Door Eight. Phil, Malison and Shamela show up early at my place to get outfitted for the evening.
I dress up in my red vinyl Betty DeLuxe suit, and add little devil horns and mirror shades. Under the jacket, I wear nothing but a black velvet bra. Malison wears a bright purple pixie wig, and Shamela wears a neon green wig in a long Betty Page cut. Phil looks too plain in his white t shirt and black pants, so we put some blue eye-shadow and pink lipstick on him, but the results are still ambiguous. The makeup is not heavy enough to look like he's cross-dressing or wearing a costume. He just looks like a dude wearing lip gloss.
I brought a few SM toys with me from Raser City, because why the hell not? I let Phil wear my leather cuffs with the d-rings, and give Shamela my riding crop. I take along my little rubber flogger.
Once we are all made up, we grab some potstickers and drinks for dinner, and Skanthony meets up with us at the restaurant. He's dressed as David Beckham, and looking quite like him. Phil hassles him about not getting the memo about the fetish club, but he just waves it off.
I strategically sit next to Skanthony at dinner and try chatting him up. He seems mildly interested. He hasn't been to my apartment before, so to make conversation I start talking about what it's like to live in this neighborhood.
"There are actual hookers lining the main street," I blab. "I didn't realize it at first because they're not dressed up. They just wear sweaters and coats or whatever. In Seoul you knew exactly who the hookers were because they were practically in their underwear with a ton of makeup. You've gotta advertise, right? But these girls just stand there looking at their phones, acting like they're waiting for a friend.When I first moved in, I was like why are all these girls just standing around? But then I saw one follow a guy down the street half a block whining at him while he walked faster and faster, not looking at her. After a few minutes she gave up and went back to where she was standing before. And I was like oooohhhh I see what's happening here. Once I recognized it, I realized there are a ton of them out there every day."
"What, so are they offering to go to a love hotel, or just a handy in the alley?" Skanthony asks. Suddenly I have his full, riveted attention.
"How would I know!" I laugh.
"Well, are they hot? How much do they charge?" He pesters me with questions I don't care to answer. It's repulsive how interested he is in the prostitutes, and I sorely regret even bringing up the topic. Unfortunately to get to Door Eight, we have to take the train, and most of them congregate along the street by the station.
We finish dinner, pay the bill and walk over, as Skanthony talks excitedly about the hookers the entire time. As we near the station, we pass a least a dozen, ordinary looking girls. Skanthony ogles them openly, but they ignore him. Even Phil has the decency to seem slightly embarrassed at his behavior, but not enough to tell him to knock it off.
By this point I'm thoroughly disgusted and have no intention of ever speaking to him again, so it's a relief when we get to the station and Skanthony announces he's not interested in Door Eight and heads off for a train going in a different direction.
When we get on the train, Phil sits next to me and even gives me his scarf to wear because I'm cold, while Malison sits across from us with Shamela. Goddamn it, I wish he would stop giving me these mixed signals. It's clear now that Skanthony was never interested in me, Phil probably just said that to make me feel better or something. Also I can't believe he vouched for such an unvarnished asshole.
Why won't Phil just ask me out already? Normally I wouldn't mind making the first move myself but I'm not going to make a play for him with Malison sitting right there. And these are my only friends here. I don't want to fuck it up and lose them all.
Finally we make it to the club. I've been to quite a few BDSM events in Raser City, but none of them have anything on Door Eight. Even the street fair just before I left seems tame compared to this. The club is a huge room with a low stage in the middle. We ditch our belongings in a coin locker in the back, then get some drinks and head out onto the floor.
There are drag queens of every description, some in the most elaborate wigs, corsets and platform shoes, some in nothing but body paint. There are cosplayers of every description --a big fat dude in a dainty frock dressed as Chii from Chobits, a group of guys dressed as the Sailor Moon squad with giant plastic heads looking like anime characters come to life, a pair of girls in matching sexy Santa outfits, because why not? There's also a big round dude with greasy hair, a tight plaid shirt tucked in to his too-tight pants pulled up too high. He has a number of plastic shopping bags tied to his waist, and no less than three high-end cameras around his neck. He's moving slowly through the crowd like a jellyfish, the bags on his belt swaying as he moves, snapping photos of everyone.
"Look, it's a real otaku," Phil whispers to me.
Pressed right up against the stage before the show even starts is a furry in a well-worn panda suit. The furries I have seen in the US like to wear big mascot heads that look like Warner Bros cartoons. But this costume has a cutout at the face, and the dude has painted his face immaculately black and white. Lower down there is also a cutout at the crotch where his penis is hanging out. The otaku looking dude snaps his photo.
We dance for a while in a group, pantomiming some SM moves. The three of us girls tug at Phil's wrist cuffs, holding his arms up, and pretend to hit him with the flogger and riding crop while he laughs and mugs. Even though this is like the tamest SM play I have ever done, Phil is, unwittingly or not, torturing me with jealousy. I'm sure Malison would never do this for real. I can tell by the self-conscious way she is holding the flogger; it's not her thing. If Phil wants this, why won't he say so?
After an hour or so the show starts. For the first act, a slender drag queen with elaborate makeup and a totally shaved head takes the stage. She's dressed like a go-go dancer in an outfit made from plastic shopping bags. When the music starts up, a syrupy Mandopop ballad, she grabs from a small box affixed to her belt handfuls of flower petals cut from more shopping bags and uses a hairdryer in her other hand to make them fly around her like a dizzying snowstorm, all the while lip-syncing with earnest intensity. It's the silliest, cheesiest thing I've ever seen.
The acts after that are not as charming. There are some uninspired contortionists, a whole lot of needle play and piercing, followed by a very long and tedious oshibari session. It's getting more and more crowded, and the tenor of the crowd has shifted from playful to predatory. Men start jostling and rubbing up against us. By the time the third girl is being strung up in elaborate knots, Malison and Shamela have had enough. We decide to leave.
The three of us head back towards the coin lockers to retrieve our purses and coats, while Phil hangs back watching the oshibari girl.
"Hurry up, I'm getting uncomfortable," Shamela says nervously as I check to make sure we have all our gear.
The lockers are at the end of a long narrow hallway at the side of the dance floor. We turn to exit, and find a cluster of four guys all in the same identical rig--totally naked except for some elaborate harness that goes from their shoulders to their groins, with their dicks supported on little bamboo planks, sticking out like a shelf from their crotches. The lunge toward us, grinning, blocking our exit.
"What the fuck is that?!" Malison exclaims. Shamela just squeals and hides behind us. Malison and I glance at each other then push past the dick shelf dudes, glaring angrily at them and daring them to try anything as we make a dash for the door, Shamela tagging along behind us.
That final encounter seals the deal--none of us ever want to go back to Door Eight again. I know enough about the SM scene to recognize it's not always like that, but the rest of them are turned off permanently. Phil never mentions anything about SM to me again.


November 2003
One of the things that has kept me going through the rocky first month here was the thought that Warren would soon be coming to visit. Not that we've had any great love affair, but it's always nice to be around someone who finds you attractive, and he's someone from home. I'm really looking forward to showing him around, taking him to all my favorite places. Maybe we could even brave a visit to Door Eight if he was interested.
We've been in touch by email, and lets me know when he's bought his place ticket, but no other details. I keep asking what his plans are but he never replies. Finally it gets to be less than a week until his arrival date.
Hey there, let me know your flight number and I'll come meet you at the airport, I write him via email. Do you want to stay with me, or have you booked a hotel?
I'm staying at a hotel with Keiko while she attends a conference, he writes back. Maybe we could get dinner one night.
This is news to me. Um, what? You said you were coming to visit me. You never mentioned anything about Keiko, I reply.
I'm sorry if there was any misunderstanding, he lies. The purpose of this trip was always Keiko's conference.
I feel like he's just pulled a bait-and-switch on me, and even though we were never that close, I find it unexpectedly hurtful. If he had just said from the beginning that he was coming with Keiko and would only maybe be free for dinner one night, I would have been fine with that. But more than once he said, I'm coming to visit you. When I tried to make plans or mentioned him staying with me, he never said anything until now.
Even more galling, he always signs every email to me "love, Warren." I know he doesn't love me. The only reason he writes that is probably he learned as a child that's how you end letters. If he attached any meaning to the word "love" he wouldn't use it so casually like that.
I'm ashamed at how upset I am over this. It seems so petty. I try to shrug it off, and agree to meet him for dinner. Immediately after I agree, I get a distraught email from Keiko herself, a woman I have only met once, when she was holding Warren's leash as he was roleplaying as a dog at the Raser City Freak Fair.
You have no right to steal Warren from me!! I was his girlfriend first! We have been together for two years, and I know he loves me!!!!! So leave us alone! Why do you keep butting into our relationship? I'm a Japanese woman and we are very traditional. I'm over 40 and you don't understand how hard it is for me, wanting so much to get married. When Warren took me to his friend's wedding in Edmonton I thought for sure he was going to propose. But then I find out after that he is seeing you at the same time. Why am I always the last to find out?
And when he borrowed the cage, I was supposed to be the one to lock him in it. Then I find out later that you did it. Why am I the last to know? It was supposed to be our special thing together!
Now I take him to Taipei where I lived for 15 years before I moved to Raser City, it is MY CITY here and I have been looking forward to showing him around and everything. Then I find out you are here too! Why are you following me and ruining my life? I just want to be happy with Warren and get married to him! Please please leave us alone!!!
Love, Keiko
I read this screed with my jaw hanging open. Who knew a wedding in Edmonton was such a romantic getaway? Or that locking someone in a human sized cage was a profession of love, or worth fighting over who got the privilege to do it? As the shock wears off, the anger slowly bubbles up in my veins.
I forward the email to Warren and write above it, What the fuck, you asshole! I asked you multiple times if you had a girlfriend and you said no. I even asked if Keiko thought of herself as your girlfriend and you still said no. This is exactly the kind of bullshit drama I was looking to avoid. You lied to both of us, and for what? I don't want any part of this. You fix things with Keiko because I'm not responding to her myself.
You don't understand, he writes back. I can practically hear his whining, wheedling tone through the screen. She needs me. I've tried to break up with her more than once but each time she threatens to commit suicide if I don't stay with her.
I roll my eyes so hard at this I nearly pull a muscle in my face. You're being played, I reply. If she threatens suicide then send her to a crisis counselor and get her mental health help. She's just manipulating you, and it's working.
You don't understand, she really needs me, he repeats. She might die without me.
Who knew Warren the robot had such an emotional, illogical streak?
His email continues, So are we still on for dinner when I arrive next week?
Ah, still as socially graceless as ever.
Hell no I'm not going to dinner with you. I don't want any part of whatever ridiculous, co-dependent, insane thing you have going on. You can take your relationship drama and shove it up your ass. I am done with you. Never contact me again.
Of course as a know-it-all nerd dude, he still wants to get in the last word, so he writes back anyway even after I told him not to.
That's really a very unfair overreaction to this situation. I never said I was going to stay with you. We could have had a nice dinner together. It's too bad you have chosen to descend into profanity and insults rather than trying to work things out civilly.
As much as I am itching to reply with more vitriol, just to show him what kinds of further profanity and insults I can summon, I decide it's better not to. I honestly never want to speak to him again, and I have no interest in hearing more of his bullshit excuses and brainier-than-thou putdowns.
So instead of firing back another email, I stay up until the middle of the night and call Lulu. For some reason I got a land line with a ridiculously cheap international calling plan along with my home internet service. Hours long calls to the US are no big deal, apart from the time difference, so I take full advantage.
"What the fuck!" I rant at her. "I can't believe he dragged me into this stupid fucking drama. If I had known Keiko felt that way, I never would have gone on even one date with him. I know I've made some bad relationship decisions, gone out with  guys I shouldn't have, but he was supposed to be the safe bet. Good job, well educated, common interests, friends in common, he's who I should be looking for. But he was lying to me the whole time! I can't believe Marty vouched for that asshole."
"Oy, Marty," she sighs.
"What does that mean?"
"I don't know, I just feel like everyone in the scene talks a big game about being so ethical but when it comes right down to it they create so much drama for themselves. I think I'm just done with it all."
"What? How can you be done? SM is like an orientation. You'll never be satisfied with a vanilla guy," I warn her.
"I'm done with it," she insists. "And you're right, Warren is a dick. I'm sorry you had to deal with all that."
"Thanks. But the worst part is I was really looking forward to him visiting. No one ever comes to visit. I was so excited that maybe he would be different."
"I'll come visit," she says.
"What? You don't have to say that."
"No, I'm serious, I've been thinking about it. It'll be fun. I've already talked to my parents and they offered to help me pay for the ticket. After everything that happened with my brother, they think it would be good for me to have a change of pace, like a fun vacation."
We talk more, and make a concrete plan for Lulu to come visit for two weeks in March. At least that's one thing to look forward to.

December 2003
As the weather turns colder, I fall into a low grade depression.
The cold is unbearable. Houses here don't really have insulation or central heating. I just have this combo air con/heating thing that blows warm air, but it's located near the ceiling. Running it on heat setting costs a fortune, it only heats the upper half of the room, and the second I turn it off, it's frigid again. I had the same problem in Seoul. I've lived places in the US that get seriously cold in winter, but this is different. Even though the winters here are not as cold, if it's 40F outside, it's 40F inside. I can see my breath in the morning when I wake up. It's the worst.
I try to avoid being in my apartment as much as possible. On weekend afternoons when I'm not at work, I go out to a nearby café to read while enjoying fancy tea and cakes, and try to make it last as long as possible. Anything to stay warm a little longer.
I'm sitting there late one afternoon reading a nonfiction book about single young women in American history. I had wanted to read something totally unrelated to my life, and I thought this would be a fun book on badass flapper girls in the 1920s bobbing their hair and sticking it to the patriarchy. But actually it's a history of the concept of the old maid or spinster, the idea that if a girl isn't married by her early twenties, her life is wrecked.
As I read descriptions of girls who were bewildered to find themselves still single in an era when marriage was mandatory, I start to identify more and more with them. I'm becoming a spinster. What am I doing with my life? I'm thirty-one years old, and I want to be married and have kids more than I can even express. It's reached the point where even saying it makes me a horrible stereotype, so I've been keeping my mouth shut about it.
But what am I supposed to do? I can't will the perfect partner into existence. If I weren't a devotee, if I weren't into SM, maybe I would have found someone by now. But all the guys I meet who are compatible with me sexually like The Mantis are not long term relationship material. The ones I meet online like Atom never take things seriously, and the ones I meet through friends like Warren or Phil, well, don't even get me started on them.
It doesn't help that I'm living in East Asia now. The dating scene here for white women is grim. Most of the expats who come here are like Skanthony, gross assholes who will tell you to your face they don't like white women because we are fat, loud and demanding. They have come here to find an Asian girlfriend who will act submissive and girly-girly, a skinny girl in high heels and a tiny skirt. The joke's on the guys because those girls are usually looking for someone they can boss around.
Despite his shortcomings, Phil is unusual among the expat guts here for dating expat women. At least he's not going through a string of one-night stands with local women like his bro Skanthony. As for the local guys, some of them share the same sexist expectations, although not all. But it's hard to meet them when I don't speak the language. Anyway I can't stay in Taipei indefinitely. My visa term is fixed, and I have to get back to Raser City to finish my degree. Starting up anything serious with a Taiwanese guy seems impossible. No matter how open-minded they are, most guys here are not going to move to the US to follow my career.
Coming here seemed like so much fun when I was planning it but now I feel like I'm frittering away my chances of finding a partner while I'm still young enough to have kids. I thought I was making good choices to further my career, but maybe I should be planning my whole life course around who I'd like to fuck. What am I doing?
I look down again at the book, and read a paragraph about women in the 1920s suddenly realizing they would never marry, and needing to plan a permanently single life without any role models beyond the old maid. Nobody could help them. They just had to rely on themselves. To my shame I find myself dripping tears down onto the page. I hold my head down, hoping no one else in the café will notice.
I went from having tons of awesome sex multiple times a week back home to being totally celibate with no prospects. Again, why did I come here?
Of all the guys in my recent past, the one my mind keeps returning to is not The Mantis, but William. His booming bass voice singing the lines from Figaro in my apartment. His flashing dark eyes and megawatt grin. The feel of his long arms around me. What happened to my dev imagination? Why am I so hung up on this able-bodied, vanilla guy? The one image I keep coming back to is him holding that baby, the tender way he smiled and sang to her. I want to watch him hold our baby in the same way.
At night I masturbate using the purple vibrator I bought with my friends from the fairy sleepover. I get off thinking of William, then after I'm finished, I cry. There is nothing in this world more pathetic than masturbating and crying. I feel ludicrously lame. But the next night I do it again, and again and again.




Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Devo Diary Chapter 43


OkCupid

December 2003

As the weather grows colder, I finally start to pull myself together. First, I buy myself a super cute winter coat, black and white checks in a retro 1960s cut with oversized buttons, along with faux cashmere gloves and a scarf. At least now I can feel stylish in the damp Taipei winter. Second, I get a space heater so my apartment is livable.
I find a cheap fare and fly to Seoul for a weekend to attend a friend's wedding. I haven't seen any of my friends there in four years, although I have kept in touch. It's so much fun to be with genuine friends again. The weekend away kind of resets my attitude.  I come back determined to turn my social life around.
First, I realize that I need to spend less time with Phil. I catch myself imitating the weird facial tics he has, kind of pulling his mouth to the side. On him it's cute, but why the hell am I taking on his mannerisms? This has got to stop.
Second, I have to spend less time with Malison. Aside from my jealousy of her being with Phil, she's just a bitch. If we make plans to have dinner together, she's an hour or two late every time. When I tell her I'd prefer it if she could be on time, she replies carelessly that it's just how she is and if I want to spend time with her, I better get used to it. Ok, less time it is then.
Partly to increase my social circle and partly because I miss performing, I join the Taipei International Chorus. It's an amateur community chorus started by an expat American couple. There are a few Americans and Europeans, but the majority of the members are Taiwanese. I join just in time to start rehearsing for the Christmas concert, where we will sing a mix of carols and of course the Hallelujah Chorus. I hate Christmas music but I figure if I just get through this season, the next concert will be a better selection.
My one reason for joining this chorus is that rehearsals are conducted in English. In terms of quality, I have to admit though that it's a bit of a comedown after the Raser City Lyric Opera. Hardly any of the singers have formal training. The sound is, well, ahem. Standing still on stage and singing in a chorus with only a piano accompaniment is a lot less exciting than wearing a costume and singing with an orchestra in a fully staged opera, but whatever, it's fun to be rushing off to rehearsals again in the evenings after work.
The conductor is, to put it kindly, eccentric in the extreme. This is not unusual among expats who choose to settle in Asia long term; it's often because they are misfits at home. I recently allowed myself to be set up with an American guy, a friend of a friend from back home, and he was so weird that getting through even the requisite forty-five minutes in a coffee shop tested the limits of my endurance.
"I feel so much more at home here," he said, his eyes blinking at separate rates. I smiled and nodded. Yes, of course it's easier to live in a place where your eccentricity is just chalked up to being a foreigner.
Anyway the conductor of the Taipei International Chorus is a big, blustery white guy with a shock of unbrushed white hair and a big belly. Despite having lived here for over twenty years, he doesn't speak one word of Mandarin or Hokkien. Most choral directors I have known are cranky despots with giant egos, and he is a particularly egregious example. When he isn't haranguing and scolding us, he's going off on long, rambling tangents. One evening, when one of the mousier altos discreetly blows her nose in a tissue, he delivers a twenty minute lecture to her on how if you blow too hard you can force the mucus into your ears and need surgery. I get the distinct impression this is a personal anecdote. He gets so worked up at her I think she starts to cry a bit.
His wife, a diminutive white woman, plays Edith to his Archie Bunker, fluttering around in the background and taking care of the practical details. She alternates piano duties with two Taiwanese women. Their adult son sings in the tenor section. He is married to a Taiwanese woman, who is never present as she is caring for their young children, but we hear many patronizing comments about how lovely she is from her father in law.
This tenor son and I seem to be the only ones who really know how to project our voices. Everyone else sings in reedy, hesitant tones. The son likes to show off by blasting away at top volume, drowning out everyone else. Even though I know it's very bad form in a chorus where you are supposed to blend, I can't help matching him from time to time. It's childish but oh so satisfying to really let loose at top blast. The conductor snaps at us to pipe down.
My obnoxious behavior pays off, though, as the conductor notices I've had training and offers me a solo in the Christmas concert. I gleefully accept, and it's not until I start practicing that I realize I'm in way over my head. The piece is "Rejoice, O Daughter of Zion," one of the soprano solos from Handel's Messiah. Baroque music requires a different technique from the bel canto style I have studied, and much more precision. Rather than soaring high notes you can fudge with some emotion, there are endless patterns of melismas you have to hit exactly on pitch, without getting lost in the repetition. Not only is this solo many orders of difficulty higher than anything I have sung before, but it's been twenty years since I had a lesson, and I don't even have a keyboard at home to practice with. Luckily one of the Taiwanese accompanists takes pity on me and very kindly coaches me.
The performance is in a proper concert hall, all blond wood and red velvet seats, with marvelous acoustics. Somehow this very amateur concert feels like it might come together at last. This feeling only lasts a few minutes into rehearsal, when the conductor starts going off on his usual rants and tangents. He decides that the entire chorus should leave the stage when the soloists sing so as not to steal focus. He likes the effect so much that he orders us to leave the stage after each piece and return again, even when we have two choral pieces in a row. This is obviously nonsense but no one stands up to him. At the end of rehearsal his wife distributes what he has been calling "folders," actually just two sheets each of red construction paper. When a brave baritone asks how we are supposed to use this to hold together the fifty plus pages of loose sheet music we are all carrying, the conductor just waves his hand and says something about using tape.
Phil, Malison and Shamela come to the concert and sit waving to me right in the front. When it's time for my solo, I fix my eyes on the back of the hall, take a deep breath and chug away at those melismas like a machine gun: "Rejohohohohohohoice O daughohohoter of Zi-hi-ion!" The image in my mind is of the orgy in Zion in third Matrix movie. I get through it without stopping or losing the accompaniment too badly, which is the best I could hope for.
"Nice solo," Phil says afterward as we all go out for drinks together. I'm not sure if he's just being polite or if this was some Florence Foster Jenkins level of fail.
"Thanks, but the whole concert was kind of a mess. I don't think anyone realized that song is from the Messiah or that Messiah is considered Christmas music in the US." The baroque style really clashed with the rest of the program which was mostly Christmas carols and pop standards like "Winter Wonderland." "I felt like everyone was looking at me like 'Who is this white woman singing this weird song?'"
"Actually my favorite part was watching everyone's folders slowly disintegrate over the course of the concert," Malison says. She's right, papers were falling all over the stage.
"I know! I spent hours taping mine together and it still fell apart."
"And the grim marching on and off stage," Phil adds. This mostly took place in silence as the exits and entrances took approximately an eternity longer than the audience cared to applaud.
"Super awkward," Shamela agrees. I share more stories about the conductor, and we all have a good laugh. I'm enjoying their company again, now that I am letting go of any romantic expectations with Phil.
I've made friends in the chorus too, so as terrible as that concert was, it was somehow worth it. A sixtyish Taiwanese lady takes me under her wing and invites me along to the symphony and out for tea. A guy in his late thirties, Lin Chia-ming, starts chatting me up,  as we take the same train home after rehearsal. Pretty soon we're meeting on weekends for coffee, then dinner.
Lin is a quiet, serious kind of guy, scrupulously formal and polite. It's such a change from the techbros of Raser City who want to fuck first, then after say they don't want to be, like, tied down, man because they need space to find themselves. I can tell Lin is interested in being more than just friends with me but he expects to go through a slow courtship first, where we really get to know each other. The problem is his English is ok but not great. Our conversations are slow going, and I'm never one hundred percent sure we're fully understanding each other.
With a pained expression, he tells me he got divorced a few years ago. Divorce is not uncommon here, but there's still more social stigma than in the US. He's a handsome guy, with a square face and thick, glossy black hair, but I can tell he thinks being divorced makes him damaged goods. But that's not the reason I hesitate to get serious with Lin. It's my career. I can't stay here after my contract is up, and I need to go back to the US to finish my degree, then look for a job there. Lin works in publishing, and with less than fully fluent English, there's no way he could get a job in the US. Neither of us is in a position to move overseas, and moving to be with someone after dating only a few months is madness. We'd have to get married to sponsor each other's visa. None of that is going to happen.
When I lay all this out over a dinner of hand-cut noodles, Lin soberly agrees that a relationship would be impossible. Perversely, I'm a little disappointed that he's not moved to make some grand gesture and say, "My love is so strong, no matter what I will find a way!" Realistically, I know that's bullshit and it's better we can be honest about it.
Still, this is exactly what I've been agonizing over in the past few months, and seeing it laid out in such stark terms brings it all bubbling up. I spill out all my frustrations in a rush.
"I'm never going to find someone who can move with me, who will let me put my career first. As long as I'm working I'll never be able to find someone to marry, but I can't quit working for someone I haven't even met! I'm never going to get married." I try not to, but a few tears squeeze out.
"That's not true," Lin says kindly. "Your mother did it." I have told him that my mother worked in a demanding career while raising me and my brother.
"That's not the same! She was ready to give up her career for my dad's. They moved for his work and she just applied for a job on a whim and got it. She had no idea she'd spend thirty years in that job. It wasn't planned at all. She was just lucky."
"You will find something lucky too," he insists. I don't feel much reassured by this, but it's nice of him to try. Despite a low-level attraction, Lin and I put aside any attempt at a romantic relationship and just become friends.
Even though I have more friends now, I still see Phil pretty often. When you're an expat your social circle is small like that. You just keep hanging around with the same few people no matter what. I don't mention anything to him about Lin except that we've become friends. But it's right around this same time that Phil casually mentions that he and Malison have broken up and he's seeing Shamela now.
I just smile and nod, but inside I'm seething. What the hell, Phil? Is he sleeping his way through the entire expat community here? I suppose it's a point in his favor that he's not hung up on Asian girls in a creepy way like his bro Skanthony. But I really wanted it to be my turn next, and I feel gross for even thinking that.
When I was in high school I had a crush on a boy who always had a girlfriend. He and I became super close--he talked to me about everything in his life, things he could never tell his girlfriend. He kept saying if he didn't have a girlfriend, he would go out with me. But that was a lie. He broke up with one girl and went out with another, more than once, but never ever asked me out. I finally confronted him about it at lunch.
"You promised I would be next!" I insisted.
Right then the majorettes and drum corps marched into the cafeteria for a pep rally.
He just shrugged. "It doesn't work that way," he shouted over the drums.
Yeah, high school really sucked.
 Now I get it, he liked the idea of me but in practice I was too weird. He was on the football team and worried about his image. All his girlfriends were cheerleaders, not black lipstick wearing indie girls like me. But I nursed that crush until we graduated.
So Phil likes the idea of SM but he's too scared to actually try it. Instead he chooses Shamela, the most conventional and quiet of the group. Whatever. I'm so over Phil. If he wants a boring vanilla relationship so be it.


January 2004

You might think that after wasting so much time pining after able-bodied guys that my devotee desires have gone away, but no, as usual it all comes roaring back after a lull. I haven't been thinking about anything dev related recently, even my mental porn reel hasn't been interesting me lately. Then out of nowhere I have a dream about a blind guy and suddenly it's all I can think about. I spend every spare waking moment thinking about how I could possibly meet a disabled guy.
There is a café I like to go to on weekends because it has free wifi. I can escape my freezing apartment and fritter away the afternoon writing email or randomly clicking on websites that seem interesting. Also, this café is across the street from the Taipei Library for the Blind. I have this half-hearted idea that maybe I'll meet someone just by hanging around nearby. As plans go it's a particularly ineffectual one, but you never know, it did work that one time back when I first moved to Raser City. But no matter how often I go there, I never meet a hot blind guy. In fact, I never see anyone at all enter or leave the library, hot or otherwise. I consider volunteering there, but as I can't speak or read Chinese, I'm not sure what I could offer. Also I feel more than a little creepy using them as a dating service. In the end, I do nothing.
I notice a lot of people with disabilities around town, but none of them are attractive to me. In particular, whenever I go to this one supermarket, I notice lots of hemiplegics walking around outside. So much so that it seems every single person I pass has a limp. It's a bit alarming, until I realize that the supermarket is right across the street from a rehab center. Anyway it's all old people.
As usual when I strike out meeting anyone in person, my interests turn to fantasy. I develop a minor obsession with the blind opera singer Andrea Bocelli. I've known about him for years but somehow it's only now that everything clicks together and my dev imagination lights on him. I get a DVD of his greatest arias, and listen to it over and over. I also find his autobiography at the library, but it's pretty disappointing to realize one, he's not a very good writer, and two, he's super conservative in his thinking and would probably hate the idea of devotees. But anyway I still enjoy his music. I'm particularly intrigued to find out that he has starred in a few fully staged operas. I scour the internet for days, trying to find video, but all I turn up is a few still photos. How would his blocking be staged? What about everyone else around him? I'm dying to know more details, but can't find anything.
When that route runs a bit dry, I turn back to internet dating. I can't really meet anyone local on dating sites, since there's so little here in English, and it's all overrun with douchebag white dudes looking to meet Asian women to fulfill their sexist, racist fantasies. But I'm going back to Raser City in less than six months. It doesn't seem too weird to keep an eye on the same old sites and see if anyone new pops up. Also I've become a little obsessed with this new site OkCupid. It's free, and the personality tests are addictive. I love the categories of personality types--the False Messiah, the Five-Night Stand, the Mixed Messenger, the Vapor Trail, the Manchild. I feel like I have dated all these losers. There's something so satisfying about categorizing all my random, confusing, contradictory experiences into these neat types. I wish I could make everyone I know take the personality test.
As for myself, when I take the test, my result is the Maid of Honor. This seems discouraging, as in "always a bridesmaid, never a bride." But according to the description, it just means that I tend to be a good, loyal partner but can be too slow to reject someone when it's not working out. It's like they know me. In addition to the basic type, the site also provides charts on how you rank compared to others of your location, age and gender. I'm pretty average for early thirties women in Raser City, except for one thing: my score in aggression is off the charts. Haha, I guess that's also true, but I can't figure out what made me score that way. I retake the test a few times, adjusting my answers, but the results are the same.
I use the OkCupid personality test on a guy one time. After a night out with Phil, Shamela and Malison, I pick up this British expat guy at a bar. He's not really my type--shaved head and goatee, with a round belly and a round face, crooked teeth and a wicked grin. I'm not that interested in him, but he really turns on the charm in pursuing me. I don't know why because he seems like one of those douchebag expats suffering from yellow fever.
For whatever reason, he talks me into inviting him back to my place. I tell him very plainly that I'm not going to have sex with him, but he asks if he can crash there because it's so close. Once we get inside, things feel more awkward. He's still turning on the charm, and I'm wondering if maybe he's not so bad.
Despite being a hard-drinking lad, he has some intellectual pretensions, which I guess is why he enjoys talking to me. He has with him a copy of The Stranger by Camus, checked out from a local library.
I have no idea how we get from discussing Existentialism to OkCupid personality tests, but I convince him to take it. His result is the Hornivore.
I stare at him, horrified. He's even worse than I thought. He shrugs sheepishly and says, "I'm just being honest, right?" Then he tries to kiss me.
"I think you should go," I tell him.
He makes a sour face but leaves without a fuss, thank god. That could have gone a lot worse in any number of ways. I feel like I dodged a round, goateed bullet. I've learned that one, I'm terrible at reading people, and two, those tests really are useful. I wish everyone could display their type written on their foreheads or something, because apparently I'm no good at guessing.
The next morning, I discover the Hornivore left his copy of The Stranger under a cushion. Oh well, I'll just take it back to the library myself. I have no intention of ever contacting him again, since apparently he's the kind of guy who thinks any kind of attention means you are interested, even saying, "I'm not going to have sex with you."

I get in the habit of spending hours on OkCupid, taking tests, reading profiles, and generally wasting time. The site is always changing, too, which keeps me coming back. A new feature pops up where you can just click through hundreds of profile photos and click on whether you like them or not. Supposedly this is to help train the algorithm to improve matching, although I don't notice any difference.
One evening, I'm clicking through dozens of pictures in this way, just photos and a user name, not the full profile. I'm randomly clicking through, then all of a sudden, there is a photo of K.
What the fuck.
K.
The blind guy I spent half my adult life obsessing over. I wept an ocean of tears over him, and even now I'm not fully sure if I'm over him. What the hell is he doing on OkCupid?
In the photo, he's standing in front of what looks like the construction site of a wood-framed house, holding a circular saw and grinning like an idiot. There's no mistaking those blue-white opaque eyes. It's just like him to think it's funny to picture a blind guy wielding power tools.
I click through to his profile, and sure enough, it's him. He doesn't give his name, of course, but the details of his age, where he went to college, his interests, all reveal that it is undoubtedly K. When he dumped me in 1995, I said that I didn't want to hear from him for ten years, but after that we could get in touch again. The only reason I said that was because the idea of never speaking to him again for the rest of my life seemed too breathtakingly, gut-wrenchingly awful. Ten years seemed like forever at the time. Actually it still kind of does, because I feel like I've lived several lifetimes since then but it still hasn't been ten years yet.
The last I heard, K was still living in College Town with his parents, working for his mother in a dead-end job, doing nothing with his life and with no prospects. So why is he on a dating site in the Raser City area?
I can't help myself, I have to know. So I send him nudge. Not a full message, just a little poke to let him know I saw his profile, and get him to look at mine.
The next day I get a message from him. Is this who I think it is?
Of course. Who else? I reply. The time limit is up.
No, it's only been eight years, he replies pedantically, but it was my idea in the first place, so it doesn't much matter to him.
We exchange a few messages, hesitant at first, then longer, friendlier emails. I'm secretly disappointed to discover that even though he's on OkCupid, he is not single or looking, but in a serious relationship of several years. He and his girlfriend just joined for the personality tests. His type is the Slow Dancer, which is not what I would have guessed at all. I had him pegged as the Boy Next Door.
He shows me his girlfriend's profile, and I see she's blandly pretty, with reddish hair. Her personality type is the Peach. Pfft. Boring. Two years ago, he moved from College Town to live with her in East Bessemer. What the hell! He's just a few minutes away from where Rollerboy lives. It all seems so weird. He's been just outside Raser City for two years and I never knew it.
The Peach has two kids, and K describes being a step-parent as wondrous, frustrating, amazing, irritating and exciting, all rolled into one, usually at the same time. My god, he's still just as cheesy as ever.
I try to keep a neutral tone with him, but I'm still angry about how badly he treated me, even after all these years. To make myself feel better, and to try to kill the lingering attraction to him, I had indulged in some unkind fantasies about him, that he had matured into an unattractive middle age, his thinning hair growing to a bald spot, his pot belly getting bigger, and that his unfaithful ways would mean he would be alone forever. But in his photos, he still looks exactly the same--long dark hair, slender and boyishly handsome. I'm the one alone while he has a family. It's so unfair.
I feel like I know why our paths have crossed again so randomly. Right after he dumped me, I took every memento of him and put it all in a shoebox, wrapped up with string, and buried it in a corner of my closet at my parents' house. The last time I visited my parents a few months ago, I cleaned out that closet, and I decided it was time to get rid of the box. For the first time in eight years, I untied the string and opened it. Most of what was in the box was literal trash, and I threw it all away. The only things I kept were some photos, which I mixed in with all my other photos of friends.
Now I feel like this is the result of opening that box--he is back in my life. It hardly seems possible that we could be friends. He looms too large in my imagination still. But maybe I should try. Anyway there's something I've been meaning to get off my chest for a long time.
There's something I have to tell you. I don't know if you've ever heard the term devotee, but it means someone attracted to people with disabilities. I'm a devotee. I'm really sorry I never told you when we were dating, but I didn't know how. I mean I literally didn't know the term, and I had no way to talk about it. I thought I had to keep it a secret from everyone, and I was sure you would hate me if knew I was attracted to you because you're blind. I know I did some crazy things back then, and that's the reason. I'm sorry.
He writes back, I have heard about devotees. I had no idea you were one, but I always felt there was something different about you. Don't worry, I don't hate you for it. Actually I think it's kind of cool. Everything about disability is such a drag, so the idea that someone enjoys some aspect of it, or could help make the world a better place for people with disabilities, seems all to the good to me. By the way, I never properly thanked you for encouraging me to become a licensed massage therapist. I would probably never have gotten certified if it wasn't for you pushing me, but I'm so grateful now that I did it. Massage really is my calling. I also appreciated how much you pushed me to be more independent and do things for myself. I didn't realize at the time how much I was relying on Lydia, which wasn't good for me or for her. I'm a lot more independent now. So thank you.
This message is like a revelation. I feel nearly a decade of guilt and shame lift away, and I feel almost physically lighter. In all my fantasies of reconciling with K, I never imagined I would confess to being a devotee, or that he would be ok with it. But it seems that's just what I needed to hear from him. Not only that he doesn't hate me for my shameful secret, but that I had some positive influence on his life. I always worried that I had pushed him to learn massage because it fit with my fantasy of the ideal career for a blind man, and that my inept attempts to teach him how to write with a pen and how to fill in his own checks were just to fulfill my dev desires. I'm so relieved that he didn't feel used or objectified, but that my dev attention actually made his life better.
I start to think that maybe we could be friends. We make very tentative plans to meet when I return to Raser City.




Thursday, May 20, 2010

Devo Diary Chapter 44


The Cat House

February 2004

After the ridiculous Christmas concert, I'm just about ready to quit the International Chorus. I've already decided that this rehearsal will be my last, when one of the older Taiwanese ladies invites me to join a different chorus with her. I go along with her to the next rehearsal, and bring Lin with me too because this chorus is all local people and the conductor doesn't speak English.
This new chorus is like a breath of fresh air. The conductor is a young woman, very nice and welcoming. The other singers are all pretty good too, and the music is more strictly classical. It's not even a problem for me that the rehearsals are all in Chinese, because the more important points are in Italian and the basic concepts of classical music are the same no matter where in the world you go. Although the members are mostly middle-aged, everyone seems a lot more normal and down-to-earth, unlike the mousy, cowed women of the International Chorus. After rehearsal we all go out for drinks. I'm kind of bummed when I discover the upcoming concert will be after I leave, but the lady who invited me tells me to keep that fact a secret. Anyway the main point of joining a community chorus is not the concert, but the weekly rehearsals with friends.
Even though I now have more friends, I still regularly go out for drinks with Phil and the various American expats he knows. It's on one of these nights out that I take home some random white guy named John Chanko. He's around forty, so almost ten years older than I am, but he acts like an overgrown kid.  The kid of kid who's class clown with a wicked sense of humor. He also works in my field, although at a different company. It's cool to talk to him about work things, but it's really the constant stream of deadpan jokes and sarcastic comments that catches my interest. He tells me about this website he created where he posts movie reviews under fake identity, where he pretends to be a mouthbreather who really loves Michael Bay explodey action blockbusters. Somehow as we're all drinking and he talks about heaping praise on shitty movies, it seems like the cleverest, funniest thing I've ever heard.
Once again the fact that my apartment is so close to the bars makes it seem easy and natural that we just end up at my place together. I consider making him take an OkCupid personality test but I don't want to risk him telling me how stupid he thinks it is. Anyway as soon as he gets into my apartment, he drops the smart-aleck routine and suddenly turns really nervous. He doesn't want to kiss me because he's afraid his breath smells bad. I don't have an extra toothbrush so I give him some gum which he chews super fast and noisily.
He sits down on the side of the bed and takes off his baseball cap, revealing a bald spot. Ok, that's no big deal, but the rest of him is not that attractive to me either, just a standard mediocre white dude. He leans in to kiss me.
"Um, do you need to spit out the gum?" I ask.
"No, I'm good."
"What?"
"I swallowed it."
Ugh, now I'm really grossed out. I've changed my mind about having sex with him but I'm not quite sure how to let him down easy. We make out half-heartedly for a while, but luckily for me, he doesn't seem that into it either. When I suggest that maybe this isn't the best idea, he seems happy to go home.
I fall asleep on my own far past midnight, deeply relieved. But in the morning, I have the uncomfortable realization that because we work in the same field, I might run into Chanko again. What am I doing? He's not some random guy I will never see again, who I can pretend doesn't exist. It's going to be so awkward if the next time I see him is at a conference. This is the problem with living like a kid so far into my thirties.
Also I've got to stop bringing home these drunk dudes then changing my mind about having sex with them. I've been incredibly lucky that they turned out to be not so into me either. If I keep this up, it could end really badly.
I've really got to pull myself together.

March 2004

After months of dicking around (haha), being lazy and cowardly, relying too much on friends who are not good for me, I finally get the courage to do what I intended since I arrived in Taipei. I hit the lesbian bars.
I search online and find a bar called the Cat House that is strictly women-only, located in the gay district in Ximending.
I have to do this by myself. My closest friends here, Phil and Lin, are dudes, so I can't take them. Shamela and Malison are not even the slightest bit bi-curious, and I don't really want them around anyway when I'm trying to hit on girls.
In Raser City, I would never go out to a bar by myself. Even taking the train alone after dark feels risky. But Taipei is so much safer. I'm regularly out alone even at one or two in the morning. Aside from physical danger, though, going to a bar on my own with the intention of meeting people is emotionally terrifying. I'm not great at small talk or mingling with strangers even under the best circumstances. But I figure it's now or never so I pick a Friday night and just go.
The Cat House is a tiny, boxy little space on the second floor of a nondescript building, surrounded by similar tiny bars, mostly with minimal signage outside. Feeling extremely self-conscious, I sit down at the bar and order a gin and tonic.
There are about thirty young Taiwanese women sitting at the bar or at tables around the room, so it's full but not crowded. A few are butch but most are femme. I sit toying with my drink, wondering how I can talk to any of them.
A slender girl with long highlighted hair dressed all in black sits down next to me with sinuous grace. She has a long oval face and flawless skin. She bats her huge, heavily made up eyes at me and says in a thick accent, "Hi, I'm Strawberry."
I smile back at her without blinking an eye. I've gotten used to the weird English names people like to use here. I have met women named Yoyo, Happy, Easy and Apple. And it's not just the women. The attitude is why not choose something you like that sounds unique? Just go ahead and tell people your name is Lunchbox or Airport.
"You lesbian?" Strawberry asks.
I recall my conversation before I left with Stephanie, who gave me permission, and say "Yes."
"Just while you are in Taiwan, right?" Strawberry says, looking me up and down.
Damn, this girl has my number. I try to bluff it out by denying it but I've never been good a hiding my emotions. My face is an open book.
"Hmmmm." Strawberry's smile tightens into a disbelieving little pout. But she doesn't walk away. We keep talking and flirting and by the end of the evening I have her phone number.
I don't call her though, because no one makes phone calls here. Everything is just by text. But my attempts to flirt more by text or set up a date don't really go anywhere. Although Strawberry's spoken English is passable enough, her texts are a jumble of random misspelled words. She doesn't respond when I oh so casually ask if she wants to get dinner or something, but replies with a vague indication that she will be at the Cat House again the next weekend.
I go back and there she is, looking as sexy as ever in a black turtleneck sweater and black velvet pants. She introduces me to some of her friends, and we dance a for a while but that's all. A few days later it's the same again, except this time she takes me with her to another bar down the road, not strictly a lesbian bar like the Cat House, but lesbo-friendly. This is an even smaller place, called Cosmo, that's just big enough for a bar that seats about 8 people. When we go in there are two guys and the bartender, a butch-looking fortyish woman. Strawberry sits down and immediately starts chattering away to the bartender in Chinese. I sit down next to her, uncomfortably aware of the bartender looking me over. She asks where I'm from in English, but after a few minutes of small talk, they all go back to Chinese.
Even though I'm now a bit discouraged, the next day I try again to ask Strawberry out via text message.
Hi, thanks for taking me to Cosmo. I had a nice time with you. Do you want to get dinner this week?
Strawberry sends me the following reply:
I think I like Being abel to be relax is the true fammous store one ✌❀❀❀
I show this cryptic text to Malison, hoping someone else might have some insight.
"So is she agreeing to meet me for a date or what?"
"Or what," Malison replies tartly.
"But she says she think she likes me, right?"
Malison looks exasperated. "You can't tell anything from this text. It's like, not even language. She might as well be communicating by smoke signals. You're not getting anywhere with this chick. Just let it go."
But I'm so taken with the gorgeous, unattainable Strawberry that I have to try one more time. I send her another text asking more directly if she wants to go on a date, but this time she doesn't reply at all.

Luckily, just at this moment, Lulu comes to visit from Raser City, rescuing me temporarily from all this nonsense. I'm so excited to show around someone from home, and she's never been to Asia before. Even jet-lagged and exhausted, she's looking all around and taking it all in.
On the train ride from the airport to my apartment, I fill her in on Strawberry and show her the texts. Lulu snorts with laughter.
"Sheesh, if her English is this bad, how can you even have a relationship?"
I shake my head. "No, her spoken English is ok. Her writing is not great but I think she's making it worse on purpose so she can put me off without saying no directly."
"Women are bitches, man," Lulu sighs. "That's why I don't want to date them."
"Is that the only reason?" I tease her.
"Well, that and I really need dick," she declares loudly. Then she looks around the crowded train nervously. "People don't understand what I said, right?"
"I dunno. It seems like everyone here knows all the English swear words even if they can't really speak the language. I think they hear us and it sounds like 'blah blah blah fuck blah blah blah shit.'"
Lulu makes a mental note to be more careful about what she shouts in public.
We get back to my apartment and settle her in. Luckily the pile driving for the pachinko parlor next door has finished so the noise level has gone down. Lulu is up for just about anything--trying new foods, exploring town, camping out in my small apartment, she's fine with all of it. But living with her in close quarters starts to wear on my nerves after a few days. I've never lived with a partner, and I'm kind of worried at how quickly Lulu's normal habits start getting on my nerves. Am I fated to be alone forever because I can't get along?
On the third morning, when Lulu takes too long in the shower, I decide to switch gears by pretending we are married and acting out fake exasperated partner role-play.
"Wifey!" I sing out. "It's my tu-urn!" And somehow, like magic, it works. Expressing my annoyance in a jokey way diffuses the whole situation. Lulu gets into it too, and soon we are referring to each other as wifey and pretending to be married. Minus the sex, of course.
Because my apartment is so small, we share my bed. Every night, we cuddle up together, but it never goes further. She makes it clear that she's not into me in that way. It's ok, I guess I'm not either, but I can't help thinking about Gretchen falling in love with her best friend. Wouldn't it be so much easier if we were married for real? But maybe the reason the game works is because it's a game.
Whatever the reason, we have a great time together. I take her out for soup dumplings at Ding Tai Fung with Phil, Shamela and Malison, go to the night markets, to the National Palace Museum, Taipei 101 building, Taroko Gorge, Sun Moon Lake, all the usual tourist sites. It's so awesome to have her here, to see someone from home, to share all the fun and cool things here with her. Wherever we go, she gets treated like a movie star, with her long blonde hair and blue eyes. Random strangers come up to talk to us, and with her sunny disposition, she's only too happy to oblige. I have to admit I'm a little jealous. I don't get the star treatment; to the contrary, most people here tell me I don't look American because I have brown hair and an olive complexion.
I take Lulu to chorus rehearsals too. She discovers, as I did, that even if you don't understand the language, it's easy to follow along because the technique is universal. She sings out in her big opera voice and everyone is very impressed. She's been taking her singing more seriously lately, trying for solo parts.
Over the course of her stay, she fills me in on all the details of her dating life. She's finally broken up with the asshole who couldn't deal after her brother died. Now she's back on J-Date, with a few guys who seem promising, but nothing long term yet.
"I just want to meet a guy who isn't hung up on his mother," she complains.
"Yeah, maybe look somewhere other then J-Date, then," I tease her.
"No shit!" she laughs, but then turns serious. "But I really do want to marry a Jewish guy."
"Whatever." I roll my eyes.
"The first dates are the worst," she sighs. "You know the most common thing to ask when you're getting to know someone is if you have any brothers or sisters, and I never know what to say. I can't say no, it just feels so wrong. But if I say yes, I had a brother but he died last year, suddenly it's just way too serious, you know?"
I feel for her, but I have no advice on how to handle this.
On her last night, we're spooning in bed together in a futile attempt to go to sleep early before getting up at the crack of dawn to catch her plane. Lulu asks, "So how come you and Phil haven't gotten together yet?"
I snort. "Come on, I told you! He's with Shamela."
"Whatever. I've seen the way he looks at you. He clearly likes you, more than he likes her."
"What the fuck!" I'm floored by this information. I thought I was projecting, that he wasn't that into me. It's messing me up to hear it's not just in my head. "I don't know. Whenever it's just the two of us, he's awesome and fun, but when there are more people around, he's more standoffish. And when we're out with just his guy friends, he's a total jerk and won't even talk to me."
"His mother didn't raise him right," Lulu declares. "Forget him, he's not worth your time."
"Yeah! Forget him. Anyway I'm only into women right now. Or disabled guys, if I can ever manage to meet one. Phil fails on both counts."
"Oh right, I forgot about your 'thing'," she says, which is how she refers to my devotee desires. I find it funny that she can forget about something that feels so central to me, but I guess it's good that to her it's no big deal. "Listen, that's fine but you've got to stop listening to Andrea Bocelli," she adds.
"What! Why?"
"Come on, you know he's terrible. You just like him because he's blind."
"So what?" I huff. "What's wrong with his singing, anyway?"
She sighs dramatically. "Please, I don't even have to tell you."
I actually don't know what she's talking about. His voice sounds fine to me. I would never have pegged Lulu as such an opera snob.
I'm sad to see my wifey leave, but I'll be seeing her again in just over two months. I've already arranged with the director of the Raser City Lyric Opera to be in the chorus of the next show, which will be Madame Butterfly. I offered to fly back just to audition but the director kindly made an exception for me just this once. I'll only miss a few weeks of music rehearsal. I'm enjoying my time here in Taipei but I'm really looking forward to singing with my friends again.


April 2004

As soon as Lulu departs, I go back to the Cat House. Strawberry's there, of course, but I don't go out of my way to talk to her. She's made it clear that she's not interested, so the hell with her. There are lots of other women here, and now that I've been a few times, I don't feel as nervous talking to them.
I sit down at the bar and start chatting with three or four women, although most of them disappear after about a minute, and I'm left talking to just one, who I quickly realize is actually a trans man. He has a round face with a bit of stubble, black hair in a standard guy cut, gelled up in spikes, and a quick, easy smile. He introduces himself as Elroy, a relatively normal guy name, at least here.
"Do you come here often?" he asks. His English is surprisingly good.
"A few times..." I decide to come clean rather than bluff my way through like with Strawberry. "I'm actually bi so I'm not sure how welcome I'd be here."
"I know, most of them don't want me to be here either."
I had noticed the women around us giving him the side-eye. No wonder they all disappeared so fast and left us alone together. I can sympathize with his situation. The Cat House is supposed to be strictly for women, so if he's a man he shouldn't be here. But there are so few queer spaces--where else could he go to pick up women? Would he be welcome in the straight bars?
We chat a bit, getting to know each other. I can tell he likes me--he's not subtle in the way he leans forward and looks me right in the eye. Maybe it's the testosterone making him so horny, or maybe it's because the other women here won't give him the time of day.
When it's time to go, I let him have my number, even though I'm not sure how I feel about him. What can I say, it's nice to be desired that intensely.
The next day, he asks me out by text. A clear, legible text--what a concept. I'm out having drinks with Phil, Shamela and Malison when the text arrives, so I tell them all about Elroy.
"What do you think?" I ask. "Should I go out with him?"
"Wow!" Phil is intrigued. "Yeah! And you have to promise to tell us all about it!"
I give him a disgusted look. "I'm not running a freak show."
"Yeah, don't treat him like some oddity. Be respectful," Shamela adds primly.
"I'm trying to be respectful," I insist. "It's just a little frustrating that I went to a lesbian bar to meet women and end up meeting a man. But he seems cool. Maybe I should give him a chance." I turn to Malison, who is texting with some guy on her phone and not really paying attention. "What do you think?"
"Whatever," she shrugs. "Do you want to go out with him?"
"I don't know. I don't want to hurt his feeling by turning him down without giving him a chance, but I also don't want to hurt his feelings by leading him on if I'm not really into him."
"Give him a chance!" Phil exclaims eagerly. "Come on, when are you going to have this kind opportunity again? If you don't get to know him better, you'll regret it for the rest of your life!"
This seems like hyperbole, but I decide to at least go on one date with Elroy.
We meet for a dinner of tiny crabs at the Shilin Night Market, seated around the giant flattop grill. The cook shovels the cooked crabs and other side dishes in front of us in little piles, using two huge metal spatulas. The crabs are delicious but it's hard to get the meat out. I pick daintily at mine with a chopstick, trying not to look at the trio of chic young ladies at the other end of the grill biting directly into theirs, then spitting masticated shell bits into increasingly large piles on the counter.
As I fiddle with my dinner, Elroy tells me about himself with generosity and confidence. He transitioned several years ago. His parents didn't like the idea at first, but they've gotten used to it. In the office where he works, only his boss knows, and has promised to keep it confidential. He takes hormones and had top surgery, but doesn't want bottom surgery, since it wouldn't give him working equipment anyway.
Even though he's not very tall, only an inch or two more than me, and has a roundish face, he seems to have no trouble passing. I think it's because there are a lot more androgynous looking people here than in the US. I'm impressed that he's so open with all these details about himself in such a public place, but we are speaking in English in low tones, and the night market around us is really noisy, so the chances of anyone eavesdropping seem low.
After I give up on getting any more meat out of the tiny crabs, we get a drink then he asks if we can go back to my place. I think of what Phil said about just going for it, and say yes.
My apartment is so small, there really isn't anywhere else to sit but the bed. We kiss and fumble around awkwardly, pulling each other's clothes off. It's when we're both naked that I start to wonder if this was a mistake. I'm trying to be open-minded, but I feel a profound disconnect seeing his masculine face and chest up top contrasted with a pussy with a long tuft of untrimmed hair below.
Once we're both naked, I pause, not sure where to take this. "Um...what would you like to do?" I feel like the least I can do is ask.
"It's ok, we don't have to do anything," he says.
We kiss and embrace for a while longer, then fall asleep together.
Elroy wakes at the crack of dawn, much earlier than I usually do, and asks to use my shower. I tell him to go ahead, too lazy to get up myself. As I lie in bed listening to the water run, I reflect on what just happened. I have to admit, as much as I want to be kind to him, I'm just not attracted. Trans is just not my thing. Besides, I really want to be with a woman right now.
I realize that I agreed to go on this date in part because Phil was egging me on, and the only reason he did that was so he could hear about it after. He wants to live vicariously through me by hearing about all my crazy adventures, but he won't date me because having those experiences makes me too weird or slutty or dirty. Fuck that shit, man. What an asshole. I can't believe I'm still playing this stupid game with him.
After his shower, Elroy gets dressed and ready to leave. He smiles hopefully, and I feel like shit. But I don't have the courage to break his heart right then, so when he asks for another date, I lie and say ok maybe sometime. With that, he leaves.

The next weekend I'm back at the Cat House again and luckily Elroy is not there. Instead, I finally meet the girl I've been waiting for this whole time. Her name is Chimi, and she's adorable. Long black hair and a girly-girly look that I find irresistible. She's tiny, barely five feet tall in shoes. I'm only five four but I feel like a gangly giant next to her. Her English is not great but it doesn't matter as we're making out on the dance floor. She gives me her number and email: littlefishes@..... OMG even her email address is cute.
We make a date for the very next night to meet at the Cat House again, but I'm worried I might run into Elroy so we move on to Cosmo, the tiny bar Strawberry took me to. Chimi knows it, after all there are only so many gay hangouts here.
As we walk to Cosmo, I tell Chimi about my date with Elroy, how I feel guilty for not being attracted to him. She knows him, of course, because he's a regular at the Cat House.
"It's ok," she assures me. "I think he understands."
I'm so grateful to her for saying this. I lope along beside her, feeling huge and ungraceful. She's wearing a faux suede skirt with cutwork lace at the hem and a lacy little top. I hold her hand as we walk along together, and it's so fucking sexy and fun, just holding hands in public with a pretty girl.
At Cosmo, Chimi tells me more about herself. She's only twenty-four, living on her own, working as a secretary, still somewhat closeted. Her family has been pressuring her to get married so she's been hinting to her mother that she will not be marrying a man, but so far it's hasn't been going well. Her parents really want grandchildren.
"You could still have children with a female partner," I point out.
Chimi shrugs. "It's not very common here. Not like United States."
She asks about me, and I tell her a very heavily edited version, mostly concentrating on my job here. I don't mention that until this point I have pretty exclusively dated men, or anything about being a devotee. And I don't tell her that I am moving back to the United States in just over a month, at the end of May.
I feel horribly guilty about withholding this information, but god I like her a lot, and I don't want to ruin things with her. Why couldn't I have met Chimi months ago, when I first arrived here? Why did I waste so much time with asshole men? I'm filled with regret and frustration.
After Cosmo, I take Chimi back to my place but she doesn't want to have sex right away, so we just make out and roll around in the bed together. I even give her some pajamas to wear so she won't feel uncomfortable. She looks so cute in my baggy old shirt.
I run my hand over her thick, glossy hair, then lean forward and kiss her. She's so tiny in my arms, her mouth and face so soft and smooth. Whenever I kiss a girl, there's always this little thrill of naughtiness, knowing that I'm going against what society expects.
The next morning we go out to a chic little café for a breakfast of coffee and French bread. I don't even care that the conversation is a bit awkward and halting because of the language barrier. I'm living out my most girly, girl-loving fantasy. Over the next few weeks, we go on several more dates--back to the Cat House and Cosmo, to lunch or dinner, and with a few more sleepovers but still no sex yet because she's not ready.
It's starting to feel like this is the start of a real relationship. I'm also starting to get why men complain so much about women, because Chimi won't ever fucking tell me how she feels or what she wants. Sometimes she's smiling and cheerful, sometimes sullen and sulky but I have no idea why. When I ask her what's wrong, she just looks at her feet and says, "Nothing." I think back on what Lulu said about how women are bitches. Maybe Lulu's right--men are easier.
As for Elroy, I let him know by text that I'm seeing someone else. A bit cowardly perhaps but under the circumstances I think it's the kindest option. I don't hear from him again.
On a rare night when I'm not out with Chimi in Ximending, I meet Phil, Shamela and Malison again for drinks in Shida.
"So how did it go with that, um, guy?" Phil leers at me the minute we sit down.
"You mean Elroy?" I reply coolly. There's no way I'm giving him the gory details he craves. "Yeah, it turns out I'm just really not into guys right now." I tell them all about Chimi.
"She sounds nice," Shamela says.
Phil gives a sarcastic laugh. "What, so you decided instead of complaining about the white guys all chasing Chinese girls, you would just join them?"
I put my chin up. "Yeah, why not?"
"So have you told her you're leaving in a few weeks?" Malison asks.
I put my head down on the table and groan. "No! God, I'm such a bitch! What is wrong with me! I always complain about what assholes guys are but when I'm dating a woman, I'm just as big an asshole as any guy."
Shamela strokes my arm sympathetically but does not contradict me. "Just tell her."
But because I'm enjoying myself with Chimi so much and because I'm such a fucking coward, I let a few more weeks go by. Now it's the end of the month, and my departure is only three weeks away. One night at my apartment, Chimi shyly suggests doing more than just kissing. Instead of excited, I feel like the biggest asshole. I can't live with the guilt anymore, so I just blurt out, "I'm moving back to the United States at the end of next month."
Chimi looks stricken, all the blood draining from her face. "When did you know?" she whispers.
Again I default to lying. "I just found out my contract won't be renewed. And I have to get back to finish my degree." This last part is true, anyway.
"I'll go with you!" she cries. This is what I have been longing to hear from the guys I have dated, but suddenly, coming from her, I can't accept. The thought of having to take care of her in the US is overwhelming. Her English is not good enough. What kind of job could she get? This isn't like taking a short-term trip. I can't ask her to move permanently for me. I realize in a flash that I'm just not in love with her, and I don't want to spend the rest of my life with her. When I think of moving back to Raser City, the person I think of is William. I don't know how things are between us, but I suddenly realize I'm still in love with him.
All of this goes through my mind in an instant--an image of William, with Chimi clinging to me in the background, and I just want to be rid of her. It's not even a rational thought, more like an emotion. She can't come with me.
"I don't think that's a good idea..." I say gently, and she bursts into tears.
"Why didn't you tell me! You're so selfish!" I sit there and take it, feeling like a heel. I deserve it.
I hug her and stroke her hair until she calms down, then suggest what has been my strategy for pretty much all my relationships ever. "Why don't we just enjoy the time we have now?"
She acquiesces at first, and we kiss for a few minutes while sitting on my bed. I can taste her salty tears. But then she pulls away again.
"No! I can't! I thought you were serious person. This is not what I want!" She grabs her purse and leaves, and that's the end of it. I feel like the lowest of the low.


May 2004

My last few weeks in Taipei go by in a blur. I'm still going to rehearsals with Lin, but I have to break it to the conductor that I will not be singing in the concert. I use the same lie as with Chimi, that I just found out my contract will not be renewed. The conductor just smiles and thanks me for joining them.
I slowly start selling off all the household items I have accumulated here. I'm going to miss this little rabbit hutch apartment in the middle of the red light district. The construction finally ends and the pachinko parlor opens a week before I leave.
I've been emailing my friends in Raser City with updates on my return, getting ready to pick up my life where I left off. I'll be staying with Sarah until I can find a new apartment. I'd rather stay with Lulu, but Sarah lives much closer to the university, and she's starting to get weirdly possessive of my attention again. Ugh, I really am going back to exactly the same shit I left behind.
In the midst of all these preparations, I get an unexpected email from The Mantis. We've kept in touch sporadically but I haven't heard anything substantial from him until this.

Dear Cruel Mistress,
I hope you've been enjoying your time in Taipei. It sounds like you've been tearing it up. The guys (and girls) there won't know what hit them.
Anyway I wanted to let you know that I'm getting divorced. Please don't feel guilty. It wasn't anything you did. The truth is I was unhappy in my marriage for a really long time but I never had the courage to do anything about it until I met you. After you left, I just realized I couldn't go on like this any longer. My wife moved out a few months ago.
Since then I've been going to a ton of Sub Rosa Society events and fetish clubs. It's been awesome. I met a woman named Titania and we've been dating for a while now. She's not a devotee or a domme, more of a switch, but she's so great. I told her all about the Mistress, and she really wants to meet you. Let me know when you get back to Raser City and maybe we can meet up sometime.
Sincerely,
The Mantis

It's such a shock, I hardly know what to think. I hadn't been planning on ever seeing him again. Now he wants to be friends? Ok, I guess? So his wife never found out. That's good, I guess? He seems happy anyway. And before I can even entertain the idea of dating him for real, now there is another person, this Titania. I file all this away for later, when I can decide how I feel about it and whether I want to see them. Right now it all feels so unreal.
Phil, Shamela and Malison throw a goodbye party for me, one last drunken bash. Lin is there, unexpectedly chatting up Malison. John Chanko and Skanthony are also there, although I hardly even care about them enough feel awkward around them anymore. It's all behind me. Conspicuously absent are Strawberry, Elroy and Chimi. I've burned all those bridges.
Once my apartment is mostly empty, one of the last items left to dispose of is that copy of Camus' The Stranger left behind by the Hornivore. I've put off taking it back to the library as long as I can. I finally look up the location, and realize it's way the hell out at the edge of town. Even once I get off the train, it's like a thirty minute walk to the library. What the hell! I didn't think the dude even lived in this neighborhood. I hope the library appreciates all the effort I'm going to. I drop the book in the returns box with a feeling of civic duty. Now I'm finally rid of the last trace of all my drunken hookups. It's time to go back to Raser City.