Ten years ago (well, ten years and 15 days actually), I stepped off a plane in Taipei, Taiwan to have an adventure. I knew no Mandarin but had my language book in tow and was ready to learn. Fresh out of college and excited to live in a new country, I had no idea how living in Asia would change my life–but I knew it would change it. Since I am in a nostalgic mood, here’s one of my favorite anecdotes from my time there, also featured in my book Encounters with Strangers.
Pigu Hen Hao
Compared to New York City, Taipei is a fairly safe place. I often walked home late at night, talked to strangers freely and even enjoyed taking cabs–something locals don’t like to do since most drivers are ex-cons.
One evening while I was walking home from work, two scooters sped on to the sidewalk (which isn’t allowed in Taipei).
The middle-aged Taiwanese men drove up next to me and stopped. I wasn’t sure if it was coincidental or if they wanted to ask me something so I paused and looked at them.
“Ni hao,” the man greeted me while his friend stared. They were both chewing binlan (beetle nut), a legal drug that makes your teeth red, gives you a warm feeling and a boost of energy.
The man continued speaking but I couldn’t understand everything he said so I asked, “Shenma? (What?)”
Then the man slapped my butt and said, “Pigu hen hao! (Your butt is nice)” and the two men quickly drove off, weaving in between the sidewalk pedestrians.
I couldn’t move–I was so shocked. I thought, ‘Did anyone see that? That guy just hit my butt! Should I call the police?!’ I had never felt so vulnerable.
I didn’t know what else to do but walk home in disbelief. Now that I think back (two years later), what happened that night shouldn’t have surprised me. Those two were just like any other American man: they liked to speed, to flirt with young women, and appreciated a round rear.b