So let’s flashback to when I was fresh out of college, a new teacher in Taiwan. I had just turned 23. My co-workers and I, we didn’t have an office: we all shared a giant table with cupboards underneath, so there was plenty of opportunities for everyone to interact. I worked with a woman who became my best friend, a couple of other people, and this older guy named — who was married and had a kid, male pattern baldness, and literal war stories.
Here’s what I remember about –:
- He asked me to do a recording session for an English test with him. I did it. In the car on the way home, the man driving asked him how long he’d been in Taiwan. He said, “Taiwan very good.” The man stopped talking to us. I’d been in Taiwan less than six months at that point and knew he didn’t have a clue what was being said.
- He used to talk about being in the military and fighting in the Gulf War. But he always said that driving in Taiwan was more dangerous than being in the infantry.
- When we all had an hour break between evening classes on Wednesdays for a spell, he invited us into an empty classroom each week to watch Northern Exposure. But then he started making us watch videos about government conspiracies, so we stopped going, which sucked, because Northern Exposure was good TV.
Anyway, I started working elsewhere after two years and did not keep in touch with –.
Jump ahead to just a few weeks ago when we end up at dinner with friends of friends and — is there. Quelle surprise! He’s looking a little more worn, a little more tired, but whatevs, it’s been like a DECADE. So I introduce him to my hubs and that’s it.
Now, I didn’t miss –, and the rest of the people at the table I either don’t know or don’t like, but we’re at like my favorite restaurant that we never go to because J doesn’t like it. Fine. I resolve to love the shit out of my bamboo pork. These people are not gonna take that away from me.
I overhear — telling somebody about being in the military and I think, man, those stories were already old when you were dropping them in 2004, but, bamboo pork. I don’t care.
Then comes the part where someone mentions that a foreigner they know is a “know-it-all”. This strikes me as funny because basically every person at that table falls into that category. (Note to self: do some soul-searching, cause you probably do this shit, too.)
So I say something: “Dude, every foreigner who’s been here like a year is a know-it-all.”
“Do you mean foreigners in general, or specifically people at this table?” queries –. I instantly regret making him think I want to talk to him, but J is on the job.
“No, not necessarily people at this table, but like anybody who’s been here for a while thinks they know all about Taiwan and Chinese culture and whatever,” says J.
“Well, really, that’s funny, because I seem to remember Rae talking a whole lot when I knew her before. It was like, jeez, you couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Isn’t that right, Rae?”
So all at once I’m feeling hot and embarrassed, and I can feel some anger in there somewhere, but it’s not gonna beat the apology out of my mouth, and I am already doubly pissed for apologizing to this guy…
“No,” says J in his nice, big boom.
“What?” says –.
“No. Whatever you just said, no.”
Granted, the rhetoric could be polished up a bit, but that’s how it went down. And — got the point, because now he turns back to me to say, “C’mon, Rae, don’t you remember? I know you’ve changed a lot…”
But something snapped in me when J interrupted him. It wasn’t only that J defended me, because that was cool, but when he did that, I realized I was defendable. That I wasn’t automatically wrong, that I didn’t have to apologize, that I could talk back to this guy. That my apology-reflex is on steroids, but I have other muscles to flex.
“I don’t know about that, but I seem to remember someone not letting us watch Northern Exposure until he proselytized us with government conspiracy theories,” I said.
Again, you know, with time, I could have scripted a wittier exchange, but this is how it went down.
The gall! Even if I did or do talk too much, coming from him, that’s a textbook example of the pot calling the kettle black. And then to observe me during a dinner where I was flanked and outnumbered by my enemies and had resigned myself to just enjoying my meal, and to deduce that I had “changed” in any way…and then to ask me to publicly disagree with my husband while he’s standing up for me was just so stupid.
We all were leaving anyway, so we left, and — shot us a few awkward, possibly conciliatory glances as he left, but we did not acknowledge him. But I got a taste of what it could be like if I don’t automatically cringe and say sorry every time someone drops a complaint at my door. And yeah, shriveled-up, bullshit, ten-year-old complaints are not being received here. Take that shit right to the trash.