it did not suck as bad as i thought it would have

I went to the Musee d’Orsay’s 30th Anniversary Exhibit at the National Palace Museum psyched up like a rugby player ready to give as good as she gets, but it wasn’t that bad.

As expected, people still walked right in front of me as I was looking at a picture unless I was standing right up against the low cord that kept the crowd a few feet away. And even with that cord across my shins, a few old people tried to scootch in front of me like no big deal, but I held my ground.

One dude straight up smelled like bad breath all over, but I didn’t budge cause you cannot come up on my right and try to get closer to a picture on my left just by smelling bad. I held my breathe and stood there staring at a Degas painting and wishing I could focus on it instead of how much I wished that old man would trip over the wire and end up going viral on YouTube.

At The Stock Exchange by Edgar Degas, 1879
At The Stock Exchange by Edgar Degas, 1879

But I got there early enough that the crowd wasn’t hateful, and then I went through the exhibition backwards so I managed to see about half the pictures without being annoyed at all. However, I was uncomfortable by the second little room, watching a dad explain the nudes to his little daughter. It wasn’t like the dad was being inappropriate, it was just that there was this little girl who came to this special museum for a special day with her dad, and here she is having to look at these very important paintings of lovely, young, naked women. And there was some text on the wall which didn’t say much, some generic words about Impressionism. It compared Vallotton’s Women at Their Toilet hanging right there on the wall to Degas’ nudes because of the “naturalistic style of women painting” and I was reading that and hearing this dad talk to his daughter and I was wondering if he knew to tell her Degas was a misogynist and a voyeur; that it was fucked up that Vallotton painted these young women naked and faceless; or that just in general it’s super fucked up that the canon is populated with hordes of naked young women and we all have to pretend it’s respectable and not at all pervy that male artists and art collectors want to deck the halls with female bodies.

Vallotton's Women At Their Toilet
Vallotton’s Women At Their Toilet

I wanted him to tell her that just because these paintings and artists were famous, they could be flawed and ought to be questioned, and it’s not immaterial that most nudes are women, and young, and pale and smooth and demure and feeble and soft.

Renoir, Grand Nu
Renoir, Grand Nu

Concerns about male hegemony aside, I am so grateful I got to see that exhibit. Every couple of paintings, I felt spiritually transported, no shit. I could imagine Monet standing in the grass in slacks and suspenders with his shirt loose and a little sweaty, I could see the light sparkling off the ripples of the water that he was trying to capture on his canvas, and knowing that this was a thing that happened in a time I can never travel to was so depressing and so elating. Those paintings, any paintings, any art, are an inimitable product of the era in which they were created. They’re like time capsules. And if you know a little about how Monet and Sisley and Renoir and Corot and Courbet et al were buds, and how most of them were stuck in Paris eating rats and praying for cigarettes during the Siege of Paris, and you read about their wives and mistresses and kids, then you can totally fangirl when you see their signatures at the bottom of their paintings. “omg renoir totally signed this pic of this naked chick 😍😍😍😍”

I get downright melancholy when I read about like the Belle Epoque or the Lost Generation in Paris because you can book a flight to Hoi An or Chiang Mai or make vague plans to finally go to Cairns to see Cole for the first time since she moved there in 2006, but I’ll never be able to smell the breeze coming off the Seine as it smelled to Manet or Hemingway because that whole world is gone now and 🗝️🗝️YOU CAN’T STEP IN THE SAME RIVER TWICE!! 👟👟👟 And yeah that’s a kind of indulgent, luxurious melancholy that can be completely cured by finding out there’s a new pizza place in town. And also I think the Seine super stank in Manet’s time. But anyway these paintings still exist and it’s like a totally not-scary hand reaching out from the past to connect with your own and that’s beautiful.

Alfred Roll, Manda Lamétrie, fermière, 1887
Alfred Roll, Manda Lamétrie, fermière, 1887

Look at her arms! She is gorgeous and strong and young and vital. I love her. This painting was huge, like five or six feet tall.


Jules Bastien-Lepage, Haymaking (Les Foins), 1877
Jules Bastien-Lepage, Haymaking (Les Foins), 1877

This is what it’s like when you came home drunk and passed out and the alarm went off and you can’t remember if you have to work today or not.

Jules Breton, Le rappel des glaneuses, 1859
Jules Breton, Le rappel des glaneuses, 1859

This was the one that might stick with me the longest in memory. I loved the women’s faces, their bare feet, and the folds on their garments. I could sense the relief that comes coordinated with the sun’s setting and that glance of the moon at the end of the work day. And there’s more to this story, because you see these younger woman and even children, working alongside the older women and you know how their lives are going to go. And I love that your eyes return the woman in the front, in the white, and her face is like “yeah this is what i do for a living but this isn’t who i am.”

Assault, 1898 - William-Adolphe Bouguereau
Assault, 1898 – William-Adolphe Bouguereau

And this one. I just had feelings about this one. Like this chick is being assaulted by naked children who look like they are about 9 years old, which is the age of my students and if they ever came at me like this I would be working at Starbucks. And yet she’s just looking like she’s not sure if she turned the stove off; she probably did, but if she didn’t, like literally her house could catch fire, but can she just leave work to go check on her stove? And I love the description of this painting/artist on the Musee d’Orsay website cause they say, “This romantically inspired theme resulted in many paintings with similar compositions, proof of Bouguereau’s keen awareness of market forces,” which I am pretty sure just means he was doing it for the money, but I guess if I could pay my bills with pictures of naked angel-kids for your living room, I just might.

An American Voter Abroad

I wore a tank top three weeks ago, to a party and then to the bar. I’m a 34DD, though, so it’s not “allowed.” A man I recognized, but have never talked to, threatened to grab my tits. A friend and I argued with him, back and forth. He kept running his mouth until I shouted for a male friend to come over. I asked the aspiring-assailant if he would grab this dude by the balls. The presence of another man killed his joy, and he walked away, but not before shouting about grabbing me by the pussy.

I went home and drunk-ordered a t-shirt from Etsy (now sadly a place where you can search for “grab pussy t-shirt” and get loads of results). I ordered one with an angry cat’s face that says, “NOV. 8 THIS PUSSY GRABS BACK.” Then we went on vacation, and now we’re back, the election is over, the worst has happened, and my t-shirt still hasn’t arrived.

I don’t know anyone here who said they were voting for Trump. I know one guy who seems like he would, but he made a point of telling us he was with Clinton. Of course, people can lie, but the point is that I’m in an environment where at least politically, we all seem to be on the same page when it comes to immigrants, freedom of religion, race, abortion, sexism, etc. We’re liberal and open-minded. We don’t want our freedom and happiness at the expense of anyone else’s. We travel, we like meeting new people, we hold personal happiness very high and respect and expect that in others.

J and I didn’t realize until we were on holiday that we’d be traveling on election day. I went to bed late on Tuesday night in Vietnam after watching all the CNN I could handle. I woke up as polls were closing and watched for an hour, but the suspense, the minute-by-minute fluctuations, the incessant chattering–were too much for me. I went to the cafe for my last cup; when J and I got in the cab; he told me it was looking very like Trump would win.

We sat at our gate at the Ton Son Nhat in Ho Chi Minh City with a bunch of Russians. I got on the wifi and buried my face in Twitter; people were saying it was over already, already pointing fingers, already sharing fears. I tried to ignore the lounging Russians, but I had visions of Trump matryoshka dolls dancing through my head. I moved to a seat where I was looking at the airplanes taking off and landing instead of five white people taking up four seats each.

When we got off the plane in Kuala Lumpur, I got online. I refreshed my browser. “Donald Trump won the election.” I felt like I might faint, but we were in line at the security gate, so I had to put my stuff into the appropriate baskets and move through the line like I wasn’t coming to terms with what feels like the beginning of the global apocalypse.

Now what? Maybe nothing changes for me. We file our taxes every year. We have federally-subsidized healthcare here in Taiwan, so that’s covered. But I just watched my country rip itself in two along racial lines. We just witnessed people–white people, men and women–who hate women, who don’t think women should have autonomy over their bodies and reproductive capabilities, people who think it’s an alpha-male’s right to grab women by their genitals without their consent, vote into the highest office in the land (and then all the Congress, and eventually the Supreme Court) a monstrous manifestation of their worse impulses and instincts.

My Taiwanese boss told me that if he were American, he would vote for Trump. I told him voting for Trump was like voting for Hitler. I’m glad we got back on Wednesday night, not Tuesday night, because I teach him and my coworkers in an adult class on Wednesday mornings. I can’t imagine having to make myself available as the voice of America just as I was learning the bad news. Now at least I have a week to get over the initial shock that we’ve elected Pennywise to the presidency. If my shirt arrives, I’ll wear it to class.

Lots of people have threatened to leave the country if their candidate didn’t get elected. Lots of people who are afraid of a Trump presidency and a Republican government that was elected on a platform of hate, exclusion, white entitlement, and American special-snowflake syndrome are talking about finding safer places to raise their kids. That’s heartbreaking. Who can tell them to stay, it’ll be fine? Because we don’t know that it’s gonna be okay. We do know that just under 50% of the country doesn’t give a shit if we feel safe or not, though.

For me, leaving the country hasn’t meant leaving behind all these problems. If anything, I’m more engaged politically as the years go by, and social media makes it easy to stay informed and enmeshed. And the fact is, I love living in the U.S., especially as an adult. I love the seasons, the holidays, the open highways, ham salad, NPR in the car, god, the list is so long. I love travelling, too, though, and the life I have with my husband, but I want to retire in the U.S. in a house with a porch and a couple of dogs. I want my family and friends to be safe. I want my nieces and my friends’ sons and daughters to grow up in a world where women can be president of the United States, people of color are valued as 100% human, and being of a different religion doesn’t mean we can’t break bread together. Electing Trump on his amorphous platform of exclusion, entitlement, and exceptionalism is a giant step further away from the American ideals that we’ve never yet fully realized. This race wasn’t even about platforms, though–it was about personalities, and nearly half of American voters said that they wanted a geriatric frat-boy representative of the 1% to lead the country as Commander-in-Chief.

When we got back to our apartment, we watched CNN for a few hours. I physically can’t stand to look at Trump’s face or hear him speak, but we listened to Clinton’s concession speech, then Obama’s remarks. I vacillated between crying and shouting at the television, picking fights on Twitter. J and I talked about how we both felt numb with shock, deeply disappointed in our compatriots, and worried about the future.

Part of me wants to rush back to the U.S. and…what? Mourn, and then what? Volunteer at a soup kitchen? Donate to charity? I don’t know what my going back would mean. I don’t know what my staying means, either.

If anyone wants information of teaching English in Taiwan, give me a shout…I don’t know what else to tell you.

The Broke Novelist

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Merritt Tierce’s article in Marie Clair about going broke after publishing a critically-acclaimed novel. It popped up on my Facebook feed shortly after it was published on September 16, and I keep revisiting it.

On the one hand, Tierce’s dilemma speaks to the increasing costs of living in America. I can’t wrap my head around a US$786 utility bill. She says she kept her house at a cozy 85 degrees and this was literally the hottest summer in the world. But even with the air conditioners running all the time to keep the temperature just under unbearable, I’m shocked that a utility bill can be so high.

The cost of living in the United States is one of the reasons my husband and I moved to Taiwan in 2013. To date, our biggest electricity bill has been NT$8000, which is about US$255 for two months. Ironically, it wasn’t even our bill: we inherited from a stereotypically irresponsible trio of English teachers when we took over their lease. We can only assume that the three of them air-conditioned their bedrooms and the living room all summer.

In contrast, our combined take-home pay is generous. Not by American standards. Not enough to pay US$800 utility bills. Combined, we aren’t even earning the US$40,000 a year that Tierce is fantasizing about. But we work and we still have time and money to save, to spend, and to travel.

Come to Taiwan, Merritt Tierce! I don’t want you to have to dip into your son’s college fund to pay the rent!


Which brings me to my second line of thought: Shouldn’t Tierce be able to pay her bills if she wrote a very good book? Shouldn’t she be able to live off the earnings from that book, and her husband’s income, long enough to write another one?

At the risk of proving my ignorance or naivete here, has it ever been possible for most writers to live on writing alone? I think writers have about as much chance of getting paid like Stephen King and JK Rowling as kids who want to be astronauts have of stepping foot on the moon. In 2016, real artists have day jobs, don’t they? Tierce doesn’t even want to invest all the time and effort it takes into being a full-time freelancer, which, honey, I understand. There is so much to do besides write when you take that road, that it makes my little ADD-addled head spin.

But has any writer, especially any contemporary writer, made enough money to live by just writing critically-acclaimed novel after critically-acclaimed novel?

To be able to afford a room of one’s own–the space and time to create–most everyone has to sell their present time to the most accommodating bidder or mortgage their future with loans, or second-book deals. Not so many of us can count on an inheritance or even sufficient financial support from a spouse.

Maybe the folks who are self-publishing romance and adventure e-books have the right idea. But the ones I know are still teaching English, too.

I feel like somebody needs to tell Tierce to “write like a motherfucker.” Not me. I only wish I was published. But Cheryl Strayed could.

I bought Tierce’s book. A blurb from Roxane Gay is a good enough endorsement for me. And I’d like to encourage her to keep going. She might never make the list of the country’s best-paid authors, but she definitely won’t if she stops now. The odds are high, the work is hard, and I don’t want to have to wait tables, deliver mail, teach English, or hustle for one-off writing gigs any more than she does, and I’m not even on a path that leads to the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum!

walk like a taiwanese woman

This was drafted (but not posted) in 2012, shortly after I returned to the U.S. after six years Taiwan and China. 

One of my co-workers remarked that without even looking up he knows it’s me walking across our big office because he recognizes my shuffle. Before I could even explain myself, he told me he figured it was from my time in Asia. Something about the way I walk makes him think of a Japanese geisha or a Chinese woman with bound feet, he said.

I knew what he was talking about. It’s a walk that I became so familiar with in Taiwan/China that I didn’t even realize I had adopted and exported it. It’s the walk of a much daintier woman who is afraid to own her personal space. It’s the shuffle of a bullied girl who is trying to disappear, or the handicapped stride of a woman running in high heels. It’s Nathan Lane’s Albert from The Bird Cage. It’s a Spice Girl. It’s affected.

(Once a Chinese woman in Shanghai was getting on my nerves because she jogged, but kind of stomped her feet, whenever she needed to move across the office. I turned to another Chinese co-worker with a clenched jaw and asked her if she’d noticed how annoying and loud it was every time So-and-so ran across the office. “I think she’s trying to be cute,” she said. And she was: It was supposed to be a dainty, girly traipse, but she was slamming her feet down and not landing on her toes.)

Then there’s also the way I eat. I make Chinese food* for J. As we are eating with our chopsticks, I realize I am shoveling rice and pork into my open maw from the bowl I am holding up to my mouth. His bowl sits on the table and he eats a one bite at a time. He can feed himself with chopsticks, but not as efficiently as me because I am not picking up up my food, I am sweeping it into my mouth. He doesn’t say anything, but I put my bowl down on the table and try to eat Chinese food like a Westerner, without too much enthusiasm, without anything that looks like desperation.
amateur vagrant posing for a pic in taipei
The worst has been the way I can’t remember not to be opportunistic in crowds. There’s so much respect for personal space in the U.S., but I can’t suppress the instinct that I developed after years of trying to get anywhere in Asia. I dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge down the cereal aisle. “Whoa,” says J. I’m so embarrassed, but there’s no good way to explain to someone that there’s no other way to get through a crowded grocery store in Taiwan. I’ve perfected these skills over six years and now they are useless.
You can predict some of the things you will miss about a place when you leave after spending a meaningful amount of time there, but it’s harder to predict the ways you might change. I grew up in Taiwan–I was there from the time I was 23 until I turned 28, and then I spent another year, another birthday in Shanghai. (Also I went to high school in Hong Kong.) I knew that I learned a lot about live and love, figured out that I didn’t want to teach, etc. I didn’t know that I had absorbed different ways of taking up and using my space. I couldn’t have realized that until I got back “home”, and actually it’s been hard for me to break these relatively new habits.
It’s interesting, though, to think about the different ways people take up and use their personal space, and why culture and population might have an impact on how our relationship to our space is structured.
*My Chinese food was never very good, but I was “homesick.” And at the time, I had no plans of returning to Taiwan to live. I was doing what I could. 


I spend a lot of time thinking about my boobs–more time than I spend thinking about my eyebrows and less time than spend thinking about my thighs. I don’t think I’d be the woman I am today if I had a different pair of breasts.

I think it’s because I was a late developer and I got teased for being flat up through ninth grade.

[Interrupting myself to say that it is ridiculous for a 14-year-old girl to be teased by a bunch of feral 14-year-old boys, as though at 14 I was already socially obligated to start manifesting my sexual availability.


But as ridiculous as being teased for having tiny titties sounds to me twenty years later, being teased was traumatic. When I went from mosquito bites to a C-cup with a year, I felt invincible. Now other people noticed me. Boobs were my superpower, my anti-invisibility cloak.

Then I got teased for having big boobs (they went up to a DD in college). But at 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 years old, being teased for having large breasts felt a lot more like good-natured ribbing than harassment.

“At least they like me!”

When I was in high school, I read about women who wore minimizing bras or wanted breast reduction surgery. I really couldn’t understand it. My boobs were getting all enmeshed with my identity. They were all that compensated for my bad skin and frizzy hair. With a flat chest, I’d be ordinary.

I don’t think that there’s anything worse than being ordinary.*

My breasts were my armor for many years. Fat or thin, I had big boobs that got at least some attention most of the time. I couldn’t be overlooked.

It wasn’t always a great fit, though. Big boobs on a bookworm is like hanging out an XXX GIRLS sign on a library. I sometimes tried to be the girl my tits said I could be. I sometimes had to fight for people to take me seriously despite having big tits.

(But with or without big tits, who hasn’t had to fight to get other people to take them seriously?)

Fast forward to my mid-30s and I’m noticing the looks I’m getting. I’m starting to feel uncomfortable in my own body. Like some days I’d like to slip into another skin, another bag of meat with smaller breasts so that I could teach or buy groceries or walk into town without these headlights flashing signals that aren’t coming from me. I’m too old for this.

More and more, I’d like to be ignored when I’m out in public. Particularly if I’m just trying to get a little exercise or I’m teaching a class.

In the Taiwan heat and humidity, the space between my boobs gets sweaty and itchy. If I don’t wear a sports bra, then they seem to shake, even flap, independent of each other. It’s like I’m walking down the street and two tiny hippos are twerking under my t-shirt.

I don’t like to wear low-cut shirts around my friends anymore. If my male friends look at my breasts, I feel self-conscious. If they don’t look, I’m still afraid my female friends think I am showing off.

A man I’ve known for more than a decade drunkenly molested me a couple of months ago. Grabbed my right breast. I shoved him away. He laughed. Later, he apologized to my husband via a Facebook message. My husband wasn’t even there when it happened. The molester told me I shouldn’t be angry. It was just a drunken mistake.

Tits are public property.

I tried wearing tank tops last summer when I was running with a running club up in Taipei, but I got singled out for some good old-fashioned slut-shaming. A drunk woman in her late 40s wanted to put me in my place. “You think you’re so hot with your big tits hanging out? Nobody cares about your tits here,” she said, her eyes wild, her hand gripping my wrist.

I had thought that I’d be safe among foreigners who made a show of being comfortable with other people’s bodies, but apparently only women with a C-cup or less can be buddies. Her man looked at my boobs, so I was a troublemaker.

An attention whore.

Boobs are divisive.

At work, at school, I try to hide my breasts under loose shirts. I catch my sixth-graders making weird gestures, hands splayed six inches in front of their chests. They snicker, then burst into embarrassed laughter, faces red, eyes down. I feel self-conscious. I’m the teacher, the adult in the room, and yet I feel ashamed, like I brought porn into the room.

What can I do? Where can I put them? Now I wear a minimizing bra. In class, I avoid stretching, dancing, jumping, making big gestures, and erasing the board too vigorously. I wear oversized men’s t-shirts when I run, and sunglasses so I can stare back at uncivilized men who gawk like I’m a zoo monkey with a dick for a nose. I can’t hide my breasts anywhere else. I can’t stop them from indiscriminately beaming invitations in public, like some kind of charismatic lighthouse.

I should count my blessings. (One. Two.) So far, my boobs are healthy. What if they make me sick one day? My gramma had a mastectomy late in life. “I told him to cut the whole damn thing off. What do I need it for?” she grumbles. She’s lucky: she could sacrifice a breast to save her life.

Tits are time-bombs. No telling if or when they’ll go off, if they’ll take me with them. If I lose them, will I miss them? Will I be able to embrace being ignored by the people I now distract?

How much longer can I expect to be a distraction, anyway? I’m already 35. I should count my blessings. (One. Two.) Is having my breast squeezed by a drunk man a blessing? Is being called out as a threat to other women a blessing? My boobs are always bigger than my stomach. I wear a bikini every summer, even if hide my body below my bust in the water for as long as possible.

I hope when I’m old or when my breasts are removed to stop cancer from spreading that I will be able to appreciate what I couldn’t understand at 13, before I started to fill out. I hope I will be able to appreciate having a body that is ignored by others and therefore mine alone. To do with as I please. To not have to worry that I’ve done something wrong when anyone else–men and boys, women and girls–feels like they’ve been invited to comment on my tits, like they are any more my “fault” than my long toes or my thick eyebrows.

As though I choose them each morning before I leave the house like I choose a t-shirt or shoes.

I hope I will enjoy it when I’m on the other side of getting attention.

I’ll stop here, not because I am finished, but because I can’t finish. Every interaction of my body with the world contributes to an infinite feedback loop that changes how I feel about both my body and the world.

I like myself. I like my body. It’s the way other people react and interact with my body that’s giving me something to think about. Something to worry about. What would it be like if breasts were only as erotic as a stomach? Then mine would be unhealthy, oversized. I’d find them inconvenient, as I do know, and I wouldn’t feel that they were sexy, as I do now.

This is the question: what would it be like in a different body? Who would I be?

Don’t be an asshole in Cambodia

It’s hard not to be an asshole.

Most of us actively avoid it, even though there’s some research to suggest that being an asshole is gratifying.

Yet at some point or another, most of us end up inadvertently being assholes because of ignorance.

This is a picture of me about to be an asshole.

-Preah Khan candle angkor wat amateur vagrant

I didn’t know it yet. At the moment this picture was taken, a man dressed in an official-looking uniform was taking pictures of me. I wasn’t sure what he was doing, except that he was having me pose very precisely and he was squatting down trying to get it just right. He took six pictures of me total. When he stood up, he handed me my phone and turned to the white people standing behind him and offered to take their pictures, too.

I was anxious to get my phone back as soon as possible. I did not think he would steal it. I was afraid there would be a mixup or it would get dropped. I wanted to see the pictures. I wanted to get out of the way.

“Not together?” he asked.

“Oh, no, we’re not together,” I laughed. The other white people laughed, too.

I took my phone and trotted away. I was so amazed by the pictures! I had no idea what he was doing, but the effect was so cool!

Another white tourist accosted me. “Did you give him any money?”

“No,” I said. “He didn’t ask me for any.” I should have given him money! Shoot!

“He took our picture, then he asked us for some money.”

“Oh, there was some confusion. He thought I was with the people behind me, but I said no and I just took my phone, I guess he didn’t get to ask me.”

“You know, his uniform doesn’t even look like the other guards’ uniforms.”

“Oh, no?” I didn’t know what else to say. I literally did not have a dollar on me. I had opted to move through the temples without a purse. I didn’t even have any pockets in my cool harem pants. J was carrying all the money, and as usual, he had wandered off by himself with the camera.

When I found him and joined up with the rest of our group, we were heading out the back of the temple to meet the tuktuk drivers.

I didn’t go back. I should have, but sometimes I am so passive. I didn’t demand a dollar from J. I didn’t demand that everyone wait for me while I ran back to give this guy a dollar. I was agreeable.

I was indifferent.

When I was looking up the name of this temple, I found another blog that described the same experience: a “guard” who offered to take this picture and then asked for money. The blogger was upset that “they do not do things out of the kindness of their heart”.

How fucking entitled.

You are not Kanye, Kim, or Taylor. Local Cambodian people are not the altruistic papparazzi, hanging out in the dark recesses of ancient temples waiting to make themselves useful to you.

My take on the situation is this: I don’t think that man was actually one of the guards/rangers that observe and assist the visitors at Angkor Wat. I think this is his hustle, taking this really neat cool picture for all the tourists that come through, and then asking for a dollar.

Imagine if he’d taken the time to patiently explain or even demonstrate to each tourist what he wanted to do. Imagine if he asked for a dollar to do it. And then recognize how many tourists would turn to someone else in their group or another stranger and ask that person to do it for free.

Only you might not have even known about that cool shot if it hadn’t been for the guard. He just dropped some local insight on you, the kind you’d pay $4.99 for if your favorite blogger wrote about it in an e-book. He provided a service for you. I would say that if this guy has been taking this same shot every day for a couple of years, he provided his expertise.

Who has time or money to do that shit “out of the kindness of their heart”? That man would lose the shirt off his back if he had to keep waiting for white people to weigh the pros and cons of “hiring” him as a photographer for a dollar or two. Instead, he gets in there, gives you a product/service that is guaranteed to be downright enchanting, and then asks you what you think it’s worth.

If you’re an asshole, you say, “Nothing.” You get annoyed that somebody “tricked you”. It’s the principle. He should have explained it to you first, given you his trade secret for free, and then let you decide if he deserved any money.

He didn’t beg for money. He certainly did not steal. He provided a very unique service and you, the customer, only complained about being asked to pay for it. This was my second time in Siem Reap, and not a single person asked me for money in the four days I was there. Kids chased me back to the van or the tuktuk trying to sell me magnets. An old lady gave me a stick of incense and some strings for my wrist in exchange for a dollar. Drivers and guides accosted us, trying so hard to sell themselves and so hard not to push our spoiled white selves to the point of indifference. People were trying their damndest to provide a product or service I would pay for. If you can’t respect the hustle, stay at home.

If you have enough money to travel all the way from the U.S. to Southeast Asia, if you have the the kind of job that gives you weeks off OR if you can afford to quit your job and assume you’ll find another soon enough when you get back, if you can be away from other obligations (i.e. family members with health problems), if you can afford to buy a bunch of harem pants and headscarves when you get there, if you can spring $8 for a bucket at Angkor What, you can give a dollar to the guy who took what was surely your new Facebook profile picture.

If you don’t, you’re an asshole.

I’m an asshole.


Reasons why Chinese wives are the best

Picture of an American woman in the wild, expressing her opinion. It’s best to maintain your distance from these types. 

Reasons why Chinese wives are better than American wives, according to a flabby expat teacher with a mustache that looked like a strip torn from a mouse pelt:

  1. “American wives wouldn’t let us get away with half the shit Chinese wives let us get away with.”

End of list.

Reasons why I think the guy is an idiot who said this right in front of me and my husband:

  1. Neither American wives nor Chinese wives are a homogeneous group. Even my sister and I, raised by the same woman, are very different wives to our husbands.
  2. Unless you are small and furry, nobody wants to clean up after your shit. Nobody is perfect, but you have no respect for your life partner if you aren’t even trying to be a good spouse. You get zero points for admitting you’re an asshole.
  3. So an American wife wouldn’t put up with him drinking, doing recreational drugs, and carrying on in whatever ways, but a Chinese wife will, so he can?
  4. There are American and Chinese wives who enjoy drinking, doing drugs, and carrying on, right alongside their husbands. But this guy would rather do these things with his buddies while his wife sits at home alone, but he still wants her to be friendly when he gets in?
  5. We’d literally just met this guy. I have no doubt that he was intentionally being incendiary.
  6. It’s weird and gross to compare American women and Chinese women like breeds of dogs, especially if you are married to a unique Chinese woman and not a shih tzu.
  7. Chinese women and American women are not in competition for a limited resource, especially a resource that looks like a boiled potato with a mouse-fur mustache.

Sounds like this American husband has some unresolved American-mommy issues.

I don’t know any wife who enjoys negotiating her partner’s behavior, either begging or demanding that they conduct themselves like an adult who respects their wife and their bond.

I didn’t call him out. I let him get away with this because he was a stranger, because we’d all been drinking in a little, because he was a friend of a friend, because I wouldn’t want to cause a scene or make a fuss.

Because I get shit for being “American,” an adjective that in these contexts means being argumentative and  opinionated, even though I keep my mouth shut to keep the peace a lot more often than I get credit for.

Because as mouthy and demanding as some people think all American women are, we are still restricted by expectations about how women should behave.

I suspect that the fact of my being in Taiwan, married to a fellow American and domestically satisfied in pretty conventional ways was threatening to Mickey Mouse-stache. Seeing an American woman here interrupts his white-dude fantasy of being a small-time celebrity pursued by “docile” Taiwanese women who in line to put up with his shit. Seeing a happy American woman who isn’t in that line just reminds him of being neglected back home.

Because the other side of the stories about awkward, misogynistic, condescending, unattractive American guys being blasted into the dimension of desirability just by switching hemispheres is that American women rejected them.

Because American women can figure out and pass judgment on English-speaking assholes within the first ten minutes of meeting them.

Maybe this guy hasn’t been here long enough to meet the  guys who are stuck here after the party has ended, after the divorce, paying their salaries in child support so they can see their kids. I don’t wish an unhappy ending on anyone, but you haven’t left the Midwest and landed in Stepford, Taiwan.

In the end, though, shit like this shouldn’t bother me at all. What ugly, drunk, white dudes say at the bar when they can get away with it shouldn’t ruin my night. I pity his wife, especially if she is an awesome person, because her husband is an asshole, but I don’t know her. I think it’s a bummer for all women everywhere that some men still think and behave like this, like women and wives are commodities or conveniences that they can choose like they choose an appliance.

In the end, I married a good American man. Thankfully, American men aren’t all the same.

A commitment that led to love

Today is the sixth anniversary of my first date with J, so instead of a post about food in Taiwan, I’m posting about how much I ❤ J. (Loads!)

I wrote this in 2012, but never posted it. I’ve cleaned it up for you, though! I also reread the Modern Love column that inspired me to jot this all down and I have to say…it’s shit. Sorry, writer! But I don’t think it’s very well written (ignore me, I’m jealous because I would love to write a Modern Love column, but I don’t even have a first draft let alone a winning submission) and also it’s trite. It is 0% shocking that anyone regrets breaking up with an ex when they find out their ex has moved on to another relationship.

Also, it kind of sounds like the author thinks she was slumming it or experimenting or having a little adventure along the lines of “When in India…” It’s different to read that kind of story with a female narrator, sure (but notice how she stills gets enmeshed…why are we always going that?), but I mean it’s still a little bit icky.

I mean, whatever, we’re all icky.

It IS a good story. That’s the thing, right? You either have to have a really interesting experience to write about or be a really excellent writer. If you have both, you’re Hemingway. I guess.


For some reason in college I read a whole bunch of books by Indian writers. I think they were mostly expats. They were all women. Among others, I read Jhumpa Lahiri, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s, Rohinton Mistry…

For a while after college, I just had a sticky mess of ideas about Indian arranged marriages that worked out something like the relationships in Pride and Prejudice–the women who got involved impulsively, distracted by good looks and charm, ended up in a bad way, and the women who were patient and/or obedient ended up happy, finding love and commitment together.

I had a really romantic view of arranged marriage, along the lines of “it would be better if the people who supposedly know you well and have your best interests at heart were the ones who found a life partner for you.” I suppose that’s all contingent on factors like your family members not being assholes, etc.

So there was a time when I would have been happy if my mom or my brother introduced me to someone they thought I’d get along with…

(Not my gramma, though. She once trotted me out of the house to introduce me to the guy who was cutting down a problematic tree in her backyard. He was a good ten years older than me, missing teeth, with a white tank top stretched thin over a big ol’ belly. He looked at me like I was lunch. I suspect Gramma was just trying to get me bred and not actually concerned about my long-term marital bliss. Gramma was married three times though so I’m not sure she holds a very high view of the usefulness of the husband.)

The Modern Love story actually gave me a clue about why I was attracted to the idea of an arranged marriage: because I wanted the commitment first.

In India, at least for my new boyfriend, love didn’t lead to commitment; love was commitment. It was a leap of faith made by two people to stick it out no matter what.

In the American dating scene, that is completely backwards. You try each other on like jeans until you’ve worn a hole in the knees before you decide to keep each other. But I see how it was with me and J, and how from very, very early on I knew, and I think both of us knew, that we were in this for the long haul, even if we weren’t ready to define what that meant for twelve months. That’s how long it took for us to have semi-serious, blushing, giggling conversations about who wanted to marry who…because he said a year was the objectively appropriate minimum amount of time to wait before talking about marriage. We got engaged like 13 months after we started dating.

From very early on, from our first week, J opened his life to me without any fear of getting hurt. We committed to each other 100%. We didn’t say we were going to get married. We didn’t say that we were in it for better or worse. We just treated each other like being together forever was an option.

And because I felt like J wasn’t looking for my faults (looking for an out), I could relax. I never felt desperate for his attention because it was always available. I never felt insecure. It was a lot less like falling in love and more like gently rowing into a beautiful sunset, sunrise.

I needed that early commitment from a partner and that’s why I loved those stories of arranged marriages–and Pride and Prejudice–even if they were kind of fairytales. They were alternatives to the script that says you have to get really intimate with someone yet still refrain from giving your heart to them.

J and I moved in together after four months and got married after a year, so we always had this solid foundation of commitment under our feet as we were getting to know each other. Of course, making an early commitment can be dangerous or just unsuccessful in a really typical way, but I think being together without a history of making each other feel insecure has been a perfect match for us.

Are you friends with your exes?

I am not friend with any of my ex-boyfriends. I’m not even still friends with friends I slept with.

I’m not even still friends with all the friends I didn’t sleep with, so I am willing to concede that it might just be me.

I was something of a serial monogamist before I got married. I didn’t have a lot of boyfriends, but I had a couple of pretty lengthy relationships.

I just got caught up in people. I think that’s part of the reason I don’t want to talk to any of these guys. You kind of make a pig of yourself with them, wanting to know everything about them, and eventually, you’re sated. You’re done.

Like that time you had too much tequila, so you never drank tequila again.

(Except I eventually started drinking tequila again and I still don’t talk to my exes.)

Or that time you waited an hour for your food and when it came it wasn’t what you ordered and the beverage service was best described as “negligent” and now you never go back to that restaurant.

And if your friends suggest that restaurant, you’re like, no way! I had a terrible experience there! And so you have to pick another place.

Maybe I don’t have great instincts. I think there are some or a lot of women who will have a gut feeling about someone and avoid getting romantically involved. Historically, I’d be involved huge before I realized that my new boyfriend and I weren’t compatible. But by then I was invested, so I wanted to make it work. I wanted to force it. So you do that for a while, and that is just fucking awful.

(Then you break up and get back together because you are a masochist.)

By the time you are done, you’ve put each other through hell. Emotionally, you are the equivalent of raw, bloody, ground beef. You never want to see each other again.

After all the lying, the cheating (“We were on a break!”), the manipulating, I can’t imagine sitting at a table full of people who witnessed us trying to destroy each other and being like, “We used to date, god, years ago, but we’re great friends now. We’re going on a double date to wine country next weekend, actually.”

Once you’ve seen someone stripped of all their pretensions, or they’ve seen you that raw, it’s really hard to feel like you can pretend to be civilized around them again.

Impossible, really, for me.

I feel like if you never let your feelings get the best of you on the brink of the breakup, if you were always able to keep it civil, then maybe you weren’t passionately in love, and that’s the only way I love. I suspect that’s true of us all!

But some people are friends with their exes. Is it hard? Easy? Healthy? Beneficial?

Supplementary Reading: Science reveals what it may say about your personality if you’re still friends with your ex


On turning 35

When I was 27 I reconnected with a friend from middle school. We’d kept in touch for a few years when I was in high school, but lost contact by the time we went to college. When I crashed at his place, he pulled out a box of memorabilia, dug around, and pulled out some letters–actual handwritten letters!–I’d sent him when I was 16. My excitement and amusement were quickly replaced by regret and an existential funkiness when I read those letters.

“I’m different now. I am becoming a better person. I am becoming the person I always wanted to be,” I wrote.

Without having read those letters, I would have probably said the same thing to him at 27. It depressed me because it was irrefutable evidence that I was still struggling to become the person I wanted to be more than a decade later, after a college education and a my debut into adulthood as an English teacher in Taiwan. What was I doing at 16 that was so special? I knew at 27 that I was already starting to feel regrets about opportunities and time wasted. And if at 27 I thought I was becoming the person I always wanted to be, would I find out in ten years that I was lying to myself?

I wanted to share that with you because I wanted you to know that I am constantly checking in with myself–every season, every New Year, every birthday. I usually feel positive. I feel like I’ve devoted a good amount of time to thinking about life’s mysteries and I’ve come to some helpful conclusions. And then I check out my old diary or my old blog or find some letters I wrote when I was 16 and realize I’ve been chasing my own tail the whole time.

This birthday, I am finally starting to feel old.

Cue the chorus of people older and younger than me saying, “You’re not old!”

Thank you. That’s kind of you.

But the reality is I see signs of being old whenever I look in the mirror. I have more crow’s feet and laugh lines than ever. I have stubborn cellulite.

I can’t hold my beer anymore. Wine is fine, but sometimes even one or two beers will keep me out of production til dinner-time the next day. That’s severe, right? I used to party.

I feel old.

When I was 26 or so, I started feeling like I could conjure up the audacity to write. I felt like I had a superpower if I did so much as a draft a story about my first kiss. I eventually started working on my memoir. I was going to have a draft ready to submit to publishers by the time I was 30. Then with 30 looming, I was going to settle for a short story.

Now I’m 35 and I have a hard drive full of unfinished drafts of my memoir, short stories, and essays. I have feeble attempts at poetry in various notebooks.

I do have my own home office, though.

I am starting to suspect that the version of me that gives up gainful employment to live in a shack in the forest and write full-time while subsisting on a diet of handouts from kind strangers and caring family members is not actually a version of myself that I aspire to be.

I have finally admitted to myself that I get excited about getting that thing I needed from IKEA.

When I was 25 I admitted to myself that I liked air-conditioning and hated spiders too much to really join the Peace Corps. I wanted to when I was in college, but I was overwhelmed by my student loan debt and thought it would be better to get a paying job first.

I’m still paying off my student loans. I own three sets of matching linens from IKEA. I have a guest bedroom.

Did my priorities change naturally as I got older? Am I giving up? Or am I finally realizing who I am and what I want?

And if I am only just now realizing who I am and what I want, why has it taken so long? And what am I going to do with this information?

I am tired. I have been treading water for so long. Chasing my tail. When I moved to Taiwan, my friends said they were jealous. They went to grad school and then got married.  When I moved back to the States, my American friends said they regretted not getting out and travelling for a year. By then they had careers. They were having kids. When I moved back to Taiwan, my American friends said it was brave of me to opt out. Now they have families, retirement accounts, and cars. They can watch Game of Thrones on Sunday nights on their big-screen TVs, legally.

My biggest concerns are watching Game of Thrones and going back to America after I’m too old to teach just to be a greeter at Wal-Mart and listening to old people who have never left the country complain about “damn immigrants”.

I don’t want to die alone, and lonely.

I’m 35. I’m old enough to do whatever I want, but the options are dwindling faster than I can figure out what they are. What they were.

(I’m not going to learn how to surf. There’s still time to get into snorkeling.)

I feel like I’m getting old faster than I figured out how to live.