Wow, it is so true that Taiwanese culture seems to allow for the most blunt pronouncements about other people’s physical appreance. And if you are “overweight”, fuggettaboutit. It’s Open Season. But, hey, it’s not at all just reserved for foreigners, the nicknames that locals have to endure from classmates can be pretty harsh. And you are expected to grin and bear it, ad nauseum. “Little piggy”, ha ha ha… yes. Ha Ha, that’s so cute.
I have to be honest, I packed on some poundage as the years ticked by in Taiwan. By my mid-30’s I had a beer belly, to be sure. One day, I met an old student from back in my lither days, and the first words out of their mouth was, “Teacher, you are fat!”. Unfortunately a snapping retort eluded me that day.
My worst experience along these lines happend in class one day. A student was doing the pulling the hair on my arm thing, and saying for all to hear, “Wa-say, hao do mao”. Then she put her hand on my stomach and asked me when the baby was due. Immediately another student chimed in, “And you’re bald, too. what does it feel like to be bald?” And this was a friggin adult class! That was it… I retreated to the front of the class, and boiling with rage and indignation, let them know that I was being paid to teach them, I was not there to be the subject of their indiscrete and bloody rude obeservations. Perhaps the moment was a bit like that scene in the Elephant Man, where the hero cries out in anugish, I am MAN, not a BEAST. The class, of course sat there in totally embarrased silence. The bald comment guy squirmed in his chair, eyes cast down face beet red in shame, and the girl who inquired after my tummy was on the verge of tears. Things were never the same with that class. Not to bignote myself (too much), but I was a great teacher (back when that was how I made my living), fun, very hands on and engaged, for the rest of that term they got a much more reserved and distant presentation. Buggers.
Now, a confessional aside: the most painfull aspect of that experience was that the girl who pulled my arm hair and patted my stomach had just about the hottest body I’d ever seen in Taiwan. I’m talking real and spectacular, you know - the kind of stunner that you’d gladly crawl a mile over broken glass just to wank in the shadow of (if that’s your thing), and to be honest, I was, privately, more than a bit taken with her. The old ego took some serious damage that day, indeed.
Funny, in subsequent terms when I would see the core of these students who carried on studying at our school, they would all say how much they missed me, and how I was the best teacher, etc. etc. (But then again, blowing meaningless sunshine up people’s arses is a national passtime in the ROC). Miss Super Body, in particular, was always extremely nice to me after that, and even called me months and months latter to wish me well when she heard I was repatriating my fat ass back to the USA. (Alas, she never threw me an apology shag. Ah, well.)