So one of the newspapers ran a list of top questions a foreigner might ask in Taiwan, and as this type of bullshit generally rolls down hill, the other day my boss asked me to write a bunch of answers – which I did, without comment or complaint.
A few of the questions were in the ballpark of reality; however, most of them were queer, as in, odd. For instance, never at any time during my eight years in this country have I ever even considered asking someone if there was any “delicious food around here.”
Anyway, the list came back to me today for proofreading, which was the point where I turned to my boss and said, “Where the fuck did you get these questions?” He replied that they came from a newspaper; he didn’t say which one. Then he asked, “Why, are they…?” The ellipsis being rhetorical…
Rather than launch into any sort of deferential commentary, I said, “Look, the first question a motherfucker is going to ask when he rolls off the plane is: ‘Where can I buy a SIM card for my cell phone?’ He’s probably going to need some cash, so he’ll be looking for a currency exchange. He’ll want to know which bus goes to Taipei Main Station. How much is a taxi to Taipei City?” E-T-C.
I can’t say with certainty because I don’t know your life, but I’d be willing to bet that most of you have never asked, “What can I do if I lose something?” I’m even more confident the statement would be more like, “Jesus fuck! I think I left my cell phone in that taxi. What now?”
All of the typical foreigner questions are going to be explicitly practical – and 99% are readily answered by Lonely Planet, et al. Moreover, you might need to ask where the bathroom is, but you’re far more likely to ask if a place has a goddamn bathroom. Or more specifically, one might be inclined to ask why there is a trash bin full of wadded up, festering shit tickets next to the toilet? Don’t people know how to flush around here?
So I started thinking about all the questions I was asking when I first arrived. I remember asking a lot of people to write shit down in Chinese for me, particularly addresses, which was helpful until I learned how to speak Taxicab Mandarin. I probably asked if anybody spoke English a hundred times – it was actually one of the first phrases I learned in Mandarin. The SIM card question, of course, and I would reckon that the majority of my questions started with, “Could you [do something] for me?” And I know I once approached a cop on the street with a beer in my paw and asked, “Are you sure it’s alright for me to be drinking this right here?”
Otherwise, I didn’t have a lot of questions that I couldn’t figure out on my own. Where’s a fucking night market? Look at a map, asshole. Where is the nearest bus stop? Come on! No disrespect to the visually-impaired, but you gotta be fucking blind not to see the bus stops.
Now, there was this one time on Tonghua Street when I was approached by a couple of Dutch tourists who asked where the MRT station was; but they were fucking lost. Like, holding the map upside-down lost. And that’s totally understandable in this ramshackle, caddy-whompus town. Remember the first time you looked at an MRT map and saw the North arrow pointing toward the floor? I had one question. “What the fuck is wrong with these people?”
The foreigner question deal dredged up some long-neglected feelings and thoughts. First of all, there’s a reason most Taiwanese think all foreigners are completely retarded. If these are the types of questions they think we ask, then it’s true: We’re fucking stupid. Of course, I’m generalizing. There are a lot of foreigners who come here on business for a couple of nights and they don’t know the first fucking thing about the joint. They roll out of the Far Eastern Shangri-la in their pressed denim and long-sleeved shirts in the middle of July like children left alone in a chemical factory. Everything about them screams, “I have no idea where I am, and quite frankly, I’m a bit overwhelmed. Thank God the hotel concierge recommended Carnegie’s!”
Anyway, thanks for sloughing through all of that to get to this – the audience participation segment of the program.
My question(s) to the peanut gallery is (are): What questions did you ask upon arrival in Taiwan? What do you think are the most common questions a foreigner might ask?