Overstaying the welcome

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 September, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 September, 2005, 12:00am

Taipei expatriate American writer Eric Mader has recently compiled a list of the best indicators of when a foreign resident may have been in Taiwan too long. A few are original, he says, but most are culled from other observers of the scene.

Mader is the author of the only 21st-century English-language novel set in Taiwan I have read. Called A Taipei Mutt, it chronicles the misfortunes of a newly arrived English teacher who gets turned into a dog by a witch (masquerading as a fashionable and alluring businesswoman). The only way he can get back into his original shape is by making love with a human, and the dog's attempts to do this constitute the bulk of the zany, scholarly, distinctly offbeat novel.

Mader's new list, viewable in full on his internet site www.necessaryprose.com, considers some of the following to be signs that a foreigner has perhaps overstayed his welcome.

When you see three people on a motorcycle, you reason there is still room for two more. You routinely park your vehicle on the pavement, and feel resentful when someone else gets there before you. You leave the plastic on all new purchases. Twenty degrees Celsius feels cold. Firecrackers no longer wake you up, and when you finally do go home you offer your mother your business card.You happily drink beer with ice cubes.

You salt your fruit. You stop telling people about that giant cockroach you saw. Your main reason for going into a 7-Eleven is to buy tea-eggs. You are the first in a lift to press the 'Close door' button. One of your fingernails is over an inch long, and US$4 feels about right for a cup of coffee.

And, finally, you have been here too long when you have spent longer continuously on the island since 1990 than any Taiwanese you know.

What I like about Mader's list is that it actually makes me feel more, not less, at home here. Also, most of the items concern modern rather than traditional factors. Thus the residual feeling that maybe Taiwan is a tacky, plastic-covered place that has exchanged its traditional culture for one of infinite triviality is finally banished.

I would like to add a couple of reactions of my own to Mader's list: you have been here too long when you feel insulted when a foreign stranger smiles at you in passing. After all, you are a genuine resident, not some fellow castaway in need of reassurance.

And when the pavement is all but impassable from street-sellers displaying their wares on one side and motorbikes parked on the other, you no longer curse and contemplate lodging an official complaint. Instead, you join the queue and thread your way carefully between them, along with everyone else.