Gavin, God, & the Rainbow: A Twenty-Something Gay Man’s Experience in Taiwan

I could see him out of the corner of my eye, dabbing across his glistening forehead with the back of one hand, and studiously puffing on his cigarette with the other.

Gavin has been my “sister” for a little over 5 years now. As far as I could tell, nothing fazed him – not even a party upwards of 15 strutting into the restaurant on a Saturday night without a reservation. Yet here he was, ashing his cigarette over what must have been half a dozen crumpled butts already sitting in the ashtray, the bounce of his leg visibly intensifying. I opened my mouth to ask him about it, but he beat me to the punch.

“I’m really nervous,” he admitted with a sheepish smile.

I quickly assured him that there was no need to be.

Gavin and his man, Equal Love In Taiwan Concert, 2016/12/10

On May 24, 2017, a panel of 14 grand justices in Taipei had officially declared the law forbidding same-sex couples from marriage “unconstitutional.” This was a monumental milestone both celebrated and mourned around the world, for Taiwan was well on track to becoming the first in Asia to grant their LGBT community a right that had been denied to them all this time.

When I was tasked with writing a piece on the subject, his was the first name that came to mind. Gavin was an avid activist for the LGBT community, and was therefore personally invested in this historic win. On top of that, his was a story that was unique, but relatable.

Gavin was not one to hide his support for the community, nor was he the type to dance around the question when asked about his private life. Apart from selfies and candid photographs starring his boyfriend and Seven (their stunning sable-furred mutt), empowering messages, event shares, and articles topped off with trending hashtags made up every other post on his social media. In short, if there was one thing Gavin was not apologetic about, it was being himself, which made his jitters for the interview all the more curious.

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Gavin’s rescue dog, Seven

Gavin, an insurance salesman in his mid-twenties, spent the first five years of his life in a quaint little village in Changhua County, where he was raised by his grandmother. By the time he was due for kindergarten, he was returned to his parents in Taipei. He discovered a love for anime and comic books some time in elementary school, and spent many an hour in internet cafes (or squabbling with his brother over the desktop at home), armed with a mouse and a thirst to level up. At school, he stumbled upon a love for writing and world history, and enjoyed shooting hoops, or the occasional volleyball game with his friends. After school, he hopped on the MRT and rode over to his cram school, where he endured another hour or two of English class before heading home to do his homework. Lather, rinse, and repeat.

Gavin could rattle off the common interests he shared with his peers no problem, but he was the piece of the puzzle that, no matter the angle, just would not fit quite right. His junior high school classmates were not shy about singling him out and identifying his “differences,” either. On the contrary, they taunted him with an onslaught of insults, the most memorable of which was “niang niang qiang,” which roughly translates to “sissy boy.” Kids in his class ridiculed him for his natural camaraderie with girls, but barred him from befriending them with their herd mentality and fear of the unfamiliar. “I was scared and alone,” he recalled. “Nobody wanted to talk to me and [be] friends with me. My fear turned into mad (anger).”

He was labeled “gay” far before he even truly understood what the word meant. It was such a foreign concept that he never questioned his own sexuality, not even when the insults dogged him to high school. It was a new school, but the fresh environment was tainted by a new, older band of bullies hurling harsher insults of a similar theme.

At the age of 15, Gavin landed himself a girlfriend. He described her as a “sweet and fun” girl who was just as nuts about Ragnarok as he was. They played next to each other or linked up from home just about every day, caught the latest horror flicks on the weekends, and took part in whatever mundane activity was made available to a pair of teenagers with limited budgets. They went together like sauce-heavy braised pork and rice.

Now that he had a girlfriend, even the bullies seemed to be on hiatus. For a while, it appeared as if things were starting to look up for him. That was, until his girlfriend insisted upon taking their relationship to the next level.

Gavin shook his head sadly as he recounted what he believed to be, in hindsight, the inevitable falling out of their year-long relationship. He could hold her hand, even peck her on the cheek, and most certainly cuddle with her, but something about being intimate with her made the hairs on his arms stir – and not in a good way. That said, it was not for lack of trying. He humored her on more than 2 occasions, but he could not shake the queasy feeling in his gut whenever she touched him, and felt an even sharper stab of shame when he could not perform for her.

Gavin’s girlfriend became increasingly aggravated each time he chickened out and delayed the “deed.” Her disappointment turned into impatience, which soon spiraled into deep, resentful rage. Their gaming sessions and movie dates were replaced with back-and-forth bickering and hormonal accusations. She mocked him for his inability to perform and once again, slapped him across the face with the dreaded word he thought he had finally escaped. She demanded to know why he would not reciprocate, and bitterly reminded him about the alleged score of boys in their class who were itching to bed her.

Eventually, the pair parted ways, and when rumors propagated by her friends spread, the taunting made its swift return. Gavin had been catapulted back to square one. She wanted answers he could not give her, but he did not hold back to spite her. He had accumulated quite the arsenal of cutting retorts over the years of relentless bullying, but with her, his mind just blanked.

His ex-girlfriend’s words stayed with him. Gavin could not understand his lack of attraction for her, for she was an attractive girl, and felt even more lost the handful of times he tried to join in on the boys’ locker room talk. He was conflicted, to say the least, but nothing could compare to the inner turmoil he felt when he began to find himself gazing at this one boy in class. The lingering gazes turned into fluttering heartbeats and sweaty palms, which then escalated to playing out imaginary dates in his head.

Whenever Gavin caught himself, he ripped his eyes off the back of the boy’s head and scrambled to change the channel in his head at once. But what frightened him most was that when the boy’s face barged into his thoughts in the middle of the night, what his ex-girlfriend had deemed broken was miraculously fixed. To make matters worse, the boy in question was none other than his main antagonist’s partner-in-crime.

Gavin began to flirt with the idea of suicide, and when it became much too seductive of a notion, he turned to religion, and joined a local church. For the next 3 years, including his freshman year of college, he not only attended church every Sunday, he signed up for the choir, and was often asked to lead the songs during worship. He never missed a gathering, and did his best to make it to birthdays, weddings, bridal showers, and other community events. The more he kept himself busy, the less he saw of the boy, and in time, his feelings for him fizzled out.

Despite the fact that he was surrounded by all these godly folk, he continued to be plagued by this gnawing feeling that he did not belong. No matter how innocent their intentions might have been, G tensed up whenever his fellow churchgoers asked him if he was seeing someone, to which he stammeringly replied that he was single. When boys his age pestered him about what his “vegetable” (type) was when it came to girls, he felt compelled to pick out a female celebrity at random so as to avoid a repeat of history. But what disturbed him the most was how the pastor, whom he had grown to admire, spoke about the irreparable damage homosexuals were inflicting upon society’s values. The same pastor who preached about love, faith, and unity among God’s children was the same pastor who vilified homosexuals as the products of Satan.


It was at this point that he began to distance himself from the Church. He had not lost faith in God, but felt a disconnect with the peddlers he felt were distorting His word. He desperately wanted to know what it was about him that rendered him broken, but could not find logic in their biblical explanations.

Be that as it may, Gavin continued to lead the worship songs and sat through church sermons every Sunday out of obligation to his faith. He continued to clock in at the cram school owned by the church, where he stared working halfway through his junior year of high school. But over time, he began to show his face less and less at meet-ups outside the church, until he learned how to duck in and out of church and work without having to make more than 5 minutes of small talk.        

As a college freshman, Gavin was determined to rebrand himself once again, but it soon proved unnecessary. He became fast friends with a pair of feisty, yet faithful young women, whom he credited with taking his hand and guiding him out of the closet. Most of his peers had either shed their adolescent biases, or were open to broadening their horizons. Others had simply developed filters. For the first time, he understood that the problem did not lay within him, but with the norms of traditional society.

The revelation transformed him – he could drop his “straight guy voice,” stop being so paranoid about his “girly” mannerisms, and whip off the suffocating mask he felt the need to wear for so long. He became an active member of his school’s version of the Gay-Straight Alliance, participating, then later helping to organize meetings and protests in his free time. A few months later, he began to date an older boy that he often ran into on campus – which he later learned was really no accident at all. Gavin remembered being the happiest he had been in a long time. “I felt more freedom, more different, because lots of people from everywhere, like a small society. [College students] are growing up. They are wiser.”

Gavin slipped his mask back on whenever he was at church, and avoided his cram school students’ questions about his private life like a dodge ball champion, but they ultimately learned about his “sinful” secret. He expected the earful from his pastor, and could even tolerate the nosy churchgoers who hounded him with bible verses and tips on “changing” his lifestyle. When he was suddenly told that he was, from thereon out, forbidden to lead the worship songs, however, he was devastated. About a week later, he was informed that he would no longer be needed at the cram school, but that the church doors were still open, should he choose to return and commit to making the “change” with them.

That was the last time he set foot in that church.

Gavin was gutted, but at the same time, relief washed over him: “I did not have to hide anymore.”

With the help of his friends and his newfound support group at school, he dedicated more time to his schoolwork, friends, hobbies, and nurtured his budding interest in makeup and current events. Even so, Gavin was in need of employment, which tightened the knot in his gut. He applied for whatever jobs he could find, but could not help but feel self-conscious about the way he was presenting himself to his potential employers.

After about a six-month stretch at a tea stall, followed by other irregular gigs, Gavin found a job as a part-time server at a burger joint downtown, one owned by a Canadian man whom Gavin described as much “sweeter” than he appeared to be. Within a month’s time, he felt more at ease than he had ever been in any other setting, work or otherwise. The staff, a vibrant and eclectic bunch, were a breeze to get along with. His new boss was a tougher nut to crack, but inside was a man who treated his staff justly and with respect, and above all, was a fatherly figure and a friend when they needed him most. When Gavin came out to his boss, the man barely batted an eye, and made it clear that all he cared about was Gavin showing up to work and doing his job.

The acceptance of those around him, coupled with the dwindling toxicity in his life, had him contemplating the possibility of coming out to his family. This was a subject that had never once been touched upon in their household, so Gavin decided to break the news to them one at a time. He was especially close with his mother, and keeping the secret from her had tore him up in a way no other family member could compare.

He chose to do the deed on his 21st birthday, for he had moved out, was now an adult by Taiwanese standards, and was paying his own bills. That night, after a scrumptious dinner at an upscale tepanyaki restaurant, he handed his mother an Eslite bag with a book inside of it. His mother chuckled at the thought of her son presenting her with a gift on his birthday, but her laughter quickly subsided when he urged her to look inside the bag. His stunned mother proceeded to pull out a copy of Dear Mom and Dad, I’m Gay, produced by the Taiwan LGBT Hotline Association. It was a compilation of real come-out stories shared by the Taiwanese LGBT community.

She remained speechless for a beat or two, but told her son she loved him, and though she did not fully understand the lifestyle, she was going to make an effort to do so. “I had a big secret, and I [was] only afraid [that] my mom cannot accept it,” Gavin admitted. “She is the only one in my family I don’t know what can I do if she cannot accept it.” His mother kept her word, and today, she marches alongside her son at Taiwan’s gay pride parade almost every year, wielding a rainbow flag with one hand, and an arresting homemade sign with the other.

What Gavin had not foreseen was his aunt’s ignorance towards the definition of confidentiality. Two months after his twenty-first birthday, his mother rung up her sister back in the village for advice on how best to handle Gavin’s news, but in the same call, underscored the importance of keeping it between themselves. A little over a year later, Gavin was summoned to Changhwa to help out with his grandfather’s funeral. Due to unrelated family politics, it was the first time he had been home in years, and if it were not for his grandfather, he would have passed on the trip altogether.

Gavin arrived in Changhwa with the plan to keep his head down, pay his respects, and leave, but unbeknownst to him, his aunt had ratted him out to his mother’s side of the family. In the absence of his mother, who was looking after his ill grandmother at the hospital, his relatives decided to ambush him with an impromptu intervention. He was ordered to kneel in front of his grandfather’s portrait, and made to apologize to him for desecrating the family name and damning them as the disgrace of the village. When he refused, his uncle reportedly pummeled him and kneed him in the face before the aggressor was finally yanked off him.

Excluding his mother, Gavin has since severed all contact with his Changhwa family. Though he has not made plans to rekindle the flames any time soon – if ever – he wishes them no harm or ill will, and can only hope that their prejudices cease with their generation. He still feels the pain of their rejection, but unearthing the roots of their prejudices has helped with the healing process. “They are close-mind[ed] and cannot accept it because in traditional [Taiwanese families], the oldest son in the family is responsibility to get married and have children. Now, I know I cannot change their mind. They are they. You are you.”

Still, Gavin was quick to point out that a rural or small-town mindset did not define one’s capacity to embrace change. When Gavin came out to his grandmother, the matriarch of his Changhwa family, the woman withheld her judgment and reiterated her unconditional love for the grandson she helped raise. A few months before she passed away, she told Gavin how she wished she could still walk, for she hoped that she could one day walk him down the aisle, and hand him off to his boyfriend (at the time).

Gavin has chosen to leave his past where it belongs, and to devote his time to plucking out silver linings instead. He asserted that acceptance and an open mind are qualities that can be found in all walks of life, regardless of background or religion. While he felt wronged by his church, he understands that his experiences were with one community, a world view that has been expanded by the LGBT-friendly church groups he has since come across. Today, his faith in God has remained unchanged.  

Gavin now strives to make an effort to peel back the layers of one’s intolerance, rather than make the immediate leap to anger or hatred, for he knows that he, too, is not immune to prejudice. He had been more than reluctant to do his mandatory service in the army, for instance. He kept himself up at night by replaying what-if scenarios in his head, and convinced himself that the hundreds of straight, adult males would be out to get him if he were so much as to show the faintest sign of effeminacy.

What he found instead was a squad leader and fellow trainees that had no qualms about his bedroom preferences. Some even expressed their fascination with a lifestyle they knew nothing about, and made sure to tread carefully as to not offend him. He seized the opportunity to share with them his experiences, but made sure to drive home that he was only one shade in the infinite color spectrum. What was more, he found it refreshing that he was not given any grief or special treatment by superiors who knew and evidently did not care about what he once held as his deepest secret.  

Gavin, like many others, uses ink as a medium to tell his life story. One of his most striking tattoos is the inverted cross on his right wrist, a symbol supposedly synonymous with satanism. “This [was] my first tattoo. For me, to watch my tattoo, it is a cross, so I know I am a true Christian, but for other people, when they watch me, or look at me, and they see I have many earrings, I am a gay, I do tattoos, I smoke – maybe I am a bad kid in other people’s eyes,   but for me, I know, I am a good guy, I am not doing bad things. Even if I am a gay, I am still a good Christian.”

Being gay is an important constituent of his identity, but that isn’t all he is. He is a son, a brother, a Christian, and a friend – one loyal to a fault. He is both a dreamer and a realist, driven and passionate about his future, and like many others, wants nothing more but a loving family to call his own. “We don’t want to be special. We don’t want to be – like – unique, we just want to be the same. We just want to [be] equal.”

Godric Tattoo 2.
Gavin’s tattoo

Gavin, like the LGBT community and their supporters in Taiwan, rejoiced when they heard the verdict of the nation’s grand justices. He sees it as a massive step forward, and while he recognizes that there is still a long and winding road left untraveled, he is optimistic that with the shift in societal perspective and the change he hopes will be brought forth by the up and coming generation of Taiwanese millennials, it is not a matter of if, but when they will get to their destination. In the same breath, he is thankful to live in a society that is progressing forward; the horror stories of the modern day persecution of the LGBT community and minorities in other countries only heightens his gratitude.

Next, he hopes that the Taiwanese courts move forward with legalizing adoption for same-sex couples, and the publishing of more laws that safeguard the rights of the LGBT community in the workplace. He pushes for more education in Taiwanese schools regarding human rights, particularly the transgender community of Taiwan, for they are not only incredibly lacking in visibility, they are still met with intolerance by the general public, including many members of the gay community.

Gavin chooses to end the interview on a positive note: “[We still] have to fight for gay rights – but not just gay rights – racism, and many other of the problems in the world. It is just the beginning of the fight, but I know it will be getting better.” 


By Janis Rae

Unmanned Electric Bus, EcoMobility Expo, a look at electric vehicles and what they mean for Taiwan

The dawn of electric powered transport couldn’t come soon enough especially for Taiwan and it’s over crowded cities that are dependent on oil for 100’s of thousands of smog producing engines. Taiwan and world’s future depends on the ability to adopt Electric Vehicle Industries to their respective economies and cultures. Not only will the EV industry bring more jobs and better opportunities for more people but it will also create safer roads and better environments for the people across the island and globally.

This year the hype is around the first ever driverless bus in the world to be unveiled at the 3rd EcoMobility World Festival in Kaohsiung, Taiwan this year. “The EcoMobility World Congress 2017″  (  生態交通全球盛典 )  will bring together local representatives and transportation experts from the public and private sectors to discuss how to make sustainable transport livable, shared and intelligent.


Local governments, non-governmental organizations, educational institutions, businesses, media and civil society are invited to join the Congress and connect, exchange, showcase, report and learn.”

All of humanity’s hopes and dreams now depend on a better economy created in The EV industry. For all the nations that join to create a more sustainable future there is a promise of future proof societies. An Economy that is more specialized and provides more jobs to people around the island can demonstrate to the world a future proofed society that is ready to finally end our dependence on oil for transportation.
Three key meetings have already taken place in Kaohsiung; the Young Professionals meeting explored career paths for youth and recent graduates, there were also Cultural and technical tours for business and industry insiders and finally a global congress met for the Transformative Urban Mobility Initiative (TUMI).

A great honor falls to the city of Kaohsiung to host the EcoMobility World Congress 2017 this year. The first congress met in Suwan, South Korea in 2013 and the second was held in Johannesburg in South Africa in 2015. The goal of each congress is to introduce the general public to a safer more reliable mode of transport that should reduce traffic and pollution for over crowded cities like the ones found in Taiwan and other places around the world.

There will be more than just meetings and seminars at this bi-yearly event, You will also learn what living in “Eco-Mode” is. At the EcoMobility World Expo visitors will have a chance to explore the future of transportation up close and personal. The first congress introduced the ‘One neighborhood, one month, no cars’ model that asks citizens to abandon all oil-burning engines and accept a new way of life and living. With each progressive EcoMobility Congress and EcoMobility World Expo entire communities of people have shown that EVs can be more cost effective, convenient, and even bring communities closer together.

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“The Festival will enable the city to free valuable urban space from car traffic by opening the streets of the Hamasen neighbourhood in Kaohsiung exclusively for ecomobile modes of transport such as walking, cycling, public transport, shared vehicles and light electric vehicles.”

Once there you will be able to imagine life without foul pollution filling your lungs and other  senses, you’ll learn how life with EVs has a more manageable pace, and most of all you’ll get to experience a closer harmony with the natural world using modern technology. If you’re looking for a glimpse into the future of mankind, you’ll be able to see it on display in Kaohsiung until October 31st!


Are you ready to make a step in the right direction for the future of all kind? If so, get down to Kaohsiung this Double Ten Holiday. Click the link below for more info.


By Paul Chambers



Taiwan, a Mecca for Muslim travellers?

Recently during a random visit to a curry stand at a night market I saw a couple of women who seemingly weren’t speaking fluent Mandarin. I was amazed how quickly an owner of the stand established that the couple was from Indonesia and they are in need of halal food, which the seller had readily available.

C1458033315500The two women weren’t wearing hijab, niqab or any other Muslim attire but such sight in Taiwan isn’t unusual. Hijab and Dupattas can be seen worn by Indonesian, Malaysian, and other Muslim women all across the island. There are plenty of seasonal workers as well as long-term residents that made Taiwan their home. Being a Muslim in Taiwan is easier than in many other East Asian countries. Just a glimpse at the size and magnitude of Taipei Mosque tells one how big the Muslim community in Taiwan is.


But is Taiwan really that Muslim friendly? Recently, Taiwan Leisure Farm Development Association, together with Let Fun Management Sdn Bhd, brought members of the media and local tour agents from East Malaysia on a five-day trip to Taiwan in order to showcase how friendly for a Muslim traveler Taiwan is.

This is what they noted while visiting our island country:

TAIWAN is currently promoting Muslim tourism as part of its drive to lure visitors to the country.

Among others, our trip was aimed at promoting Muslim-friendly leisure farms which offer halal food and facilities, recognised by the Chinese Muslim Association.

The association awards certification for ‘Muslim-Friendly Restaurant’ and ‘Muslim Friendly Tourism’ to deserving hotels or leisure farms.

Members of the media and tour operators from East Malaysia during an indigo dye session.

First day

We headed to Taiwan by Eva Airlines from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, and as part of the Muslim and halal familiarisation trip, Eva Airlines had prepared halal meals for the Muslim participants.

The in-flight meals were really good and served by a friendly cabin crew.

Our flight to the Taoyuan International Airport was smooth. On arrival, we were broughtImage result for city suite hotel taoyuan airport to City Suite Hotel, about five minutes’ drive away. We were treated to sumptuous beef noodles, delectable desserts and iced mango.

City Suite Hotel provides Muslim guests a special room (with prayer mats) for mass prayers.

Taiwanese beef noodles and stir-fried vegetables served at City Suites Hotel Taoyuan.

Second day

We headed early for the Miaoli mountain for a visit to Zhuoye Cottage Farm, about one and a half hour’s drive from our hotel.


We found the traditional setting of the farm really impressive. It houses nine bamboo cottages where guests can stay and get a feel of a traditional Taiwanese home.

Another farm, The Long Yun Leisure Farm has Muslim Friendly Restaurant and Muslim Friendly Tourism certification from the country’s Chinese Muslim Association.

As part of the farm’s agricultural and educational programme, we participated in the Mochi-making demonstration. It was an eye-opening hands-on experience in making the rice cake, using traditional wooden apparatus.

Third day

We drove around Long Yun Leisure Farm to view the breath-taking surroundings and visited its famous Alishan tea farm.


For lunch, we had vegetarian steamboat at the farm’s café which has a rustic and hipster look but also a comfortable ambience with natural lighting from the big glass wall and a greenish view outside.

After that, we made our way back up north to Taipei where we had a brief stop at the Taipei Mosque for prayers before heading to the seaside town of Yilan for a night at the Toucheng Leisure Farm.

This farm is the perfect spot for leisure, recreation and local cuisine. Visitors also get to try their hands at traditional rice planting and pizza making, view animals like buffaloes, turkeys, ducks and gathering fresh chicken eggs.

Toucheng Leisure Farm was definitely one of the best ones we visited. Despite being called a leisure farm, its facilities are as good, if not better, than those of hotels.


Seafood is among the main halal courses at Toucheng Leisure Farm.

Fourth day

After checking out of Toucheng Leisure Farm, we headed to A Zong Fruit Farm for a brief stop.


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At this 1.2-acre pear farm, we were once again amazed by the meticulous efforts put into marketing its produce and other downstream products such as ice cream – all done with proper packaging.

Next, we headed to the Tea and Rice Resort for lunch. This is former barn has been renovated into a halal restaurant. Visitors could also arrange to pick mushrooms there.


After lunch, we drove up the Dayuan mountain for our final stop at Shangrila Leisure Farm.


The verdict

It is clear the leisure farm is another segment that is gaining momentum for tourism in Taiwan. Industry players, especially leisure farm owners, are working hard to lure Muslim travellers to come and enjoy the scenic views of the Island State and its districts.

Realising the potential of the Muslim tourist market, leisure farm owners have taken steps to meet the needs of Muslim travellers and enable them to fulfil their religious obligations by providing lodgings with kiblat signs, prayer mats and toilets with bidets and water hoses.

These are things Muslim travellers are very particular about. Moreover, these leisure farms also provide utensils with halal certification.

Taiwan is more than just an island country. There is more to learn from its cultures and people. Its scenic mountain views also have a charm of their own.

In fact, Muslim travelers can start looking at Taiwan as their next holiday destination.”

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Taiwan certainly has been pushing for new markets for tourists with the new south bound policy.  According to government statistics, there are between 50,000 and 60,000 Taiwanese that call themselves Muslims and more than 200,000 Muslim immigrants. Mostly they are migrant workers from Indonesia and other South East Asian countries. Tsai Yingwen has recently thanked the local Islamic community from helping teach Taiwan about one of the world’s foremost religions. With this new knowledge and the new push by local tourist spots to accommodate the Islamic community, Taiwan is moving towards more integration. All this leading to a bigger slice of the Islamic tourism market for the Island.




The whole account from the trip can be found on the Borneo Post at the link below:

Muslim community statistics



The Gray Area. Experience of a Black Woman in Taiwan.

Moving to Taiwan seemed like a good idea on paper. I’d receive a scholarship while submerging myself into a completely different culture and language – a once in a lifetime opportunity that many others would gladly take. It was like getting one of Willy Wonka’s coveted golden tickets and I was eager to be Charlie. Unfortunately, I wasn’t nearly as prepared for what awaited me as I thought. Of course there are the obvious cultural differences that are met with awe and curiosity. The sites, the food and the people, but for someone who planned to spend a formidable amount of years here, I began to pay attention to more than the obvious pomp and circumstance – look beyond the costume and scrutinize the seams.

As first it was met with incredulous disbelief that there are people in the 21st century who are still unaware of the existence of the black/African race. But the longer I’ve been here and the more interactions I’ve had, I realize that though sometimes it’s simply the curiosity for the unknown, there are many instances of subtle and outright racism. There have been a handful of occasions where I’ve seen persons excitedly frantically tapping their friends and pointing in my direction and I absentmindedly look around to see where they’re pointing at and then I realize, it’s just me. I’ve suffered through countless train rides where a stranger’s hand is in my hair tugging at my braids or someone is secretly taking my picture. Don’t get me wrong I understand curiosity and would have probably reacted the same, but when it switches to persons refusing to sit near you or try to avoid any interaction with you, you can’t help but wonder “Are we still at this place?”

1A few years ago I’d have probably written this in my angry black woman voice, furiously typing away in all caps on my laptop in the middle of the night complaining to social media about all the shortcomings of the world and how I, along with my fellow “Melanated Queens” were being continuously mistreated and misunderstood. But alas, after living here for 5 plus years many things have affected me less, while some don’t procure a reaction at all. I’m not saying that I’ve gotten used to disrespect, but I’d like to think that my levels of discernment and rational thinking has improved over time. Sometimes, ignorance may be mistaken for racism and vice-versa. Unlike the west, we’re not subjected to violent, hate crimes and blatant, racial abuse. The line is usually thin and hard to distinguish as it is never grossly disrespectful behaviour. Either way, I refuse to dwell on these instances, neither do I aggressively act out lest I fall into the stereotypical loud and angry black person category.

There’s a lack of understanding for all things black, culture beyond obvious media portrayals seems to be unchartered territory, and though it is sometimes flattering to be regarded as an exotic anomaly, ignorance is unimpressive. Many persons have been quite perplexed about the varying complexions- for some reason the lessons on melanin has been lost in Asia- everyone is expected to have the same features- I’ve engaged in many conversations where the other person was adamant that my friends could not be my country mate, since our skin tones and hair types were different. Speaking of hair types, it is always met with incredulity that hair can in fact grow from the scalp with these weird kinky curls that do not need to be washed on a daily basis and still manage to have some semblance of cleanliness. Variations in accents are also an issue, though they are sometimes received as a party trick that can be turned on and off at request. The more pronounced ones accent is, the higher the assumption that your actual English speaking ability is non-existent or poor and that your Chinese is speaking ability is equally lacking. Correspondingly, the reaction to me and my peers uttering even the simplest Chinese term remains the same. I’m always awarded with the highest levels of praise as my slightly incoherent Chinese is always “very good!!!!” for a foreigner.

There are obvious reactions to varying skin tones, the lighter your complexion, the more acceptable you appear to be. Unsurprising, since the locals are of the opinion that the fairer the complexion, the closer to perfection they are. White is deemed better, supreme, and more powerful; evident in the beauty products stacked on the shelves that promote whiter, brighter skin. Correspondingly, anything black is synonymous with being dirty, second class, unworthy. I was in slight denial about this fact even after seeing Darlie toothpaste darkiesitting casually on the shelves of almost every grocery store but this notion was cemented when I saw the Chinese laundry detergent ad of a few years ago, where a black man was placed in a washing machine and came out a clean Chinese man. Understandably, the black community was in a collective uproar and though I can’t remember what happened to the infomercial afterwards. I remember feeling completely disappointed that, this concept had passed all checkpoints and was deemed okay for publishing and mass distribution. hqdefaultMany situations may be subject to the wrong interpretation which consequentially results in the wrong reaction. One of the primary instances of misconception is when the hearing the Chinese word “NeiGe ” for the first time. Though seemingly harmless, it has ruffled a bit of feathers due to its similarity in sound to the infamous “N word”. Imagine casually cashing at 7/11 and hearing the cashier randomly utter a perceived racial slur mid-sentence towards you. It’s bound to throw you off or leave a bad impression. However, I’ve come to realize that in Asia, almost anything goes. As long as it’s not offensive to the locals, and in this case ,you learn to roll with the punches.

It’s always interesting to move to a new neighbourhood, I’ve done it at least three times in my 5 years here and the reaction has always been the same – everyone literally falls over themselves trying to get a glimpse, take a picture or just watch you walk by or catch a bus. The more rural the area, the more obvious the stares, pointing outlandish behaviour. In my last neighbourhood, I was referred to as the “Chocolate Lady”, which wasn’t as harsh as “Black Person”. The first few weeks consisted of stares, whispers and smiles. It was only after I’ve reciprocated these actions does interaction go further to small waves and receiving little gifts. Coincidentally, I’ve noticed this happening with the older generation, children, and the middle aged. The younger generation /peers are generally shyer and when they do pluck up the courage to talk, they simply tell you how beautiful they think you are and compliment your exotic appearance.

Then there are the compliments that aren’t really compliments, the comparisons to celebrities, the constant surprise at how great your English is or how cute you are when you attempt to do anything related to Asian culture. They are duly noted and categorized as slightly offensive. Fellow foreigners are also racist through offhanded comments or jokes under the guise and think it’s completely okay because we’re all aliens residing in Asia experiencing the same issues. we’re not but… whatever. Being here for the number of years you tend to become a part of the community and realize that your experiences are not as unique – regardless of our backgrounds and origins as black people we are connected. the 6 degrees of separation has whittled down to 1 since everyone literally knows each other. This may be due to the international student scene and the close knit party scene. 1

Dating isn’t bad but like everything else, dating with a purpose as opposed to dating out of loneliness, entertainment or curiosity takes time and effort. Once you get past the pickup lines that make reference to your exoticness, and the overzealous compliments about your regular black features, or flattering racial stereotypes, about how well you dance and other sexual connotations. It  becomes easy to differentiate whether a guy’s interests go beyond fetishes and curiosity or genuine interest – but let’s face it, wherever you go dating is hard especially when it comes to making and maintaining a good impression.

There are many instances of subtle racial aggression. Asian employers often specify their need for a white foreigner to fill their English teaching positions as it goes better with the school’s image. I, along with a few of my friends, have been on many interviews where we knew even before the interview began that any attempt to secure employment was a lost cause, simply because we had the wrong skin colour or the wrong nationalities. On these not too rare occasions, interview questions veer off the courses of professionalism and end up in the depths of our personal lives. In these instances, I just smile and accept whatever excuse I eventually receive for not being hired though the credentials are present, feigning ignorance but knowing damn well that it was because I wasn’t white, or American.

When I was finally hired after countless interviews, I was pulled aside and advised to state that I was an American to anyone who asked. Why? Because parents preferred having an American teacher for their students. Screen Shot 2017-08-26 at 18.01.19.pngWhy? I have no idea. Since they couldn’t change my colour, they changed my nationality. Even though I have never stepped foot in US, apart from being in transit to and from Taiwan. I must say this never occurred with foreign employers at other institutions, because for them, it was merely business as usual.

Direct Chinese to English translations also lack tact. Words are rarely sugar-coated – but rather blunt and to the point with a lack of consideration for the receiver. As a result, innocent questions or compliments are often received negatively and may again evoke the wrong reaction. Too many persons think it’s a completely normal form of flattery to approach a stranger with an opening line of, “You’re so black!!” And that performing a side by side complexion comparison is normal.

At university, I reacted with scepticism at the thought that Asians, who were so technologically advanced and classified as first world nations, reacted this way towards black people. I was never expecting anything close to the hybrid western cultures but the levels of homogeneity was baffling. I found the notion preposterous and laughable that this attitude still existed. I couldn’t accept it. Literally everything you needed to know was a google search away. There was no excuse for ignorance. Then I started teaching and it got worse before it got better.

Children are a reflection of their society and in my first few weeks of teaching I got the raw unfiltered reaction to my appearance. 0606life-1I’ve walked into classrooms for the first time only to be greeted by: gasps, awkward giggles, darting eyes and a hint of excitement. I’ve had students wipe the spot on their body where I’ve touched. Sometimes it’s subtle, other times it’s quite obvious and overly dramatic. Others have slowly backed away from me like I was a ticking time bomb ready to explode. There have been days where students would just point at me and laugh and whisper. Many would just stare and run away. Often, my face and attitude remains calm I’d be reeling with anger, or embarrassment.

Over time, my tolerance level has increased and my general attitude has become a bit more relaxed. heightened comfort levels in the classroom have brought some pretty outrageous questions. Students have literally asked everything they could think of. Topics have ranged from the size of my nose to the texture of my hair. Why the palms of my hands are white and the other parts of my body were black or how my hair grew 12 inches over the weekend when it was a poufy cloud the days before. And at least 5 minutes of class time would be spent trying to convince the entire class that a picture of a random black person in the textbook was neither me, my boyfriend nor my child.

Students have confessed that they were initially afraid of me and they didn’t know how to react towards me, what I interpreted as disgust and hostility was ultimately fear. And even though I knew the reasons. I’ve coyly asked many times “Why were you afraid of me?” The answer is always so simple: “Because, you are black”

But somehow, eventually it changes. Hands that would have quickly retracted if mine got too close would now find their way into my hair, rubbing my skin or just playing with my fingers while I checked their books. Bodies that would tense up or step back whenever I took a step towards them, would run towards me or hug me. Children who didn’t want me touching their belongings would bring me small gifts or offer to share their food. The points and whispers in the corridors about the “Black Teacher” are almost usually replaced with smiles, waves and warm greetings.

As the authority figure and the educator, I’ve learnt not to act on emotion but to instead provide facts. It’s sometimes difficult to look beyond the insults and not take it personally but I never ignore the opportunity to set the record straight.

I welcome these questions as they’re just as important as whatever topic is on the syllabus. I’ve come to realize that the only way we can change their attitude is by imparting knowledge. Since black teachers are literally responsible for their opinions and views of our entire race and culture. Regardless, his shouldn’t be the case- I shouldn’t be the primary source of information, thought I may be there to facilitate the discussion.

Although, these conversations continue to be fruitful and enlightening I haven’t successfully convinced my younger students that melanin is not synonymous to chocolate – the general conclusion remains a matter of fact, that I am made of chocolate.


For anyone , moving away from home means so much more than a change in physical location. Its abandoning the norm , & straying from acceptance and familiarity . and going moving something completely new on so many various levels that you may not have prepared for . many aspects of your existence that you may not have even noticed are being questioned and many times and this may put you on automatic defence mode. On what may seem as an attack or unacceptce of your culture .

There are some of us who thrive in this environment, who live for the praise and the attention and sometimes god like treatment for mediocrity, something that may not necessarily exist at home. Others remain unbothered while there are some who absolutely dislike the attitudes towards them and constantly speak out against it. It’s hard not to waver on the scale of tolerance, especially as a female dealing with hormones, homesickness and other daily grievances personal and professional. Sometimes you simply don’t want to feel like a walking attraction for simply existing, you don’t want to be compared to or held responsible for anyone else but yourself. You don’t want to act as a cultural ambassador. You just want to be.

However, to say that this is a reflection of the entire society would be an unfair representation of the may persons who have welcomed me with open arms and have gone above and beyond to ensure that I remained comfortable. Those who see past colour and are genuinely interested in personality and character. Those who embrace the obvious differences in appearance, culture, and beliefs and attempt to learn as much as they possibly can as well as teach as much as they can (engage in the positive discussion exchange of knowledge). For this I have become more tolerant and understanding of their points of view and have tried to be more rational in my thinking and behaviour towards them. The longer you’re here, I’d like to think that although many changes may not change, at least our attitudes have. You stop comparing it to somewhere else and accept the reality and respect it for what it is.

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Higher levels of familiarity decrease the discomfort and people start seeing beyond the obvious differences and preconceived stereotypes and start to realize that we are all the same. And that everything is not always black and white..

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