this Canadian ESL teacher accidentally
wandered into her second Asian brothel.
Yes, this Taiwan memoir is intertwined
with my first wrong turning, the previous summer in Hong Kong, where I greedily sought out New Age health massage therapy
at suspiciously low prices.
Only 100 HK or 20 Canadian dollars
for what appeared in the street ad to be full services,
full services for the male shopper that is.
I raced up the narrow rickety
steps, foolishly hoping to get healthy and save lots
of money, only to find red embossed wallpaper,
and two women in mini-skirts watching daytime TV.
I was still so dumb I wondered where their white
massage jackets were, though the velveteen crimson wall paper flecked with fake gold was beginning to seep into the animal
alert! part of my mind.
A fleshy lipped business manager, also known as
a pimp, leered at me from behind a welcoming counter, set up to take credit cards from male health seekers from around the
"Can I have the foot reflexology or regular Swedish
massage?" I asked, talking to be polite, as I realized there was nothing here for me.
Hong Kong unlike Thailand did not seem to be aware
that many tourists wanted massage that was a legitimate health aid.
"Nothing here for you," smirked the
Chinese manager, he shook his head.
The girls were so indolent they could scarcely swivel
their heads away from their witless television show.
Danger! I thought as I backed out of
to much laughter.
I raced down the steps happy to be out in the jolly chaos of Nathan Road, the central shopping street of Kowloon.
Back at our notorious backpacker
hotel, the Mirador Mansions also on Nathan Road,
it was an exuberant month.
There were new friendships being struck up between backpackers heading in from Laos, India, and Thailand, and
ESL teachers arriving daily from China, Taiwan, and South Korea on their summer visa trips.
A jolly mood of shared information
prevailed between teachers and students from Australia,
America, Canada, Ireland, and many other countries.
Michael Lam, the film casting agent,
came nightly scouring the hotels
for day workers for Hong Kong movies, as his
attractive helper, Cherry, also scouted for ESL teachers.
Periodic raids from the Hong Kong
Immigration Police, added to the zestful fun of
our new life in Asia, conducted at four or five in the morning. Unable to sleep after showing my passport, I walked
down to the McDonald's on Peking Road to have my first coffees of the day.
I disliked only one man, a local man
who arrived with a change of shirts,
a toothbrush and a comb, all carried in a white plastic
baggie. I thought he seemed suspicious
as he stared at me and other women full of obsessive
My suspicions were confirmed when I woke up one morning to find a great brouhahah
in the hotel; the lustful one had snuck
but two street girls into
his bunk at the hostel.
The lovable Chinese dragon ladies
who terrorized us all, descended upon the lecher,
and there was a marvellous mid-night
I was grumpy the following
day that I was the one hotel guest that had slept
through it all.
Teaching summer playgroup required muchsleep.
Around the same, there was a parallel
scandal at the notorious
Chungking Mansions. Only a few doors down from the Mirador, there is much co-mingling between these two places.
A drunken Spaniard walked into
the women-only dorm late at night and fell on top
of a British woman, who screamed just in time to save
her feminine honour.
As the man had been paying rent
money for ten months to the Chinese owners of the
hotel, they were loathe to evict
The British men having exhausted
civilized methods showed a rare spunk and after a
few days of failed negotiations, took it upon themselves
to re-arrange the assailant's facial features!
Back to brothels.
The bus driver let me off at the
wrong stop in Taipei, and I found myself walking with
increasing anxiety that I would be late for my
first tutoring appointment with a rich 12 year
Strangely, there were no street signs
in a city where most of
the streets had three different spellings. There
were rows of low-lying buildings, quiet and mostly
unlit, no security guards. I could not tell
the buildings made or sold or housed.
They were not residential, they were not recognizable
Finally I saw light coming from
a half-open doorway and rushed towards it. There
was only a plain and bespectacled woman sitting in
the back corner of a receiving room, poring over accounting
books, a pile of receipts in front of her.
I rushed through the door, feeling uneasy,
as I saw a large barracks style
room, with picnic tables, and a man playing solitaire, a loose looking woman lolling about half-clothed and wearing pink fluffy slippers, and a second man walking
around apparently in charge of the others.
I saw the Hong Kong place all over again,
as I noted the same slackness
around their eyes, their mouths, their sholders, except
for the money taker, who was more crisp. I pegged her for a family member, to be trusted with the drawer full of open
cash that she was counting in a quiet moment.
Generally, the Chinese are a taut
and industrious people, the looseness in itself was
The Chinese could not believe their
A gauche Western woman, wearing
a blue tie-dyed Thailand dress, matching blue rubber flip-flops from a local street stall, fuzzy blond hair on her legs due to a broken Made-In-China ladies razor, and clutching a
coffee stained map of Taipei that Mike Z. from South
Africa had given to her at the airport a few
I could feel the ripple of derisive
laughter form, as I first asked the women for help.
The hooker was elated by my stupidity. She was dressed like a drab housewive, the sort of colourless comfy clothes a
woman wears when she works around her own home; it is her own home.
Her hair was pretty, though the same
as a million other Chinese women, long and black and healthy, worn untied. Her eyes, of course, had seen too much of
men, though it was she who had never raised her sights too high.
Two brothels in less
than one year! I was fascinated by my own good fortune. The day brightened considerably for me.
We were all of us savouring the moment, seeing ourselves telling our friends the story tomorrow, them laughing at me as I
was laughing at them.
Finally, the Alpha Male took charge
of the situation; of course, in his career, he was
used to spotting helpless and confused females such
as myself, and re-directing them. He gallantly accompanied me to the door, past the still snickering prostitute, and actually pointed one woman in the right direction!