Ugly American of the Year?

Having the accident of holding the nationality the world's reigning superpower has its ups and downs. There's anti-Americanism and pro-Americanism everywhere in the farthest reaches of the globe, and while the hapless American traveler may protest that he is an individual first and not a national stereotype, the reality is that in many places in the world certain people will view you as a nationality first, as a real person second. Let's be frank: while the in the USA it might be considered politely PC to overlook someone's race/ethnicity/gender/nationality, in many places in this world the ugly grip of prejudice still runs rampant. As I heard on ex-pat put it, "If you want to know what it feels like to be a black person in America, move to Japan." You could say the same about many other countries....

Let me give a few ridiculous, but god's honest truth, examples. When I first came here my buxiban owner I realized was a rather unsavory character, not paying me on time and lying to me about getting my work permit (he never filled out the forms and I could have been deported if I hadn't found out in time), so I started scouting around for another job. I was pals with this one Canadian woman who was planning to leave the country the next month, so I asked her if she could put in a word to her employer that I was interested. She told me that she would, but that I really didn't have much of a chance. Why? Because I was male. It seems that the previous foreign teacher had been a man who had been sexually harassing the female the buxiban decided from thenceforth to only hire women, because they couldn't trust foreign men.

Funnily enough, when I later found another job -- one where they actually paid me on time, treated me like a human, and helped me obtain a resident visa -- I was chatting one night with my boss. We were talking about one of the new teachers flying in from America in the next few weeks, and somehow it got around to her flat-out stating that she wasn't going to be hiring any more foreign female teachers, instead only male teachers. Why? Because formerly she had a female teacher gossip about her behind her back, saying cruel things about the boss and the school -- men, being less likely to gossip, were better employees.

And oh yes -- if you're black, Asia is a time warp back to 1950s. Many places refuse to hire black teachers. I've heard of one horror story of one employer turning away a teacher at the airport when they realized the teacher was black. At the buxiban where I'm working now, the other teacher is black. Once I was given a schedule of classes that conflicted with my usual schedule, so I innocently asked why can't you just throw the other teacher these classes, since he wants more hours.....I was apologetically, politely (as always the style of the insufferably inscrutable Chinese) that the other teacher was out of the question....because some people were afraid of a black man teaching their children. I had one of my students -- not a child, but a 36-year-old businesswoman -- tell me that she was afraid of the black teacher because of his skin....after class the black teacher was in the lobby and I gently prodded her into shaking his hand, though she was palpably nervous about touching black flesh....sheesh!

Well, I didn't plan on turning this into an essay about Racism in Asia, but it seems I've gotten a bit off track. The point, anyway, is that we as expat Americans aren't just your average guy who can pick his nose in public anymore -- no, we're cultural ambassadors who represent every other American on the face of the earth. I am not exagerrating. My boss told me that if the black teacher turned out to be good, then they might consider hiring another black teacher, but if not, then they would stick to whites as now the black teacher (sorry, I don't want to use his real name) must represent all black people. Hey, you start to notice the bigotry more once you learn a bit of Chinese and start hearing the comments people make about you behind your back....

Now there are plenty of Americans out there who I cringe with embarrassment for and make me want to pretend I'm Lithuanian or from Zimbabwe. Here's a little story, somewhat amusing, of one of those ugly Americans who cause the other 95% of us good'ol Yanks so much trouble abroad, the reason why anti-Americanism can be so prevalent when you travel overseas [to make my fellow Yanks feel a bit better, remember that there's tons of anti-UK/German/Japanese/French/Russian etc.-ism abroad, too, caused by the minority of boorish idiots every country seems to export abroad].

I was relaxing at the main foreigner hangout in Chia-yi, a pub known as the Calgary, talking with my fellow ex-pats from the Anglo countries. I got into a big political argument with an anti-American Canadian (oddly enough, it seems the biggest bashers of the USA I've met are all Canucks. This seems a bit weird considering its' America's closest friend and neighbor....but then you realize that sibling rivalries can be the most intense, especially when the older brother is 10 times the size of the younger sibling, and completely overshadows and dominates -- the inferiority complex and chip on the shoulder becomes rather understandable. Ukrainians probably feel the same way towards Russians). She and I had both had a few too many so the argument was bit heated, but in the end just talk, since I don't generally don't hold somebody's politics against them personally. The other couple of guys at the table were a Taiwanese who'd lived in the states for a few years and spoke good English, and the Ugly American -- let's call him Red, since he played football for the Crimson Tide. Red didn't have much to add to the discussion. Red told me he'd just flown into Taiwan the past couple of weeks and was starting work in a buxiban here.

About a month goes by and I'm back in the Calgary, when I see Red again. I share a beer with him and he tells me about his misadventure with immigration in Taipei. It seems his Taiwan entry visa was only good for one month, so he had to fly to Hong Kong to get it renewed. So he makes his visa run to Hong Kong and gets his passport stamped again. Now instead of flying directly back to Taipei he takes the opportunity to make stopover in Bangkok for a week. Red sits there bragging about getting the women in Thailand, "Dude, when I was dancing in the bar, I had a girl one each side of me, like completely surrounded by women, and when I slipped, I just had to grab an ass to gain my balance!" Ummm, okay, Red. If you're not in the know, Thailand is....let's say a very easy place to find women. So much so that millions of men fly in every year for the express purpose of enjoying the infamous Bangkok nightlife (yes, it's popular destination for many Taiwanese males, I've heard Taiwanese women complain). Guys tell me that when you walk into a bar in Bangkok (I've never been there myself), you're hit with 100 naked dancing women, all of them available for any man with enough baht to spend. So bragging about going with Thai bargirls is basically a pretty swinish, completely clueless thing to do. Bragging about getting prostitutes is not cool -- just dumb. Did I mention that Red was bragging to me about all the drugs he scored in Bangkok ("really cheap, too, man!"), too?

So when Red has his fill of carusing Thailand and flies back to Taipei, he goes up to the immigration office in the airport and finds out that his visa was only a single entry visa. That means that he has to fly back to Hong Kong again and get a proper multiple-entry visa. Now this is a point where I'm sympathetic to Red -- if I had to pay for a flight to Hong Kong only to be told I had to go right back all over again, I'd be pretty pissed, too. I'd probably do my share of cursing and make some small scene. However, Red went a tad bit too far. Red, a recent ex-quarterback now in a livid rage, is separated from the bureacrat by a plate glass window. Red is very, very angry at the bureacrat for informing him of the visa situation. Solution? Red punches his way through the plate glass window and starts choking the bureacrat. After the police haul Red off he makes a call to his buxiban and apparently they've got good connections because they're able to spring him on probation -- hence Red's presence in Chia-yi telling me this story. I ask Red if he's worried about being deported, and he smiles and says no; in fact, he says more than that: "I can do anything I want here." I'm a little dumbfounded (understatement) at such blatant arrogance, so I ask if he's serious. "Yes. I can do anything I want in Taiwan."

I talk to some other ex-pats there and I find out that Red's not exactly Mr. Popularity in Chia-yi; he's been hitting on some of the women rather crudely and going around strutting like a big dumb cock of the rock, generally acting like your stereotypical loud, obnoxious ugly tourist. "He doesn't realize that we're ambassadors," another teacher opines, "Guys like him are giving a bad name to the rest of us." Fortunately, I was in Chia-yi the other week, and didn't catch a glimpse of Red, so maybe he got deported after all (he had to show up to a court date to decide his immigration status). I hate to wish deportation upon another person, but in this case it would all be for the best.


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