Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Memoirs of a Modern-Day Geisha

So you know when you're young you think you're totally invicible, that nothing can harm you and you can handle every situation that comes your way because you know everything? Yeah, right.

Two weeks after my 21st birthday I bought a one-way ticket to Taiwan because it was as far away from Olympia as I could get. I went there with the intent to teach English, which I did for a few months. Then I got a job offer from the Chinese mafia to be a hostess and of course I jumped at the chance. A hostess is basically a modern-day geisha. I got paid a great deal of money to play drinking games, sing karaoke, and make sure everyone was having a good time. Helloooo...? Dream job for a 21 year old! And no, I didn't have to anything more than that. Although I did get some pretty bizarre requests, though. Like the couple who were professional gamblers who paid me and my friend two-weeks salary to hang out with them at a swanky resort in Kenting for a week.

It was illegal though of course. Our boss moved us around every 10 days and bribed the club owners and local constables to let us work. It was a busy schedule (two days off a month) but I did get to see a lot more of Taiwan that I normally wouldn't have. It was also like playing with fire. Many times we would come home to find the police going through our apartment, looking for more bribes. We never got paid our full salary until the end of our 10-day run so the last night was always a bit nerve-wracking. But none so much as my very last night of my hostessing career before heading home after a year and a half of living this way.

My friend and I had worked at this karaoke bar for a full 20 days. That means we were about to be paid a lot of money and we were nervous as hell that they were going to completely screw us. The manager of the club was a very nice lady who spoke pretty good English and she liked us a lot. She even had us over to her house that night and cooked us dinner. This town was a bit remote and I'm sure they didn't see many foreigners here, which was probably why they liked having us around. Having her on our side was comforting. So after dinner we all drove to the club together one last time. We walked into the lobby and sat down and the manager lady disappeared into the back. A moment later, a dozen policemen came marching in, pointing their rifles at us.

The Taiwanese police buy their guns from the US military, so they carry no handguns, they all have AK-47's, which they mostly use as an intimidation tactic. That and the fact that they can look really fucking mean.

The club owner comes out looking very confused. The police chief steps out from behind the human wall and the two start arguing. My Chinese was rudimentary but I can understand the jist of it. "We agreed to them being here for 10 days and they have been here 20, you owe us more money, you have been dishonest", blah blah blah. This goes on for a while, meantime Sue and I are soiling ourselves, imagining them tossing our bodies into a landfill, no one the wiser.

Just when we are starting to say our prayers, the two men walk over to the cash register, open it, and the owner empties it and shoves the contents into the police chief's hands. Suddenly everyone is all smiles. "Okay!" says the chief, and the human wall lowers their guns. Sue and I are trying to catch our breath, our hearts jumping into our throats. The human wall then immediately go upstairs, followed by the chief.


The owner then tells us, "Okay, you work now!" pointing upstairs. The nice manager lady emerges again out of nowhere and puts a comforting hand on our shoulders. "It's okay! It's okay!" she keeps saying, smiling and cheerful. She practically has to carry us up the stairs because we are still shaking and we can't believe everyone is acting like this happens every night. She walks up to a door, opens it, and motions for us to enter. "Your clients," she says. We walk in and almost pee our pants all over again. It's the human wall and the police chief. "Come!" he says, smiling like an old friend.

"You've GOT to be kidding." I say, to which he replies with a laugh like he has just played a practical joke on me.

So, I purposely lost a few rounds of drinking games because I needed something to calm my nerves, then sang a disco version of the Love Boat theme song, which was a bit hit with me and Sue but the human wall didn't understand why it was so funny. But they were very nice and surprisingly respectful. And fortunately, they couldn't handle their aclohol very well so they didn't last long before they got tired and had to call it a night. We, however, had to keep working until 4:00 am, our bosses really milking that last night out of us. But the thought of greasy-spoon diners and supermarkets and Mexican food kept me going and soon after that I was on a plane going home, but not without another snag, which is another story...

1 comment:

  1. What an adventure, we'll have to sit down with a drink sometime and share some of those stories.