Il y a deux semaines, j’étais à Kenting dans le sud de Taiwan pour Spring Scream. J’en ai profité pour m’asseoir avec Duggar, le propriétaire de mon auberge, pour ce prochain Regarde les Chinois. C’était le jeudi soir juste avant la fin de semaine du Spring Scream, et je venais de débarquer en ville, et nous nous sommes rencontrés dans sa minivan transformée en magasin de brocantes à saveur d’Hawaii au bord de la rue, à la limite est du village touristique de Kenting. Nous avons parlé de la petite histoire derrière son arrivée à Taiwan via ce petit centre de villégiature peu connu à l’extérieur, la vie d’étranger à apparence occidentale à Taiwan, ses origines hawaiiennes, de politique locale, et bien sûr de bouffe.
Two weeks ago, when I was in Kenting in the south of Taiwan for Spring Scream, I sat down with Duggar, the owner of my hostel for our next Regarde les Chinois. It was the Thursday before the Spring Scream weekend, and I had just landed in town, and we met in his minivan revamped into a road-side store, which he parked at the east-end of the Kenting town to sell his Hawaii-themed things. We chatted about how he first arrived in a small resort town little known outside of Taiwan, life as a Western-looking foreigner in Taiwan, his Hawaiian origins, local politics and food, of course.
Comme les Chinois: What brought you to Taiwan?
Duggar Parrish: I came here in 1993, because I was working in a hotel in a nice beach resort hotel on Kauai Island. When they were filming the movie Jurassic Park, in 1992, a big hurricane, force 4-5, hit the island, and the island closed down. The same owners of the hotel I was working with, on Kauai, are the same owners of the hotel ere in Kenting – the Caesar Park Hotel in Kenting.
So, when I was cleaning the pool in Kauai, there was a fax that came in showing that they were looking for an activity manager. I was single and available, so I took off and came to Taiwan to work at the Caesar Park Hotel, here in Kenting. I ended up just signing contracts for eight years – I ended up working there for eight years at Caesar Park Hotel in Kenting…
CLC: Did you ever thought that you would stay for that long?
No, because my first contract was a four-month working permit. Then, I went back to Hawaii, and they asked me to come back for one year. When I (actually) came back, the contract said two years. After the contract, I decided one year, one year, one year… Time went by fast… They terminated my contract in 2001, but I got my permanent resident visa, because I worked in Taiwan for seven years legal. When you get your permanent resident visa, you can start your own business and you can work.
CLC: That’s why you stayed… Did you find what you wanted… or were you looking for something when you came to Taiwan?
No, I came here just because of work…
CLC: Are you happy right now?
Well, I would say… Of course, of course! 99.9% people in the world would love to live in Hawaii! Hawaii is one of the most beautiful places in the world, with the trade winds, the culture of surfing and paddling canoe, and the food and everything. So, I think if we had the finances, we would live in Hawaii. Maybe we can live six months Taiwan and six months Hawaii, because my wife is Taiwanese, and my son is half-Taiwanese, half-American. To answer your question, my wife wants to move back to Hawaii. I have a lot of friends in Taiwan, and would move back (too) if I could.
CLC: Family in Hawaii also…
Yeah, my mother and my brother.
CLC: What do you do in Kenting now?
Now? I do my business. We import things from Hawaii, so we do a retail business, sell Hawaii things, and we just recently, within the year, got involved with hostel, hotel business. Now, we have three hostel/hotel places, locations, and two shops, and you are in a Hawaiian-style Taiwanese vendor!
CLC: Haha, yes I am! Tell me what it is to be an expat living in Kenting, an all-Chinese place.
When I first came to Taiwan, I was a little nervous. The only thing that I knew about Taiwan was the sticker “Made in Taiwan”. That’s all I knew!
CLC: That’s the early nighties!
Actually it was the 70s and 80s. I think there was always a sticker “Made in Taiwan”, “Made in Korea”, “Made in Japan”. Of course I was nervous, because I’ve been to a lot of countries that, economically, I didn’t think were as friendly. But when I came here, people are very friendly.
*** Duggar stretches his head out of the window of the van-store in which we are sitting to talk with a Taiwanese-American from Maryland. He sells them a pair of shorts, I believe. The dude tries to bargain, but Duggar doesn’t bargain! A few days after the interview, I would sit again in his shop, and answer Taiwanese clients myself!
Taiwanese-American dude: Are you going back?
Maybe, if business is good this summer. But the airplane ticket to Hawaii is expensive, you know. And I have a son, so that means three adult fares!
TAD: You can teach English!
No, what we’re doing is ok. English, I think it’s boring. But you know one thing? My English is not good. I speak ***inaudible Hawaiian*** English.
CLC: (laughs) I thought that you were Taiwanese when I read your e-mails!
I think I am turning Taiwanese!
*** We turn off the mic for a little while, as Duggar is selling stuff to other clients.
CLC: We’re at, what is it to be an expat in Taiwan.
Well, when I came to Taiwan, I was a little nervous. Foreign country, you know. Kenting is the same latitude as Kauai, same ocean as Hawaii. Beautiful beaches. The location: I loved. It’s beautiful, it’s like Hawaii. I found out that the people are very friendly. Actually they are even more friendly to foreigners. They treat foreigners differently, they are a little bit nicer. Well, I mean, unless you step on their toes.
As an expat, I feel good, but of course, you have to remember, I came here for work. They paid my air fare, I worked for a general manager, so I had to work. I would say that it was a good experience, and the people are friendly, but my purpose here was working. I didn’t come here to study, I came here to work.
CLC: Yeah, and it’s not English teacher either.
No, I wasn’t in teaching English, and was here to do adult and children activity programs for the hotel, at the resort. So, it was a big challenge to do that. I had to deal, you know, with Taiwanese customers, local people. But of course, I am friendly. Being raised in Hawaii, we have the Aloha spirit, and I can adapt to chopsticks. Of course, in Hawaii, there’s a lot of people from Asia: Hong Kong, Japanese, Filipino, you know, locco. Food, no problem: rice, noodles, goose, duck, tofu… So I could eat. The people are friendly.
After working, of course I could’ve left, but I decided I put in eight years into Taiwan, and the people are friendly, the location is nice, why not get my permanent resident visa and think about doing something. So, I decided to start my own business.
In general, I think I like the location of where I at. I don’t think I like the city. If I was in a city, I would go back to Hawaii. But in Kenting, it’s ok.
CLC: The small town, the slower life…
Beach. Beach. The oceans, clean oceans. Like, Hong Kong have different level.
CLC: I’ve been to beaches in Hong Kong and it’s quite ok.
Some beaches, you can’t go in the water, you know. But I mean, in the future I hope they will. But here, the beaches are nice. It’s in the Kenting National Park, and they try to maintain it…
So, you know, as expat, I think that I am OK. But I was lucky to come in Kenting eight years ago to work. A lot of foreigners have to go to work in Taipei, Kaohsiung, Taichung, and maybe they don’t like it.
CLC: It’s quite an unusual channel to enter a country – through like a small town like this one.
Yeah, it was unusual, and only because of two qualifications: I had a college diploma, and five years working experience with the hotels. Without these qualificications, maybe I could not qualify for the working permit, because Taiwanese, I don’t think, want an outside person to take a job away from a Taiwanese person. It’s in every country, yeah.
… And the girls! Wooh!
CLC: And you married one!
Girls in Taiwan are, to me, very shy, very nice, very sweet, beautiful, a lot of them are single. And I married a Taiwanese girl that I met at the hotel. But she could speak English – I mean, Camie’s English is good, eh.
CLC: Yeah, it is, very.
So, I’ve known her for many years.
CLC: What do you think about Taiwan politics?
Unfortunately, I can’t vote, so I can’t get involved that much in the politics. And I don’t think that Camie votes.
Basically, my impression is that there are two parties: the DPP, which wants to declare independence, which I think is not a good idea, because China doesn’t want that, and there’s the KMT, which I think has a relationship with China, came from China a long time ago.
So, there’s two parties, basically. The DPP, for eight years, had their chance, but it seems that they didn’t do very well, and I think they got busted for some corruption. Basically, they couldn’t declare independence, because if they did, China maybe would attack.
I like the new one because – I am not really interested in the party, I am interested in the person. And I think Ma (Ying-jeou), I saw him on an interview on CNN.
CLC: Pretty charismatic, eh?
Well yeah, he spoke English, and he told his point of view on CNN, and I liked his point of view. He likes fitness, like, he said he wants Taiwan’s economy to get good, he said China and Taiwan is a problem, but that can wait – we can try to solve it later. But, the politics, I think in Taiwan, in general, my feeling is that most Taiwanese do not want to get close to China, and they want to be separate.
As an American, my point of view is, why not try to work together, make money together, but still be separate, but still be together. It’s very complicated.
CLC: Would you live in a cold country?
No! My ass is warm and I want to keep it that way… No way. Too much work to put the clothes on, and when it’s really cold, you can’t really go out.
CLC: You enjoy the summer much more…
Yeah, I love summer. Here in the winter, it’s lo san fung, it’s a strong winter wind. High-pressure from China, and it blows, cold wind air, in the winter.
CLC: Is it humid?
Winter is not humid. Summer is humid. Summer, it’s low-pressure, sweaty, hot and humid. Night time very comfortable. Summer: typhoon season, and it rains a lot in the summer.
CLC: So, I am going to eat later tonight (it’s mid-evening already), what do you recommend?
I recommend to go to Hengchun to eat. It’s cheaper and better. Actually, there is a vendor that I like – I don’t know if he is still there. He came back, because it was high season. He makes like this chicken wrap. He gives you these two round things. Go over there and ask.
And there is vendor food. So now, it’s good for vendor food. Because, now there are two choices: you can walk around and get kind of the expensive vendor food, like lamb, kao rou (“grilled meat”), barbecue, or there’s margarita, that’s mexican cuisine, or spaghetti. There’s Amy’s Pizza which is pizza, pasta. But there is a goose place that we like. We always eat the smoked goose, by the farm entrance. We had dinner, not too bad, in that corner, as you go into the Da Wan road – the Thai restaurant in the corner – they weren’t that bad.
For you, it’s only one person, so it’s not easy to order, you know. I think that you can use your imagination…
CLC: Well, I was just thinking to…
McDonald’s, KFC, 7-Eleven?
CLC: …eat on the road, actually!
*** And actually, I did just that for four days in Kenting – try out every (most) vendor food on the street, and feed myself this way for my entire stay.
Oh, vendor food?
CLC: Yeah, vendor food.
Yeah, my favourite vendor food is across the street – it’s the wrap one. I go for the wrap ones. I don’t like the hot dogs. The kao rou is ok.
I had your sister-in-law’s wraps, spring rolls. They were pretty good.
CLC: Oh yeah? That’s my mother-in-law’s. Ah-mah, ah-gong. Had one of those? Those are very traditionnal.
They make it for Ching Ming (I think).
*** A friend of Duggar’s from Kaohsiung drives by the van…
He was my best man at my wedding! His wife is the owner of Amy’s Pizza.
CLC: Is he an ex-pat? I didn’t his face…
Yeah, he’s from England. He takes care of boats. If you want to buy a big yacht…
No, in Kaohsiung.
CLC: And they have a big villa here?
No… they actually have a big hotel. Like, a Bali-style. See, Bali-style is really popular out here.
CLC: Yeah, I heard. Camie was telling me how they just mixed Bali with anything else (like Thai and all that).
Oh, Bali is cheaper, you see. Taiwanese can go to Bali cheap, bring stuff back, sell it, or make style whatever. We’re not easy, us. We’re Hawaii style…
But yeah, you can (get) meat sticks… The prices are kind of little high, overpriced.
CLC: Overpriced for what it is.
Oh yeah, of course, you can buy a 80 NT (CAD2.50) dish in Hengchun. So, you gotta…
CLC: Hengchun is kind of far though.
You can always catch the bus. Just go for, 7-eleven… Go for vendor food. And then, just divide your Canadian money, and see what’s expensive or not. Like, 100 NT in US is like 3 US Dollars.
CLC: Yeah, it’s the same thing (in Canadian).
3 USD for a meat stick? That’s a lot…
CLC: You knew that Canadian dollar is equal to the US dollar? It used to be like, you know, 60 cents US is worth a dollar Canadian. Now, it’s like 1 to 1…
Now is a good time for us to buy land in Hawaii with our Taiwan money.
CLC: Are these currencies tied up?
I don’t know. But it used to be 34 Taiwan dollars for 1 US dollar. It’s now something like 32.
CLC: What do you think of Spring Scream and the festivals going on?
Well, for me, it’s not… Well, I was going to tell you something important. When I first came to Taiwan, Spring break was mostly families. Once the Spring Screams started, families backed away, because of the media: drugs,… it’s young people drinking. So, families don’t come to Spring Scream (anymore) during spring break.
For us, we’re ok, I’m happy, because it’s more our market. Young people like to buy Hawaii things. So, we’re ok. And the Spring Scream makes more people come to Kenting. If it was a regular spring break, we’d just get this amount of people (we’re the Thursday night before the long weekend).
But if you have all these shows going on, it means more people coming. More people coming, it means that business is better. So, I’m ok with this spring break.
I just hope that they try to control it. Make it safe.
CLC: But, there are many copy-cats?
Yeah, copy-cats. But they are not really copy-cats. You know, they do their own style of shows. You know, there’ three or four at the same time, trying to grab from each other…
The Eluanbi one, they have their own group, I think. They know.
CLC: Ok, well, thank you!