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You’re drunk, it’s midnight and you receive a Facebook message. It’s your Favorite Coworker, she has news for you: Baby-Boss-Man wants to fly you to Taipei to join the others. You’ll be helping draft Young Adult novels, you’ll also be focusing on a new absurd bilingual webcomic.
You’ve been doing odd jobs for Baby-Boss-Man for almost two years now, from ghostwriting his novel, to editing his scripts, to working for his painter partner in Manhattan.
Working for him has proved itself equal parts inconsistent and exciting. He’ll ghost for a few months, dock your pay, break a contract, you’ll consider cutting ties, but ultimately you don’t, because where else can you find such a bizarre creative supplement to your endless slew of service jobs?
When Favorite Coworker propositions you with Taipei your first impulse is to refuse. This is crazy, you have a lease in NY, a baby you nanny, and comedy to perform. She explains it would be for three months or less. You can find a subletter easy, it’s not as if NY is desperate for renters. You’ll get to live abroad!
You wonder why he doesn’t just hire someone Taiwanese? There are tons of English speakers there he wouldn’t need to fly over. What a typical white person thing to do, you think, bring underqualified Americans to reap the benefits of another country’s affordable rent.
You Are The Problem, you think, considering refusing just under the “noble” intention of Making A Point. But, in reality, you know refusing will only mean another American bonehead will take your place.
You remind yourself that existing in the world with any ounce of awareness is automatic hypocrisy. But really, when it comes down to it -- you’re selfish (and excited). You say yes.
The plane ride is full of bread that tastes like soft puke, you watch a Taiwanese award winning film called “Dearest,” you cry about the film’s depiction of abduction and parenthood and city vs. country class struggles. You wonder how you’d handle your hypothetical future child’s abduction. You’d definitely murder someone.
Your coworker meets you in the 7/11 at the airport, you’ve only met in real life once, and her confidence is comforting. The two of you stay in a bougie apartment in the Xinyi district of Taipei, a downtown area close to lots of chains and one of the best night markets.
The bathroom has a bidet, the rooftop view is immaculate, Baby-Boss-Man and his boyfriend are in NY for a few weeks, and you’re just waiting for Ashton Kutcher to bust in and yell: PUNKD, GO HOME NOW STUPID!
The two of you work out of a storefront workspace, compiling pictures of dogs that resemble marshmallows, and tracing Mandarin translations in Illustrator. You contact friends of friends in Taipei, meet local comedians and quickly find the community is full of the exact measures of snark and warmth you hoped for.
The guys at your favorite pancake spot tease you in Mandarin, and you like that, because the overt politeness extended to American foreigners feels strained.
After two weeks you become somewhat used to this lifestyle, there’s a basic pattern of sleep, Dogs in Baskets, self-discovery at 7/11 (YOU CAN MAIL THINGS THERE GUYS), and watching your neighbors shake their heads with pity when you attempt to speak any Mandarin aside from “Thank you.”
Baby-Boss-Man and Boyfriend are expected back from NY any day, when you and your co-worker receive a Facebook message.
They inform you they’ve decided, because of affordability and Boyfriend’s connections, they’re not returning to Taipei, and will be moving all operations to Beijing. If your co-worker is down, they’ll expedite her Visa process and fly her out right away! As for you, they’ll fly you back to the US early (EVEN THOUGH YOU HAVE A SUBLETTER AND WHERE WILL YOU SLEEP).
You’re both pissed, unsure how to respond, and tell them you’ll give it a day’s thought. This is it for you, you’re not working for Rich-Boss-Man again, you decide. He’s compromised your working situation too many times.
Two days later, disgustingly early, there is a knock on the door. It is the landlord. Apparently Baby-Boss-Man hasn’t paid rent in months, the two of you are forced to leave immediately.
She watches you clean his stuff out of the apartment, including piles of Baby-Boss-Man’s junk you hastily toss in garbage bags. She asks why he has you working in Taipei. You shrug; telling her your boss prefers Taiwanese men won’t help matters.
You receive a ping from Boyfriend, he’ll put you up in a hotel for a week, Baby-Boss-Man, is “going through something,” so all plane tickets are on hold. At first, you’re excited by this new chaos! A HOTEL!!! WHO ARE YOU, PARIS HILTON?! Your last eviction situation in Chicago involved less glamour, and far more roaches, despair, and 12-hour workdays.
The novelty of the hotel situation wears off quickly when both Boyfriend and Baby-Boss-Man stop communicating altogether. Baby-Boss-Man deletes his Facebook, throws out his phone, and Boyfriend aptly ignores all your politely worded messages requesting ANY UPDATES ON MY WELLBEING, YOU WEALTHY PSYCHOPATH.
Before you know it, you are airing your dirty laundry on Facebook, thoroughly freaking out loved ones, browsing Taiwanese Craigslist ads for anything short of selling your internal organs.
A few kind souls offer for you to temporarily crash on couches in case of emergency, you send a Facebook message to Baby-Boss-Man’s mom, because you’re angry, because she’s the only one you think might step in. Because he gets all his money from his parents and has never worked a day in his goddamn life, and only a spoiled psychopath could waste resources flying people to other countries only to leave them stranded and evicted.
His mom, a successful author of HORSE DETECTIVE BOOKS (yes, that’s a glorious market that exists) responds, saying you must immediately mail BBM’s electronics to Beijing (THAT HE LEFT BEHIND) before he’ll talk to you again. No, absolutely no way in hell are you spending precious time and money to mail your only leverage when:
A) You still don’t know where you’ll live.B) International mailing is a pain, even between Taiwan and China.C) Did you mention HELL NO IS THIS BABY-MAN GETTING HIS TOYS?
You lie. You tell her you’ll mail the goods once you get a plane itinerary. Silence. A woman messages you and your co-worker and you can stay at her place for very cheap for a month. The feelings swarming are a marriage of incredible gratitude, for the kindness of strangers, for the chance to freak out in another country in the first place, and complete anger and disorientation.
You go to a bar and argue with someone about American politics, you go to an all-night music venue and kiss a guy. There is such a confusing mix of hotdog bread and Kim Chee in your diet that your digestive system is undergoing an identity crisis.
Favorite Coworker and you will hustle through this, BBM purchased you a round-trip flight when he offered you the gig, if you can figure out money until August 1 you’ll be okay.
She is in a different (and more complicated) boat, as her original plan was to stay indefinitely. You’ll pawn his old computer and phone for money, fill out surveys online for spare cash, ask people to buy your drawings. Apply to be run a creative workshop for Taiwanese Adult Learners, but come across TOO EXCITED in the emails and not get the gig.
The brilliance of your co-worker and pure levels of your rage will manifest in a revenge site, Baby-Boss-Man’s “company website” will be transformed into a Rolodex of insults. He still won’t contact you, but his mom will message you, claiming you’re immature and full of hatred.
You don’t blame her, she probably feels responsible for raising a 30-year-old baby who blows through inheritance money and recreational drug obsessions with the conviction of a VH1 Reality plot.
Maybe you’re a sucker, but there is a strange peace in the sinking chaos you’ve found yourself in, the absolute lack of choice and forced disorientation. It’s like you’re forced constantly swallow your pride and say thank you, to the local friends who help you navigate a city you’re ill-equipped for, to the friends and family far away who express genuine concern.
In this situation, you are an incompetent weirdo miming your way around a city and scenario there is no handbook for.
So in a convoluted sense, maybe you’re grateful to Baby-Boss-Man for giving you the opportunity to travel, to be reminded that you’re actually ALWAYS winging it, that this scenario is just highlighting your constant chaos.
Maybe his ketamine-fueled artistic vision was just the flawed gateway you needed to meet a handful of new friends and comedians you’ll stay in touch with long term? Perhaps, this is just the beginning of future connections and collaborations?
But honestly, fuck that guy.