Alone in Taipei (a short story) - Part 2 (the end)

James Shih
This is part 2 and the conclusion for "Alone in Taipei." Here is the link to read part 1.

Photo by James Shih.

“I’m surprise you choose Taiwanese restaurant.”

“Well, I’m here in Taiwan, might as well eat Taiwanese food.”

Yuwei smiles at his remark and David feels his heart jump. Even though her profile picture was a little touched up, she is still quite pretty in real life. She looks at the castled shaped rice dish on their plates.

“You even ordered migao. Very Taiwanese.”

“I try to get it whenever I’m in town.”

She nods and stares at him. Oh no. Whenever attractive women look at him, he gets nervous.

“You look good.”

He blushes.

“Thank you, you too.”

This date is off to a good start!

David had taken extra care to style his hair and shave, as well as put medicated cream on the dry skin area. He even did a few push ups beforehand to get his blood pumping and did his affirmations: “I’m strong. I’m intelligent. I’m sexually attractive.”

They chat the typical first date topics: work, hobbies, travel. Her English is much better than his Mandarin, so they just speak English.

“So, your Dad Taiwanese?”


“And mom too?”

“Uh, yeah why?”

She eyes him.

“You look like hunxie.”

“Like, mixed?”

“Yeah, you know, I thought your Dad must be white and your mom Taiwanese. Your face very — Western.”

“Gotcha, well, I’m not half white.”


Dejected, she stirs the migao on her plate. David leans back, self conscious. She looks up at him and throws a smile.

“I mean that as a compliment.”


“You looking like hunxie. It is a compliment.”

“I see.”

How the fuck is that a compliment?

He looks at her, she’s wearing a similar dress as the one in her profile and it shows off her slender shoulders.

Damn it, she’s still hot though. Who am I to judge? She grew up in a different environment than me, how’s she to know the racial, socio-political implications of blah, blah, blah…

Photo by Vernon Raineil Cenzon

After an awkward dinner, David pays the bill and opens the door for her as they exit.

David’s right side itches.

Should I?

He stares at how her hair brushes her neck.

Fuck it.

“Hey, do you like watching movies?”

“Of course.”

“You have a favorite one?”

“Oh, I really like ‘La La Land’. That one so good.”


Strike two. Hey girl, how can you like a movie where Ryan Gosling is going to save jazz and John Legend is the sell out? JOHN LEGEND.

She pats her thigh with her fist in that bouncing motion specific to women that grew up in East Asia.

David, be more forgiving, “City of Stars” is not that bad of a song…

“I’m staying close by. They have a big screen in my room and Netflix. Maybe we can watch a movie.”

She studies him for a moment, then does a small laugh.

“I don’t know if this American thing, but in Taiwan, even most Asia, we don’t go to person room on first date.”

“I see.”

Fuck, fuck, I’m gross. I’m such a fucking creep.

“Do you do that on first date all the time?”

“No, not really. I just thought, you know, you seem cool and if you like movies…I mean, no pressure, we don’t have to do anything, we can just hang out.”

She fixes her makeup with her phone selfie camera.

“en, en, ok I have to meet a friend, sorry. Thanks for dinner. Bye bye!”

David goes in for a hug, but she’s already walking backwards and waving so he gives her a high five instead. She gives a confused look and walks off.

David watches her slim figure slip off into the night.

What the fuck am I doing with my life? at night. Photo by James Shih.

The air in Xinbeitou has a sulphuric, salty smell from the natural hot springs that tickle his nose. He sneezes.

He walks back to the hotel, deep in thought.

She was not my type anyways. hunxie? “La La Land”? I don’t care if she’s Taiwanese, there is no excuse…

David passes a young Taiwanese guy sitting on his motorcycle, tapping away on his phone.

I wonder how many matches he got.

David steps into the hotel and walks by the front desk, no one.

He walks down the hall to the gift shop. Ting-Ting is locking up.

“buhaoyisi, is it ok if I get something real quick? It’s for my niece, my um…”

He types into his phone translator. She crosses her arms, the keys jingle in her hand.

zhinu. wo yao mai liwu gei wo zhinu.”

She studies him and gives a rare smile. David freezes. The reflection of a full moon on a calm clear lake flashes through his mind.

“hao a, wu fenzhong.”

Ting-Ting opens the door. He rushes in and scans the narrow aisles. Something catches his eyes. He grabs it and heads to the counter.

Ting-Ting is typing into her phone. She puts it away and takes the item.

“Hello Kitty?”

“Yeah, I like it. Hello Kitty, hot springs style. Uh, I can’t read the tags, but is this safe for kids?”

“ni zhinu jisui?”

“She’s four.”

Ting-Ting reads the tags.

“Very safe.”


Ting-Ting chuckles and wraps it. David pays for the plush toy and she hands the wrapped item back.

“You’re a good shushu.”

“I’m ok. zhende xiexie.”

He steps outside and watches Ting-Ting lock up. She looks at him.

“hai xuyao shenme bangmang ma?”

“No I just uh…how long have you been working here?”

“One year, but not whole time.”

“Oh yeah, what else do you do?”

She makes a drawing motion.

“I study graphic design. Graduate student.”

“Whoa cool. I personally wanted to study illustration as a college student, but my parents refused to pay for it.”

“Yeah, my parents also say study art not good.”

“My dad told me, “Can you draw money?’”

She laughs.

“Asian parent all same.”

David laughs and nods. They stand in the empty hallway for a moment. She motions to leave. David scratches his side.

“Hey, um, if it’s ok, do you want to grab coffee? After you finish up.”

“The coffee room still open, you can grab yourself.”

“No, I mean…sorry…after your work, want to go out maybe to get coffee or zhenzhu nai cha with me?”

She gives another smile. The moon’s reflection ripples on the surface of the lake.

“I’m happy you ask, but I have boyfriend. He actually outside wait for me. But thank you, it is very nice. I hope your zhinu like the hot spring Hello Kitty.”

She gives a short wave and walks away, the sound of keys echo through the hallway.

Fortune Hiya Hotel, Taiwan. Photo by Joyce Romero.

David goes into his room and puts the gift on a counter. He takes off all his clothes. He examines the itchy, red area.

After the break up, he had noticed it–a small, dime-sized red spot near his right floating ribs. It grew to the size of his palm and flaky skin would cake over it.

I am disgusting.

He opens his laptop.

On average it takes about thirty minutes to search and settle on a good porn video and then another five minutes of watching and timing his finish with the money shot. He feels his hands itch as they hover over the keys.

He closes the laptop.

This is depressing.


He carefully peeks outside through the curtains. Ting-Ting jumps onto the back of a motorcycle with that young Taiwanese guy David passed earlier in the front. She hugs him. They drive off. An older man stumbles out of a nearby club, drunk.

David flops onto the bed. He lies there naked with his phone and checks his messages. His boss reminds him to finalize the powerpoint for the trip to Tainan tomorrow. David couldn’t care less.

He checks his dating app. No updates. He swipes through more dating profiles.

“You’ve reached your max limit for today. If you’d like unlimited matches, please pay…”

David tosses the phone onto the bed. No matter where he goes, there he is.


He turns his phone over. A message:

“Big Bro — ‘A-chan made something for you.’”

David covers himself with a towel and clicks on the message.

A crayon drawing of a yam shaped island fills the screen. Across the top is a child’s handwriting: “have fun in taiwan! wo ai ni! — a-chan =)”

David holds his face in his hands.

Outside he hears the drunk man sing to an invisible audience.

He wipes his eyes and types.

“It’s beautiful. Tell her I love her too and I got her an awesome present. See everyone soon.”

David gets up and drinks some water, the taste of tears on his lips. He walks to the bathroom and pulls off his towel. He massages his side. With the medicated creams and cutting out alcohol, he’d been able to reduce some of the plaques, but it still itches like crazy. He had read mineral baths could help.

He turns on the hot spring bath and watches it fill the square, stone tub. Steam and the smell of sulphur, the patter of water hitting water — this monotonous meditation numbs his brain.

He stares at his reflection in the fogged mirror at the end of the bathroom, his form barely visible.

Why can’t I love this person?

He turns off the hot spring faucet then tops off the bath with cold water. He eases his legs in.

Fuck it’s still hot.

He acclimates to the heat and slides his whole body in.


He lingers there. His side burns. He dips further in, covering his mouth. The mineral salty taste creeps in. He pulls himself underwater and grips his knees. A hot, liquid cocoon. His heart reverberates against the water and the interior walls of his body. His skin edges on the ledge of pain.

He lifts his head out and breathes.

This is nice.

Taiwan. Photo by Loren Gu.


Acknowledgments: Special thanks to Nick Louie, Dan Nguyen, and Richard Sue for their thoughtful notes that helped shape the final form of this story.

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, business, events and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. Certain long-standing institutions, agencies, and public offices are mentioned, but the characters involved are wholly imaginary.

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I enjoy writing about film/TV, travel, slice of life, language, Asian American issues, and other interests. Thanks for reading! Please leave a comment or message if you have any thoughts to share =).

Los Angeles, CA

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