Saturday, September 8, 2007

Thel Local Drinkeries

Yesterday was payday, so after a satisfying meal of beef soup and fried Korean pan sticks at our local dumpling joint, Luke and I decided to find a place to do some drinking. We had heard from coworkers and local acquaintances about perhaps the only bar in our area. We started walking, crossed the highway that divides our city of Linko from neighboring Gueishan, and found the bar straight away using our coworker's directions.

The place was called Tequila Music Bar. In external appearance, it was exactly the kind of bar you'd see on your local urban or suburban street corner. Flickering backlit sign, neon Bud and Miller ads, and posters covering the glass door and windows, blocking the view in or out. Even the inside was authentic Americana. Low lighting, a hardwood bar complete with stools and a brass footbar, and shelves full of Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, and Famous Grouse. A TV on the bar played downloaded Justin Timberlake music videos the whole time we were there. I guess that's what made it a "music bar". Luke and I took a seat at the bar and ordered some beers. At about NT200 ($6) each, these beers carried a Taipei premium price, but what did we care? We'd just gotten fat envelopes of cash and dammit, we wanted to drink in a bar.

Our bartender for the evening was a very cute young Taiwanese girl who introduced herself as Sa Sa (or Sasha, tee-hee.) She chatted with us for a few minutes before going back to bar tending for the other nine or so patrons. Almost immediately after her departure, another attractive woman came up and took a seat next to us. She introduced herself and chatted for a few minutes before returning to the company of a table full of businessmen. I was beginning to feel like a sexy, popular Norm from Cheers. A few minutes later another woman came and did the exact same. "Oh," we realized "it's one of those places."

It's not uncommon in Taiwan to enter a bar full of pretty girls dressed fairly skimpily, and a few average looking male patrons. It's exciting at first, seeing the ratio of goofy looking men to attractive women. But as one finds out quickly, these women are paid employees of the bar. Employees disguised as fellow customers, but who will only come sit or talk with you if you pay them (or at least buy them rounds of overpriced drinks which they undoubtedly take a cut of from the till.) They aren't prostitutes per se, at least not in the traditional sense.

Upon noticing this, the bar lost a lot of its appeal to us. I asked Sa Sa about the other girls and she admitted that they were "customer service" employees. She furrowed her brow and acted like I had just cracked DaVinci's code. We're not that lonely or desperate for female companionship. We decided to pay our tab and leave. Sa Sa tried to cornhole us out of an extra NT100, but we corrected her and she apologized through a plastic smile. That bitch.

Since we weren't yet sufficiently soused, we decided to go to a place we'd found a couple of weekends ago. This place is a large corrugated steel building in Gueishan that is full of food vendors and is open late nights. It looks like an old airplane hangar, and it's very much the kind of place you might stop to eat at at a county fair. The length of the walls is lined with food vendors of all varieties. Noodle vendors, seafood, pig parts, stinky tofu, and soup places. The middle of the building was dotted with folding tables and plastic stools. Along the back wall, a few rows of homemade arcade machines and basketball games kept the kids busy.

We got a couple of tall mugs from one of the beer vendors (at only NT120 for 1 liter) and took a seat. There were no miniskirts here. No Justin Timberlake. This was a working man's place. The customers here were all real people. No plastic smiles at this place. The smiles here were real. Smiles with blackened or missing teeth. Smiles blood red from constant betel nut chewing. The men were sweaty and tired from a long work week, and undoubtedly many of them would work again on Saturday and Sunday. Men without shoes, men with paint staining their hands and arms, or with scars and sores from working with their hands all day. Women with equally hardened features, yet still undeniably feminine, accompanied their men to this social mecca where everyone can eat and drink cheaply and without the social pressures faced by bar and club goers.

This place suited us much better. We drank, we ate, and we people watched. There were stray dogs and cats, there was no bathroom so we were forced to use the parking lot. There was no air conditioning, and occasionally someone fell off their stool or spilled a beer and everyone laughed. We loved it.

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