Brian Eckert

Writer. Wanderer. Dreamer. Skeptic. Man.

Close Encounters of the Transgendered Kind

“$400, all you can drink,” says a young Taiwanese man standing in front of a Thai restaurant in downtown Kenting.

I mull over the proposition—not a bad one, considering that three drinks could easily cost that much. Seth, however, saves me any further deliberation by paying $800 for the two of us.

The charge grants us unlimited access to a limited drink menu offering gin and tonics, rum and cokes, screwdrivers, and draft beer. The cocktails are certain to be watered down and the beer topped off with ice, but all you can drink is still all you can drink. Read the rest of this entry »

Sunset over Kenting, Taiwan

Expat Adventures in Neverland

“San ping sake,” I tell the server. Three bottles of sake.

When she returns a few minutes later with the fresh pitchers of warm rice wine I pour shots for myself and my friends. Sitting directly to my right is a young Californian who’s been in Beijing for just under a week. I toast to him on this evening, one that marks both his first night out in the city and his first sake experience.

At the table next to ours a group of local men wearing the green jerseys of the local soccer club are also imbibing sake. I make eye contact with one of them.

“Sake feichang hao,” I say. Sake is very good.

With this simple statement the red-faced Chinese man and his equally crimson companions acknowledge the group of foreigners with a chorus of “hellos” and offer to fill our glasses. With cups brimming, my new Chinese friend clinks his sake vessel to mine and says, “ganbei,” which translates to “empty the cup.” All of us drain our glasses and continue to “ganbei” for the better part of an hour.

By the end of the aggressive drinking session the China newbie is grinning a happy drunken grin and surveying the loud, smoky restaurant with a look of awe. We pay our bill—a ridiculously cheap 150 Yuan (around $25) per person for three hours of all you can eat and drink—and spill out into the night, chatting and laughing our way to the next spot, a Western style bar teeming with dolled up Chinese girls.

We find seats among a group of them at a back corner table. Somebody pulls out a hash joint and it makes its way around. Drunk, stoned, and cozied up to a sexy young local, the newb leans into my ear and says, “Man, is this a pretty typical night out?”

I tell him that it is. What I don’t tell him is that he is now one of the Lost Boys of China. Read the rest of this entry »

How I’ve Lived

I live in a studio loft in Taichung, Taiwan.
But I’ve lived in many places
in many ways.
Oh, how I’ve lived.

I’ve lived in Alaska, in the Great North Woods, in the Great Plains, in the shadow of the Rockies
in North America, in Europe, in Asia, in Africa
in the city, in the country
in houses, in apartments, in motels, in tents
in prisons of my own construction
in defiance
in denial
in fear
in the arms of a woman
in willful ignorance
in the past
in order to forget what it means not to live.

I’ve lived through more than 30 years
through good times and bad
through broken hearts and broken bones and broken dreams and broken teeth and broken homes and broken promises and broken silences and broken records.

I’ve lived under big skies, under small skies, under skies that flash and boom, under skies filled with millions-of-years-old light
under duress
under stress
under arrest
under false pretenses
under pressure
under the influence
under the weight of my father’s expectations
under the watchful eye of my mother
under posters of sports heroes and rock stars
under the impression that Santa Claus was real
under God, indivisible, for liberty and justice for all.

I’ve lived for myself
for others
for the moment
for the future
for days and days and days not knowing what I wanted
for that day when all of the shit would just stop
for long enough to know that living is an end in itself
for too short a period of time to even pretend that I know much of anything.

I’ve lived with family
with friends
with strangers
with my head in the clouds
with the smell of sex on me
with last night’s clothes still on
with a sense of purpose
with a sense of dread
with a sense of entitlement
with a sense that I didn’t deserve anything good for myself
with a bitter heart
with false expectations
with regret
with the misbelief that Jesus died for my sins
with more questions than answers
with a body not of my own making
with the entire knowledge of mankind at my fingertips
with the feeling that I wasn’t actually living my life.

I’ve lived without a place of my own
without a dime to my name
without a purpose
without a God
without limits
without anyone I really cared about
without lifting a finger
without a care in the world
without answers
without giving a fuck
without a good pair of sunglasses
without a reason to go to bed
without contracting an STD
without knowing how long I would live for
without hesitating to maim and kill and destroy
without a love that was my own
without a reason to keep living
without knowing why, exactly, it hurt so goddamned much.

I’ve lived.
Oh, how I’ve lived.

A Speech Contest Day Miracle

Note: It’s been nearly three years since I moved away from Korea and gave up my career as an English language educator. Now in China, I often find myself comparing the two countries due to their proximity, overlapping culture, and status as rising Asian powers that have been quick to raze many of their traditional ways in favor of Western capitalistic ones.

One of the big differences between my life here compared to Korea is that I don’t work with Chinese people or play a role in educating their children. Quite a few of my friends do, however, and based on their accounts, many of the frustrations of teaching English in China are similar to what I experienced in Korea.

Through conversations with English teachers in China, then, I am often reminded of my own experiences teaching in Korea. One of the more amusing and enlightening is detailed below. 

Speech contest, the twice-yearly recitation by students in front of their peers, teachers, and a smattering of parents, is almost ready to begin.

The secretaries try to settle down eighty rambunctious students while the contest participants nervously make final preparations in classroom one. In the teachers’ room our manager, “Jean,” hands out a scoring sheet and provides some last minute instructions. After that she moves to the lobby and speaks to the students through a portable PA system. Following a few words in Korean Jean switches to English and asks the teachers to come out. Read the rest of this entry »

Obligatory Shanghai Skyline Tourist Shot

William S. Burroughs on Dreams

Autumn in the Grey City

Jingle Bell Rock

Despite being the dominant species on the planet, it takes a long time before a person is able to do much of anything. Deer and horse can run an hour after birth. Crocodiles and sharks are left to fend for themselves immediately. Sea turtles must run a gauntlet of predators and battle pounding surf as soon as they hatch. Human offspring, on the other hand, are utterly helpless the first few years of life. Perhaps this is the reason why a child’s cry is so earsplitting. Unable to fend for itself, their voice leaves no doubt that something is needed.

“Reina, use your words. Tell me what you want. How about Elton?”

I hold up the Elton John Greatest Hits CD for her consideration but not even the promise of her favorite singer is enough to stop the screams. Gasping for air, she tries to tell me something.

“What? Christmas music?”

Driving with one knee, I flip through the CD book until I find the one labeled “X-Mas.” I slide it into the deck and Bobby Helms’ crooning blares through the two Rockford Fosgate 12” subwoofers in the trunk. I feel confident nobody has ever played this song with such wicked bass.

The screams subside. I pull up at a stoplight and check out the girls in the car next to me before remembering I’m bumping “Jingle Bell Rock” in June. Caring for a child is perhaps the best birth control. Read the rest of this entry »

Cloud City