One of the advantages of getting out of the western expat bubble in Taipei 台北 is that you’ll see a different side of Taiwan 台灣, one that is less sanitized for international consumption. Living down south in Tainan 台南 and later Changhua 彰化 introduced me to customs I never see up north, among them a local version of the roadside medicine show.
Take this electric flower car 電子花車, for instance. I was riding back from Nantou 南投 one evening last May when I heard music wafting over the old houses that line the base of the Baguashan Mountain Range on the outskirts of Yuanlin 員林. Pulling over to take a look, I situated myself at the back of the crowd to watch the show for a minute or two.
Evidently I had arrived at an opportune moment, for a woman of indiscernible age was working her way through an audience of about two dozen wearing nothing more than a skimpy set of white panties and brassiere. Old men perched on scooters with safety helmets slung around the handlebars, 100 NT notes folded edgewise and outstretched. Those notes disappeared—and each man was smothered in ample cleavage, a playful twist and jiggle signifying the end of the brief exchange. In a flash she vaulted on stage and disappeared behind a glittering partition, presumably to change into something more modest.
Indecipherable announcements (probably in Taiwanese, which I don’t have any understanding of) rang out over the speaker system and three women emerged to begin a song and dance routine (zōngyìjiémù 綜藝節目). This went on for quite some time so I grew restless and soon departed, sight unseen. (My reason for observation from obscurity? I didn’t want to become part of the show!)
Later on I asked about what I had witnessed. I have seen similar shows in the past but they were generally geared toward creating a lively atmosphere (rènào 熱鬧) for a temple event such as a god’s birthday. This particular show had been setup adjacent to a temple but it didn’t have the same feel to it. From what I heard they were likely selling “weird medicine”, snake oil cures, and using blatant sex appeal to stimulate interest in their wares. The fact that the audience is mostly old men provides some clues as to what those products might be.
At any rate, such variety shows are not uncommon across most of Taiwan 台灣, but they aren’t always so sleazy.