Human Touch: Sex & Taipei City by Yu-Han Chao

The Taipei of Yu-Han Chao’s debut story collection Sex & Taipei City both bustles and glistens. It’s a city of industry and aspiration—skyscrapers and metro trains, prep schools and department stores. Yet beneath the veneer lies something seedier and more lurid. Not the karaoke bars where “princesses” in high heels rent out their attention by the hour, nor the betel nut booths in which young women flaunt their bodies beyond the neon lights. No, in Sex & Taipei City—a captivating, panoramic portrait of intimacy and isolation—the most perverse and secretive place is the human heart.
Take the character of Lee Lei, who rebels against her abusive husband by spitting into his omelet, releasing her resentment “little by little, so that I can still like him.” Or Lily, a music teacher who loses her students one by one because she refuses to wear a bra, attempting to subvert Taiwanese mores by “[not] acting all ashamed of the female body.” Or Sonnie, a bachelor in his thirties who remains closeted because in Asia, “the word ‘gay’ did not really exist unless you were making fun of someone.”
This rich, diverse collection is less about sex than it is about longing and loss. The characters of Sex & Taipei City—who run the gamut of age, gender and class—are more repressed than fulfilled, their desires often stifled by the East Asian values of modesty and politeness. There’s no “true love” or “happily ever after” in these stories, yet Chao’s technique is so nimble and her touch so light, the collection as a whole manages to resist both pity and pessimism.

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