Bullet train matchmaker

That time a 75-year-old passenger tried to set me up with his son…

A Taiwan High Speed Rail bullet train exiting a tunnel.
Taiwan High Speed Rail. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Chapter 1: Purposeful selfies

Last Saturday I took the bullet train north for a weekend in Taipei. I had a window seat.

At Taichung High Speed Rail Station, an elderly man boarded and sat next to me. I had my AirPods on, but nodded to acknowledge him and he smiled back.

As the train accelerated away, the elderly man started taking selfies—in the slow and determined manner of person unfamiliar with technology.

He carefully framed and reviewed each shot, before then trying again.

Initially, he held his phone directly out in front. But after a few minutes, he adjusted his technique—holding the phone out over the aisle and angling it to ensure I was very clearly in the shot.

I noticed him sending photos of me to someone on LINE.

He thought he was being subtle.

If this had happened in New Zealand, I would’ve protested. But here in Taiwan, language and cultural differences—plus my determination not to embarrass an elder who was somehow excited to see me—meant I just shut up and accepted it.

But, it turned out, what was happening was more purposeful than I’d realized.

And I should’ve felt very, very flattered…


Chapter 2: His English is very good

As we approached Taipei Main Station, I removed my AirPods and started to pack things away.

The elderly man tapped me on the shoulder and showed me his phone. On screen was a long conversation in LINE, all in Chinese. Except for one message in English, which he pointed to:

WHERE ARE YOU FROM?

He read this aloud in slow, careful English.

I replied in Chinese “I’m a New Zealander, but I live in Kaohsiung now.”

In the three minutes of mostly-English conversation that followed, I learned the man was 75 years old, and that he’d traveled to Taichung City to visit his son.

He asked my age, and I said in Chinese “I’m 43 years old.”

He told me his son speaks very good English, and scored a 9 in the IELTS exam.

(Last night, a friend told me this is equivalent to native-level English proficiency. But at the time I didn’t know the scoring system so could only assume a 9 was impressive. “Wow, your son is very smart!” I told him, in slow, careful English.)

The man continued:

“He has a very good job!”

“That is great!” I said.

“He is very good at computer code!”

“That is great!” I said.

“His English is very good!” he told me a second time.

“Your son is very smart!” I said, a second time.

And then he showed me a photo.

His son was roughly my age, but with the improbable good looks and impressive personal style of a K-pop star.

I wanted to pay another compliment, but realized—as I was starting my sentence—I didn’t know if it would be culturally appropriate to say he looked handsome.

I urgently thought of other ways to finish the sentence in simple, affirming English…

“He looks very……… healthy!” I said.

The man gave a knowing smile, and raised his eyebrows and nodded as he told me…

“He is single!”


Chapter 3: You go first

Thankfully, the train was stopping as he spoke. The man stood up and moved to the aisle, blocking other passengers as he gestured for me to exit first.

I said “Please, you go first, I will get my bag.”

“OK!” he said, with a smile.

He disembarked. I waited for the other passengers leave too, then collected my bag from the luggage area and exited the train.

There were hundreds of people ahead of me on the platform.

I didn’t see him again.