When Yoko Higashi moved to Taipei five years ago, she frequented a local restaurant on most nights to grab some dinner by herself. She had made a few friends at the language school she was attending, but after a long day studying Mandarin, she wanted some time on her own to wind down.

The owner of the establishment, however, grew concerned.

“‘Why are you always alone? I can introduce you to some people I know,’” he would tell her out of kindness, recalls Higashi, a freelance writer and editor who is now based in Hanoi, Vietnam. “He must have thought I was a lonely language student with no one to eat supper with. I don’t think he understood that I wanted some space by myself.”