My life in Tai­wan “B

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Hav­ing stayed in Tai­wan for about one year, the ami­able young man said he feels Tai­wanese peo­ple are nice, and have a ten­dency to wel­come for­eign­ers. He him­self feels very wel­comed.

In South Korea, about one in 10 peo­ple study Chi­nese. Asked what drove him to want to learn the for­eign lan­guage, Lee ex­plained that he has been in­ter­ested in lan­guage­learn­ing since young, and hav­ing lived in Australia for three years to learn English, he wants to take on an­other chal­lenge by com­ing to Tai­wan and learn a dif­fer­ent lan­guage.

A lot of Kore­ans learn Chi­nese be­cause they see the po­ten­tial of the Chi­nese mar­ket, Lee said. “Maybe in the fu­ture, they can do busi­ness in China or Tai­wan.” The mar­ket is much big­ger than South Korea, he opined.

Lee prob­a­bly feels the same way since he is ma­jor­ing in busi­ness, but he also re­veals an­other ob­jec­tive. “I want to im­prove the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Tai­wan and South Korea and bring them closer,” he con­tin­ued.

Learn­ing Chi­nese is not easy, how­ever, es­pe­cially for begin­ners like Lee. The classes that Korean stu­dents at­tend in Lunghwa Uni­ver­sity are taught in English and some­times Chi­nese. Lee can un­der­stand English well, but not so much in Chi­nese. It is kind of frus­trat­ing, he re­marked.

And it’s not just in schools. Lack­ing a good com­mand of the lan­guage has made it more dif­fi­cult for Lee to make Tai­wanese friends and do other things in ev­ery­day life.

Since he is not tak­ing Chi­nese classes in school, he is study­ing the lan­guage on his own. Be­sides hang­ing around Tai­wanese peo­ple to prac­tice, he also learns the lan­guage by watch­ing HSK (Chi­nese Pro­fi­ciency Test) videos on YouTube and study­ing a Chi­nese text­book at home.

Lee pointed out that he is still not used to Chi­nese gram­mar and vo­cab­u­lary. He is much more pro­fi­cient in English, but like many Asians, it is a lan­guage that he has been ex­posed to for much longer — 10 years. It is the South Korean stu­dent’s hope that one day he will achieve a sim­i­lar pro­fi­ciency in Man­darin.

In his view, Tai­wan and South Korea are dif­fer­ent. There are not so many scoot­ers in his home coun­try and peo­ple pre­fer spicier food there. How­ever, he likes Tai­wanese food too, es­pe­cially fried rice, dumplings, hot and sour soup, and other lo­cal tra­di­tional food. y the way, we’ve mov­ing to Taipei for a year!” Those were the words my then-fi­ancé ut­tered to me af­ter he pro­posed. He re­mem­bers it dif­fer­ently, of course. I do re­mem­ber him ex­press­ing an in­ter­est i in teach­ing English as a sec­ond lan­guage in Tai­wan, but I never knew how dead set he was on the idea; eleven years later we are still here. It hasn’t been an easy ad­just­ment but on the other hand, it hasn’t been bad ei­ther. I com­pare living in Tai­wan to hav­ing a very ec­cen­tric rel­a­tive, like a rather odd un­cle; there are lots of strange things you’ll never un­der­stand or com­pletely grasp, but once in a while there are mo­ments of clar­ity and you’re on the same page.

So, about that odd un­cle in the fam­ily, the one you al­most never see (but hear about a lot), and be­ing around him is al­ways a bit awk­ward. Some­times that old un­cle smells funny. Here in Tai­wan, there is no doubt that the oc­ca­sional stroll through one of its many night mar­kets will bring you to a pun­gent wall of what I can only de­scribe as cab­bage gone bad dipped in sul­fur, and sur­pris­ingly this stench comes from one of the very popular del­i­ca­cies with a hor­ri­ble moniker, “stinky tofu.” To the ret­i­cent for­eigner any­thing with the word “stinky” in it does not in­spire an ap­petite, let alone the smell. But to our ec­cen­tric un­cle, it’s like eat­ing choco­late dipped in more choco­late; he slurps it down as if it’s the last bot­tle of Coca-Cola in the desert. We’re talk­ing about fer­mented brine, re­mem­ber.

He of­fers us a taste and swears it’s de­li­cious, I gri­mace, fight­ing the urge to flee, how­ever in or­der to un­der­stand my un­cle I try it and to my sur­prise, over time I have come to ap­pre­ci­ate this strange phe­nom­e­non. Even if I have to oc­ca­sion­ally pinch my nose in or­der to get it down, this is some­thing I do for him be­cause it brings us closer to­gether. Our bond over food also extends to chicken feet, pigs blood and dried squid — not the av­er­age snacks a Westerner craves but we go with it or, at least we try. How­ever once in a while, my un­cle is es­pe­cially ex­cited to prove to me that he can be ac­com­mo­dat­ing to my West­ern palate, so when he tells me he has pizza on of­fer, I smile in grat­i­tude un­til I find out the pizza in ques­tion is loaded with may­on­naise, green peas, car­rots and some­thing that looks like it’s not quite dead yet. How can I dis­ap­point him and his gen­eros­ity? Af­ter all, you can barely taste the odd toppings if you force your­self to stop breath­ing while chew­ing.

An­other char­ac­ter­is­tic of my weird un­cle is that he has strange habits. For me, my un­cle re­spects the de­ceased by send­ing them off with a lit­eral bang! Well, more like cym­bals and gongs, but did I men­tion that some­times there are strip­pers in­volved? I re­mem­ber be­ing snatched from a peace­ful slum­ber by a sud­den ca­coph­ony of ran­dom noise with no rhythm, that in­cluded cym­bals, drums, and blar­ing horns just out­side my win­dow. What started at 8 a.m. turned into an all day af­fair of a cel­e­bra­tion of life, a re­spect for the dead and a party with danc­ing girls. I lit­er­ally wrote off any peace I had planned; I mean a nice quiet free day af­ter a hec­tic work week is over­rated any­way and no mat­ter the oc­ca­sion my un­cle does know how to have a good time.

Then there are al­ways those mo­ments when un­cle says weird things that you don’t un­der­stand, if I can count the many times where I felt un­easy when things were lost in trans­la­tion, es­pe­cially when you’re not only deal­ing with Chi­nese but also Tai­wanese and bad English. It’s equally em­bar­rass­ing when you think you un­der­stand af­ter suf­fer­ing in si­lence through an­i­mated and awk­ward hand ges­tures that make no sense at all, then you both nod be­cause you as­sume you’ve made a break-through and then you sud­denly re­al­ize you’re in Ban­qiao when you re­ally wanted to go to Bade Rd., so you just grin and bear it be­cause re­mem­ber you’re still in the “get­ting to know you phase” and this re­quires pa­tience and mak­ing an ef­fort to meet my un­cle half­way.

The list goes on and on, but as with ev­ery quirky rel­a­tive, there are mo­ments when you can both sit and smile and en­joy each other’s com­pany be­cause de­spite those lit­tle frus­tra­tions there is un­der­stand­ing and ac­cep­tance, there is mu­tual re­spect and ap­pre­ci­a­tion for each other’s dif­fer­ences, foibles and all. Some­times I have to re­mind my­self that my un­cle might think I’m the strange one.

This is our eleventh year in Tai­wan and at the end of the day, de­spite ev­ery­thing, the peo­ple are amaz­ing and they have looked af­ter us, at least that’s my per­cep­tion. Keep in mind, I haven’t quite grasped the lan­guage yet, so it’s easy to as­sume that the old “smile and nod” are ges­tures of ap­proval. I hope they are, and I think that for the most part they’re at least an ex­pres­sion of good­will.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent sur­vey pub­lished by the Na­tional Devel­op­ment Coun­cil (NDC, 國發會), 88 per­cent of re­spon­dents want adul­tery to re­main in Tai­wan’s law books as a crim­i­nal act. As of Thurs­day, 8,710 of re­spon­dents dis­agreed with the idea that adul­tery should be de­crim­i­nal­ized, while 1,236 of par­tic­i­pants were in fa­vor. The on­line sur­vey, open un­til Aug. 11 at http://join.gov.tw/openup/, is not con­ducted through ran­dom sampling and may not be rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Tai­wanese pop­u­la­tion.

Whether you agree or dis­agree with the sur­vey, why don’t you share some com­ments to be pub­lished in next week’s PrimeTalk? Send sub­mis­sions to com­mu­nity@chi­na­post.com.tw and in­clude your real name, na­tion­al­ity, con­tact num­ber, some pho­tos and a pro­file. Spec­ify “Eye on Tai­wan” in the sub­ject line and en­sure your sub­mis­sion is be­tween 300 and 500 words. Writ­ers whose pieces are se­lected for pub­li­ca­tion will re­ceive one month’s free sub­scrip­tion to The China Post.

Danny Lee poses a photo for

in Taoyuan on Thurs­day, June 11. Lee

is study­ing busi­ness

at Lunghwa Uni­ver­sity of Science and Tech­nol­ogy

( ). Want­ing to learn Chi­nese

and ex­pe­ri­ence

Tai­wan drove the young

man across the sea

to the is­land.

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