My life in Taiwan “B
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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
Taiwan drove the young
man across the sea
to the island.