The Dreaded Mass Mailing
This is precisely what I intended not to do, i.e. a mass update on life in Taipei, but I’ve had so many questions I felt it would be far more efficient to do it this way; I really don’t need the typing practice that would come from individual emails.
So, a few notes on Taipei living. Taiwan, officially the Republic of China, or ROC (as opposed to “the mainland”, the Peoples’ Republic of China- AKA the PRC) is an interesting place to be an American – probably one of the most US-friendly places on earth these days, for the obvious reason that the good ol’ R.O.C. is completely dependent on the US for its very survival. But last week the airwaves were saturated with quotes from American officials saying that they were happy that Taiwan was “doing its part in the war against terrorism.” There is a great deal of support for US plans re Iraq, especially given the (Mainland) PRC reservations; but sometimes you wonder if there wouldn’t be widespread support in Taiwan for the US if it planned to invade France as a retaliation for its unkind treatment of American tourists. The ROC first lady leaves for an “unofficial” trip to the US this week, which is much talked about as a sign of the Bush administration’s support for Taiwan: The Democratic China.
On an individual basis, I’ve had small children come up to me at the bus stop to ask if I’m American, if I speak Chinese, if I like it here, and if they can help me with anything. Twice I’ve had strangers follow me around the Gongguang Night Market begging to buy me tea. One bus driver wouldn’t let me off the bus last week until I convinced him that I wasn’t lost and that he didn’t need to help me – I was quite certain I was getting off at the right stop (I didn’t convince him until I described the exact location of the store I was going to relative to the bus stop – in Chinese). Another bus driver wouldn’t let me pay for my ride, but instead thanked me profusely (in English and Chinese) for riding his bus. My favorite story about the America-fixation actually comes from my Russian classmate, Natalie. She was chatting with some Taiwanese people in a story last week (in English), and they asked her where she was from. She told them Russia, and they continued to talk. About five minutes later, they asked, “Exactly where in America is Russia?”
In addition to classes and all kinds of fun with Chinese flashcards, I’m trying to get out and be a tourist. On Saturday I visited the Taipei Zoo – it was quite nice, and certainly worth checking out if you are ever in the area – but I was delighted to find the exotic animal known as a “Holstein Dairy Cow”, from North America, in one exhibit. That brought back to mind the classic “Doonesbury” cartoon (dating from back when “Doonesbury” was actually funny) where the little Chinese boy is complaining profusely about not wanting to eat his jellied ducks web, and is sternly told by his father that he should eat and be happy, because of good fortune compared with all the starving children in West virginia; exotic depends on your frame of reference. A Holstein cow apparently really IS a rare zoo animal in some places.
I also enjoyed the English signs all over the zoo that read, “No Striding.” (Based on the Chinese and the little graphic, these should actually read, “Don’t climb the fence,” or something similar). My other favorite attractions so far include the National Palace Museum (the largest collection of Chinese Art in the world) and the Shihlin Night Market, which is a massive collection of vendors selling nearly every conceivable product known to man (and a few that I suspect are unknown) along with a wide array of interesting foods. I have a definite preference for the Shanghai steamed vegetable buns, which go nicely with milk tea.
I frequently go to lunch after Chinese class with other students (from Korea, Japan, English, Switzerland, Russia, and the US), though I am a little weak on my food vocabulary. Some of the menus are too complicated for us poor language learners, so there is usually a great element of surprise when ordering. I ordered shrimp at a restaurant last week, which came breaded and drizzled with frosting and colored candy sprinkles (once I recovered from the initial shock, it was actually quite good).
Another day we went to an “Italian” restaurant, where I was intrigued by an item in English: the “Risotto East Indies Curry Fruit Seafood”. Let’s just say it was unlike any Italian dish I’ve ever tasted (but again, good in unexpected ways). Of course, most restaurants around the campus are quite cheap – the expensive ones run up to US $4 for a meal that includes soup, tea, and some kind of main course – so there is really nothing to lose. My skill with chopsticks improves every day, though I still occasionally fling bits of rice at people inadvertently. The fact that I am obviously a foreigner (and most likely American!) means this is instantly forgiven, though I have been brought an unasked-for spoon on occasion, usually accompanied by sympathy and understanding.
Copyright 2004 by Meredith Oyen