When there is no common language

I don’t speak Mandarin Chinese.  I should but I don’t.  Not at all.  That means that I have plenty of experience now with situations where there is no common language.  Some strategies work.  Many strategies do not.

What doesn’t work:

Repeating yourself.  I don’t know what you are saying.  Not even if you say it louder or slower or more often.  (hah – thought only Americans did this, didn’t you?)

Writing it.  Chinese is not spelled phonetically.  Writing it for me doesn’t help.  I don’t  read the language.  Wish I did, but I don’t (yet).  I’ve had people try this by tracing characters on their hands or writing on a pad of paper.  Really doesn’t work.

Pretending I don’t exist.  I know you don’t want to try your limited English. I understand, really I do.  But I am standing there and I do want to order some food  If we try, we can work out a way to communicate. Please try.

What does work:

One word sentencesIt can be very useful if there are any words in a common language (English or Chinese).  It’s amazing how you can stretch a five word vocabulary with a few nods and grimaces to complete a transaction in the market.

Charades.  Act it out.  Point, dance, make faces – try to get your point across without words in any language. Often this works surprisingly well. But sometimes the results are just surprising.

Don’t take it too seriously.  It’s just an experiment. It’s OK to eventually laugh, shake your head, and give up.  But give it a try first.

Thank you for putting up with my limited language skills.

 

 

 

 

Adjusting Our Ears

Neither of us speak the local language.  We had some exposure to the sounds of Mandarin Chinese in Seattle, but it was not something that we heard often.  Over the past few weeks we have both noticed something unexpected.  Children playing and neighbors calling to each other in the street below our apartment sound familiar.  If we aren’t paying much attention, they sound like they are speaking English.

They’re not. They are still speaking Chinese as it is spoken in Taiwan.

The difference is that the language no longer seems incomprehensible to us.  We may not know words and phrases (other than hello and thank you, both of which we use frequently), but now the patterns of the language sound like home and in our brains we translate that familiar sound to distantly heard English.

Now we need to really learn the language.

Turkey Rice

It was a quiet weekend for us. We both got colds (Dan brought one home from school and shared).  This was the first illness either of us have had in Taiwan.  It could be that we are less stressed .  More likely, it is the reluctance of anyone here to expose others to a cough or a sneeze.   When people are sick, they stay at home.  And if they go out, say to the doctor’s office (conveniently in every neighborhood and open in the evenings), they wear masks covering mouth and nose.

On Saturday we didn’t feel too bad so we ventured out to explore a pet shop for new toys for the kitties.  (Note: the cats do not need toys. They are very happy with a large cardboard box and a couple pieces of crumpled paper.)  On the way back we passed a busy storefront that we had seen before.  Turkey Rice.  Unfortuntately for us the sign out front was the only English spoken.  But we made our needs known with some pointing and smiling.  Everyone laughed and we sat down to bowls of rice, slivered turkey, and sauce.  Wonderful food and exactly what we needed.  There was more confusion when we tried to pay.  We handed over NT 200 and were handed back NT 130.  That’s right.  US$2.10 for two bowls of turkey rice and a nice plate of sauteed greens.  We will be back.  We both agreed we would be happy to eat this every day and it is the cheapest meal we’ve found so far.  Yum.

Library Books!

There is a lovely children’s library in the park not too far from our apartment.

library

Even better, it is a lovely English language children’s library. And best of all, I can get a library card with my ARC (Alien Resident Certificate).  So today that’s exactly what I did.

books

The Chinese calligraphy book will be particularly useful.  I was very excited to find the Robin McKinley book – she’s one of my favorite authors (read Beauty if you haven’t already, and if you have, go ahead and reread it).  I didn’t know about this book of hers.

E-book readers are nice, but sometimes you just want a real book in your hands.

More Cats in the House

(this would be easier to write if I didn’t have a cat sitting on my keyboard)

Our second Taiwanese cat arrived at our house on Sunday. After a few days of hiding behind the living room curtains, he decided today to join the rest of the family.  B-day (I’m certain that’s not the correct Pinyin spelling, but he arrived with a Chinese name which sounds sort of like that) looks very Japanese according to our friends here.  He’s almost two years old and has opinions.  He also particularly likes hiding in the bookcase, on top of the refrigerator, and in the closet snuggled next to Dan’s dark colored shirts.

Our little cat has gone through several name changes.  Her name now is Chessie, after the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad mascot (“sleep like a kitten“).  She does look like that when she is asleep.

Chessie and B-day are starting to be friends.

Girl Time

Wednesday and Thursday were holidays for the teachers.  Dan decided that Thursday was a perfect time for testing the network without disturbing the rest of the staff so he planned to work that day.  Vickey wanted to explore the beaches of Taiwan and invited me on a road trip.  We got up early Wednesday morning and headed for Kenting at the southern tip of Taiwan.

Girls only road trips are great.  We ate dark chocolate mint marshmallows for breakfast, agreed that food was an important part of travel  (see the Memorable Meals post for more about our eating adventures),  and traded stories the whole way down the coast.

The hotel we contacted before leaving Taichung turned out to be both more expensive than we were promised and somewhat disappointing.  Vickey checked on every other hotel in the strip and found us a perfect spot – half the price of the first place with a lovely balcony overlooking the ocean.  It was mid-week in the off season so we almost had the place to ourselves.

beach

Kenting area beaches are nice, but they really can’t compare to American beaches. They have neither the all out kitsch of the Jersey shore nor the scenery of Oregon and Northern California.  There are many more interesting parts of Taiwan where I would rather spend my travel time.  It was good to check this one off the list, and it was great to go on a fun road trip with Vickey.

on the beach