I feel as though my Chinese listening and reading ability has improved since I’ve come to Taiwan. However, I’ll be honest, I don’t speak much, which I will be the first to admit, is horrible. The truth is, almost every NTU student has English which is better than my Chinese. Couple that with the fact that making mistakes makes me feel shy and embarrassed, and you can imagine how silent I can be in class. However, with that being said, one thing absolutely forces me to use my Chinese: speaking to service workers. Sometimes I walk away feeling incredibly successful and sometimes… not so much.
Situation 1: 7/11
I have a lot of respect for the 7/11 workers here. I’m pretty sure their contract explicitly states that they must scream 歡迎觀臨 (Welcome) and 慢走 (Goodbye) every time a customer comes and leaves, as well as saying the day’s special as quickly as humanly possible. I’ve worked in retail; I know the brain numbing reality of saying your “phrase of the day” for 8 hours straight. Therefore, I feel very, VERY bad when I can’t understand a word that comes out of their lips.
Let’s see if I can English-ify the conversations:
7/11 Clerk: Helyowelcomtasevenelevencaniheathsupfoya?
Me: Sorry, what did you say?
7/11 Clerk: *either completely without expression, or with
look of combined impatience and pity* Do you want your food heated up?
Me: Oh, sorry. Yes,
7/11 Clerk: Ok, dyagotidcard?
Me: *no words, just confused face*
7/11 Clerk: ARE YOU A STUDENT AT NTU?
Me: Oh, yes.
7/11 Clerk: Ok, great, student discount. Here’syourfoodhaveanicedaycomeagain.
Score: 7/10. I caused momentary pain to the employee, but I did manage to buy what I needed, and even got my food heated up. Perhaps my stupidity puts an interesting moment in an otherwise monotonous stream of transactions. There’s always a positive side to these things.
Situation 2: The Library
Me: Excuse me, where can I print? *except I’m using the textbook word for print, 打印, which apparently no one uses here*
Librarian: Sorry, what?
Me: Where can I print?
Librarian: You want to hit something? *looks concerned* (the verb I had learned for printing begins with the word for “hit”)
Me: No, I, um, want to take documents from the computer, and um, you know, put them on paper with a machine.
Librarian: OH, you want to PRINT.
Librarian: Use your printing card.
Me: What is a printing card?
Librarian: You go to the machine at daoemrwsmrorjwmo(words I don’t understand) and then you djoafmer. Or you can go downstairs and talk to the attendants and use their aoermowse.
Me: Um… sorry, where do I go?
Librarian: *with pity* THERE. You. go. there. Then you put money in the machine. *very slowly* Do you understand?
Me: Oh, got it. Thank you.
Score: 5/10. This woman really did sincerely want to help me, she just didn’t have a clue what I was saying. However, in the end I did manage to print my article for class, and she even gave me a slight smile when I left. I looked like I interrupted some important work-related project as well. Oops. Sorry librarian.
Situation 3: Buying Food
Me: I would like vegetable corn soup please.
Store owner: Ok. *looks up*, WOW, you can speak Chinese!
Me: Oh, well, kind of.
Store owner: You did such a great job saying “vegetable corn soup”! You can read that the sign says “vegetable corn soup?”
Me: Well, um, thanks? Yeah, I mean, I can read it… that’s how I ordered it.
Store owner: I’m so impressed. Where are you from?
Me: I’m from America, I’m an exchange student. Um… here’s the money for the soup.
Store owner: *wide eyed* Wow, America. You can read the sign. That’s amazing. I’ve never met a foreign student like
Me: Um, thank you very much. I’m… going to go eat the soup now….
Score: 8/10. This guy was genuinely nice. However, his reaction was just a little too over-the-top for ordering soup. It didn’t sound like mocking, but one can never be sure? Also, Taipei is not in lack of foreign citizens, so I would be very surprised to know that he had never met an American/European/Korean/African/Indonesian person who can say “vegetable corn soup”. If I’m really his first, I guess I feel special. It really was good soup.
Situation 4: Buying Food, part 2
Store owner: Doyouwantonebowlofriceortwo?
Me: Sorry, what?
Store owner *who is a very kindly older woman running a Buddhist vegetarian store*: Oh, I’m sorry. *slows down* We have self-serve rice in the corner. Would you like a bowl? It’s an extra 10 kuai (30 cents).
Me: Oh, yes, I’d like one bowl.
Store owner: I haven’t seen you before (the hidden meaning in this is that many international students travel in large, loud packs. I’ve gotten more than 1 brownie point here for being quiet and respectful)
Me: Oh, yeah. I’m new here, I’m a student.
Store owner: That’s great. I really hope you enjoy your time here, it’s a nice city. *proceeds to slip a good amount of free food into my bag, and sends me off with a kind smile. I’m almost sure I saw just a little bit of a wink*
Score: 10/10. BEST INTERACTION EVER. This woman made me day, if not my entire week. This woman just went off the charts on the karma scale.
Also, on an unrelated note, whereas I complained about my class load earlier, I’ve realized, each class has much less out-of-class work than UW. So really, I am fine. Ya’ll can breathe a sigh of relief (if you were holding your breath, that is).