Sunday, October 31, 2010

Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?!

I have a cold this Halloween weekend...bleh.

Today I went to B&Q, which is a Home Depot type of store here. I needed to get some adhesive to glue down the glide runner in the track for the sliding doors into my bedroom area (you can see the doors in my apartment tour) ----------------->

So I found the adhesive aisle. I needed to get a glue that could attach plastic to wood. However, all the labels are written in Chinese--as would be expected--and I didn't have hours to spare trying to look up the words in my electronic dictionary. So I picked out a couple of likely candidates, judging from the pictures on the packages.

I approached a B&Q employee who was standing at the end of the glue aisle and asked him, "請問,我要這個...跟...木頭. 哪個可以用...?"

This works out to, "Excuse me, I want this [showing him my piece of plastic] with wood [pantomiming gluing the plastic to a wood shelf nearby]. Which one can be used?" [showing him the two adhesives]

My Chinese vocabulary was severely limited; however, I thought the words I did use, combined with my Oscar-worthy body language, would adequately convey my simple inquiry.

Without even seeming to want to try to understand me, the guy said to wait and he'd get some English-speaking help. He went off to the distant front of the store, and I wondered if I would ever see him again.

I looked around for someone else who might help me. I spotted two female employees that were waiting in the aisle, poised to help customers. Alas, when my questioning eyes caught theirs, they got panicked looks in their faces--probably assuming I would barrage them with English--and quickly pretended to be busy with other tasks.

I was getting a little peeved because I felt all of this was unnecessary. It was a very simple inquiry ("A or B?") and I hadn't used any English yet. But, a foreigner walks into a store and everyone panics because they assume he can't speak a word of Chinese, and they doubt their English ability.

By the way, did you know that our 31st President and First Lady, Herbert and Lou Hoover, spoke Mandarin?

Anyway, back to the story. The original employee eventually came back, empty-handed so to speak, so he tried to enlist the help of the two women whom I previously mentioned. They were having none of that, and quickly tried to find a fourth employee who could possibly help this wretched anglophone in their midst. My "說中文OK吧" (Let's speak Chinese, it's OK) fell on deaf ears.

At last, the hapless trio managed to flag someone down. I explained my dilemma to the guy, who seemed to have no difficulty understanding my limited Chinese. He read the packages for a few seconds, handed me one, and said in English, "This one."

Why couldn't I have found this guy in the first place?

Although I knew their hearts were in the right place--doing all that's necessary to assist the customer--that much drama didn't seem warranted for a US$3.00 tube of glue.

So, to my adopted compatriots: Don't be shy to use your English, no matter how limited you think it is. At the same time, though, please don't overlook my attempts to speak Chinese.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Anniversary in Taiwan

Today marks 2.5 years since I arrived in Taiwan. What did I do to celebrate? Nothing, just mundane errands.

I skipped my Chinese class this morning because I didn't go to bed until 3:30am. Long story short, it took me that long to locate, download, and watch the latest episode of Survivor that I could access in Taiwan.

I filled out my absentee voting ballot and mailed it. I'm very curious if Proposition 19--legalizing marijuana in California--will pass.

I went to the store to buy some toothpaste (Black Man brand).

I picked up a biandang for lunch.

Pretty boring, I know.

OK, here's a story from Tuesday. I went to a nearby clinic to get my yearly flu shot. As I was filling out paperwork at the reception counter, a middle-aged Taiwanese woman, who was also at the counter, got a wide-eyed look on her face when I presented my National Health Insurance card. She then proceeded to make remarks to the receptionist about how surprising it was that I would have an insurance card.

I got a bit upset because she had an arrogant tone, and apparently she figured I couldn't understand her Chinese. I turned to her and, a bit rashly, blurted out, "我住台灣, 所以我有健保卡." (I live in Taiwan, so I have an insurance card) I felt bad for getting a bit testy, but that feeling vanished when she haughtily looked me over and asked (in English), "Oh, are you Taiwanese?"

I shot back, "不是, 我是美國人, 可是我在台灣工作." (No, I'm American, but I work in Taiwan.) I so wanted to add, "and I pay taxes" but I don't know how to say 'taxes' in Chinese, and at that point I refused to speak English.

I mention this story for two reasons. First, to show that Taiwan does have its negative sides, no matter how much I may wax poetic about it. (Although the vast majority of Taiwanese I've met are friendly). And second, now having been the victim of "it's OK to talk about him in front of his face because he doesn't understand"--of which I've been guilty--I'm determined not to do this to anyone else.

I think tonight after work I'll celebrate my 2.5 years here by eating yuyuan douhua (bean curd with sweet potato and taro) and watching mahjong on TV.

So Taiwanese :-)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

An inspirational parent

I hope Tomarra Finley's legacy of loving self-sacrifice will help her children cope with the loss of their mother.

Louisville woman saves kids from fire, loses life

Saturday, September 25, 2010

May I take your order?

[Taken from Jon Rahoi's blog Gwailo Go Home!]

It was a night like any other – people inviting us out to a steakhouse. We get there, we are seated in a private room. All was well. Niceties aside, we prepare to order. I ask my wife what I should get. She says, “Go ahead and look at the menu – it’s in English.”

“Oh Really?”

I started out chuckling, then got progressively louder each time.

I’m not quite that hungry, thanks.

The scorn adds that little extra kick.

Am I the only one turned on now? Guys? Anyone?

I’m starting to get nauseous at this point, but I’m still laughing. It gets better.

I was so stunned by the English blunders herein, I had to buy the menu from them. Can you imagine the scene when that happened? I’ll never forget it. They couldn’t decide whether to be flattered or confused.

[Read the rest of Jon's hilarious experience here]

Friday, August 27, 2010

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Why I don't update my blog

Because I'm lazy!!

Naw, my beautiful daughter has been visiting me over the summer, and I just don't feel like spending so much time on the Internet. Next week summer classes start, so I'll be very busy for a few weeks.

If anyone does read this blog, have patience. I'll update it (hopefully) soon.

Amanda and I at Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall (國立中正紀念堂)

Amanda with a couple of cute students

Mahjong madness

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Chinglish (and Englinese?)


Click here for some laughs:

A Sampling of Chinglish: slideshow

Of course, I'm sure I make some howlers when I mangle Chinese (I call it “Englinese”).

Speaking of which, I'm proud to say I'm still on track. As of yesterday, I remembered the meaning, pronunciation, reading ,and writing of the following words for this week (patting myself on the back here, but also testing myself today as I write these):

有意思 yǒu yì si to be interesting
shì to try
shuō to speak
màn slow
shǒu [measure:songs]
週末 zhōu mò weekend
密碼 mì mǎ password
to drink
愉快 yú kuài happy
吸煙 xī yān to smoke
肉絲 ròu sī shredded meat
de [particle:manner/degree]
néng can (physically)
可以 kě yǐ can (permission)
huì can (learned)
tīng to hear, listen
茄子 qié zi eggplant
青椒 qīng jiāo green pepper
huà word
shì matter, affair
nán difficult
有一點 yǒu yì diǎn slightly
意思 yì si meaning
好像 hǎo xiàng to seem to be
jiǔ alcohol
niàn to read
番茄 fān qié tomato
zhēn real, true
做事 zuò shì to take care of matters
畫畫 huà huà to paint, draw
xiě to write
jiāo to teach
fàn food, cooked rice
點飯 diǎn fàn to order food
chàng to sing
無線上網 wú xiàn shàng wǎng wireless Internet
味道 wèi dào flavor
現在 xiàn zài now

There are two words from this week that I keep forgetting how to write, although I can recognize the meaning and pronunciation when I see them:

不錯 bú cuò not bad
跳舞 tiào wǔ to dance

Did you notice that there are two words above pronounced exactly alike? SHÌ (試 to try) and SHÌ (事 matter).pulling hair These homophones significantly complicate my learning.

Add to these some other words that I already know—

SHÌ (是 to be)
SHÌ (市 city,market)
SHÌ (式 style)
SHÌ (視 part of the word for TV)
SHÌ (世 part of the word for world)

Plus some other SHIs that I know with different tones

SHĪ (師 part of the word for teacher)
SHĪ (獅 lion)
SHÍ (十 ten)
SHÍ (時 hour)
SHÍ (石 stone)
SHǏ (屎 excrement)

—well, the picture sums it up pretty well.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Proud of myself

This morning, I did NOT turn on my computer the first thing. Instead, I made some coffee, unplugged my laptop, put it on the OTHER SIDE OF THE ROOM, and proceeded to do one hour of calligraphy practice, and one hour of Chinese study.

Yes, it's gotten to that point: If I want to get anything worthwhile accomplished, I have to force myself to stay away from the damn Internet.

If felt good. No, it felt great! Can I keep it up? This week will be a test for me.

By the way, here are some photos of my weekend activities. Enjoy!

Click on photos to enlarge

Sunday, May 9, 2010

omg Omg OMG!

OK, so maybe three OMGs is a bit much. Still, I was totally stoked to find hazelnut syrup and Dr. Pepper in Taoyuan! (on Da You Rd. [大有路], near the entrance to Tiger Head Mountain).

They also had tons of baking ingredients, spices (with English labels), and hard to get items like real pickles, jalapeño peppers, and sour cream. Unfortunately, some of the items are hit-and-miss; so, while they may not have Dr. Pepper the next time I go there, they could very well have tortilla chips.

Had a great day today: Calligraphy class in the morning and mini golf in the afternoon. Read all about it in the next entry. Right now, though, I'm eating Zatarain's red beans & rice and attempting to bake cookies in a toaster oven.

The wine is helping.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

2 years in Taiwan

Today, April 15, 2010, marks my two year anniversary in Taiwan. Here are a few nostalgic pictures from my first days here.

Click on photos to enlarge.

My very first photo in Taiwan: The lines at airport immigration. Even that was new and exciting for me.My friends and hosts, Marc and Zenny, at their welcoming front door.I was soon introduced to what would become one of my favorite fruits here, 蓮霧, aka "wax apple"

There were plenty of cultural differences to take in, such as the abundance of scooters......humorous English......and new ways of shopping.

But I discovered--and, two years later, still believe--that the best thing about Taiwan is its kind, hardworking, generous people.

Many, many thanks to my family and friends, in Taiwan and in America, who have encouraged me, supported me, and have made me a part of their lives. Here's to next year's anniversary, and beyond!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Day trip with friends (photos)

On Sunday I went to Miaoli County (苗栗縣), which is two hours south of me. My friend Alice drove us there, where we picked up her friend Jolin.


...had fresh fruit tea and pumpkin seed cookies up in the peaceful, fog shrouded hills of Nanzhuang (南庄)

...took a look at a beautiful bed & breakfast (rooms start at about US$200/night, so out of my price range, unfortunately)

...strolled along Nanzhuang Old Street and had some delicious Hakka food

...visited a well-known temple in Zhunan (竹南)

As a bonus, when we arrived at the temple we just happened to catch a group of Southern Taiwan devotees performing a visiting ceremony [video coming soon].

It's the first time I'd met Jolin (on right). She would say something in Chinese to Alice who would then interpret it for me. My Chinese comprehension is getting better, so at one point, when she asked Alice to ask me something, I turned to Jolin and told her in Chinese, "You can ask me."(你可以問我)

At least that's what I thought I said.

The word for 'ask' is pronounced "wèn", with a falling tone. I guess I said it as "wěn", with a dipping tone. So, what I had actually said to Jolin, after having known her for only a couple of hours, was, "You can kiss me."(你可以吻我) LOL

The entire photo album is here: Be sure to read the photo captions to get the full story.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Are you hungry? 你餓嗎?

Click photo to enlarge
This post is to make my family and friends back in America jealous.

I'm sitting down to eat dinner: A bowl of Sesame Oil Chicken (麻油雞 má yóu jī) and sticky rice (糯米飯 nuò mǐ fàn). The Sesame Oil Chicken is a soup loaded with--what else?--chicken and sesame oil, as well as ginger and spices. The sticky rice contains a slab of pork fat, mushroom, peanuts, and cilantro.

Before I came to Taiwan I probably would have read the above description and thought, "Eh, not jealous. Doesn't sound so good to me." Now, however, I crave food like this. I wonder how I'll handle the food withdrawals when and if I leave Taiwan.

My daughter Amanda will be visiting me this summer, and I plan on introducing her to as many kinds of foods as possible. I can't wait!

Oh yeah, I'm drinking an Australian merlot (2004 Yellowtail Reserve) with this meal. Don't know if it's a "proper" accompaniment, but I know I like it!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

My new roommate

Click on photos to enlarge. More photos here.

His name is 點點 Diǎn-Diǎn. Dian means 'spot', which you can see in the second photo. He's about four years old and is a sweetie. He's curled up in my lap as I write this.

I'm amazed at the calming effect he has on me.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

This is why I love languages

Here's a Japanese girl and Nigerian guy speaking Yoruba. So cool.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

I hate this guy

Not really. He speaks amazing Cantonese and Mandarin.

Um, yeah, I guess I do hate him :-Þ

Friday, March 5, 2010

China's English bubble almost ready to pop

Here's the story:

Last December the employees and students of the Kai En chain of English training centers in Shanghai arrived to their schools to a very rude surprise: After 13 years of operation, one of the oldest and best known English training companies in Shanghai had suddenly gone out of business.

The directors had fled the country, leaving the employees of the five branches owed months of back-wages and customers without refunds for their expensive pre-paid courses.

When looking at this in the context of Chinese and international trends, it could be a preview of things to come for China's English language industry.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Earthquake and breakfast

So we had another earthquake this morning. I was sitting at the computer, actually not wasting my time but studying Chinese, when my apartment started swaying. It was a 6.4, centered about 180 miles south of me.

This is my first earthquake experience since I moved into this apartment last December. I had wondered what they would feel like, being ten floors above the ground. Now I know. The room swayed back and forth for a good 20-30 seconds, starting slowly then getting stronger, and gradually subsiding (Reminded me of how my wife described labor contractions). I've heard that the up-and-down shaking of a quake is more dangerous than side-to-side swaying; I'm relieved that we had the latter type. I don't have a TV, so I don't know the situation in southern Taiwan. Guess I'll have to wait to hear from students today.

Today's Chinese speaking practice included ordering some new dishes at the breakfast shop downstairs. I'll have to remember to post a photo of the place, and of the friendly shopkeeper. No matter how busy she is, she'll have a smile on her face as I'm deperately fumbling with her language.

I got 黑胡椒豬排 hēi hú jiāo zhū pái (Black pepper pork), just like what you see on the left. I also got 酥皮餅 sū pí bǐng (crispy skin cake), kinda sorta like a flaky quesadilla, to which I added cheese and bacon.

Khatzumoto is right; learning a language is much better when you're using it to do something fun and enjoyable. For me, eating certainly fits the bill :-Þ

I also enjoy silly cartoons, so I'm going to start watching 我們這一家 Wǒmen zhè yī jiā ("This family of ours"?) Check it out!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Chinese language learning update

OK, I'm back on track, actually studying--and enjoying learning--this crazy, wonderful language.

I've signed up with Chinese Pod ( I'm past the Basic stage and am listening to the Elementary level lessons. One of my favorite learning tools of theirs is Skritter (, which I guess you could call "e-practice" for reading and writing characters. The combination of listening, reading, and writing should help my old-man memory.

As far as speaking, my goal is to force myself to speak to someone, anyone, everyday. I've found a great motivator online who uses the handle Khatzumoto. He runs the site "All Japanese All The Time" (

Briefly, this young man was living and going to school in Utah, had an intense desire to learn Japanese, but had no classes nor native speakers where he lived. So he studied on his own, using Internet resources, movies, music--whatever he could get his hands on. He totally immersed himself in the language. By 2005, after only 18 months of study, he was fluent enough to read technical material, conduct business correspondence, and have job interviews in Japanese. He landed a job as a software engineer at a large Japanese company in Tokyo, where he still lives today.

This guy is amazing; yet, he'll be the first to tell you that what he did is not amazing, that anyone can learn any language with enough desire, motivation, and, most of all, fun. Not only is he a great motivator, but his writing is funny as hell!

So, most every morning I've been visiting the breakfast shop near by apartment, ordering a different menu item in order to 1)practice my Chinese, and 2) enlarge my repertoire of Taiwanese cuisine.

This morning I got 吉士豬排堡 Jí shì zhū pái bǎo. I already knew that 豬排 is a pork patty, and 堡 means it comes on a bun, but my handy dictionary translated 吉士 as "custard." Eww. So I took the plunge and ordered it, and was pleasantly surprised. Turns out that the pork patty is breaded and stuffed with a thin slice of ham and cheese. Delicious.

UPDATE: I found out that 吉士 can be pronounced almost like "cheese" in English, hence its use in this dish. This "ham-and-cheese-stuffed" dish is also known to as 藍帶 lán dài "blue ribbon", referring to the French style cordon bleu. I just love when pieces of language all come together!

Chinese....onward and upward! 加油!