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