Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ni guixing?

I had an entire conversation in Chinese with a Taiwanese woman on Monday night.

I've been going to this same lady at the Night Market for dumplings a couple of times a week. I love dumplings and they're crazy cheap.

Last night I walked up and she handed me this random little fried dumpling (guo bian I think?) and told me to sit down while she was steaming the dumplings I ordered.

It took about ten seconds of eating for me to get up the nerve to try to talk to her. I asked her what the friend dumpling was called. Then I asked her what her name is: Mrs. Guo.

It was a fairly one-sided conversation limited by the six or seven things I can say about myself and the maybe eight verbs that I know in Chinese. But it was a conversation none the less.

It's amazing how much confidence you get just from one conversation.


  1. I am glad you got out of the apartment and went to Dansui. Now you had a conversation in Mandarin with a dumpling lady. Wonderful. (Was that guo tie, not guo bian?)

    I started reading your blogs a couple of weeks ago. I told my wife that you and I followed almost the same path except in the opposite direction. I am also one and a half generations ahead of you. Thirty years ago I went from Taiwan (Zhongli, to be more specific. Does that town ring a bell?) to the US for my graduate studies in journalism/cross-cultural communication/management. I almost made it to UT’s College of Communication. I accepted fellowship/assistantship from another school when UT made a last-minute request for an interview before finalizing the scholarship. For some reason, I always have a soft spot for UT. Your blog caught my attention as soon as I noticed you graduated with a journalism degree from UT and were on your way to Taoyuan, Taiwan via Seattle (more on Seattle later).

    I also experienced cultural shock when I first arrived in the US. As stipulated in the graduate fellowship, I was also required to teach a course. In order to make sure that I did not shortchange my students and made the course fun, I decided I needed to expand my experiences in the American culture. In the summer of 1980 (the year Mt. St. Helens blew up), I spent three and a half months in a beat-up Dodge Dart traveling around the US and Canada. I photographed almost everything of interest and kept a detailed diary. I studied everything from cross-cultural perspectives as I traveled. In the following semester when I started teaching, I soon realized in some aspects I knew more about America and Canada than my students which gave me tremendous confidence. The trip also confirmed my belief that US and Canada are two great countries that I will always cherish in addition to Taiwan.

    You actually have one advantage that I did not have. You probably have already noticed and experienced the fact that Taiwanese are adoringly (and sometimes unbelievably) friendly with Americans (and Canadians). So, be daring in speaking Mandarin to the locals. (Being able to speak both English and Mandarin will be a tremendous asset when you move on to something bigger and better.) Travel around the island when you get a chance. Be patient with the school management. A patient American is always appreciated.

    We are rooting for you to have a successful, fruitful, and enjoyable stay in Taiwan.

    By the way, I currently live in SEATTLE with my family.

  2. Jimmie, this is Lily, Alex G's mom and a huge fan of Megan's. I was really excited to learn you worked up the nerve to speak Mandarin to Mrs. Guo at the market. I'm following along on your adventure because I truly expect to see the same sort of growth with you that Megan experienced. When I was there last Oct she was struggling with whether or not to call it quits and I was delighted to learn she decided Taiwan was the place to stay. You will learn so much, both about Taiwan and about yourself...a priceless education that can't be taught in school. You'll go through many phases and emotions while you settle in, but know that you aren't the first to experience those emotions. Everyone does - they should warn you about the stages. Once you've settled in emotionally, then the fun really begins so keep speaking Mandarin and practicing with the locals, make friends with your favorite shops and get the heck out of your dorm room when you're in a funk. Megan holds you in such high can do it. And my hope is that when it comes time for you to leave that you take a piece of Taiwan with you in your heart, just as Megan did. (Can you tell I think she's fabulous?)