Saturday, September 3, 2011
Sunday, July 3, 2011
In my experience in Taiwan, no one will ever tell a foreigner that their Chinese is bad. Instead there appears to be a coded scale of compliments. Below is my attempt at decoding this scale.
Oh, you speak Chinese? = A for effort. This is an acknowledgment of your effort.
Your Chinese is good. = I am impressed you can put a sentence together considering how hard our language is.
Wow! You speak Chinese! = OMG, your white and I can actually understand what you are trying to tell me!
Wow! Your Chinese is good! = Ok, this is getting really weird now. White people can't speak Chinese.
Your Chinese is really good. = If you weren't so nervous we could probably have an actual conversation. We should hang out more often so I can teach you.
Why do you speak Chinese? = Obviously, Chinese is too hard for foreigners, so there must be something I am missing here. Was your great great grandma Chinese?
Saturday, June 4, 2011
Thursday, May 26, 2011
This photo is courtesy of my expat friend Meggan in Taipei. It was posted to Facebook and was commented on by some other female expats in Taiwan, part of which I have reproduced here (with permission):
“Krista-Lee: "no matter how horrid you turn out to be ..." wow what a vote of confidence for Philippine men!
Anna: I feel like I have heard this verbatim from the men I met there...
Krista-Lee: yeah Anna, I heard something similar from an expat during his explanation on why he doesn't date white women.”
I have written here before about the joys of being a female expat. I said previously that it gets easier, and it does, in part because we just get used to the way things are here.
As can be derived from the text in the photo this warning was not about white women in Taiwan, but there is a special challenge in being a minority woman in Asia. All the expat women I know here occasionally travel to other areas of Asia and come back with stories; more than one have echoed the sentiment described here.
Although on one level this does disturb me because of the rash generalization being made, this text did not offend me. On one hand it was a reminder of how very lonely living in Asia can be, but on the other hand it makes my very appreciative of my independence. Yes, I would say that in my case that text is probably accurate. There is a reason I have never been married; and if I ever do, I would likely leave a man before I found out “how horrid” he could be.
I guess (something approximating) equality kills the romance.
Sunday, May 22, 2011
This past Wednesday there was a raid drill in Taipei. It began at 2pm while I was still in class. Being a Chinese language class, naturally all of the students were foreigners and none of us knew what was happening when the sirens went off. Our teacher politely explained that it was a raid drill and that we would not be able to leave campus until 2:30pm. When someone asked why they have raid drills, she said “in case we get raided,” and I immediately added, “in case China invades.” My teacher just smiled and nodded her head.
Technically speaking I was alive for the end of the US Cold War, but it ended before I was old enough to be politically conscious of its reality. It has been for me more of a historical event I have read about. The Chinese Civil War is also a historical event I have read about and not a lived reality (of course this would be the case since my parents weren’t even born yet when it started and my family isn’t Chinese). Legally speaking, the Chinese Civil War never ended though, and so technically that would make this a cold war now – if you can call two countries with economic ties at war.
I knew everything in that last paragraph before Wednesday, but on Wednesday a new reality sunk into me. I am living in the center of the capital city of a country whose neighbor has a lot of missiles pointed directly at it.
On Wednesday the bustling city of Taipei shut down. I walked out to the gate of campus and looked upon an empty street. A street that is normally a major thoroughfare and is always packed. There were police at the intersection to ensure that no vehicles or pedestrians were moving about. It was creepy.
Oddly, it was also peaceful. This was the first time I have experienced quiet since moving to Taipei. Although the raid drill did on one level bring a new appreciation to me about the reality of the political situation here, this does not mean it brought any fear. It would not benefit China to invade and it would not benefit Taiwan to voluntarily join them, so from my perspective I don’t foresee an end to the status quo anytime soon.
Saturday, May 7, 2011
I recently became the topic of a Facebook thread. I certainly did not mean for this to happen, but it did; and for reasons unrelated to the couple of personal insults directed towards me, I did get a little angry.
The thread started with a post about the concealed carry law being proposed in my home state. I will admit up front that I know nothing about this. I have been a little too busy to keep up-to-date on all of the wonderful ways in which Walker wants to put WI on the path to 3rd-world-ism. I digress.
In response to the post I made a joke concerning weapons, Bush, Palin, and Walker. My friend who made the post recognized this as such since he is a wise person and can realize that I do not lay awake at night waiting for Palin to shoot me from a helicopter hovering over my home in Taiwan. My friend is for the proposal, but I am not. This is not a problem between us because, again, my friend is a wise person and can understand that a difference in opinion does not mean that either of us thinks poorly of the other.
One of his FB-BFFs however got personal with me. I have seen posts from this individual before and so I already know to expect as much from him. I am not personally bothered by this. My sweet friend perhaps was bothered though because he proceeded to defend me. The thread digressed into a discussion over my intelligence. I would have been amused, but then the “difference” between “intelligent” and “educated” got thrown into the mix. This is where I needed a break from FB.
I won’t deny that intelligent and educated are not synonyms, however, this particular little debate has arisen in several conversations I have been a part of or have read online recently and the implications being made are clear. Educated has become a dirty word in American English, and intelligence has become a meaningless word that describes everyone.
The attacks on education in my own state aside, I see this also in the right wing descriptions of president Obama as well as in other areas of the media. To be a teacher is to suggest that one wasn’t intelligent enough to do something meaningful with their life, and to be educated is to be shunned. The educated have become the ranting sidewalk lunatics. “Just ignore the crazy man sweetie, he’s just educated, he doesn’t count.”
I don’t have this problem here in Taiwan. I don’t go around with a sandwich board announcing that I am here to do research for my PhD, but when people ask me what I am doing here, I tell them the truth. In some cases people react as if they are a bit intimidated, but in most cases people are simply impressed. Either way I have never been treated like a leper for what I have chosen to do with my life, and rather than being ignored when I give my opinion on something I am engaged in healthy debate on the topic and taken seriously. I can say the same for my life in the States.
This is, in my opinion, the rot of American culture. America is a great country, but this is at the heart of our current slow downfall. It makes my angry because I am an American, wherever in the world I may be, and I am tired of being the brunt of other people’s jokes. Yes, America, many people around the world still envy the image of you, but just as many are laughing at you.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
As if speaking a foreign language wasn’t complicated enough, I usually find it especially hard to code switch fluently within one conversation. On a day to day basis I don’t have too much trouble here in Taipei because my social life is fairly compartmentalized. I speak Chinese all day long outside of my home, and only use English to Skype home with my family in the morning or at night to chat with my American boyfriend.
This past week, however, has been a different story. The hostel where I live became packed with highly social tourists and the common room became a mix of Korean, Japanese, Mandarin, and English. Some of the people spoke only one language, a few spoke two, and then there was me. I am native to English, my Chinese is not too shabby, and several years ago I studied Japanese. Now I would not dream of claiming at this point in time that I can speak Japanese, but hearing it triggered my memory and I was able to stumble through some small talk.
Upon hearing me code switch between three different languages others in the room began looking to me to translate. I was not a good translator. As I said, I don’t really speak Japanese and the constant code switching was actually making me forgot how to say things in English. By the end of the night I was exhausted. My head had literally begun to hurt from the effort.
I walked over to the door of the balcony for some fresh air right when someone new walked in. Introductions were made as well as inquiries into his language ability. I normally would have introduced myself, but I was too tired to care at that point. Then I heard a couple of people trying to explain who I was and claiming that I could translate – giving more credit than was due – and so I cut them off and said, (in Japanese) “I studied Japanese in college but” (in Chinese) “now I study Chinese and so I forgot how to speak Japanese.” During this all the English speakers had that look of confusion on their faces, waiting for translation and so I immediately translated it into English without missing a beat.
The funny thing is that when I try to seamlessly code switch like that I can’t do it. I will forget words or mix up the languages. In this case though, I didn’t even think about it, I just spoke the language appropriate to the person I was directing my comments to. It actually felt natural.
Perhaps my brain can do better without me
Sunday, February 20, 2011
I have attended 2 of the last 3 days of the 2011 Taipei Game Show, but more about that later. For tonight, a moment of unrelated indulgence.
On my way home from the TGS tonight, standing on the platform in the City Hall MRT station, I was watching the crowds of high school boys all around me going through their pictures of the day. Its not that this bored me, but I am an inquisitive person and so at one point I glanced up and looked at the screen hanging above the platform. The screen was a flat screen t.v. monitor that are common in MRT stations. Among other things, weather, eta for trains, and local news will frequently be broadcast. Tonight, there was a scroll going up the bottom of the screen with world news blurbs.
Much to my surprise I saw WISCONSIN on the news. I couldn’t believe it. I momentarily forgot about all the gamers surrounding me and stared at the screen. 70,000 protesters, it said, were showing their displeasure of Walker’s proposal to dismantle the public workers’ unions.
The world is watching.
I never thought I would see my home on the news half way around the world, but I happy to see I can follow the protests even while waiting for the subway.
I love living in Taipei, but I have to admit that I really do wish I was back home right now. I know many people who are in Madison right now and my spirit goes with them. I am so proud of each and every one of them.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
After a semester of prelims, proposals, and teaching anthro 102 I decided I needed to unplug and take a rest before I delved head first into my 18-month field research project. So I dropped my suitcases off in Taipei, slept off the jetlag and hopped the next flight for Bangkok. Bangkok is fun, but not relaxing, so after one night there I took an overnight bus, waited for the tide to come in, took a 4 hour boat ride, and then a motorcycle taxi to this remote little resort (broadly defined) I had stayed at the year before.
Last year was my first time on this island. I was in awe over the white sand beach, the clear blue water of the bay, and the lack of all the technology that has become an extension of myself. It was, I will admit, difficult for me to so thoroughly unplug. I even packed my little computer despite having been told before hand that the resort had no Internet connection. After the first few days, I didn’t miss my cell phone or computer at all. No communication with the outside world meant that for the first time since I began school at the age of 4, I had nothing I had to do.
When I returned this year, about a week ago (I think, but I do not keep track of the days while I am here) I expected, and wanted, that same experience. When I arrived everything looked more or less the same, except that there were more people here than before. The prices had all been raised, we were told, because the owner was improving the bungalows. When my boyfriend and I got to our bungalow we found a fresh coat of paint and a door on the bathroom (last year it had only been separated from the main room by a sarong hanging from the ceiling). We dropped off our backpacks and leisurely made our way to the restaurant for a bite to eat.
The restaurant also looked the same. It is a raised platform with a roof and no walls – perfect view of the sea. The sound of the ocean and the call of the geckos crawling on the ceiling above us was obscured by the conversations of the new influx of people, but it was not unpleasant. I could hear German (tourists), Burmese (the servers), Thai (the owners or managers), and at least 3 different dialects of English (North American, British, and Australian). There was also something strange. Though most of the tables were abuzz with conversation, there were a couple tables of people silently staring into computer screens.
I was too tired from the trip here to ask anyone about the laptops that evening, but I did inquire so first thing the next morning. Sure enough, the owners had installed WiFi since my last visit.
Now I know I could have left my computer in Taipei, but I didn’t. I brought my computer because I bring it with me everywhere, and even though I was not expecting a connection here, I like to have my laptop here so that in case of emergency I can walk to town (3km away) and contact friends and family as needed. Besides, under the conditions I expected, even with my computer, I would have been cut off because laptop or not there was still no Internet easily accessible…
But now there is Internet here…
I came here to relax and unplug, but at this very moment I am staring out at the Andaman and blogging.
I avoided getting online for the first 2 days, but the conundrum of the Internet coming to my island paradise kept rolling around in my head until I just had to get it out. This isn’t stressing me out – exactly – but I do now feel compelled to check my email and Facebook page daily. This is counterproductive. The point of being here is to not feel compelled to do anything at all, and yet at the same time there is a comfort in being able to communicate with the outside world.
I have not yet decided whether or not I like that there is now Internet here (as my Facebook friends have already seen). Last year it took me a week to fully relax and take on the laid back island pace of life; perhaps I have just not yet reached that point.