Confessions of a 混血兒

混血兒:hùnxuè’ér; a person of mixed race

I am half-Taiwanese, but I wasn’t raised speaking Mandarin. In fact, the only phrases I used in my childhood were “xie xie”and “zai jian”, to my Poh-Poh and Gong-Gong. Besides those two phrases, I could only count to three.

I took a Chinese class with my mom and younger brother when I was about 6 years old. The only words I remember are “pingguo” (apple) and “shui” (water). Through my childhood and teenage years, the idea of delving further into the Chinese language didn’t even cross my mind.

But something happened when I was 20. I’m not sure whether it was the fact that my university was full of international students and I heard more Mandarin being spoken than ever before, that I became more aware of how many Chinese and Taiwanese friends I had that had been raised speaking their parent’s native tongue, or the fact that my Poh Poh and Gong Gong were getting older. I realized that, for the last 20 years, I had been denied an opportunity to grow up knowing a second language.

And so, I signed up for a beginner Chinese course at university. I realized though, that I’d be learning the simplified writing system as opposed to the traditonal one used in Taiwan; that many of the phrases taught were more common in mainland China than in Taiwan. But I figured that it was a start, and I naivley thought that I would have a high level of language comprehension at the semester’s end. Four months later I could finally count and give simple greetings in Mandarin, much to my Poh-Poh’s and Gong-Gong’s delight. But I still felt incomplete.

It wasn’t until eight months later that I was able to take the second level Chinese course. And truthfully, it was harder than I wanted it to be. I wanted to be able to spend 10-30 minutes on assignments and review everyday and see improvement. Instead, I would spend an hour or more and have to keep checking how to write each character, how to say each word correctly, and going back into the textbook for guidance. It didn’t help that at this time I was in 4 other courses that were taking up most of my time, and because Chinese wasn’t part of my degree requirements I pushed it to the backburner more often than not.

However, a new opportunity arose through these struggles. An opportunity to live in Taiwan for two months and take Chinese classes. I applied, was accepted, and found myself on the plane to Taipei before I knew it. For 8 weeks I took daily classes at the National Taiwan Normal University (Shida, NTNU) Mandarin Training Centre. I got to explore the capital of Taiwan, make trips to Tainan and Sun Moon Lake, visit some family that I’d never met, and make a handful of amazing friends who I still keep in contact with to this day. Living in a country where I was fully immersed in the language was (and is) the best way to learn Mandarin (any language, really).

When I got home, I was motivated to keep up speaking in Mandarin as much as possible. I could speak a little more with my grandparents, and once a week met up with a friend who had gone through the same program for conversation in Mandarin. I was also  trying to teach myself new characters through the textbooks I had bought while abroad.

But I was still a university student. Which meant that more often than not I’d only spend 10 minutes a day on Mandarin, if any time at all. School was my priority, and Mandarin became something that disheartened me. I wasn’t getting better. I was stagnant. I wanted to get better. But I wanted it to be easy. I didn’t have to work this hard for anything else, so why should this any different? There were some months I simply stopped my self-study altogether because it was easier than pushing on. The textbooks stayed at the top of my desk, simulteously collecting dust and filling me with guilt.

Now, three years after my summer in Taipei, and I’m back in Taiwan. I’m more confident approaching store owners and buying things or ordering food. Things I should’ve been ok with 3 years ago, but actions that admittingly made me super nervous. What if they don’t understand me? It’s happened before. What if they laugh at me? It’s also happened (and feels super shitty, I might add). This time, I just jump right in. Nothing lost, nothing gained. My level of comprehension has noticeably increased from last time. For the last several months, everyday, I’ve been watching Taiwanese dramas and actively listening, and writing down words and phrases that commonly come up or that I can use. I don’t know if it’s because of this, or a newfound attitude, but I feel as if I can feel my improvement.

As I’ve previously mentioned, it hasn’t been easy. Although I have loads of friends back home to speak Mandarin, I’m nervous to speak with them. A stranger would be easier to talk to. I’m not sure if this is fear of judgement or simple shyness, but I haven’t taken the initative or opportunity to speak that much at home. I’ve already decided that upon my return to speak more to my grandparents. Now that I’m not in university I’ll have more time to go over and visit them

A few months ago my family got new neighbors, a young woman and and her mother. The mother only speaks Chinese, no English, and I desperately wanted to try and converse with her. But again, shyness. One day I had to help translate a request for my mom, and I have no idea if I did well or not, but we everything worked out in the end. And it really made me realize that a few minutes a day learning a few new characters would not cut it anymore.

During my travels I’ve met so many people who are bilingual, even trilingual, and it’s really nailed in that I do want to be fluent in Mandarin, ideally in a few years. I’ve thought this before, but this time feels different. I can tell that I will be more serious about my efforts when I return home.

And now, I have to admit something that will change the tone of this post from motivational to slightly melancholy.

I’ve spent a lot of time feeling resentful towards my family for not exposing me to Mandarin when I was a baby to the point that I could speak it fluently. I resented them for not forcing me into Chinese school, even though I know I would’ve hated it. I feel denied an opportunity that could have been easily provided to me. I do realize how petty and terrible these thoughts are, and I wish that as a child or even as a teenager I would’ve realized how badly I would want to be fluent in my twenties so that I could have started learning earlier. Furthermore, everytime I see non-Asians and hear them speaking fluent (or comparitavely better than myself) Mandarin, I can feel a cloud forming in my mind. That’s my language, my roots, that should be me. You have taken something that’s rightfully mine, and made it yours. And yes I’m jealous and yes I realize that these feelings stem from both insecurity on my end, self-pity at my horrid stuyding efforts, and disgust at myself for thinking that I can put minimal effort into my self-studies and expect huge, noticeable changes overnight.

That’s not how this works.

I have to work. A lot. A lot more than I’m used to. This is going to be harder and more frustrating than any university course I’ve ever taken. And of course I don’t hate these people. A culmination of negative emotion and mindsets results in these thoughts, that I AM actively trying to reframe. The jealousy will likely not leave, but if I can use these situations to motivate my studies then I consider that a win.

When I left Taiwan three years ago I knew I wanted to come back for longer; ideally six months to one year for actual full immersion, this time in a smaller city. Even now this is a very important goal of mine, and something I plan to work towards since I want to accomplish it before I turn 30. It’ll take work. And there will be more moments where I just want to spend 10 minutes on Chinese. Or just skip it. But I’ll push on. Through every moment of frustration I can only hope one of equal reward arises.

Panorama of the mountains at 日月潭 (Sun Moon Lake)

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Embracing the Fatherland

It has been just slightly over a month since I first landed in Taipei an exhausted confused and slightly homesick traveller with absoutely no idea what the next ten weeks had in store for me. The first brush of wind I felt was heavy and humid and at 5:30am my body was tired and hungry and overall not impressed.

But holy moly; part of me would love the opportunity to reassure my past self that the next ten weeks will be the best of my life. The other part says “No way” because a huge part of this experience has been all the wonderful people I’ve met and excursions that are still so vivid in my memory.

It’s funny; even though this exchange has been at the top of my “to-do” list for over a year I still never really accepted that I was leaving home until I left my mom at the gate of the airport.

And to put it simply, I’m thriving. Sarcastic, sardonic, cynical me is thriving off of the constant flow of people that I meet every single day. Back home I would vehemently insist that I couldn’t stand to be around loads of people all the time and that my being alone was necessary for my survival.

Now if I don’t have plans with people for one day I feel lost.

Granted, travelling personalities have been easier to get along and converse with than most (MOST NOT ALL) people back in Vancouver. The shared goal of experiencing a foerign part of the world leads to easy conversation. I’ve met up with friends I made in a different hostel, still go back to Eight Elephants, and have already had to say goodbye to a best friend I made in less than a week and knew for less than three (Seriously, when the heck does that ever happen?).

I feel as if it would be pointless to list off all that I’ve learnt not only because it’s so much but also because a different personality could be in my exact same position and have gotten a completely diffeerent experience than me. There’s so much I want to say about Taipei and myself but writing in  blog post really wouldnt do it justice. I’ll instead end off with the following:

Is it possible to feel as if your personality has matured?
Because mine has. The combination of studying my heritage language and meeting the most phenominal people has changed a perspective or two of mine – something that has surprised stubborn little me.

Lying: A Recurring Theme

Sorry folks, this post isn’t going to be as exciting as the title may entail.

It’s more about how I go “I’M GOING TO WRITE EVERY WEEK.”

Then after one week: “I’M GOING TO WRITE EVERY TWO WEEKS.”

The latter is the latest promise of mine; the promise to write a nrew post every two weeks.

WELLLLLLL WHATTYA KNOW. I LIED (Again. And me lying (again) is the most common theme that has been written about here (along with music)).

So while I made this blog to keep up my writing, ask opinions, share opinions, rant, etc…the only thing I’ve learned is that I should not make promises I can’t keep. Namely about when I’ll write my next blog post.

That being said, I’m going to go on and completely ignore my own warnings and advice by proclaiming that NOW is when the every-two-weeks posting shall commence!

And it will.

I have ZERO excuses for not keeping that up. Even if it’s a mere recount of my week or a certain day of the week, the post will be written. This will help me, and I know after a few weeks of this it will get easier to keep up.

So, this post will NOT count as the first. Because that seems like the easy way out; “Oh but I already wrote my first blog post!”

NO. UNACCEPTABLE.

Later in the week I will write the first of many continuous semi-weekly (Or bi-weekly…whichever one you use to describe a ‘once-in-every-two-week scenario) blog posts.

ONWARD!

About Me..Kind of

A short but sweet post that will address the most miscellaneous of facts regarding moi.

1.) With the exception of the two minute walk from my school locker to the gym change-room, or in the privacy of my backyard garden I will not be caught wearing flip-flops in public. They make weird sounds, they make the heels of your foot dirty (which then everyone can see), they’re tacky and, for me, they are a big big big no-no (Which has to do with the fact that they make my feet hurt).

2.) Leggings aren’t pants.
For the love of…everything…just cover your butt. Please. They are not pants. No. Not ever. Stop.

3.) I kid you not, I didn’t really discover the internet until this year. I now spend hours flipping from tumblr to facebook and and photography sites and imgur and (now, at least) wordpress and help me I need help.

4.) I will willingly wake up at 6am to catch a 7am bus to go to gym at 8am before my 9:30am class.

4a.) I feel like I’ve wasted half my day if I sleep in anytime past 10am. 9:30 is the threshold of my comfort zone for sleeping in.

I hope these help you all in your future endeavors.

It’s the small things/Back to basics (CLICHE GALORE)

One would think that after 4 months of wanting to just throw school assignments and pencil cases and anything within grabbing distance out the window while screaming and swearing and kicking and punching and wanting to crawl up in a hole and forget about existing that a certain university student would be on her way to Cuba to sip on pina coladas by a nice relaxing beach without a care in the world…

THREE THINGS WRONG

1.) I have no interest to visit Cuba

2.) HAHAHAHAH SUMMER SEMESTER FOR ME

3.) That reaction was the last of its kind…ever; for I am officially done with calculus, chemistry, and physics courses. For good. I am now blessed to take the upper level biology courses that made me fall in love with my environmental science program to begin with.

And that gives me plenty of time to get back to basics, to focus on small goals that, in the future, will pay off in ways that can only lead to the better. Now I’m not a huge optimist…I’m the optimist that is happy when things work out/are working out…and a total stressball when life just keeps unraveling in my hands. I’m…a semi-optimist. But still, having to focus less on school and getting four months to re-evaluate what is important to me has caused me to think very hard about what I actually want to get out of life (CLICHE 1).

Which brings me back to the basics of me as person; namely, a musician. If I’m describing myself to someone I’ll definitely make a point to emphasize how huge music is to me (as can be seen from previous blogs posts). And while I do have a band and an orchestra, I still feel as if I’m missing something. I really can’t find the right way of describing it, but while thinking about what I can do to fulfill this missing piece, I’ve come up with the following:

I have vowed that this summer I will spend 2 hours 6 days a week practicing my music. This applies to all aspects. Violin, trombone, clarinet, banjo, guitar, technique, and theory. This is for nobody else except me. I want to be better. I want to feel even more confident in my abilities as a musician. I want to feel that I deserve respect for the amount of effort I put into practicing. I want to actually practice. I want to prove to myself that I am a self-motivated individual. I want music to be part of my life forever.

This is me cementing my goal into my life. I’ve been playing instruments for 12 years now. And I want to see that number grow as I do. As I age, learn, and improve.

Where it all began

Musically, that is.

As in, where my love of Celtic music started.

It’s all thanks to those lovely random snippets of memories from childhood that decide to come to the forefront of one’s mind because of one little thing that triggers an avalanche of nostalgia.

Let’s begin!

On a Saturday afternoon a few weeks back, I was searching desperately for music to listen to while completing a physics assignment. For reasons unbeknownst to me, a reel started playing in my head…and I spent a good five minutes trying to figure out where this was from.

AND THEN

MY EUREKA MOMENT:

THIS REEL WAS FROM RIVERDANCE;

THE CELTIC DANCE SHOW THAT DEFINED MY CHILDHOOD

I’m not exactly sure how to define how I felt; excitement for sure, as I was looking forward to hearing the whole piece again. Successful for remembering where the reel was from. Anticipation for listening to my childhood soundtrack once again. And then a mix of nostalgia and sadness (that so much time had passed since I had been a 3 year old dancing in my grandparent’s TV room to the live special taped in New York City in 1996 or so). So this emotion was…exsucannosad. Sounds about right.

Anyway, my next stop was the youtubes. After a frustrating ten minutes of searching up soundtrack songs, I chose a clip of a song from the exact same performance that my grandparents had taped and I had watched countless times. Thanks to chronological titles, I was able to find the very first clip, corresponding to the first dance number. The costumes, the music, the dances, small little things that I had forgotten and then remembered were all running back into my memory like wildfire. I then proceeded to spend the next one  and a half hours re-watching the very thing that defined my childhood, planted a love of Celtic music in me, and inspired me to start up violin a few years later.

After watching all the clips I was so amazingly happy and giddy. For more reasons still unbeknownst to me, that little bit of childhood nostalgia had invigorated me and instilled a sense of completeness. As if I had been missing something (I don’t know what) and then found it (still don’t know what).

I’m not sure if there’s a point or moral to this blog, but I think that if everyone could recapture a small part of their childhood that made them incredibly happy or inspired them when older that, for a moment, life would get just a little easier.

ImageReel Around the Sun

-The piece that started it all. Go check it out if you need a pick-me-up 🙂

To live the gypsy life or not…

Aside

HAPPY MONDAY MORNING!

Now before you groan and plan your assassination of me for that comment let me defend myself by stating that today is, in fact, a happy monday morning for me.

FOR MY WORLD MUSIC/FOLK/GYPSY BAND IS ABOUT TO EMBARK ON OUR FIRST STUDIO RECORDING SESSION! 😀 😀 😀

And I am quite excited.

And I promise details, LOTS OF THEM. But first, I have a blog post I promised you all (From last week…my deepest apologies)

When we left off last week our young heroine had just been cornered by a young gypsy man from Chiynyoloslovakia* who was begging her to run away with him back to his homeland overseas so she could forever play violin in a wandering minstrel folk band-

LOL NO THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN.

Is it kind of sad that I wish it would? But that I’m not really sure I would take handsome gypsy man up on his offer?

Saying I adore music is a huge understatement; if something were to happen that prevented me from being a musician I would not be able to function. Although I’m not pursuing it post-secondary I would not give up my club orchestra and band for anything.

That being said, I’m not sure if I would give up my current post-secondary education or not if the opportunity to pursue music in a band arose. For a while I was adamant that I wanted to complete my degree before anything else because it’s a huge personal goal for me and I want to reach that milestone. However if touring was a once in a lifetime chance then I know that rejecting the offer would be one of the greatest regrets of my life.

Decisions, decisions…that hopefully will not have to be made while I’m still in university. I am content with where my music is at this point. And while I would jump at the chance to perform for a live audience the question still lies as to whether I would jump at the chance to run away to Chiynyoloslovakia** with an attractive gypsy man…

*Still not a country                                                                                                             **Just googled it. Definitely still not a country.

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