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)

Advertisements

The Most Unexpected of Saviours

Humor me a second:

It’s hot. Not just hot. The type of hot where even just walking into a small patch of sunlight for a few seconds feels like a burning pain on your skin. You can’t escape the heat and it swarms around your body like an angry group of wasps.

Not just hot. Heavy and humid. The absolute best combination ever (Sorry sarcasm doesn’t translate too well when typing).

You’re out of water and dying for a drink. Something sweet. And cold. Sweet and cold. As the sweat beads down into your eyes you catch a glimpse of something green, orange, and red. Could it be…?

Wait what...?

Wait what…?

With your last remaining bit of strength you drag yourself across the street and-

*Ding*

The cool breeze of AC washes over you.

I CAN FEEL THE AC FROM HERE

I CAN FEEL THE AC FROM HERE

Sweet relief takes form in 7-11’s here in Taipei. They are on every corner. They are the Starbucks of Taipei. If I stand at the corner of a major intersection and take a 370 look around me and don’t see any 7-11’s I get concerned.

Now before all the “But Nathalie we have 7-11’s here in Vancouver” starts let me just say these are no homeless-riddled-is-this-where-drug-deals-go-down-and-people-die” 7-11’s like back home. These are a godsend.

Cheap. Great selection. AND AC (THE MOST IMPORTANT THING EVER). Just last weekend I bough two individual pieces of whole wheat bread, two bananas, two onigiri, and a black tea drink for $150 NT. That’s $6 Canadian (I’ll wait while all your minds explode). Here’s a little taste (Haha there’s food in 7-11’s and I used the word taste ha ha (Nathalie stop (NEVER))) of the beautiful 7-11’s here in Taipei.

$1 each. What is life?

$1 each. What is life?

Gotta be healthy, you know!

Gotta be healthy, you know!

Mmm carbs

Mmm carbs

THIS STUFF IS THE BOMB DIGGITY

THIS STUFF IS THE BOMB DIGGITY

Beer. Here. Yes.

Beer. Here. Yes.

Do you need anything? Snacks? A condom? (Hashtag Mean Girls reference)

Do you need anything? Snacks? A condom? (Hashtag Mean Girls reference)

wpid-img_20140801_110556.jpg

You want milk? HAVE ALL THE MILK.

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.

Taipei Masterlist Pt 1

I must apologize in advance because this post probably won’t contain as much dry humor as previous posts (*Gasp* But Nathalie whyyyyyyyy). The reason for this is that I just want to give a basic list and description (Yes there will be pictures don’t freak out) of all the sights I’ve seen around Taipei so far. Even though I’ve seen so much there’s always (And probably always will be) more for me to discover around Taipei. *Apologies because I don’t have photos of the first two things on this list. If you have the time I strongly encourage a Google search of the temples because they are simply stunning.

June 21: Taipei Confucius Temple                  
The Taipei Confucius Temple was built in 1879 during the Qing Dynasty. During Japanese occupation of Taiwan the temple was destroyed. However in 1930 Wang So-Shun rebuilt it. I was lucky enough to get to see the interior of this magnificent temple, which only opens it’s doors twice a year. During this day (June 21) students gathered to pray for god luck on their examinations.

June 21: Dalongdong Baoan Tample
A Taiwanese Folk Religion Temple located close to the Taipei Confucius Temple with absolutely beautiful exterior adornments. June 22: Wulai Wulai is a gorgeous rural district in the South of new Taipei City. I went on a trip organized by the hostel I was staying at and was in complete awe of the colour of the water and the mist rising from the surrounding mountains. I walked around the town and got caught in a rainstorm while hiking a path called “Lover’s Trail” alone (HAHA IRONYYY).wpid-img_20140622_140610.jpgwpid-img_20140622_172107.jpg

June 26: Shilin Night Market and Taipei 101 I was lucky enough to get to meet up with my friend Sophia who took me around Taipei for the day. We walked around a local shopping district before heading towards the Shilin Night Market. There we had  雞排 (Ji pai/Chicken steak) and 臭豆腐(Chou dofu/Stinky tofu). One thing I’ve noticed about Taipei is that not only is bubble tea a huge deal, so is juice. Fruit, mixed, milk, you want it? You got it (My jam (HA) is 芒果牛奶: mango milk). The highlight of this day was definitely Taipei 101. I absolutely adore looking down on cities as they’re lit up at night and getting a 360 view of Taipei was a blessing. A free audio guide was included in the ticket and so I got my fact fix and beautiful view quota of the night! wpid-img_20140626_223922.jpg wpid-img_20140626_200902.jpg

June 27: National Palace Museum I’m just going to say it now: I’m a museum nerd. I love museums. I could spend all day in museums. As soon as I found out the Palace Museum housed one of the largest collection of Chinese artifacts I knew this was at the top of my “to-do” list. I got there as soon as it opened and immediately found my way to the old books collection. There was also an entire floor dedicated too Chinese calligraphy and drawings which I got lost in for another hour. The third floor holds the most famous items: the jadeite cabbage and meat stone. While the cabbage was away on tour in Japan I braved the crowds of tourists (Wait, that’s me too, right?) to view the very small meat stone. Also amazing was the ivory carving collection, some with such fine minute detail a magnifying glass was required to see it in all its glory. wpid-img_20140627_014900.jpg

June 29: Maokong Gondola You have not lived until you have had oolong tea on a mountain overlooking gorgeous, tranquil scenery. That is all. wpid-img_20140629_150354.jpg

July 6: Teapot and Banping Mountain A gap in the adventures as classes start. There’s a story to go along with this day trip! This hike was beautiful, gorgeous, amazing…need I go on? The views were unbeatable and we were blessed with nice mountain breezes and cloud cover every now and then. But on the way down, disaster. Half our group (Me included) split off to take a short cut back to town. This short cut turned out to be a very untidy “path” through the bushes with markers every now and then. After 1.5 hours (When we supposedly should have been back in town) we had scraped a good proportion of our bodies climbing over rocks and under branches from following a river. Slowly accepting that we were lost, we made the decision to keep following said river. Another hour and we were getting close to complete mental and physical fatigue. We managed to find a different way down after hitting a section of river that we thought would be impossible to cross, and after another half hour we were back in civilization. That was one of the single moments of great relief that I’d ever experienced in my life.  

So that’s that! I have so much more to see and now I’m terrified I won’t be able to get it all done…but I’ll try my best. Here’s to minutely planned sightseeing schedules!

Welcome to Taipei

Well I never said I’d win any prizes for creative titles anytime soon…

Okay so I’m still not sure how this post will turn out in terms of a broad overview of Taipei or an unorganized day-to-day summary of the past week. WE SHALL SOON SEE.

I’ll start with the heat, because that was the one thing all people had warned me about time again. With good reason. I left Taoyuan airport at 7am and as soon as I stepped out to greet the new earth I was literally enveloped in a heavy thick sheet of warm air and humidity. For me this has been the toughest adjustment not only because I’m from a moderate climate but because I’ve always been extremely sensitive to heat. There’s barely any breeze and even at night it stays at around 28 degrees Celsius. Every twenty minutes outside I need to run into one of the billion 7-11’s to find solace in air conditioning.

But on the bright side it’s been liberating to not have to wear make-up. When at home in summer I would put just on a smidge for cover from acne scars. Taipei doesn’t even give me that option it’s just all “Nope you’re going to sweat today. And tomorrow. And forever.”
Which is a really nice change from the need I sometimes feel to look nice when going out from back in Vancouver.

Now if any of you find yourselves in Taipei someday you are going to stay at Eight Elephants hostel. K? K. I met people studying at MTC like me within the first few minutes of me sitting in the common room. And now we’re tight. Likethis (Yes the lack of space bar is on purpose). Plus the staff go above and beyond any form of service I’ve ever experienced and it truly is as if everyone staying here is part of one big family.

Taiwanese people put the Canadians to shame when it comes to politeness. I’ve had people walk me five minutes to a place I was looking for rather than just pointing and telling me. When the language barrier has been an issue the other person has done everything in their power to write and use gestures to try and communicate with me instead of just walking away. To be unselfish and put other’s needs before yourself is a huge part of the culture here and it is truly heartwarming to see this in the world. Compared to Vancouver this is a nice welcome change of social attitudes.

Even the language barrier the adjustment has not been that bad. With complicated questions I’ve been lucky enough to find that most people speak English. However I still use my limited Mandarin skills as much as possible, mainly in regards to buying food. In all honesty I do feel that it’s improving because I’m in a situation where I need to speak and listen and read every day. There are no breaks in stimuli like there would be back in Vancouver.

I’ve seen so much and still have so much to see. I’m still not used to the situation of being in a foreign country for more than a few weeks. It’s fun to remember I could cancel my own plans to sightsee and that it’s okay to do so.

I honestly thought that homesickness would be a huge issue for me. While there’s a sad pang here and there the people I’ve already met and the city itself are making me feel right at home.

Well it turned into a broad overview of Taipei after all! Which means the next post will pretty much be a picture and descriptive list of the sights I’ve seen.
再见!

image

To the Fatherland

If you had asked me one year ago if I could envision future me traveling alone chances are past me would have laughed in your face.

“Are you crazy? Adults travel alone. Adults cross oceans to travel different countries. Those with no fear choose to live in said country. Those with major wanderlust live in different countries for months on end. Travel where English can’t be relied on as a safety? Haha yeah maybe with family or at least two friends.”

Fast forward one year:

I am an adult. I am about to cross the Pacific to travel to Taiwan. I’ll be living there. For two months. Everything I hear and read will be in Mandarin. I’m doing this alone.

I’m scared. Really scared. Already a tad homesick. Have no idea how I’ll survive this red eye 2am flight. Excited. Super excited. Majorly anxious. Beyond stoked.

To the fatherland I go. Here’s to new beginnings.