Writer's Block

The USA is the place I was born. Canada is the place I was raised. Taiwan is the place in my heart.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

History... timeless

There's something about fact and history
that will stand the test of time
They have to
Truth and justice will prevail
Facts are indisputable
It used to really bother me when I'd think about how Mandarin Chinese came to be the official language in Taiwan... ok, so it still bothers me.

Growing up, I'd heard about how people were punished for and restricted from speaking Hoklo, Hakka and Aborigine languages. The Taiwanese were shamed into believing that these languages were inferior to Mandarin Chinese. After being defeated by the Chinese Communists, the Kuo Ming Tang fled from China to Taiwan in the late 1940's and instated Mandarin Chinese as the official language in Taiwan.

Ironically, Mandarin Chinese was a foreign language imposed on the Taiwanese, just as Japanese- which was imposed during Taiwan's Japanese occupation period. But now Mandarin Chinese has become the common "working" language for people in Taiwan. Years of education in Mandarin Chinese has taken its toll on generations of Taiwanese. There are concerns that Hoklo, Hakka and Aborigine languages are fading and in need of preservation.

This, I felt was poignantly demonstrated in scenes of the film March of Happiness; scenes which depicted interpreters speaking for Kuo Ming Tang soldiers to local Taiwanese.

Then I moved to Taiwan and soon realized that the Mandarin Chinese spoken in Taiwan was not quite so standard- not like what I'd briefly encountered in Chinese 101 class in university. It has become somewhat localized and b#*tardized by Taiwanese who speak it with a Taiwanese accent, drop certain sounds that require the rolling back of the tongue, and skip the habit of frequently adding "ER" to the endings of words, as they do in Beijing. And of course there are Mandarin Chinese colloquial terms which have been uniquely created and used in Taiwan. Mandarin Chinese spoken in Taiwan has come to be called "Taiwan guo yu" (which roughly translates as Taiwanesized national language, the national language of course being Mandarin Chinese).

But I still prefer speaking Hoklo with those closest to me and cringe when my mother speaks to me in perfect Mandarin Chinese.

Recently, my Mandarin Chinese teacher commented on my progress. She noted that in looking over my homework assignments, that my sentence patterns seemed kind of "Taiwanese." I'd sometimes include certain extra words in my sentences that would be used in Hoklo Taiwanese, but not likewise used in Mandarin Chinese. Funny, I didn't even realize that I was doing that! Personally, I think it says a lot about how far my Hoklo Taiwanese has come.

In general, I try not to think or write in English first and then translate into Chinese- something I strongly advise my students against doing (in reverse). When they first write or think in Chinese and then translate word for word into English - disaster ensues. So practicing what I preach, I try to write directly in Chinese- as I think something should be written or said.

Guess I'm just "doomed" to speak Taiwan guo yu.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Princess for a day... or two

The tiara that "J" made me, the birthday girl, wear on Sunday

Well, what was meant to start off as an uneventful birthday, ended up being one of multiple celebrations. I hadn’t planned on any major celebrations AT ALL. After the age of 30 what’s another birthday? Just another day. My parents generously offered to take me and several of my close friends out for dinner on the actual day- the 31st. I thought it was quite a loving gesture. These days it’s not about the gifts or a wish list. In fact, I think I’d have to think long and hard to write up a wish list. Guess I’m just that lucky! …and generally content with my life. Besides, some things I’d like are not the sort that could be listed on a wish list, nor are they things that anyone could actually buy or give to me.

Then one of my dear new friends of late- "J", who lives up in Taipei found out it was my birthday and offered to organize a birthday dinner for me in Taipei on Sunday night. So out went the email and several text messages. At first it seemed like it was just going to be a small gathering of 3 or 4 friends who had also planned to get together late in the afternoon around 5:00pm at The WALL to catch some bands on the Rose Tour, which was promoting the TAIWANATION bracelet. We planned on cutting out for dinner at 7:00pm.

People in Taipei are notoriously last minute about getting together socially. People always seem to do things on the fly. Forget the rules. There just seems to be a mutual understanding and acceptance that you’ll be there for your friends when they call you up to have dinner or drinks in a few hours, if not, then there’s always next time, or later. By Sunday afternoon, my phone was ringing non-stop and text messages started flying back and forth. In the end there were about 12 or so friends who ended up at my birthday dinner! I was pleasantly surprised by all of the friends who made an effort to come. We had a fun, casual dinner at a dim sum place in the area around National Taiwan University. At times I felt somewhat displaced, as if I was in a Chinatown restaurant; we sat upstairs on red satin covered chairs at a big round table, eating dim sum dishes off of a lazy susan; a bright neon sign shone just outside of the large window at the opposite end of the room, looking out onto the street where crowds of people were milling around below- in and out of the alleys- which were lined with various food carts and night market stalls.

Afterwards, we debated about what to do and where to go on a Sunday night. When the café that we finally settled on going to ended up being closed, we ended up at this lovely tea house “a la English high tea style”. What a contrast to dinner over dim sum! Inside were elegant wood tables and arm chairs, walls of tea cups and china displayed, in soft, warmly lit rooms. I’ll definitely consider going back there on a lazy day for relaxing afternoon tea.

After taking a 7:00am flight back to Kaohsiung, and catching a few more zzz’s that morning before teaching in the afternoon, I rushed home to get ready for another birthday dinner Monday night. This time I had dinner with my parents and four of my closest girlfriends in Kaohsiung. There was no cake because I’m not really a fan of cake and who needs the extra calories?

But what’s a birthday without a cake or at least a candle to blow out? So during dinner, one of my friends "C" slipped out to buy a cake at a nearby bakery. I guess the cake is as much for the people who want to celebrate the “birthday star’s” day, as it is for the birthday person. It’s always fun to blow out the candle, to make a wish, to have hopes and dreams and to feel so loved and cherished.