Saturday, December 23, 2006

Speaking Chinese and buying things

Yup, everything is in Chinese here. You would expect that, but maybe some of the restaurants would have pictures, or some kind of romanization, or even English menus. There were in Taipei, but at the places I've seen in Taichung, this is not the case. On my first visit to McDonald's, I was excited to see menus in English, and the workers should speak English because this is an American chain, right? No. And you would think that if I could order, in Chinese, a #6 with a Coke, that would be enough, but it is not. Luckily there was another worker who eventually came over who did speak English...

As my roommates and I discuss often, they are able to buy a wider variety of foods not speaking Chinese than I do speaking Chinese. I really think that many people speak English and just won't when I start out in Chinese, which is so strange because you would think that after I say 5 or 6 times, "I'm sorry, I don't understand, my Chinese is very bad," they would break into English, but this is not the case.

I've had some moments of sadness where I think, how have I been learning Chinese for 3 years and can't order basic food? But I realized that I never needed to learn how to order pork-fried rice without an egg and with extra vegetables in the US... whereas I can ask, given the tragedies we see every year- earthquakes, typhoons, wars- do you think that this world will survive for our children? So it goes. I have learned some basic food terms though.

And I will say that I've had some nice and fairly extensive conversations with some people- the owners of the little food stand by our apartment, the one nice bus driver I've gotten, etc. One of the best things is when people ask how long I've been in Taiwan, and I say "About a month" and they say "Your Chinese is already so good!" I think I will give up disabusing people of that notion. My Chinese is pretty good for only a month of studying!

I guess communicating in another language always takes some humility, until you get really good. I think my experiences with talking to Chinese people in the US has been helpful in letting me laugh at myself and whatnot.

Last night my roommate and I decided to go get snacks, and my other roommate had told us about this stand with good papaya milkshakes, and I was like, I could look up the word for papaya, and then maybe they call them milkshakes but maybe I need to look up the word for smoothie, and then he will ask me questions in Chinese I don't understand... so I just ordered in English and he totally understood me, and even asked "Do you want very sweet or not too sweet?" Ah. I felt like the stupid American who only speaks English but it's so much easier that way!

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