Speak Easy?

It's hard to believe we've already been here a month! Living in a foreign country is an extremely humbling experience, especially if it's a country with a crazy weird language like Mandarin. We really wanted to immerse ourselves in life here and hopefully pick up key phrases and eventually learn the language enough to get by. We were encouraged, before we left, by some who said, "Mandarin is easy! You'll learn it in no time!" However, we've also heard as i'm sure you have too, that Mandarin is one of the most difficult languages in the world.

In learning, I can't really pin it on either extreme; it's extradordinarily complex and interesting, with a twisty combination of sing-song tones, odd sounds, and funky mouth shapes when speaking. I carry around a little yellow notebook and try to learn useful phrases that I can use in my routine. My personal favorite mini-conversation:

"Ni-how-ma?" --hi, how are you?
"ma ma hu hu" or "poo poo tung tung"--I am okay.

Love it! But you sing while you're talking, so it's like conversational karaoke.

A few months before we came to Taiwan, Aaron and I were on a city bus in Sacramento, CA, when a couple of older Chinese tourists were sitting across from us, looking confused and lost. They kept trying to ask the bus driver for directions, but couldn't speak a lick of English. The busy and preoccupied driver couldn't drive and try to help the couple, and a few people on the bus tried to tell them to sit down and be quiet. A couple guys even said, "Get off the bus and go back to your own country!" The older couple tried to hand over a cell phone with a translator on it to the bus driver, but he pulled over and told them to get out, muttering that he didn't have time for this. We were horrified and that experience continues to haunt us every day as we have become that couple.

Each day when we walk through our town and attempt to order food, ask questions, find directions, we are completely dumbfounded as to how to communicate and often resort to charades and hand motions to try to get our point across. It's actually pretty humorous to watch Aaron try to ask the hardware store man if he has a certain tool, using loud slow words and hands.

Here's the thing though; in all our attempts at talking to people, both in the country in and in the city, we have been so surprised and grateful at how helpful everyone is. If one person doesn't understand us or knows they can't help us, they will ask around and find someone who can. When I order coffee, the patient yet busy cashier will point to each and every drink on the menu until she comes to the one I want, and then apologize to me for not speaking English! I should be apologizing for living in their country and being so deficient, and yet they go out of their ways to make sure that we are taken care of.

America is not this tolerant. "Come to our country, and learn our language now, because we don't have time for you otherwise", is our motto for foreigners.

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