You put what in my food?
First of all, I’m just gonna throw it out there that in my Mahjong culture class this past Tuesday, I won the 2 games that I played. So basically I’m undefeated. Totally not a big deal or anything.
When I was telling my friends that I had won two more games (this time wearing my “pooket full of sunshine” shirt, so my confused-foreigner-wearing-shirts-with-incorrect-english-while-looking-at-winning-mahjong-tiles legacy in the university yearbook is still going strong), my friend asked me the Chinese equivalent of “how the hell did you pull that off” and I responded (a little loudly) with the Chinese equivalent of “because I’m awesome”.
A teacher (who I had not formally met yet) overheard me say this and piped into the conversation, saying “oh, I heard from the other teachers that you’re awesome.”
I’m deciding to take this as overarching praise rather than a comment specifically about my recently established mahjong skills.
Anyway, moving on.
Welcome to my Sunday evening after staying with a host family for the weekend! I stayed with a local family of four: mom (Fanny), dad (Colin), brother (Eson*; 8), sister (Sofia; 6).
* At first I thought they said “Ethan,” which would be funny because that’s my brother’s name, but no, they spelled out “Eson” so I decided to let that one slide.
I don’t want to spend too much time talking about the family because honestly, it feels weird to talk about them online, and also I hate blog posts that just list all the things we did.
Instead, in a true On The Fourth Wall fashion, I’m just gonna go through all the awkward moments we had.
So unfortunately, my family loved to speak English. They had travelled around the US before, so this seemed like more of an opportunity to test their English vocabulary than it was for me to speak Chinese.
But, of course, I just care that we were able to have good conversations, regardless of the medium.
But, of course, this does lead to some difficulties when their English isn’t great and they still insist on explaining things in English (things I could understand in Chinese).
For example, after a few repetitions of Colin saying “bacteria” in weird contexts, I realized that he had the words for “bacteria” and “ingredients” confused. But hey, who doesn’t want to know the bacteria present in their meal, right? (I kid.)
Another phenomenon was the parents being stubborn about knowing more English than their kids in any given scenario.
For example, we were out at dinner talking about different ways of preparing food. Then Fanny came across a Chinese word that she thought I wouldn’t understand, so she mumbled it to herself and started tapping her finger on the table, trying to quickly think of the translation. Eson must have heard her mumble the word, and he just casually said “raw meat” in perfect English (it kinda caught me off guard).
“Raw meat” also made sense in conversation, so I was like “yeah, raw meat, I understand.”
But no, Fanny was very sure that “raw” wasn’t an English word and that her son was making it up. So she used her translator and it gave me some weird word that essentially meant raw meat (I can’t remember exactly what it said). We continued the conversation regardless.
I also had a funny exchange with them when I found out that Sofia just started learning how to play piano (I also play piano). The first thing that popped into my head was the song “chopsticks,” which pretty much anyone who has ever touched a piano knows how to play because it’s so basic (it’s like the first song you learn). But I didn’t know if it was considered an international song. So, I asked them if they knew the song, using the Chinese word for “chopsticks” : “筷子”.
“筷子，筷子。。。” Suddenly Fanny broke out in a huge smile and pulled out her phone. A few taps later and this heavily synthesized pop song started playing. “I can’t believe you know this song! It’s popular in America too now?” she asked in Chinese. She then told me the name of the song, which did in fact have “筷子” in the title.
I explained that no, I was thinking of a different song, one that in English we call “chopsticks,” so they probably know it as “筷子”.
The parents started saying that they definitely had never heard of a song like that, and they were also looking at me a little funny because I was having a hard time explaining the song to them and why I translated the title, so I was about to drop it when suddenly Sofia slapped her piano music down onto the table, and low and behold, “CHOPSTICKS” was written across the top in clear English. We all had a pretty good laugh.
Long story short, listen to your kids. Kids are pretty smart.
Anyway, we were able to have some great conversations about college debt, environmental protection and global warming, and some politics. Thankfully, we switched to Chinese, which I think helped us all out.
I knew they were a very kind and loving family the second I saw them. Honestly I can’t thank them, and the other volunteer host families, enough for welcoming exchange students into their home. If any of you ever have that kind of opportunity, please consider it.
You know, it’s funny. I don’t remember the context, but at one point Fanny made a comment about how adventurous I am. I think she said it because I said I liked walking more than driving and I was also okay with eating pretty much anything they handed to me (thousand year old egg? Sure, why not).
This was the first time I had heard the Chinese word for adventure, and I figured that was a pretty useful word, so I made sure to remember it. It was also odd because I don’t think anyone has ever really called me adventurous before. I used to be afraid of anything and everything going wrong. But anyway I took it as a huge compliment (even though it was just a thoughtless comment).
Today we went hiking (it was more like a hill but it still had the hiking feel to it), and of course we’re in Taiwan so we were rained on for a bit and had to run to a nearby shelter. Sofia, being 6 years old and all, got scared when we all started running. The rain didn’t bother me (I mean I was already sweating so it was just a free shower at that point) so I slowed down and walked with her and her mom, who were huddling under an umbrella. I told her to not be scared, because she wasn’t in any danger. I told her to just think of it as an adventure.
This didn’t help. And I was kinda bummed that it didn’t help cause dang I think that’s advice that everyone should hear every now and then. Everyone always gets so upset when something doesn’t go according to plan, but that’s when some of the best stories start.
But I realized later that the word for “adventure” in Chinese literally means “to face danger.” It doesn’t have any of the fun stigma attached to it.
Translated more literally, I was actually telling her that we weren’t in danger, but to think of it as facing danger.
So I agree with Sofia: my advice was not helpful.
We also walked along a trail that had a warning sign for “poisonous snakes, poisonous wasps, and poisonous centipedes”. Now, it’s not like I was hoping to see some kind of poisonous reptile/insect, but I also can’t say that I wasn’t a little disappointed at the end of the hike given I hadn’t seen any.
During my host family stay this weekend I couldn’t help but feel like I was missing out on other things. When I’m with my friends, we go out and have weird adventures every weekend. Some of my friends were going on real hikes in Gao Xiong with monkeys and mud and the works. Their families had older kids.
I really wanted to go do something awesome and unique and thrilling. Originally, I thought that this feeling was ridiculous because I love staying with host families. I think that’s the best part of study abroad programs. And I truly was having a great time.
But why did I let out this huge sigh of relief when I was dropped back off in my dorm this afternoon? No one was even back in the dorms yet.
My host family also called me independent today. In Chinese, independent literally translates to “to stand alone”. Now this is coming from two parents with two kids ages 6 and 8, but still. I met them less than 48 hours ago.
When I got back to my dorm I immediately turned back around to run some errands. I did my routine of applying sunscreen, spraying bug repellent, strapping on Tevas, grabbing my backpack, shutting off lights and air conditioning, wiping the sweat off my face because I just turned off the air conditioning and it’s already insanely hot, locking the door, tightening my pony tail, and heading downstairs. I needed to buy a mug, a smaller backpack (because hiking with a purse is incredibly annoying), and some food/drinks for my dorm.
And then I realized that while I was walking alone, just running errand, I felt totally at peace. I felt like I live here. My backpack was heavy and people were looking at me (cause I’m foreign looking) but none of it bothered me.
I realized that yeah, I am adventurous now. And if wanting to be adventurous and go have crazy experiences means that I have to be alone every now and then, then so be it. After all, that’s kinda been a theme since I landed in Taiwan.
I think everyone should go abroad and do something that they don’t necessarily want to do, but something that they know is good for them, for a little while.
This program is hard. It’s grueling and I have no free time during the week. I spend 7 hours on homework a day. I can’t speak my mother tongue. I stay up late every night and I wake up early every morning. The beds are plywood and my pillow is styrofoam. It’s too humid outside and it’s bone dry inside.
But honestly, it doesn’t bother me anymore. You have to learn how to sit down and get work done. Not necessarily because you want to, but because you should. I signed myself up for this, and I’m making myself stay; not because I necessarily want to, but because it’s good for me, and it’s something I want for myself.
Be selfish and take on a hardship.
I started talking to the young woman working the counter where I had bought my backpack. She complimented my hair tie and asked me about why I’m in Taiwan. I’m nowhere near fluent, but I’m at least at the point where I can turn strangers into friends by only using Chinese. That’s gotta count for something. We’re now friends on Taiwanese social media. She invited me to tea.
This program gave me that moment, and countless others, but I was the one who made it happen.
I have a lot to say about this program. And a lot of it isn’t positive. But it’s not about the program. It’s about what you make of it.
Maybe it just comes down to how you translate ‘adventure’. I don’t know.
Apologies for a long and disjointed post. I’m going to sleep now. All is good.