“I love you!” he shouted down the street.
A hesitant pause, “I love you too!” I shouted back, lying.
I didn’t really love him; I didn’t even know his name. But I did not want to leave him there, waiting, with his friends watching, embarrassed.
I knew why he loved me; he loved me because that was the only other thing he knew how to shout in English. The first thing, “Hello,” had been expended, and I don’t think he wanted the conversation to wane. Luckily, by the time I had confirmed my reciprocal love, I had continued walking far enough that we did not have an awkward silence after our most intimate moment.
I was coming back from getting food and tea. My favorite food stand makes sweetened deep fried food, and yes, it tastes as good as it sounds. With this, I bought lemonade and tried to flirt with the girl at the tea stand.
My Chinese flirting is pretty rudimentary, “I like your clothes;” I point at her Chingrish shirt, because I love Chingrish.
She says, “thank you.”
“What name is you?”
“I ### Matt”
“I am Matt.”
“Uhhh...is.” Is being what I keep saying for yes, because I am stupid in Chinese.
…”You ### here?” She points to the building where I live.
“Oh, is, is…I am in it.”
She asks, “you ### ###?”
“Ummm…I am a tea her.”
“I am a tea her…”
Then it went downhill from there. I later realized, or think that I realized, that the mystery question was, “How old are you?”
This is actually one thing I like about Taiwan conversations. People will ask you anything, right from the start. I hate the western dance. I like being able to ask, “How old are you? What do you do? Do you have a boyfriend?”
This is one reason my language shortcomings anger me. The age question is my favorite because people get very excited when they find out how young I am. Most people guess my age around thirty. The highest was 35, the average is about 27 or so, and I think most people lower their guess to be flattering.
This sort of thing would be nice to communicate, but I just can’t do it. I can’t even seem to learn the verb “to learn.” How can I not learn the verb “to learn.” It is the one verb that I am always doing when I am speaking Chinese. “I am learning Chinese” is one of very few statements that I can make a hundred percent of the time that I am speaking Chinese, yet I can’t say it.
Equally disturbing, my friend Stu, who can speak decent Chinese (at least passable), does not know the word. He uses one of his many backward Chinese tricks, in this case, he would say, “I am being taught Chinese.”
Chinese just does not let you cheat. There are no cognates to lean on and your pronunciation has to be perfect. It would be like if English had nothing but words like “dot, done, dope, down…” If you mispronounce a word, it's a totally different word, not just an ugly version of what you mean.
A Chinese kid was trying to say the word “dark” to me the other day. He kept saying “ball.” He got frustrated that I did not understand that by “ball” he meant “dark.” His frustration is what I feel with virtually every word that people don’t understand, which is virtually every word I say.
In Spanish, I could force the words out, it sounded like I was spitting marbles at a gong, but the words got out. My grammar was great compared to my terrible accent I was a good student, just a bad speaker. I always felt sorry for anyone who had to listen to me, but at least people understood me.
With Chinese, I am not even a good student. I have the potential of forgetting any word, such as “Yes.” The only words I always remember are “this,” and that.” They are properly said as “Nagga” and “Jagga.” However, the Tainan accent makes it more of a “Nigga,” and “Jigga.” For the large contingent of my blog readership that are not Jay Z fans, Jigga is the nickname of one o one of the best, rappers to date. He has /many songs with the chorus filled with “Niggas,” and “Jiggas.” So now, every time I order this or that, I am thinking, “What’s my mother f--king name?”
Arguably the most peculiar part of my Chinese is that I am becoming more literate than conversational, something that should not really happen in Chinese. With some of my friends, I use more Chinese than English. I can’t actually write any characters, but I have learned to type them.
The worst part is interacting with the regular population. People often run from me. If I go up to pay for, waitresses will run and get the English speaker, even if I just want to give them money. The problem is that I can often not blame them. They have a prejudice assumption that I can’t speak Chinese, but it's a completely correct prejudice assumption. Other foreigners, who can speak Chinese, get mad when people insist on using poor English with them or clearly avoiding them.
Learning is very slow going; the biggest problem is that I have to speak English all day long. If I end up speaking Chinese in the day, there is a big problem on multiple levels. If I had the money, I would just stop teaching and become a full time student again; then I could declare war on the language. However, teaching is teaching me a lot, it just doesn’t happen to be Chinese.
I will learn more Chinese, but it is frustrating that I cannot meet people now. Sometimes, I feel very closed off from people. However, at least, drunk and stupid, I know that at least one person loves me in Taiwan.