My Struggle with Mandarin

To start things off, I should apologize. I’m sure at some point in this blog I have rambled on about how much I just LOOVVVEEE languages and I’d be happy to learn any language in the world.

I must retract that sentiment.

I have been in Taiwan for 1.5 years now and have attempted to progress in Mandarin Chinese during 3 separate periods. I know the basics. I can’t say I can ‘get around well enough’ because I still can’t read the majority of foods that are on a menu, which makes eating difficult. But I can say what I want or where I am going and I’m great at ordering my daily coffee or tea.

But…I just cannot seem to get into it. Everyday I feel guilty for not learning more and taking advantage of being here while I can, but the desire is Just. Not. There. Some may attribute it to the difficulty of Chinese for English speakers. It ranks last in the categories provided by the US Foreign Service. HOWEVER, Korean is in the same category and I have a great desire to go back to learning Korean. I listen to Korean music (and Italian and Spanish for that matter) and they all give me the desire to keep learning. I’m filled with excitement and intrigue at the use of the language and its differences from other languages. I enjoy the sound of the lyrics and try to imitate them even if I haven’t learned that vocabulary yet. That doesn’t happen when I listen to Chinese music. So I just put my chin in my hands and sigh in frustration.

I do have one theory as to why. I have a feeling that it has to do with the ease of reading. I am a lover of languages because I am a lover of words and sounds, so if I cannot read the words, I feel as though something is missing. Like there is a hole in the process. The Korean alphabet I was able to learn to read in one night. Then I spent the following two years reading signs all over Seoul. It was fun to pronounce it in my head and count the words I knew. I prefer to read Korean words written in the Korean alphabet than to read them romanized. The sound comes out more naturally in my head.  When listening to another language, I sometimes automatically visualize the words that  I am hearing.  It helps me remember what I hear I suppose.  Being fluent in Spanish, I can also read French, Italian and Portuguese with much greater ease and I love the challenge of seeing how much I can understand.  But with Mandarin, the characters (traditional here in TW) have too many strokes for my brain to wrap its head around.

So it seems my love of languages may be limited to the ‘see – n – say’ sort.  The kind that doesn’t make me feel as though I need to be an artist to write it down.  This goes against the grain of the future polyglot in me, but I suppose other polyglots have languages that don’t speak to them as well.  I hope.  Please tell me I’m not alone here.

On a positive note, I will say that Chinese was easier to learn than I had initially expected, so if the appearance of difficulty is deterring you, don’t let it.  Give it a try.  Also, I like how some of the words just seem like two simpler words put together to explain something more complex.  I can’t think of an example at the moment, so if someone knows what I mean, please feel free to put an example in the comments.  It’s quite logical, that part of the language.

Has this happened to anyone else out there?  Have you ever had trouble getting into a language that you felt that you had to learn?  I don’t want to be one of THOSE people who lives in a country and doesn’t learn the local language.  I never thought I’d be one of THOSE people.  And the Taiwanese people are very lovely folk, so it would be nice to communicate with them in their own language.  I just need to drum up the desire to learn it first.  :-/

From the Mouths of Spaniards

READER DISCRETION ADVISED: foul language below. Not suitable for children.

I began learning Spanish 20 years ago and spent 4 months in Spain, but somehow I never learned of the propensity Spaniards have for using foul language. I remember realizing that they used joder a little more often then their South American counterparts, including the free use of it on primetime TV (something you’d get a hefty fine for in the US). However, I didn’t realize the extent of the expletives.
Until…I moved in with a Spaniard. I’ve known my boyfriend for 8 years, so I knew of *his* love of expletives, but I didn’t know it was a cultural norm. We began watching episodes of Los Hombres de Paco, an 8-season TV series from Spain about a police station in Madrid: part comedy, part drama. That was when I began to realize it was more than just my boyfriend’s personality. Even the Commissioner likes to put things in his “santísimos cojones” (my favorite part). We have even watched several Spanish movies and they are all the same…puta madre, joder, me cago en _____ anytime, anywhere, with just about anyone. As an American it is quite amusing to listen to. They are very creative! Here is a list of some. I know what they mean, but I don’t think expletives ever translate well, so I’ll give you the literal translation of some words in parenthesis, but you’ll have to extract the full meaning for yourself:

-de puta madre (puta = whore, prostitute, hooker)

-me cago en Dios (cagarse = to shit)
Also seen in …me cago en la leche
…me cago en tu puta madre…they like to shit on things.

-la virgen puta (this one cracks me up! How is that even possible?! Haha)

Then, of course there are the usuals that some of you may have heard before – coño, mierda, hijo de puta, etc.

It has been a fun cultural learning experience and I now find myself easily inserting these foul phrases into my daily conversations in Spanish. Who’d of thought?

Have you heard any creative expletives in Spanish you’d like to share? If so, please leave them in the comments and say which country they hail from. What do you think of this cultural trait in Spain. Love to hear from you!

The Commissioner of Hombres de Paco played by Juan Diego. Here’s some of his best!
http://youtu.be/qUPKhQc8PqE

Happy travels!

Prescription Please!

One of the biggest advantages for me as an American abroad is access to affordable healthcare. I actually get excited every time I have to go to the doctor! I’m finally able to get various medical issues looked at that were otherwise neglected in the US due to costs.
To give you an idea of the cost, I visited an ENT specialist here in Taiwan at a local hospital. He spoke perfect English which was helpful, listened to my symptoms, had some x-rays done and prescribed a month’s worth of two name brand prescriptions. The cost: approx. $14. I honestly don’t remember how much I pay monthly for the national health insurance out of my salary, but it’s not much in my opinion. To compare, I googled one of the prescriptions he gave me and in the US the same bottle would cost $38. Plus to see a specialist would cost anywhere from $25-$100 with some insurance plans. Needless to say, I greatly appreciate the presence of a national healthcare plan.
My only complaint so far is that some of the doctors here as well in Korea don’t actually examine you. They ask you questions about your symptoms and then just prescribe something based on whatever you say you have. Hypochondriacs would have a field day! There’s no one to tell you you don’t really have what you think you have. This has happened with 3-4 doctors, even when I say ‘I’m not sure, take a look,’ they don’t. Has anyone else experienced this in their host country? Seems strange to me since in my home country, doctors are reluctant to give you any diagnosis these days for fear of being sued for medical malpractice.
As always, I’m eager to hear your experiences. Happy travels!

Am I a Bad Expat?

Subway. Starbucks. Coldstone. It’s names like these that set my heart aflutter. I walk inside and I feel instant comfort like a hug from a long lost cousin.
Hanging round an area of the city on the hunt for food, I should, as a traveler, seek out something local and exotic. Instead, I whip out my iPhone, bring up Google Maps and search for a nearby Subway sandwiches. I hideout in my little Americanized heaven for a quick lunch before heading back out to the scooter-filled chaos of Taiwan’s streets. And I am happier.
Why?! What has happened to the girl locked in the cubicle who couldn’t wait to get out and try new food and see new places, new cultures? Have I been abroad too long? Am I more homesick than I admit? I have no plan to return to the US any time soon though. I like living abroad.
OR…
Am I still more of a germophobe than I thought? The ‘Western’ franchises tend to keep their shops up to their country’s health standards unlike some of their local counterparts. So, perhaps I am merely seeking a familiar level of cleanliness.
OR…
perhaps I have not found enough local food that appeals to my taste buds. I eventually grew quite attached to Korean food while there, but cravings for Taiwanese food have yet to arise (except for the teas!)
OR…
Maybe it is that I have acclimated so much to East Asian culture that I too am accepting the Western ways as the new, young, trendy way. Haha.
I think I am finally understanding the ways of immigrants in the US and why they frequent authentic restaurants from their country and hang out in the same neighborhoods. So perhaps what I feel is normal.
Fellow expats, do you think this desire to try to live your country’s lifestyle in your foreign country is normal? Do you find yourself wanting to enjoy familiar franchises, environments and foods? If you have felt this urge before, is it merely a phase that subsides after awhile? I’m interested in hearing your thoughts and experiences.

Hello New Life!

Has it really been that long since I have written? It’s amazing how quickly time can pass. Since then my life has changed in a variety of ways…
…I finished my teaching contract in Korea, visited the fam in the US, spent a month in Chiang Mai, Thailand obtaining my CELTA certificate to increase my hire-ability, moved to Taichung, Taiwan, moved in with my boyfriend, started learning traditional Mandarin, got a new job, and started working out.
…It’s been crazy hectic and I’ve had my emotional ups and downs along the way, but all in all I’m quite happy and still loving expat life. Over time I’ll post about each of these new changes as the reflections occur to me, but for now:
GREETINGS FROM TAICHUNG, TAIWAN! ^^

20130204-134054.jpg

“Happy People are Initiators…”

A moment of true happiness while visiting Croatia. Photo by: Hassan Ali

I read the following quote in an ivillage article I read on Yahoo called “11 Secrets of Happy People.”

“Happy people are initiators…

Don’t wait for life to happen. You have to make it happen.”

I used to be the girl in the cubicle, complaining about not having the money to make myself happy.  I’m sure I drove my co-workers crazy with my constant desire and rambling about wanting to get out.  I’d be reading National Geographic at my desk (because my job was not inspiring to me and I couldn’t bring myself to do it for 8 hours a day) and wishing I could be one of those people who traveled and really saw things.  I was – correction am – in thousands of dollars of debt due to student loans and felt as though the world of travel was out of my reach.  I couldn’t afford to live in Spain on minimum wages, or volunteer in South America.  I couldn’t even afford language classes in my own hometown.  A bitterness began to overtake me as day after day, year after year I went back to the same type of job, always knowing there was something more for me, but not feeling as though it was within my grasp.  I was waiting for someone to show me the way – for life to bring me something fun and exciting to do.

Then, one day I decided I had had enough.  My 20s had been lost to the land of the cubicles and damn it I was going to find some way out of this rut no matter what it took.

And what it took was me moving to Asia, something I never thought I would’ve done before.  It was a little scary at first, moving across the world, signing a one year contract, not sure if me and my set ways were going to like it here, but it was the best decision I could’ve made.  I am much happier in life since I’ve been here for several reasons:  although not out of debt, I no longer use credit cards (except to purchase flights which I then pay off) and am not living paycheck to paycheck; I now have the means to travel more often and have seen 8 new countries since arriving 2 years ago; I broke out of my daily routine, made new friends, found a whole new lifestyle and a career that keeps me on my feet and more active.

None of this happiness would have occurred had I not decided to be an initiator.  I realized that many of the people I read about in travel magazines were not simply lucky, they found a way to make it happen and they created their own happiness.

And so did I.

Don’t wait for life to hand you a goodie bag of opportunity and dreams.  If you long for something better no matter how big or small, go out and get it.  Be willing to step out of your comfort zone if needed.  You may need to get creative to make things happen, so think outside the box.  No idea is too crazy – trust me!  Be an initiator.  Be your own reason for happiness.

Let’s Talk Tony Bennett

I have to tell ya, I am impressed.  I went youtubing (sounds like something you do on a river doesn’t it?) for an Alejandro Sanz song and came across the following video:

I had somehow missed that these two had collaborated last year.  For those who do not know him, Alejandro Sanz is one of the most famous Spanish singers to come out of Spain.  He has been popular for over 20 years being known for his emotionally sung and poetically written ballads.  He is one of my favorite singers of all time.

I was a little hesitant when I pressed play because the title was in English and as much as I love Ale Sanz, his English accent is not so great.  His part however, is mainly in Spanish and it is lovely.

But that is not what drew me to write a blog on this subject.  Lord knows I could go on and on about Sanz and the influence that he has had on me emotionally and linguistically.

I wanted to discuss instead, Tony Bennett.  How brilliant is this man?!  He is taking a musical genre that has not graced the ears of many of the younger generations and bringing it to the forefront again, long past its prime.  He is bringing back the crooner-era songs by mixing them with young, mainstream and sometimes controversial artists.  Sure, we expect him to do a duet with Norah Jones, Diana Krall or Natalie Cole, but did you ever picture Tony Bennett with the likes of Lady Gaga, Queen Latifah or Juanes?  I can’t say they were on my list of most wanted collaborations.  However, this is a wonderful idea on so many levels.

On a musical and business level, Mr. Bennett in his young age of 85, has revived his career and given himself a younger image through his association with all of the young mainstream artists.  Where some elders may shun the musicians of current music or ‘noise’ as they may call it, he embraces it.  He is embracing the new as well as making sure that this genre, these beautiful songs of his more youthful days do not fade so quickly as records and radio play are overcome by the digital era.

On a social level, he is bridging the generation gap.  He is introducing old songs to the new generation and giving them something they can share with their grandparents.  We could use a little more of that these days, don’t ya think?

So hats off to you Mr. Bennett for taking the road less traveled by.

Duets II (Tony Bennett album)

Duets II (Tony Bennett album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here is more information on both duet albums:  Duets, An American Classic / Duets II

 

Previous Older Entries

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 138 other followers