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.  :-/

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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! ^^

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