Friday, August 14, 2009

So dawn goes down to day...

I'm taking an executive decision and postponing Snapshots 3 for another week, because I want to reflect on my time in Taipei while it's still fresh enough to be smelt.

These last 48 hours are bringing with them so many endings.

It started last night, when a group of folks got together for dinner at Forkers, a fantastic "美國菜” (American food) restaurant. I had invited them all because I won't be seeing them for a long time, if ever; I won't miss all of them terribly, but there were a few people there - like 怡之 (Angela) and Ma Yen ("Max") - who have definitely claimed a special place in my heart. 怡之 took me back to my house on her motor scooter, which was a wild ride; scootering isn't any less exciting the second time, though this may have had something to do with the fact that I was Angela's first passenger ever and there were some unusually hair-raising moments along the way.

When he got home a little while later, Edward - my housemate, who speaks English and has been my go-to guy for any questions or problems, and who had come to dinner with us - knocked on my door and gave me a gift. It was a book: The Analects (論語) of our good friend Confucius (孔子). (See earlier blog post for a photo.) It's a beautiful, simple, white-bound collection of the most famous sayings of Confucius in (side-by-side) classical Chinese, modern Chinese, and English. I had known that Confucianism was really important here, but it still took me by surprise when Edward told me, "I think that for us this is like your Bible." It seems that by "your" he meant "Americans'," and was assuming that we're all Christian, but I got the idea. Apparently schoolchildren all read it, and are asked to memorize passsages, or as much as they can. Edward thinks that if I read it I will have a much better understanding of how and why Taiwanese think the way that they do, and I don't doubt him; I'll definitely be putting that book to good use in the coming year.

Today was the last day of class. My 單班課 teacher helped me with some grammar and sentence patterns, and then finished it off in grand style by telling my fortune. After she let it slip that she went to something that sounds like fortune-telling school, I extracted a promise from her to tell my fortune on the last day, and she did not disappoint. What is my fortune, you ask? Well, it's a fairly innocuous one, as this is more the traditional style... and I have to say, I wasn't particularly impressed... anyway, I'll tell you another time ;-) I also discovered that I'll miss 李老師, the teacher of my small class (中國寓言), and that my respect for Xu Laoshi, the teacher of my larger class (新編會話), has been growing throughout the summer and I think he's a fantastic teacher. It was also great to see him in a bit less teacher-y setting when he took us out for dinner and tea a few nights ago, and I'll miss him a lot more than I thought I would have at the beginning. I'll also miss Fan Laoshi, who was the tiny, energetic, 40-ish-year-old director of academics; she's just such a cool woman, and I regret that my Chinese has never been good enough (or she's never had enough free time) for us to actually talk for an extended period of time. I'll also miss the office staff, because they're characters in their own right. But regardless, we got our "diplomas" and picture CDs today at the send-off lunch party, and ICLP and I are done - probably for good.

Today also marks my last full day in Taipei. I'll miss so much about the city, from the excellent MRT and bus system to the women who work at my customary hotpot venue. But I'm meeting my landlord tomorrow at noon to pay for utilities and move out. From there I'll be going to the Zhangs' house (張家) in Banqiao City, and then from there to the Penghu islands in the afternoon. There, I hope to do a lot of hanging out without any semblance of responsibility, and maybe also some surfing and motorbike-riding. I'll be getting back on Tuesday sometime, hopefully staying the night, and going to the airport to catch a 4:00 PM flight on Wednesday. After a 16-hour flight plus layover, I'll be back in the states by Wednesday at 10:00 PM. [You read that right. If you think that's weird, consider the fact that I'll arrive in Alaska at 9 AM on the same day I left. It's all about the International Date Line.] Then it'll be off to home, family, finally seeing my brother Michael and his girlfriend Cat after almost a year (they'll be getting in from Scotland that same day! 我的運氣很好!- "I'm really lucky!"), and writing one last, nostalgic, photo-filled blog post for my dedicated readers, should such still exist.

Finally, I want to offer one last reflection on what I've learned. Today, Fan Laoshi showed us the results of the Big Test (TM) a two-hour affair which we took twice, once for placement and once at the end of the year. Although ICLP doesn't give grades, they use it as a quantitative way to show people how much they've improved. Of course, I'm pretty sure it caters to ICLP vocab, but beyond that, I didn't remember a thing from the first time I took it, so I think it was a decent measure. How did I do? Well, you'll recall that in June I guessed that I got about 25% correct. I was about right, I found out today: I had clocked in at 42 out of 173. This week, a still humbling but much improved result: 92.

While I'm obviously really happy with that kind of improvement, the proof is of course in one's ability to speak, listen, read, and write. To be more qualitative, I think that my vocabulary has improved immensely; I can get across a lot of what I want to say. I've also picked up the ability to conduct a certain few simple interactions (ordering guabao, for example) at a speed and with an accent that might fool Taiwanese people into believing that I'm a reasonably fluent foreigner. My listening comprehension has also gotten much better, partly because of the vocabulary and partly from getting using to people talking on the street. My reading has gotten better to a limited extent, and my writing has gotten much prettier and more fluid.

Limitations: They are, of course, still infinite. My reading and grammar are what have improved the least, I think - the former because I chose to adopt a listening-oriented approach to preparing my lessons, which I definitely don't regret; and the latter because Chinese grammar is something that one has to slowly get used to and digest, and my classes focused disappointingly little time and effort on really owning the most basic and useful everyday sentence patterns. Sentences of limited complexity still tend to come out horribly wrong when I open my mouth. Also, it's still too easy for me to get very lost when listening: if I don't immediately understand a phrase, my mind will tend to fall a few crucial milliseconds behind in trying to figure it out, and by the time I've given it up as a lost cause, I'm missing the rest of what's being said. That's why phones are still anathema to me: I miss out on the helpful body language that would otherwise help me skip over those mystery phrases without too much of a problem. Also, my tones and pronunciation have an embarrassing tendency to go out the window when I'm struggling particularly hard to make a particular sentence. Finally, I have some embarrassingly bad habits, a few of which I've somehow managed to pick up here: for example, saying "沒關係" (the appropriate response to "sorry") instead of "bu hui," which is what I should say after someone says "thank you"; I've been known to switch the word for "month" and the word for "hour" ("I'm leaving on August 19:00!"); I also still mix up the numbers themselves sometimes, and am annoyingly slow at thinking of them in Chinese, a problem I've had since Day 1.

My Chinglish, though, is superb.

To conclude before I get to packing and then head out with some Yale 同學 for our last stab at living it up in Taipei, I bring you three recent photos:

1. People waiting for a Comic Convention to open at the university's gym on a weekend morning. The line stretches all the way around the gym and beyond; a few fans are even dressed up, cosplay style.

2. A scene from my main class's final presentation.

3. Eric, Sei (fellow Yalies), and me, with Fan Laoshi.

See you all back in the States!


1 comment:

  1. That's impressive improvement! Job well done. Also, I love how you're picking up on cultural generalizations (perhaps you were always like that?).