Taiwan culture shock: Don’t expect PC

At the time i really committed to learning Chinese. I was going to two classes a day. This was the afternoon one.

“Good afternoon everyone,” the teacher would say in English every class and i would start to grit my teeth.

“She is quite hot! Maybe, I’ll do you a favor and ask her out,” replied the stoned guy next to me who had just joined the class. He was referring to the rumor teaching Chinese was another tactic in the ambitious-young-girl, off-to-UCLA-next-year strategy for learning English: haven’t been picked up in the bar yet? Still fancy familiarizing yourself with the white man? – Try your luck teaching Chinese.

Starting out studying is often not easy because inevitably your girlfriend speaks good English, and was probably with you to practice her English. I imagine mine at the time was and, as i didn’t have any money I didn’t mind: sex for English was a fair bargain. However, I was paying money for this class so I expected the Taiwanese to leave their enthusiasm for my language at the door.

“We have a new tong xue … student,” said the teacher, quickly remembering she was here to test her own English.

“Ne tsong na le li? – ” and then without giving him a chance to the hippy guy to answer the question a translation came forth: ‘Where are you from?”

“Mei gwo. (America)”

“Mei gwo na li (Where in America?)”

“Arizona,”said the stoned guy obviously not having memorized the Chinese for the fifty states in lower intermediate class.

We don’t need to know this, I fumed to myself. If he can’t say it in Chinese don’t ask him the question.

Then she turned to me:“Dan is also an American…Mei gwo na li (Where in America?)”she asked.

“Wo bu zhi dao ze ma jiang (I don’t know how to say),” I replied sullenly.

“It is okay, you can speak English.”

I said nothing.

“New York? L.A? Texas?”

“Jesus. Is this Chinese class or American geography?”i finally said.

She scowled at him and then turned back to the stoned guy. He was just there for the visa so he was quite happy to answer questions in English all day.

After class:“Duei bu chi, Na ge lao she (Sorry, that teacher), I am not sure, she is teaching Chinese or English,” I said to the boss of the school, originally not planning to be sarcastic.

“Hey, you know yours is a low level class, she has to speak some English,” she replied.

“What about your kids?” I said staring at her small children standing next to her with their huge California Sunshine backpacks, an English-only kindergarten. “They are forced to speak a foreign language before they can use the bathroom properly, but it seems university educated westerners needed the helping hand of translation to learn your language.”

“You foreigners are too direct.”

I didn’t know how to answer this. I knew there were different cultural norms to abide by, but wasn’t what I just said the truth? How else was I supposed to say it? Did I have to give up being honest to be indirect?

“Nobody else complain her?” followed up the boss, seeing me on the run.

“They are Asian and the other guy had a joint before he came. The three Koreans and two Japanese said they found this place enlightened and innovative compared to their own school systems – and, anyway don’t understand English so they aren’t having their time wasted. And the dope-head from Arizona is only coming so he can get a student visa and stay in the country longer. All this amounts to the same thing: a bunch of people who were not going to complain.”

I decided to get it all out:“Tell the teacher to explain every word in Korean. I ain’t a selfish guy. You know, if it was necessary to use a second language to explain everything, it is only fair to use the one the majority of the class speak.”

“Go to another class if you want. What about your morning class? – She is okay.”

“I can’t attend my morning class twice, now can I?” I snapped before heading for the elevator, trying to show my anger by leaving quickly, but only managing to get stuck trying to open the two doors – Everywhere in Taiwan had an outer door of metal bars covered in mosquito netting, and an inner door made of wood. The wooden door handle could be easily turned, but the metal door had to be unclipped from the frame around the doorway, and often they were stiff. I stood outside waiting for the lift, embarrassed and angry, suppressing an unwelcome happiness, the result of having stood up myself.

Nothing wrong with standing up for yourself, but just be aware when the alienation sets in you may start barking in the wrong forest.

About the Author

I have been in Taiwan for nearly fifteen years, deciding to complicate life by adding cultural confusion to the mix of going from cocky early twenties guy to more mature family man. Along the way I have gone through almost every stage that we foreigners do unconsciously trying to reconcile culture shock, love of Taiwan and home. I have also spent alot of my time outside of teaching, being the only foreigner in local companies - big, small, legit and borderline. Dan blogs frequently at his own site,Betelnut-Equation

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