Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Taiwan characters: Eric and studying Chinese in Taiwan IX

A month after joining the taichi class things were going great. He had been adopted by a group of old women averaging 70 years old. They were all mainlanders who had arrived with Chiang Kai Shek when he lost the civil war in 1947. Eric had wanted to be adopted by a bunch of local Taiwanese, but unfortunately, most Taiwanese of this age could hardly speak Chinese and once they were together with friends would only use Taiwanese.

Today, he was having lunch at the apartment of one of them. Her 100 year old mother was sat in the chair.

"Hey, her feet were bound," he said.“That is fascinating!"

An image of himself trying to walk on toes being smashed with a sledge hammer and bent under popped into his head. "Sorry...Probably not so fascinating for her."

“So what is this a picture of?” Eric loved looking at old photos, they gave him a window into different time or place – Something pretentious like that, he thought.

“Me, my parents, Beijing. I was twelve.” In the case of this lady, that was about 75 years ago.

“So, you have any photos…in Taiwan with your parents?”

“I not see my parents…uh, since 1947. They killed by the communists.” She said in that matter-of-fact way you do when you have had fifty years to think about your parents’ murder.

“I’m sorry.” He tried to hold that thought for a moment and imagine what it was like, but it was just too much.

“I am a Christian. I will see them in heaven.” Eric suddenly remembered what a moaning, miserable, petty, worthless, skeptical bastard he was; he resolved to be a better man.

“That is a picture of my grand-daughter,” she said. “She is studying in America now, but she will be back next month. Maybe, you want to meet her.”

Meet some bitch who wants to patronize me with her perfect English? There is nothing I would like less the do in the world. “That is a pity. I am going back to America next month.”

Eric left around two in the afternoon and went home. He took a nap for an hour. He opened Outlook, saw an email from the translation company and closed it down again. Boredom kick-started thinking about his next move in Taipei. Taichi was fun, but he didn’t see himself getting up at five-thirty for much longer. He had tried a martial arts class, but it was filled with a bunch of foreigners. He went to the park at the end of the road and talked to the old men playing Chinese chess and mahjong. He actively engaged anyone he could in conversation. Thoughts of unpaid bills reminded him of the key point: he had to do something other than talk to people or study Chinese. He wanted it put it to practical effect. Otherwise he might as well go home. He had only started translation as a means to learn some Chinese and earn some money at the same time. The interest value of translation was simply the subject matter, and, unfortunately, if he wanted to do it full-time it meant half the time yawning through company profiles. Teaching English continued to be what it had always been: a source of easy money. Professor of Sinology just conjured up a picture of a fraud. He wasn’t a businessman. He came here to do something different. To pursue interests. He wasn’t worried about the work experience. He would go back to America in a few years and then he would do whatever. He was used to having no money. Ideally, he needed something that would allow him a total immersion environment in Chinese. He heard of one guy who took an apprenticeship in a motorbike shop, and it didn’t entirely repulse him, as it would have done before. He would have to think of something else…Actually he had heard of one other thing...

A couple of weeks later:

“You are going to study Chinese medicine in a clinic? You are going to treating Taiwanese people,” repeated back a flabbergasted John at dinner that evening.

He admired his resolve to get involved in all things Taiwanese, but Eric was going to hear - You are a foreigner, you don’t know anything about Chinese medicine - about 100 times a day and he usually exploded at the flick of a surprised eyebrow.

“Yeah, I know, but it should be so cool, man.” Eric also didn’t have a lot of faith, but it looked fascinating and so he was determined to give it a go.

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