Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Taiwan characters: Eric and studying Chinese VIII

Eric's next move to study Chinese was to go to Taichi class.

At 5:30 Eric got up and headed over to the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial. He was usually only up at this time if he was coming home, and coming home at that time seeing the old people practicing is what inspired him.

They were there in hundreds: men in baseball caps, polo shirts, and long socks under scandals, next to them old women with sun visors over tight dyed black permed hair, t-shirts and flowery three-quarter length trousers. Old people filled the parks at this time in the morning.

He ventured over to them self-consciously ready for the first shout of ‘foreigner’, and the looks of distress. He wondered if it would scare him away. He wondered what he would talk to them about – they were old people after all.

He didn’t make a point of speaking to old people in America, but these were Taiwanese. They were the people that demanded blind loyalty from their children, that made their daughter-in-laws lives a misery. He had to block that out. He had to remember that was not his business.
He walked over to the guy at the front that was barking orders for them to line up. He was sure the guy could speak a little politer. Not be so proud of his own authority; his rank.

“Excuse me, can I join the class?” said Eric.

“You can speak Chinese?”

Didn’t I just address you in Chinese? thought Eric. “Yes.”

“You speaka the Chinese?” he repeated in English.

Eric pursed his lips and told himself there was a simple misunderstanding. The guy wasn’t practicing his English.

Perhaps he hadn’t said it loud enough. It sounded loud enough, but then again it had been quiet enough not to bring attention to himself. He could sense the crowd already looking at him.

“Yes. I can speak Chinese,” shouted Eric.

“Ok. Quick.”

He instinctively looked around for a early twenties female to attach himself to…Then a young guy…Then one of those educated looking young mother who always wore Nike tracksuit bottoms combined with a thin cardigan and scarf, whatever the weather... He debated whether the plucked eyebrows and heavy mascara of the woman two rows back was the primary decider of her economic status or her middle-class Reebok tracksuit. He couldn’t decide.

Fuck, anyway it is not why I am here.

Eric shuffled over next to an old man in a white vest. “Ne hao,” he said nervously and got ready for his first taichi class.

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