Tag Archives: Taiwan

learning chinese mandarin

I walk into Starbucks on 46th and Chandler Boulevard. It’s on the other side of town, but I don’t mind. I’m ten minutes early for my second Mandarin lesson, and the place is nearly packed. I hurry over to the only table left and sit down. I lay my notebook on the table and begin studying my lesson from the previous week. Xièxie means thank you. Now how do I pronounce it correctly again? Is it a “sh” sound or “ch” sound…short i sound, or short e sound? More customers walk in and check the place out as they stand in line ready to order their lattes and frappuccinos. They seem to stare at me since I’m sitting alone at a table with two empty chairs. No way I’m giving up my table though! I continue studying. Bù kè qi means your welcome and zài jiàn means goodbye. Hello is nǐ hǎo. Of course, the spelling of these words is only a phonetic representation of how they are pronounced, as it’s Pīnyīn. We haven’t yet focused on Mandarin characters, although they are there written next to the phonetic spelling of each word in my lessons. I try to acquaint myself with the characters, but they don’t quite stick in my mind. I continue to sit and then wonder if I should get something to drink, a hot tea or coffee while I’m waiting. I decide not to. I have to save as much as possible for the trip to Taiwan.

My tutor, Shuchen, arrives shortly with a big smile and warm welcome. Shuchen is as petite as petite can be, but really big on enthusiasm. I appreciate her pep and her obvious interest in why I’m going to Taiwan and helping me learn Mandarin. We focus on learning language that will help me get by in the short amount of time we have before I go on my trip and will later focus more on filling in the gaps. I’m happy with this arrangement and try my best to get the pronunciation down and remember what the heck I’m actually saying in Mandarin. What’s familiar about Mandarin is that it’s a tonal language. I studied Vietnamese for a while, which is another tonal language. This helps, and I’m able to hear and pronounce the f different tones (really five) pretty easily. Shuchen is very encouraging and tells me that being a musician also helps in hearing  the inflection of each tone. Right on!

Recently, I got hooked on a Korean drama, “Boys Over Flowers” and watched the episodes online through Hulu. I looked up Taiwanese dramas thinking that it would be helpful in getting Mandarin “in my ear.” There is a Taiwanese version of “Boys Over Flowers” called “Meteor Garden.” It came out in 2001 and appears to have been very popular. Apparently, it stars some of Taiwan’s most popular young actors and actresses. The online streaming was really awful though, so I didn’t watch more than a few minutes of the first episode. Instead, I began watching another Taiwanese drama on Hulu called, “Single Princesses and Blind Dates.” It’s not nearly as good as “Boys Over Flowers” and I can’t say that I’m hooked, but it’s definitely good for listening and trying to learn Mandarin! I wish there was an easier way to learn another language and quickly. As it is, I’ll continue meeting with Shuchen. I’m glad that I found the right tutor and am really enjoying learning Mandarin, despite the difficulty.

Embracing my cultural roots

Wow, it’s been nearly a month since my last post. I feel as though I live in slow motion as I continue to wait on news of the search for my biological sister in Taiwan. At the end of September, I received an email from Beatrice at The Child and Juvenile Information Center in Taipei City, the agency that’s leading the search for my sister. Beatrice is always very encouraging and sent word that the household system in Taipei has record of my sister’s address, my second sister to be exact. Wow, second sister! I’m assuming second born daughter to my birth parents; I was the fourth and the only one given up for adoption that I know of.  Just knowing that small fact makes this all seem a little bit more real. She’s alive, she’s living somewhere out there. Will we find her? Beatrice expresses that finding this information is a big step, and they will try to contact her as soon as possible. More importantly, she also informs me that everyone needs to register in the household system, so everyone will have an address in the system; however, that does not guarantee that the individual registered will live at the address listed. I understand the message: we can’t be certain that my sister still currently lives at this address. My heart sinks a little. I want to be hopeful, but the possibility of finding my sister seems nearly impossible, far away, intangible, like looking for a needle in a haystack. I wish for things to be more certain, that perhaps after all this time, destiny will be on my side.

At the beginning of the month, I email Beatrice asking how the search is going. She expresses that although they sent letters to the address, there has been no reply from anyone. She suggests that it’s possible my sister no longer lives at that address, or that she has rented the house out. I become curious about the address, whether it is listed in Taiwan or in China. The reason behind this is my adoption contract lists my birth family’s address in the province of Guangxi, China. This is confusing to me and makes me wonder if I’m Chinese or Taiwanese? Furthermore, what led my birth family to move from China to Taiwan? Beatrice explains that the address on my adoption contract traces back to my ancestral descent, to my birth father’s family and that my sister’s address is in Taiwan. She assures me that I’m Taiwanese since my family lived in Taiwan.

Beatrice emails soon after noticing that it bothers me somewhat not knowing if I am Chinese or Taiwanese. I explain that my adoptive mom had always told me I was part Japanese and part Vietnamese – my mother, Vietnamese, and father, Japanese. I have no idea how she got this information, and I certainly never questioned it growing up. When I found my adoption contract in 2010 (after my adoptive mother’s death), I discovered that my birth parents were both Chinese, at least their names were Chinese, not Vietnamese or Japanese. This was shocking to say the least. My whole life, I believed myself to be Vietnamese and Japanese. Finding my adoption contract opened up an unsettling mystery about my birth heritage. Both of my adoptive parents have passed on, and recently I learned that both of my birth parents have also passed on. I’m left to investigate my past on my own. I can only say that now, I’m more curious than ever to discover something of my cultural roots.

Last week, we spent the weekend with some good friends of ours in California. My friend is Korean and her husband, from Czechoslovakia. While there, she introduced me to a popular Korean TV series, “Boys Over Flowers“. I can’t say that I was very interested in watching it, but to my surprise I got totally hooked, and when we returned home, continued to watch the entire 25 episodes! Watching this series was not only great entertainment, but on a much deeper level, it helped me to appreciate my Asian roots in a way I’ve never experienced before. I feel proud to be Asian. I’m sad to say that for the greater part of my life, I downplayed any reference to my Asian heritage, never fully embracing my cultural roots. I tried for many years to look “western,” American, white. When I look in the mirror now, I’m beginning to appreciate what I see, the shape of my eyes and nose, the color of my hair and skin. I have a burning desire, whether my sister is found or not, to go to Taiwan and immerse myself in the culture, to even learn Mandarin. I want to explore that part of my identity that I rejected for so long and feel compelled to do so. It’s been difficult to wrap my head around all of the emotions that have crept in over the last several weeks.

I know that Beatrice and the agency in Taiwan are doing everything they can to find my sister. It will take time. Whether or not I receive good or bad news, the good news to me is that I’m slowly learning about my cultural roots. I hope that in so doing, I will appreciate who I am and who I’m becoming in a greater way. I realize that my self-identity is still so full of complexities. But things are coming full circle, and in the end, I know that I won’t regret this journey.