Random encounters

(All the Chinese words are my own spelling.)

There are a lot of other akward, geeky white guys in Taipei, but apparently not too many because I find I am a bit of a spectable in many places. My presence has lead to some strange meetings.

One old man with just a few teeth left came up to me and stuck up his thumb and said, “Number one!” It was so sudden, all I could remember was Japanese—“Ichiban desu!” I put my thumb up, too. He said, “Number one good!” I finally remembered the Chinese, “Hao Ban!” He left, very satisfied, saying “Good, good.”

Another old man saw me from a distance and waited until I wandered near. He said, in English, “Do you speak Chinese?” I said, “Yi dian dian” (a little bit). Didn’t phase him. “Do you speak Japanese?” I said, “Hai. Wakarimasu. Skoshi desu.” He gave me a bg smile and walked off repeating “Wakarimasu“.

The last time I was here I was in a toilet and a guy was at the sink. I was about to wash my hands and he just stuck his hand out to me to shake. I did. He nodded and left. No expression on his face the whole time.

I was at a street fair and a businessman started to walk beside me. He finally worked up the courage to say something. “Why are you in Taiwan?” I said, “Vacation” He said, “That’s good.” I told him I loved Taipei, the food especially, and that I was very happy to be here. I could see his chest swell with pride. I made the man very happy.

A man at a Hakka rice wine stand saw me and said, “Where are you from.” I told him New York. He smiled and said, “Good bye!”

When I am at street food stands, the proprietresses (more women than men run these stations) often watch me eat every bite, so I feel like I have to put on a bit of a performance. I repeat “Hao chu!” (delicious) or “Hao hua!” (same for liquids). I make delicious faces and act as if I’m critically assessing the food. With the amount that I am eating, I am making friends all over the island.

The encounters aren’t always good, though, but only because my Chinese stinks. For example, I am so stupid that I can never remember the difference between the words Bukachi and Duebachi. This can lead to disaster. Yesterday, at a Japanese bakery, I bumped into an old lady and upset her tray of food. “Bukachi!” I announced. The look she gave me! It means “You’re welcome!” I did the same thing to a young woman whose foot I stepped on causing her shoe to come off, and to a guy driving a car that I stupidly stepped in front of. I keep telling people they are welcome for me making an idiot of myself. I should say Duebachi, which of course means “I’m sorry”.


  1. TCO

    Go Navy. Beat air Fortce

  2. D Johnson

    TCO, I keep encountering you everywhere!

    Either we have the same tastes, or (more likely) it’s the home-made wine that I’m drinking.

    Anyhow, I’m enjoying the vignette’s from Taiwan, since I spent some time there a couple of decades ago.

  3. A respectable spectacle, no doubt. Chances are you will never be Emperor here, but it looks like you have a shot at it in Taiwan. How do you say, “I accept the job of Supreme Ruler” in Chinese?

  4. Rick Sharp

    Hen hao… I lived in Beijing off and on for seven years. Never learned anything more than “taxi Chinese” you know …zoagwai, yoagwai, eedjurdao. Thank God for the picture menus at Kentucky Chicken and Mc Donald’s. Too late for me to learn now. I lived on the North side of town and the first couple of years people looked at me but that went away in the last year or so, the Olympics helped.

    When I was living in Ulaanbaatar I had a couple of different Mongolian girlfriends. They were great at languages, most spoke Russian, Chinese and English. One girl spoke Russian, German, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, English and of course Mongolian. Learning the Cyrillic alphabet was as far as I got. I was so happy one day when I sounded out Pectopah, it was Restaurant. Cyrillic (Russian, Mongolian) is easy to read, Just sound out the words. Reading Chinese that’s another story.

    Zaigen / Bayartai

  5. Ari

    Aww, Chinese isn’t so bad. I’ve long since decided that Japanese is the hardest of the Northeast Asian languages.

    Matt, your pictures make me miss Asia so much. I need to go back ASAP!

  6. …sorry, have to be picky, but it’s spelt “awkward” …only a typo I know…

  7. Joy

    Hilarious! Did you have to buy the whole tray of pastries? Good job the man in the toilet said nothing, your Chinese could have got you on a sticky wicket!
    It’s Good that the Chinese still find foreigners a novelty; that’s part of the fun of travel. When I was in India, in the bazaar although dressed in a shalwar Kameez (to blend in seamlessly) I was stared at like I’d just stepped off a space ship. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t easily see if I were being stared at, but the locals made no attempt not to stop walking and crane their necks at my strangeness. In England, if that happened, I’d be worried, but their lack of self consciousness was amusing, even charming, and not intimidating.

  8. I just stopped by your blog and thought I would say hello. I like your site design. Looking forward to reading more down the road.

  9. Matt

    Any decent Extra Virgin Olive Oil there?

  10. Richard Sharpe

    Hmmm, is ‘delicious’ really pronounced hăo chuÌ… in Taiwan? ’cause it is hăo chiÌ… in Standard Mandarin.

  11. JH

    HÇŽo chÄ« = Good Eat. “Ch-i” is pronounced with your tongue curled back in Mandarin. The final part sounds like (but not exactly) “u” in circus or “i” in edible. The same Chinese character may be pronounced differently in different dialects. It is “Ho-Si” in Hakka language.

    Mike D, “I accept the job of Supreme Ruler.” I, JH that is… well, at least in my household. ^_^

    wǒ jiē shòu zhuì gaū tǒng zhì zhě de gōng zhòu.

  12. JH — that is useful information. How is the phrase pronounced? Standard Websters pronunciation symbols please.

    And also, it there a garbled way one could goof it up and accidently be saying something else, such as “I accept the job of outhouse swamper” or something like that? I would like to avoid embarrassing faux pas blunders, if possible.

  13. Richard Sharpe

    JH said:

    “HÇŽo chÄ« = Good Eat. “Ch-i” is pronounced with your tongue curled back in Mandarin. The final part sounds like (but not exactly) “u” in circus or “i” in edible. The same Chinese character may be pronounced differently in different dialects. It is “Ho-Si” in Hakka language.”

    Hmmm, not in my dialect of English, and I suspect not even in American English. Indeed, I think the ‘i’ in ch, sh, and zh sounds are more like the ‘i’ in the first part of ‘circus’ or ‘circle’. Thanks for pointing that out because I am always on the look out for ways to help people pronounce Mandarin phonology correctly. Giving them accurate examples of how it is pronounced in their native language helps greatly. Thank god that Gwen still exists as a name in English because it helps with Cantonese phonology (some dialects of it, at least) as well as some sounds in Mandarin.

  14. Richard Sharpe

    Continuation of my previous comment, since the damn spam filter insisted it was spam.

    Since I also speak some Cantonese, I am aware that 好吃 is pronounced differently in different Chinese languages (if you regard Dutch and German as different languages, then consistency demands that you regard Cantonese and Mandarin as different languages as well). For example, in Cantonese those characters are pronounced hou2 hek3, but when they want to say delicious in Cantonese they actually say hou2 sik6 (好食) which I suspect is what is being used in Hakka (客家-kèjia̅) as well.

  15. JH

    Ding. Ding. Ding!

    Mr. Sharpe, you are correct; it is “好食” in Hakka. Different dialects may use different vocabulary. I can go on and on. Let me just say this. If I were the supreme leader, I would have adopted my Hakka dialect as the official Chinese language… a humble Hakka-(ng)ian’s unbiased opinion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *