Back in March, I went to Taipei for a birthday vacation and to visit my parents. My mother is teaching art at one of the local universities for a semester, and my dad, along for the ride, is spending his time trying to learn Chinese. On Skype, I could see that one wall of their tiny apartment is papered with pale yellow Post-Its, on each a different Chinese character. In person, that wall revealed itself to be merely a half a wall, the rest occupied by cabinet space and a kitchen counter. But aside from watching my parents move around in a far smaller space than they’re used to, I had a couple other observations about Taipei that I’ve been rolling around like a hard candy on the tongue.
The first thing I noticed when I arrived is that there’s some English in use, but it is definitely not Kuala Lumpur, where you can stagger around vomiting English and expect everyone to have at least a vague notion of what you’re on about. Mandarin, particularly the Taiwanese variant, is definitely the way to go. You obviously can get by with the typical pointing and numbering, but if you have a scrap of dignity it helps to know basic stuff. Even if you can talk like a caveman (“Eegah shtemlo!”), you’ll save a lot of time and awkward stares. I learned a something about myself through this: even with the beginning-level Mandarin I have under my belt, I can understand a lot more than I thought I’d be able to; on the other hand, the crippling fear of failure that has plagued my personal and professional life for as long as I can remember applies to speaking. On multiple occasions, I’ve stood in front of a room of people and performed some truly terrible comedy, but faced with one waiter and an empty coffee shop, not one word of anything remotely Chinese sounding passed my lips. If I’d wanted chicken wings, I’d have ordered a breast or thigh instead. That said, the layout of the city and the way people conduct themselves is very reminiscent of a city like San Francisco (at least the 1990s version that I remember), which alleviates some of the language-barrier complications.
The other thing I noticed when I was there was the love of doors. Seriously, doors–and gates, too–are a thing. Walking down the street, it’s difficult to find houses or apartment buildings in close proximity that have the same style or design of door. Instead of carrying on about it, I’ll just post my favorites below. They all link to the original photo on my Flickr page.
Oh. Did I bury the lead there? It’s only under about 450 words–a pretty shallow grave. Don’t worry. I have 50-something more days of this, so I might make a game of seeing how deeply I can bury a lead.