Monday, September 5, 2011

Little Victories

For the past two weeks, I’ve been relying exclusively on Chinese-speaking friends, pointing, English-translated menus, and 7/Eleven for sustenance.  It’s difficult to order food when you have NO idea what’s being served.  I don’t even know a few words that could get me by.  Oh, and I don’t know how to say “I don’t speak Chinese.”
Unfortunately, here in Wugu, the district of Taipei where I’m living, there aren’t many other English-speakers.  In fact, in the week or so that I’ve been in this neighborhood, I’m the only foreigner I’ve seen.  Yeah, the kids stop and stare when I walk down the street.  Who am I kidding, the adults stare too.  Needless to say, English-translated menus are few and far-between, and I haven’t come across picture menus, except of course at McDonald’s.  But even I have not been THAT hungry.  Yet.
My roommates had to take me to dinner the other night so that I wouldn’t starve to death.  On the way over, I was telling them how I needed to learn a few key words so I didn’t have to wait around for someone else to come along and make sure I got fed.  It’s not a good feeling, being so helpless.  While we were waiting for our food, I pointed to the tea stand across the street.   
“What do I say if I want black tea?” I asked, noticing there were no pictures to guide me.
Hongcha,” Abi replied.  
Easy enough.  I practiced all the way home, and then immediately wrote it down.  I so badly wanted to be able to order a fricken drink without help!
And so the next morning, I got up, got ready for work, reviewed my Chinese notes, and headed down the street to work.  As I neared the tea stand, I began again to mutter hongcha, hongcha, hongcha under my breath.  I was sweating; was it nerves?  No, silly, it’s like 98 degrees outside.
Ni hao!  Hongcha,” I said with a proud smile.  I don’t know how to say “please,” so it came out as more of a command.  But, the lady got the idea.  She nodded and started scooping ice into a cup.  Ohmygod, she understood me!  As she handed me my ginormous black tea, my heart skipped a beat.  It worked!!  I did it!  All by myself!  Look, Mom, no hands!
I wanted to skip down the rest of the block, but I didn’t want more people to stare and point than already do.  But you can be sure there was a little pep in my step.
All that over some iced tea?  Yes!  One more baby step to maybe being able to actually eat a meal in my ‘hood independently.....
The sweet taste of freedom
I felt so I-N-D-E-P-E-N-D-E-N-T (do you know what that mean), I decided to venture out on my own for lunch.  And by “on my own,” I mean I grilled my Taiwanese coworkers on how to order noodles, practiced the phrase over and over, and had one of them write it down.  Then I walked down the street, stepped up to the noodle stand, and placed my order with confidence.
Well, of course they didn’t make that kind of noodle dish.  Now what?  Luckily, the girl behind the counter new enough English to help me understand what kind of noodles they could make for me.  So, even though it didn’t work out exactly according to plan, I still got recognizable food all by myself! 
Seafood noodles
Just don’t ask me if the restaurant would have passed a health code inspection.

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