After a long weekend of being indoors, it was time once again to get groceries. I have found that the taxis that on on my street usually already have passengers, since it isn´t an extremely main road, although most people in the US would definitely categorize it as a city street lined with shops and restaurants. So I usually have to walk a couple hundred feet to the more major thoroughfare. Today a taxi started pulling over before I indicated I needed one. It couldn´t have just been the previously mentioned large bright red Costco bags, because when I got in it took a little effort to communicate where I wanted to go. I quickly resorted to my pre-printed bilingual taxi card. When the driver read it, I was startled to have a glimmer of understanding of what he said. I still have a VERY limited Mandarin vocabulary after one official one-on-one tutoring session last Friday. But part of the lesson apparently stayed in my brain. I checked out the pin-yin spelling (the kind of letters we are used to, as opposed to the Chinese characters) and found I recognized the words. After checking with two excellent bilingual speakers at the Center, I found that I was relatively close to understanding. The first word is very common and means ‘good.’ The second word is pronounced exactly like one I knew, but in this case was one of the other 3 words that are pronounced exactly like that, including tone marks. They all have different characters, though, and one “just” has to know the context in which they are used. Their version of homonyms. It means ‘market.’ The third word was part of what you might call a compound word that I had learned, but I had the two parts transposed. It means ‘more.’ Literally: Good Market More. Costco. And I am one step closer to communicating with my taxi driver’s. That was my first little surprise.
Inside Costco, I was enjoying feeling much more comfortable than the first few trips. I know where things are now. I have a feel for how I am expected to maneuver in the crowds. I had the fun of being asked by an Asian couple ( I can’t even remember which language they used, but I’m pretty sure there wasn’t more than one word of English) where it was that I had found the bag of grated cheddar cheese. Due to the crowds and language constraints, it seemed best to just walk them there, an effort they very much appreciated. When I was in the meat section, a Chinese woman in her late 30s – early 40s, politely stopped me and began to tell me how beautiful I am. Who wouldn’t enjoy that? I tried to humbly acknowledge the compliment with a Mandarin ‘thank you’ which made her think she should switch to Mandarin. She was easily convinced that I couldn’t proceed with the conversation that way, but wasn’t dissuaded from continuing with English and hand motions to describe why she was so pleased with the shape of my face and eyes. She “sees a lot of foreigners and knows.” And she says, “you need to get a picture taken and save it to show to your grandsons!” I wonder, do foreigners get treated this way in the US?
For the trip home, I rode with the only taxi driver in Taipei that is not in a hurry. He was somewhat elderly and tired looking and did not seem to have a good grasp of where my street was. This was not obvious until we had been driving for a while. He also didn’t speak English. A couple of weeks ago, this situation could have caused me some panic, but, surprise, I had a sense that he was going in the correct direction. And I also have a cell phone with the realtors number on speed dial. We finally made it and he was all smiles, seeming to be put at ease by my patience with the situation. The kids were waiting at the gate with Uncle Huang to help unload. I gave the taxi driver a few extra NT in respect for his age. Maybe he can go home earlier today. And I will be encouraged by my little surprises.