Memories of Taiwan: Lost in Translation

I was walking with my teacher, Chen Yun Ching, through the cluttered, stony streets of Qishan in southern Taiwan, blood-red paper and tinsel jostling with with the pushy crowds and endless market stalls.

"How do you you say 'Happy New Year'?" I asked him, and he paused, mid-stream, while people flowed around him, a rock in the rapids.

I carefully repeated his words again and again, watching his eyebrows raise higher and his eyes go wider in increasing exasperation at my mangled tones, until he finally waved his hand saying "hao" (good) - whether in satisfaction or in resignation, I wasn't sure.

With some optimism I shouted out my newly-acquired greeting to the first people I saw: a group of young men and women walking past, chatting amiably in the spirt of New Year's Eve revelry.

Almost at once they fell about laughing (literally, for one young man actually sank to the ground, hugging his belly), stamping their feet, vainly trying to stifle guffaws and holding out empty hands, while I stood there with a fading smile and an obvious question mark materializing over my head.

My teacher who was shaking his head proceeded to inform me that I, a relatively wealthy foreigner, had just shouted out to this group of poverty-stricken youths: "Give me your money!"

Copyright © 2009 Dejan Djurdjevic