The loss of a common language has been one of the hardest things about coming to Taiwan, but the sudden disappearance of common sense can be the most humiliating. Examples include not knowing how to use the toilet -I googled it; not knowing how to open doors – somebody has to open them for me; and not knowing how to cross a road – quickly and hopefully seems to be the answer.
Last night was another humbling from bumbling incompetence. Firstly, the hostel manager, a girl from Taipei, did my laundry for me after assuming I wouldn’t be able to read the buttons. A gregarious girl, she is slim and tall, as tall as the young man from Burkina Faso here on a student exchange program – she insisted they compare heights much to the amusement of the room.
While chatting to other travellers -mostly University age Taiwanese, she kept an eye on me and was generous in her guidance, heaping praise on me when I used the correct bin, and anticipating problems like My inability to open a pot noodle packet. After helping me unravel the mystery, she then scolded me for not letting them cook long enough before eating them. “But I was hungry”, I timidly protested.
Later in the evening, she spotted me studying with my iPad in the corner isolated from the others conversation. I was studying Mandarin on a downloaded Teach Yourself book. I am at introductions and numbers, or to be more specific, I am stuck on saying my name and 5. I can’t match the sing song tones I hear and the printed words I see on my screen. Anyway, at her prompting, I introduced myself to the room. An Inguoren I am, my book tells me that it literally means person from heroic country; that might be taking it a bit far but I’ll take what I can get.