Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Today the weather turned cold and the rain never let up. The wind whipped the rain into the windows and the “tap tap” of droplets on the roofing echoed through the apartment. When I peered out the window, down onto the street, there were no bright umbrellas bobbing down the narrow ally. All I could see was the stream of glistening water running down the gutter. Everyone was staying inside. So, I pulled out my umbrella and headed out the door. Walking in the rain has never bothered me, and with the crowds off the streets, the tiny roads were open for me to stroll around.
I am living in Northwest Taipei County, on the tropical island of Taiwan. The apartment is close to the mountains, meaning lots of rain when the clouds hit the barrier and release all of their moisture. It is about 30 minutes into Taipei City by train, and from the station I can switch to the subway or a local bus.
But my walk today took me only around my neighborhood. Out the door I took a left onto a narrow, partially covered street that houses the morning market. Each day the street is full of stalls bulging with fresh produce. Amongst the stalls are small food carts that serve steaming bowls of fish ball soup or cups of soy custard with tapioca and red beans. This afternoon the street was nearly empty with all the metal doors pulled down to close the shops. I walked under the awnings to prevent walking in the downpour off the roof. Past the market area the street narrowed even more and I emerged into the courtyard of the neighborhood temple. The red and gold paper lanterns across the road blew in the wind and the chimes sang a melancholy song. Past the temple the little street intersected a main road and I had a feeling I should turn left. There were still no pedestrians on the sidewalk, but cars turned in and out of side streets and motor scooters sped by, forcing me to step back to avoid being splashed. My instinct to turn left onto this main road turned out to be correct, and I ended up at the train station, just a block from the apartment.
Because I speak so little Chinese, my ability to do simple, everyday things like order food is very limited. Because I have yet to learn food vocabulary, I chose to buy my lunch in a 7-11 convenience store, thereby avoiding the need to order off of a menu. I browsed through the prepared foods section and selected a nice pack of dumplings. To drink, I chose a box of soymilk. When the young man behind the counter asked me something, I knew that I should nod my head and say “I want” because he was asking me if I wanted my dumplings heated up. Head nod and mumble, “I want” in the wrong tone. I have never been so intimidated by a language. Chinese just reeks of obscurity and complexity that is beyond my intellectual understanding. I know that if I sat myself down with my Chinese textbook and started tackling it word by word, I would slowly begin to feel more confident about living in Taiwan. But, for now, I will get by on the occasional grunt, nod and look of complete and utter confusion to get me by. I stashed my dumplings in my shoulder bag and the shop girl said something to me that I took to mean, “the container is hot.” Again, I nodded my head and this time flashed her a quick smile and ran away in case she had asked, “Do you want a bag?”
My dumplings were cold by the time I had sloshed home through the rain, but I managed to successfully work all 4 keys to make my way into the apartment. Overall, I considered my outing a success. I had avoided as much unwanted attention as I could get by going out when few people were on the street, and I even settled my growling stomach with some warm(ish) food. I hope that in the next few months I can graduate from prepared convenience store food to fresh homemade cuisine, but first I need the vocabulary to get me there, and that will take hitting the books in the most diligent way.