Thoughts of a Canadian Exchange Student

Informal Learning

As mentioned before, day by day, my Taiwanese Feelings Gauge Radar (TFGR) gets better and better. But first, let’s just examine what I mean by TFGR.

I find it difficult to tell if Taiwanese people are actually nice or if they’re just being polite. Just now, in the library, I had no idea how to get on the wireless network. So, I asked. This girl helped me out to the extent of looking it up on the internet about how to get on, helping me to try to get on and even pointing me in the direction of the building on campus that could help me out. People at my university at home wouldn’t go this far to help someone out unless it was a friend. Was she being nice, or was she being polite?

Interestingly, or perhaps not so much anymore, she took me for an American that was coming back home to study in Taiwan. You can see a bit of my rant about this in my post: “An Experience with a Taiwanese Guy (Part I)”

At home, I’m used to things like if you’re asked if you want something or not, you’ll get it regardless if you want it or not. For example, if someone is getting everyone rice, and you say that’s enough rice in your bowl (about 1/2), it’ll be topped up regardless of your wish. It’s just courteous. Another example from home that I grew up with is fighting over the bill. Let’s say that you’re out for dinner with friends and when the bill comes, (if you’re not poor students), you argue over who gets to pay the bill. Getting to pay is a kind of trophy. These actions are considered polite and the right thing to do.

Here in Taipei, it’s different. Perhaps it has to do with urban youth or something like that. However, I’ve noticed that things you say here are taken at face value despite underlying intentions. For me, that was a large jump to make when dealing with other people who look Asian.

So, every time that I come into contact with more and more Taiwanese people, I like to believe that my Gauge is being tweaked to be a little better.

And why the radar part? Aside from being able to gauge how Taiwanese people are feeling at the moment, with Radar, I’d be able to forecast what sort of emotions and mannerisms would be coming my way. Thus the naming of the TFGR, the Taiwanese Feelings Gauge Radar.

A handy little tool because every day here, I go out and practice speaking and just talking to people using Mandarin despite how stupid I feel most of the time for looking Asian (Taiwanese) and not being able to speak or read Mandarin. I know, it’s my problem. Students here at NTU are really nice! Or polite. I still haven’t gotten my gauge tweaked quite right, yet.

However, I have a riot here every day =). I love it in Taipei and especially being at NTU. For example, watching the “typhoon” yesterday from the under the covered area in front of the main doors of the Main Library for a few hours. (The library was closed on account of the typhoon.) It was so luxuriously warm that I didn’t mind the light rain falling on my books. It was a very wet day though. I no longer regret bringing my rain jacket from home. Hehehe!

So! I’ll let you know how good (or bad) I think it is by the end of my experience/adventure here!

*Note: The TFGR is patented by me. Haha!


An Experience with a Taiwanese Guy (Part IV)

Posted in Chinese, English, Learning, Miscellaneous, NTU, Phone, Taipei, Taiwanese People, Thoughts, University by J on September 19, 2007

After consulting some Taiwanese people about what they thought was going on, I decided to make it clear that I didn’t really want to participate in a language exchange with him.

So, in a text message back (SMS) on the evening of the 15th, I said, politely, as I learned it isn’t nice to give a straight out refusal here, that I was already busy that weekend. Also, I wrote that I already had someone else to practice with (which was true).

Lastly, the most important of all the things I’ve learned from this experience with him was this phrase: “You are a nice guy.” (你是個好人) Basically, this means that, “you are a nice guy, but I have no interest in you.” Apparently, this is very quickly understood by Taiwanese guys. So, I put this at the end of my SMS to make the situation very clear. Useful phrase. Let’s hope that I don’t have to use it again.

If he really wanted to have a language exchange with me, he could’ve cleared things up with me after this message that he had no sort of intentions that followed along these lines. On the other hand, he could be quite embarrassed about it all, but if he could just ask me for my cell phone number (a foreigner, to boot!), I have reason to think that he’s quite bold.

To justify my actions: I think those were the vibes that I was getting from him, but if this happens again, I think that my “Taiwanese Feelings Gauge Radar” (TFGR) will be more fined tuned. Everyday, my TFGR gets better every time I talk to anyone Taiwanese. =)

So, to finally, finally close this long story:

I haven’t heard from him since.

P.S. I heard that the Taipei 101 area has some good looking guys (帥哥/shuai ge). Haven’t been there yet. =P It’ll be perfect to practice using my radar!

An Experience with a Taiwanese Guy (Part II)

Posted in Chinese, English, Exchange, Food, Learning, NTU, Observations, Rant, Taiwan, Taiwanese People, Thoughts by J on September 19, 2007

On Thursday, the 13th, I went to dinner with him. Smartly or un-smartly, I brought a friend along with me under the pretence that our dinner needed to be facilitated by someone who’s Chinese and English were at a level so as to help with any barriers created by my poor Chinese and his poor English. Actually, I was just kind of nervous as to what exactly he thought this dinner would be because I hadn’t met many Taiwanese people before.

My friend and I met him at the front gate of NTU. He didn’t know my friend was coming until he saw my friend. So, the three of us went over to Gongguan and went to this little Western style cafe. It was much nicer than the regular places I’d been going to.

I ordered some toast thing and my friend ordered risotto and he ordered… I forget. I have trouble remembering his face and what he looks like. Continuing on, we made small talk and whatnot but the things that I remember from the conversation are slightly odd because normally I’d expect someone from Taiwan to be much more conservative.


#1 Weird thing:
He asked me if I came to Taiwan to look for a husband.

(Ehhh??? [By the way, this is not a Canadian “eh”. I have no idea where my American roommate gets the weirdest ideas about Canada. Like, for example, how it’s reaaaallly cold. Not where I live. Geez. And for goodness sake’s we lock our doors!] Strange question, something I might ask in jest, but nothing I’d ever expect a Taiwanese guy, of all people, to ask!)

#2 Weird thing:
We almost solely used Chinese to communicate with each other.

No matter how much my friend and I invited him to practice speaking in English, we spoke almost entirely in Chinese. I invited him to practice English 3 times and my friend asked once.

#3 Weird thing:
I found out he was a PHD student at NTU and for the life of me, I have no idea why his English was so poor.

It’s strange because to graduate from NTU, you have to be able to pass (I don’t know what a pass is) an English exam. I spoke to someone who had failed 3 times before. Yikes! It’s hard enough to take university exams in your own language, but to have to take one in another language in order to graduate is rather demanding! The expectations of regular students here is really, really high. However, I understand why. NTU students need to be competitive in the world market and without at least useable English, it’s hard to break into the international realm. At least, that’s my understanding of the world.


At the end of this dinner, I left with the feeling that I’d never see him or hear from him again. The time spent together was fine, but when I was thinking back on it and asking people about usual Taiwanese meetings, it wasn’t the most normal of meetings. Meh, another experience to add to my books.

So! That was that!

Or so I thought.

An Experience with a Taiwanese Guy (Part I)

Posted in Bicycle, Exchange, Learning, NTU, Observations, Rant, Taipei, Taiwan, Taiwanese People, Thoughts, University by J on September 19, 2007

Here’s an interesting little story about something that happened to me within the space of 5 days.

Here goes nothing.

On the 11th, after taking the person with the dog bite to the clinic, I biked over to the post office to see how much it would be to send something home to Canada. Everyday that I spend here, I realise more and more that my Chinese is rather inadequate for most things but, the important thing is that I know how to ask. Yay. Back to the main story. I actually didn’t find out how much it would cost to send something home because at the counter, they told me that it was weight dependent and didn’t give me a base price. Oh well.

Back up a bit, though.

Before I went in to ask at the counter, I tried to find a brochure at the post office that listed the rates and whatnot of sending post internationally. I found one. But, I couldn’t read it. Oh what a conundrum illiteracy is!

I did the next best thing to being literate. I asked someone to read it for me. Hehe. So, I went out of the post office and in the little patio/sitting area outside, I looked for someone to help me. I picked a person at random.

I have no idea what it is, but every time I ask for help here, people are just so helpful. Cultural thing about being polite or cultural thing about enjoying to help people? Other exchange students have noted how trusting the Taiwanese are about money among other things. For example, if you bought 5 pens but lied and said you were only buying 4 at the counter, the cashier would believe you. I guess this observation comes from more cynical people (and I’m not?) because I expect nothing less than honesty. However, other people (Americans) also say, not observe, that Canada is a safe place and very honest. Hah! I guess that’s a good stereotype, though.

He read it for me and told me that the brochure didn’t give me the rates for international packages but rather mail rates for packages within Taiwan. Hey, at least I was partially right. Go pictures!

At this point, here is where I went into the post office to ask at the counter, following this guy’s advice. After I exited the post office, I heard someone calling 同學,同學 (tongxue, tongxue). This is a term used to talk to someone who is your schoolmate, please correct me if I’m wrong. Until I felt a tap on my shoulder, I had no idea that he was calling me.

Cool! Someone wanted to talk to me!

So, after we had a quick chat about who we were etc. I think I give out information too easily, but I believe that I was being courteous by answering all his questions. As well, I have a need to prove that I’m not Taiwanese. I need a solid way to say this, but so far, the best I can come up with is that I’m Canadian, not Taiwanese and I’m Cantonese. However, I hardly ever get to say the last part because by that time they think I’m a person that just doesn’t identify with their Taiwanese roots. Also, I don’t really feel like I’m the last one anyways since I can’t speak Cantonese much at all, but if it’s what it takes to prove that I’m not Taiwanese…

I’d like to just be me and not have people automatically think that I’m a stupid American (why never Canadian or anything else if I speak English fluently?) that has lost touch with their cultural (Taiwanese) roots. I’d just like to be Canadian. *scoff* However, I’m not stupid. I know that I can’t ever just be Canadian. I don’t look Canadian. Argh.

Ranting aside, after the conversation finished, I went to get my bike so that I could return back to the dorms. And then he comes over. Asks me for my cell phone number so that we can do something like a language exchange. Okay! My Chinese needed practice (even though I already have someone to practice with. I also wanted to meet more Taiwanese people my age, too.). And then, with a mind of its own, my mouth asks if he’s free to have dinner with me on Thursday, the 13th. I’m under the idea that it’d be good to get to know him a bit first before investing time in a language exchange with him.

Eep! I realised it AFTER I said it that… this was a VERY forward invitation. Stupid, stupid, stupid mouth. These sort of things just roll naturally out of my mouth.

And that’s the end of Part I.