The Most Embarrassing Moment while I Speak Chinese
National Taiwan Ocean University-Felicia Alicia Cruz

I like living in Keelung, it’s a very beautiful place and I wake up every day smelling the sea, seeing the sea feeling the wind blow against me and the residents and business community are really nice people. But, sometimes I wish Keelung was like Taipei, because in Taipei foreigners can more or less get away with the problem faced when visiting or living in a foreign country- the problem of Communication! We may also avoid that embarrassing feeling when we try to converse in Chinese and fail to send our message across or as in my case, pretending to know mandarin fluently.

I have been taking Chinese classes for a couple hours every week with twenty other international students for a couple of months. Now you can imagine the difficulty in learning a strange language and competing with your classmates to understand and to keep up with the teacher. I was and still am not an expert in speaking foreign languages especially mandarin; for the most part I only know how to exchange simple ideas, mostly for fun. I knew I would need to learn the language so as to move around Taiwan, whether it’s for site seeing, visiting friends or my favorite thing to do in the world, shopping! J

New to Keelung, my other international friends and I, all incomprehensible of the Chinese language went to down town Keelung at the night market to do some shopping. What were we thinking of, going there without an escort that knew mandarin. Well, we had learnt some very common and useful mandarin phrases on our initial arrival to Keelung, like nǐ hǎo which means ‘hello’, duō shǎo qián which means ‘how much is this?’, d and s which means ‘yes’ and of course xièxiè which means ‘thank you’. We thought that these little phrases would be good enough to get us through the night. The plan was to go to a store, try on some clothes, ask the cashier how much, pay for the clothes, tell them thank you and leave. Oh my, everything was going fine, we started off by saying nǐ hǎo and they responded nǐ hǎo back to us, so we then picked out several clothing, tried them on and were satisfied, now we went to ask how much do the clothes cost. Duō shǎo qián? The cashier responded to us in mandarin, a long sentence and we had no clue what she said. We weren’t sure if she told us the price or told us something else, I just stared at her with a puzzling smile and said wǒ bù dǒng! She laughed at me, ha ha ha! Never had I felt ashamed to open my mouth, but I laughed too because I really didn’t know what she was saying and I was pretending that I knew mandarin, saying nǐ hǎo and duō shǎo qián confidently like if I am a professional at this. She smiled and said in English ‘altogether, 1600 Taiwan dollars’. Bowing my head, feeling so shy and ashamed, I paid her and told her thank you. She smiled and said xièxiè so as to invite me to say it to her, so I did, xièxiè nǐ.