Bus Riding Recollections

December 4, 2012 § 2 Comments

scooters near metro

Scooters near the Taipei metro


Being a graduate student in Taiwan isn’t all that hard. Thankfully I sold that house and was able to save up some money before I came, that and a little scholarship I was granted helped cover the costs of living and studying here. Compared with back home, the tuition’s a lot lower here anyway, plus I can work as an English tutor to earn some pocket money. I did that for a while, one of the students I remember best is John, an outgoing, vivacious, scatterbrained 國小生  who was kind of a headache at first but kept growing on me. Sometimes we’d end up playing spontaneous games like “don’t let the balloon hit the floor” and laugh till our faces were red. That’s how we usually had class, not real structured, which I think always unnerved his mom but suited him well – he was sure to have gotten his fill of structured learning in real school.

There was also Lydia, a sweet young girl whose Chinese name I never learned.  She loved the Doraemon show and would tell me about it sometimes. It appeared to be her nascent life’s only vice; the rest of the time she was either studying for school, at school, or sleeping, or having English class with me. Her mom was in America, Michigan I think, studying for some doctoral degree in nursing or some such. Lydia would chat with her mom occasionally via Skype. Her dad didn’t come home from work till real late, so the chief parental role was assumed by her grandmother, who always hovered around during our class to ensure nothing unsavory transpired. No need to worry! I tend to 欣賞 girls of my own age bracket, but at the same time one must aim to live above reproach, so I can appreciate having someone nearby to prevent any potential misunderstanding from happening.

Then there’s also the cram schools. Alas, the cram schools. They’re like schools outside of school – private businesses that specialize, or focus on, to be more exact, tutoring pupils in certain subjects, most frequently English. They often hire foreigners to come teach, though with apparently little consideration of their educational background. Not having personally benefited from training in the methods of pedagogy, I was unsure that with only my status as a native speaker in my favor that I would excel on the job. Whether or not that’s a reasonable suspicion I’m still not sure, because from day 1 I was tossed into an environment so disorganized and 亂七八糟 that I never got myself oriented enough to tell which way was up, down or sideways. The complaints I elicited from supervisors had more to do with forgetting to sign attendance sheets than shortcomings which might hinder the kids in their English studies. Though it was nice to have a little paycheck, I do not regret whatsoever that I did not work there long-term:  it gave me more freedom to do stuff like I’m doing now.

I’ve been on a four-day trip with my professor to recruit students for our graduate institute. We’ve been in 台中 but now we’re on a bus back to 台北, where we’ll finish up our trip today. Dr. Li’s phone has rung once or twice and he’s made several calls since we got on the bus; mine has neither rung nor have I made a call, but that’s only because I don’t have a phone. As he is sitting beside me, I’m most conveniently privy to his telephonic dialogues, which typically go something like this*:









『還沒有啊。』 停頓。 『吃飽了。』










『Okay, 謝謝,掰掰。』

Sometimes they’re longer, sometimes shorter. When not thus conversing, he and I chat off and on about various topics, often the subtleties, nuances and different shades of meaning that can be observed between English and Chinese. He is of the opinion that Chinese is a considerably imprecise language which, when called upon, frequently offers no exact equivalent to a foreign term and has no remedy but to, in his perception, loquaciously express a not-quite-similar idea. After having learned Mandarin a few years and finding myself numerous times at a loss as to how to go about translating certain Chinese words or idioms into my own native tongue, I have realized that this process goes both ways. It’s not that Chinese is particularly imprecise or that English is, but that all languages are, to an extent. Since they all have their unique identifying properties as well, that helps to distinguish them and is also what makes them fun to learn.

Now it’s time to get off the bus and on another one.

Me and Dr. Li having at my farewell dinner just before leaving Taiwan.

Me and Dr. Li at my farewell dinner just before I left Taiwan for a second time.

*The complete phone dialogue can be found in English here.
Short story (04/2012) and photography (08/2012) by Joshua Owens

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§ 2 Responses to Bus Riding Recollections

  • LoveJoy says:

    Yes, all languages are imprecise! At least when it comes to translation. That is the beautiful thing about languages. Now I understand what you meant when you spoke of writing in a multilingual way. I didn’t even think about it so much and probably wouldn’t have if the expression I used hadn’t been so “imprecise” in translation. The best thing- though I understand no Chinese- is that not understanding the other language doesn’t take away from the writing.

    Thank you for your encouraging words! When you have free time, please click on the links within the “collage” writing, as I source 99% of the inspiration/’found language.’ These poems & other writings did so much for me on my poetry journey. I hope it can do as much for you.

    • neosonnetry says:

      Thanks for your insightful words, Ms. Shoshana! I try to write in such a way that the insertions of other languages than English don’t detract from the overall experience.. or at least include some links to the dictionary so it’s not impossible for the reader to understand 🙂

      Keep up the great work!

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