A place of love
by Antonia Lloyd-Davies
It wasn't until the day I arrived in Taiwan that I realized how crazy I was for coming here. Because the program held no language prerequisite, I had almost managed to convince myself that this is a basically English-speaking country that also happens to know some Chinese. When I found out that I was the only student here that has had absolutely no background in studying Chinese, it finally occurred to me: What was I thinking!?
Needless to say, the language barrier has been the dominating feature of most of my experiences thus far. Luckily, the ambassadors and my fellow CIEE students have been amazingly helpful -- everywhere I go, they are there to translate announcements, help me order food, or notify me when I am illegally trespassing on someone's property. Aside from my helpful friends, though, nothing has been more helpful for my Chinese development than karaoke. The repetition plus seeing and hearing the characters at the same time proved to be a great way to learn. The karaoke we did on our three day trip was lots of fun and definitely helpful, although perhaps it would be more practical if there were more songs about getting directions to the bathroom or ordering fried rice. Instead, all the songs are about the same thing: love.
Now, while doing karaoke, I picked up a whole bunch of new characters. And some of them were not entirely useful, like 粉, which means "powder", and田, which means "field". But no matter how many times I encountered the character 愛 - "love" - I could never recognize it. As the lyrics scrolled by, friends would point and say encouragingly, "you know that one!" But, if what they pointed to was 愛, I would - without fail - stare, confused, unable to detect any familiarity in any of the characters on the screen. It eventually became this longstanding joke about how, no matter how obvious it was, I could never recognize love. We saw the widely-advertised movie, 愛, but that didn't help. One time, I confidently pointed to a sign and proclaimed to have found love, but it turned out to be a similar, but different character. When learning the word for "cute", 可愛, I told my friend to please write it more clearly, because, "I would never be able to recognize that second character."
This whole strange phenomenon began to worry me. What did it mean, my inability to recognize love?
Could this be a sign that I am destined to live and die alone? That something deep within me is literally incapable of finding love? The implications behind my apparent defect were anything but trivial. Not only did it make me feel incompetent at Chinese, but incompetent at emotion.
Throughout our trip and the time since then, thanks to all the CIEE students and ambassadors, my Chinese has been really coming along. Every day I can recognize more and more characters, and I can even form a sentence or two!
However, this one character, 愛, is still a challenge. My rate of recognition has definitely improved, but remains considerately lower than that of even the newest characters in my repertoire. But I'm not worried anymore. I may still have difficulties recognizing the character for love, but, after our three day trip, I can recognize this much: I love the people here, and I love Taiwan!