Sometimes I ask myself: What did I gain the most, so far, from my time here?
I could, of course, take a shortcut and give myself the obvious answer. I could say that my Mandarin language ability improved tremendously. That I learn about 200 to 250 words a week. That I can understand roughly 75% 0f what the locals were talking about on a bad day. That I no longer feel the horrible, incessant nauseated feeling in my stomach whenever I have to speak with someone who I can’t speak with in English. That, at some point, I wasn’t just talking AT people or vice versa, but actually having a conversation. However, this would not even be breaking the cusp of all that I learned in Taipei.
If you learn something from every piece of dialogue, interaction, or experience, then my time here has been an unending flood of information.
I assimilated to the food etiquette and committed to memory the names of dishes, crazy snacks, and beverages. Embedded into my mind is the sunset at Tamsui River and the Lovers’ Bridge. I was taught how to drive a motorcycle/moped cross-country without a care in the world. I was schooled on how to bargain and had to (literally) pay to get to that level. Most importantly, though, I learned to listen.
I listened to the long historical and nostalgic recounts of the elderly or the street vendor owners. I listened to the sound of the wind, easily foreboding a flood or storm. I listened to the sound of high school girls giggling on my metro rides. I listened for the swipes of the paintbrushes or the drums in the artsy districts.
I listened for love, vitality, humor. I listened for life. And I heard.
This may be a romanticized and possibly vague way of expressing myself, but I truly want to impress in you that each soft whisper, scream, or mumble you come across will be unique to your own perceptions, your own colorings of the world around you.
Each of the small, even boring events of day to day life just tickled my fancy. I know for certain that I will miss the smell of the rain in the trees of Yangmingshan National Park. I will miss the bubble tea I buy every day from the same auntie and her daughter down the street. I will even miss my 9AM classes, where my teachers would break out into grins after seeing me arrive panting.
I think… I have gained a happiness that is exclusive to my time on this tiny island and that will remain a part of my youthful memories. AH – so fresh.
Hale is a rising senior studying Applied Mathematics in the College of Arts & Sciences department at GW. She fell in love with Mandarin and Chinese culture (especially the bits involving food) after her first Chinese class freshman year and does not plan to stop studying it until mastery. Her eyes not only opened to the infinite wonders, sounds, and beauties of Taiwan, but also how deep the Mandarin language really is.