Kevin (erf_) wrote,


Caught up with high school friend Mike Hong today. Despite (or because of?) a litany of troubles he's grown up to be quite a mature, responsible adult, which is honestly far more than our teachers ever expected of him. He's currently teaching English at a cram school in Taipei to make ends meet so he can return to his other job as a freelance translator--both jobs to which NEHS alumni like him are exceptionally well suited.

Me: So, Mike. What are you doing to end the Taiwanese underpopulation crisis?
Mike: You should ask my brother. He's out with some girl again.
Me: Your brother's DNA is the future.
Mike: Yes. He will be the Adam who saves our race.

It's been pretty cool finding out that Mike, way out here on the far side of the world, has been living a lifestyle pretty similar to mine. He's been looking for work where he can get it, eating one meal a day when he can't, learning to be happy with what he's got. He shares a comfortably sized apartment with three college students and his brother, its various furnished surfaces cluttered with open textbooks and crates of instant ramen, and he keeps a bottle of Hennessy by his desk. We watched YouTube videos of local bands while killing time before his next shift at the cram school.

The food's cheaper in Taipei and live music is better in New York, but I guess being broke and underemployed in your twenties is more or less the same deal in any big city anywhere.

We spent some time puttering around Taipei a bit on his 150cc motorbike (Mike was nice enough to buy me a cheap helmet so we wouldn't run afoul of the law), a very Taiwanese experience I hadn't had the privilege of enjoying in maybe twelve years. I'd forgotten how disconcertingly fast those things go. Think a bicycle that goes almost as fast as a car, but with no pedal stirrups. Now imagine driving that down a busy road, with cars zipping past at 30-40mph in the opposite direction mere inches from your legs. Now imagine sitting behind the driver, on the same seat, holding the driver's shoulders, with your legs dangling in the air. How did these death traps become Taiwan's primary form of transport for like 50 years?

I've noticed that both Mike and I code-switch more slowly now that we're adults. We don't do it any less than when we were kids, we just do it a lot more awkwardly. Perhaps it's just that my Chinese is a little rusty or that Mike's been locked into bushiban-level English for too long, or perhaps it's that adult speech, being more deliberate, sounds jarringly unnatural when code-switched (as opposed to the rambling babble of children, for which leaps between rhythms are common even in monolingual speech), but for whatever reason it's clear that neither of us can speak two languages in a continuous flow anymore. You know how when people hit a break in thought in mid-speech, and say a pause word--"ahh" or "uhhh" or "well..." in English, "那“ in Mandarin, "ano...." in Japanese? Imagine that your brain automatically switches languages whenever you do that, like gears on a bike--the chain hops off the gear for a split second, and then just keeps on going instead of stopping. That's what it feels like to speak Chinglish again after so long--there's a noticeable stutter during the hop. Like playing chess and checkers on the same chessboard at the same time, when before it just felt like one game. Fellow NEHS alumni, those of you who have been better at keeping in touch with each other and still speak Chinglish on a regular basis--has this happened to you?

Tea. Tea is eternal. I am a coffee drinker at heart but I will never give up tea. I have discovered that what makes Taiwan's bubble milk tea taste so special, even when it uses cheap black tea leaves instead of that fancy jasmine or pu-erh stuff they use in America, is evaporated milk. I will guard this secret jealously until I blab about it to my livejournal. Wait, I'm blogging this right now, aren't I? Shit.

It is different being here as a visitor, knowing that there is nothing to keep me here. Comforting, even. I could get used to being a tourist in the country where I grew up.
Tags: taiwan

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