Tien and I have been exchanging several emails in preparation for our trip to Taiwan. She’s been helping me with a number of different things, which I am extremely grateful for. Most recently, she penned a letter in Mandarin addressed to the registration office in Taipei City explaining that I’m searching for my birth family and asking them for their help in this search. She revised the letter a couple of times and had me send it back to her once I signed it. I have been printing, signing, and scanning the letter with each revision then sending back via email to Tien. After about the third revision, she felt it was just right. In the letter, Tien provided her contact info and asked that, as my translator, they contact her with any information per my permission. Our hope is that my biological sister’s address will be released to me once they see the accompanying documents that prove that I’m related by birth. Yesterday, during my lunch break, a co-worker, Jewel, and I headed to the post office to mail the letter along with copies of my adoption contract and baby passport to prove that I’m a true member of the family Huang. As we walked up to the post office, Jewel mentioned that she hoped there wouldn’t be a long line. It turned out that there was a very long line of people waiting to mail Christmas packages and letters. I began to worry that we wouldn’t have enough time to mail the package. Jewel noticed a self service kiosk when we first walked in and stood in line for me so I could go check it out. Then, I realized that I couldn’t read the address label that Tien sent me because it was in Mandarin. How would I know what the zip code was? Thankfully once I typed in where the package was going, it automatically found the correct city and postage. A postage label was printed out with all the appropriate info in a matter of seconds. The letter is now on its way to Taiwan!
I hope that the letter arrives safely at the right destination and in good time. Most importantly I hope that a reply is sent to Tien with news of my sister’s whereabouts before we arrive in Taiwan. Once there, Tien has arranged for a guide to drive me to the registration office and to meet with my sister if we are able to locate her (and if she wants to meet me). I wonder how this will all turn out. I’ll be in Taiwan for the beginning of the Chinese New Year celebration. 2012 is the year of the Dragon. Maybe it will also be the year that I find one of my biological sisters.
I walk into Starbuck’s on 46th and Chandler Boulevard. It’s on the other side of town, but I don’t mind. I’m ten minutes early for my second Mandarin lesson, and the place is nearly packed. I hurry over to the only table left and sit down. I lay my notebook on the table and begin studying my lesson from the previous week. Xie xie means thank you. Now how do I pronounce it correctly again? Is it a “sh” sound or “ch” sound…short i sound, or short e sound? More customers walk in and check the place out as they stand in line ready to order their lattes and frappuccinos. They seem to stare at me since I’m siting alone at a table with two empty chairs. No way I’m giving up my table though! I continue studying. Bu ke qi means your welcome and zai jian means goodbye. Of course, the spelling of these words is only a phonetic representation of how they are pronounced. We haven’t yet focused on Mandarin characters, although they are there written next to the phonetic spelling of each word. I try to acquaint myself with the characters, but they don’t quite stick in my mind. I continue to sit and then wonder if I should get something to drink, a hot tea or coffee while I’m waiting. I decide not to; have to save as much as possible for the trip to Taiwan.
My tutor, Shuchen, arrives shortly. Big smile and warm welcome. Shuchen is as petite as petite can be, but really big on enthusiasm. I appreciate her peppy spirit and her obvious interest in why I’m going to Taiwan and helping me learn Mandarin. We focus on learning language that will help me get by in the short amount of time we have before I go on my trip and will later focus more on filling in the gaps. I’m happy with this arrangement and try my best to get the pronunciation down and remember what the heck I’m actually saying in Mandarin. What’s familiar about Mandarin is that it’s a tonal language. I studied Vietnamese for a while, which is another tonal language very similar to Mandarin. This helps and I’m able to hear and pronounce the 4 different tones (really 5) pretty easily. Shuchen is very encouraging and tells me that being a musician also helps in hearing the inflection of each tone. Right on!
Recently, I got hooked on a Korean drama, “Boys Over Flowers” and watched the episodes online through Hulu. I looked up Taiwanese dramas thinking that it would be helpful in getting Mandarin “in my ear.” There is a Taiwanese version of “Boys Over Flowers” called “Meteor Garden.” It came out in 2001 and appears to have been very popular and apparently stars some of Taiwan’s most popular young actors and actresses. The online streaming was really awful though, so I didn’t watch more than a few minutes of the first episode. Instead, I began watching another Taiwanese drama on Hulu called, “Single Princesses and Blind Dates.” It’s not nearly as good as “Boys Over Flowers” and I can’t say that I’m hooked, but it’s definitely good for listening and trying to learn Mandarin! I wish there was an easier way to learn another language and quickly. As it is, I’ll just keep meeting with Shuchen. I’m glad that I found the right tutor, and am really enjoying learning Mandarin despite the difficulty.