By Wayne Chan
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
I must confess…I love it when people ask me whether I’m bilingual. In conversation with friends and acquaintances, when I get asked, “Are you fluent in Chinese as well?” I confidently proclaim, “Yes. I. Am.” So as not to overdo it, I try to refrain from going overboard and make sure I don’t place both my hands on my hips or puff out my chest when I’m saying it.
In reality though, the answer isn’t quite as impressive. If I’m being completely honest, my answer to the question, “Are you fluent in Chinese as well?” would still be “Yes,” but to be completely accurate, I’d probably need some qualifiers. Answers like, “Well, yes, sort of…” or “Kinda, pretty much,” or “Yes, on any given day, under the right circumstances, sure,” are probably more on the money.
The truth is, I am proud of the fact that I can speak Chinese. Being born in the U.S., I really appreciate the fact that my parents made sure I understood the basics of the language. Now, when I’m among a group of people who can speak only Chinese, I can honestly say that I can follow along with the conversation and understand what they’re all talking about. I’m not the most talkative of the group, but I’m not the most talkative of the group when the conversation is in English either. Maybe that’s why I’m a writer.
The problem comes when the conversation veers into a topic that I’m not well versed at, and someone uses a word I’m not familiar with but is at the crux of the conversation. If you don’t understand that word, the whole conversation starts to snowball. Let me give you an example.
My brother-in-law and family from Taiwan are staying with us right now. Their daughter, my niece, named Melody, is much like another daughter to me. The fact that she and her family are staying with us to get their COVID shot is just about the only bright spot of this whole pandemic experience.
Anyways, Melody was telling me about life back home in Taiwan, and then started telling me stories about her new pet. The conversation, all in Chinese, was about how cute “Bubbles” was, and what a terrific companion she was to her.
Now, I assumed Melody’s new pet was a cat or a dog. The problem was, the Chinese word for “dog” or “cat” are words I know, and she didn’t use those words. So based on my Chinese vocabulary, she was either referring to a cat by its breed, like “Siamese,” or my niece has adopted a pet ostrich.
Based purely on my highly refined Chinese linguistic capabilities, I’m going with an ostrich. Yes, it may seem a little odd that my niece decided to get a chick that will end up the size of a typical NBA player, but who am I to judge? Maybe she’s suddenly developed a passion for ornithology.
As best as I could understand it, Bubbles the ostrich is very shy. In fact, when Melody wants to take Bubbles out of her apartment to visit a friend or go to the vet, Bubbles will immediately hide under a bed or on top of a dresser in their closet.
Now, I haven’t been to their apartment in Taipei for a number of years, but I just don’t remember any of their beds having enough clearance under them to hide a pet ostrich.
Not only that, Taipei’s apartments rarely have walk-in closets, and I think you’d at least have to have a fairly large armoire to fit a bird that big on top of it.
What can I say? Kids these days. Sorry, I need to go. Melody is telling me about her latest purchase. She either bought a new scooter to get around Taipei or…she may have invented a new jet pack to get from place to place.
I’ll report back later.
Wayne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.