Last semester I entered a Chinese essay-writing contest at school in the hopes of winning a scholarship from the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Organization in Los Angeles. I was disqualified for being too close to a native speaker, but I did get recognized as the best non-native Chinese speaker in the department. I got a nice little honorable mention certificate, too. After last week's post, I thought you might like to see what I wrote. I did translate the Chinese for my English readers. So I am posting both. Please excuse the English if it's awkward, there are some concepts that do not translate exactly. The topic was given to us by TECO.
My Experiences in Taiwan
1982年8月23日當我在台灣第一次下了飛機, 我做夢也想不到台灣對我的人生會有多大的影響, 也不知道我的生活因着台灣會有多少改變。
When I first stepped off the plane in Taiwan on August 23, 1986, I never dreamed how much influence Taiwan would have on my life. I never knew how much Taiwan would change me.
那年我才二十一歲, 大學剛剛畢了業, 到台灣去學中文, 準備一兩年後, 回美國擔任翻譯工作. 真沒想到學習中文是無窮盡的, 要學得徹底, 一兩年的功夫根本不夠. 也沒想到我在台灣會找到歸宿成家, 而等到八年後回美時, 那個單槍匹馬闖台灣的美國小姐, 已經是帶兒攜眷的中國媳婦了.
That year I was twenty-one years old. I had just graduated from university, and I came to Taiwan to study Chinese. I thought that after one or two years, I would return to America to begin working as a translator. It never occurred to me that the study of Chinese is boundless, and if I wanted to learn it well, one or two years would not be enough. I never imagined that I would find a home and a family in Taiwan or that after eight long years, the single woman who arrived alone in Taiwan would return to the US as a Chinese daughter-in-law with a husband and children.
在1982年, 台灣大不如今天那麼繁榮. 那時候, 台灣的經濟奇蹟才剛開始, 美國商店如麥當勞, 7-11等公司, 尚未在台營業. 台灣居民所過的生活跟美國人的比, 實在辛苦得多. 我剛到台灣要學會用洗衣板洗衣服. 要學會去菜市場買菜. 要學會以飯為主食, 減少每天吃的肉量. 還要學會睡硬板床鋪蓆子. 我住的地方是中國人的家庭, 他們不大會說英文, 而我只會用華語說: “謝謝, 再見,” 所以前幾個月感覺非常不方便.
In 1982, Taiwan was not as developed as it is now. In those days, Taiwan’s economic miracle was just beginning. American companies like McDonald’s and 7-11 had not yet started doing business in Taiwan. The lifestyle of the Taiwanese people when compared with that of Americans was much more difficult. When I first arrived in Taiwan, I had to learn to wash my clothes on a washboard. I had to learn to buy food at a market. I had to learn to eat rice as the staple of my diet and decrease my meat intake. And I had to learn to sleep on a board bed with a mat on top. I lived with a Chinese family who did not speak English, and the only Chinese words that I could say were: “Thank you, good-bye.” So the first few months were very difficult.
九月一日, 我在師大國語中心開始上課. 去台灣時, 可以說我太傲慢, 不知道天高地厚, 以為我既然精通英語, 西班牙語, 德語, 又對日語, 法語, 以及拉丁文有一些認識, 所以要學深淵的中國語言文字應該沒什麼問題. 可是我這個想法大錯特錯了. 其實, 國語的四個聲調對西方人很難. 一不小心, 把媽媽說成馬了, 更糟糕的是到教會把主耶穌說成豬. 我才發現, 要把中文學好, 就需要又耐心又認真地讀下去. 我一天天用功讀書, 日積月累, 三年後, 才算是聽說讀寫全通了.
On September first I began classes at the Mandarin Training Institute at Taiwan Normal University. When I first went to Taiwan, I was a little bit proud. I did not know about the big world, and I thought that since I was fluent in English, Spanish and German and because I also knew a little Japanese, French, and Latin, I would have no problem learning the deep and ancient Chinese language. But I was really wrong about that! The truth of the matter was that the four tones in Chinese were very hard for Westerners to learn. If I wasn’t careful, I called my mother a horse, and even worse, when I went to church, I called the Lord a pig. I began to discover that if I wanted to learn Chinese well, I needed to keep on studying with patience and diligence. I worked hard at my studies every day, month after month, and after three years, I was able to comprehend, speak, read and write in Mandarin.
除了上中文課以外, 我還常常到教會的出版社, 也就是台灣福音書房, 幫忙校對聖經譯稿. 書房舉辦國際大會時, 我也開始學習做現場中英翻譯. 在書房的一次特殊工作當中, 我認識了一位台灣男孩, 名字叫劉運意. 可以說兩個人是一見鐘情. 經過一年的交往, 也獲得雙方父母的同意與祝福, 我們就在1986年12月25日在台北市地方法院結為夫妻. 我就成了台灣傳統客家人家裡的長媳婦. 那真是我人生的大改變!
In addition to attending Chinese classes, I also went to the church’s publishing company, Taiwan Gospel Bookroom, to help proofread translations of the Bible. When the Bookroom held international conferences, I began to learn how to do simultaneous interpretation of Chinese to English. While working on a special project for the Bookroom, I met a man from Taiwan named Liu Yuni. You could say that it was love at first sight. After dating for a year and obtaining the approval of both sets of parents, we got married on December 25, 1986 at the Municipal Court in Taipei. And I became the eldest daughter-in-law in a traditional Hakka family from Taiwan. That was truly a huge change in my life!
結婚後, 我從台北搬到中壢, 住進婆婆家裡. 除了公公婆婆與丈夫, 家裡還有三個未出嫁的小姑, 以及尚讀初中的小叔. 剛開始我有些不習慣, 可是全家大大小小對我很好. 我和小姑教婆婆說國語, 她們也教我聽懂客家話. 婆媳小姑常常一起做飯一起做家務, 所以覺得很輕鬆愉快. 過了一年多, 我生了一對雙胞胎女兒, 第二年又生了老三. 那時候帶三個寶寶, 要不是三代同堂, 人人合作, 真不知道會把孩子弄成什麼樣子.
After my marriage, I moved out of Taipei to Chungli and lived with my mother-in-law. In addition to my in-laws and my husband, there were three unmarried sisters-in-law and a younger brother-in-law who was still in junior high. In the beginning, it was hard for me to get used to living like that, but everyone in the family was very nice to me. My sisters-in-law and I taught my mother-in-law to speak Mandarin. My sisters-in-law also taught me how to understand Hakka. All of us women would cook together and do the household chores. It made the housework easy and fun. After a year or so, I gave birth to twin daughters, and the next year I had a third child. I do not know how I would have managed with three babies, if we had not been living in a multi-generational household in which everyone helped everyone else.
在台灣令我最難忘的地方已經不存在了, 那就是我丈夫的出生地, 在新竹縣鵝美鄉的老家. 現在政府擴寬了馬路, 原來的三合院被拆了, 大部分的人搬到都市去了. 可是我剛結婚後的那幾年, 三個親伯父幾個堂伯父和他們的兒孫, 都還住在老家那裡. 每逢過年過節以及家族的喜事喪事, 全家人都要回老家. 那個氣氛真熱鬧. 三合院中央的曬穀場上會擺十幾張桌子. 堂兄弟姐妹帶着孩子回來, 大概有一兩百人. 大家說着笑着一起吃飯. 從大門望出去往山谷下看, 都是綠油油的稻田. 過了稻田, 在對面的山坡上有茶園. 房子後面的山上有水果樹和番薯田. 伯母養的雞到處跑. 飯吃完了, 男人就到祖堂旁邊, 阿友伯的客廳閒聊打牌. 有的孩子牽着小狗到後面的山上玩, 另一群孩子到溪邊去捉淡水蝦. 女人都幫忙收食物洗碗盤. 老伯母坐在那裡指揮年輕人. 媳婦把剩菜裝起來, 分給每家帶回去. 年輕少女洗碗, 擦桌子, 掃地. 八九歲的小女孩幫忙帶嬰兒. 大家邊做邊談, 說誰家孩子考上學校, 誰家媳婦剛生小孩. 一轉眼, 事情做完了. 年輕的也出去散步了, 年級大一點的就坐下來跟伯母聊天. 我如果跟她們說話, 她們都會跟我說劉運意小時候有趣的故事. 說到最後, 大家笑得合不攏口.
The most memorable place for me in Taiwan no longer exists. It is the place where my husband was born, the old family farm in Omei Hsiang, Hsinchu County. The government widened the road, and the old three-sided farm compound was torn down. Most of its inhabitants moved into the city. But just after my marriage, all three of my husband’s uncles and several of their cousins lived in the old homestead with their children and grandchildren. On holidays and special family occasions, the entire clan would return to the old homestead. It was really a bustling scene. More than ten tables would be set up on the threshing floor in the middle of the courtyard. All the cousins would bring their children, and there were more than a hundred people. Everyone ate together, talking and laughing. If you looked out the gate into the valley, you could see the bright green rice paddies. Beyond the paddies, on the hillside across the way, there were tea farms. On the hill behind the house, there were fruit trees and sweet potato fields. The aunts’ chickens ran around everywhere. When the meal was over, the men went into Uncle You’s rooms beside the ancestral hall to play mah-jongg. Some of the children took the dogs up on the hillside to play. Other children went to the creek to catch crawdads. The women began cleaning up the dishes and food. The old aunties sat there giving orders; the daughters-in-law divided the leftovers up for people to take home. The teen-age girls washed the bowls and wiped down the tables. Some of them swept the floor. The eight or nine year old girls helped take care of the babies. Everyone talked as they worked about whose child had passed the college entrance exam or whose daughter-in-law was going to have a baby. In a short time, all the work was done. The young women went out for a walk, and some of the older ones sat down with the aunties to chat. If I spoke to the aunties, they would tell me funny stories of when Yuni was a little boy. At the end of the stories, we would all be laughing till our sides ached.
中國人這樣天倫之樂, 在美國家庭找不到. 目前在台灣和中國, 隨着時代的演變, 這種情形也漸漸沒有了. 我這麼一個美國人能成為傳統中國家庭的一份子, 又能親身經歷中國人古老的氣氛, 實在是我人生中的大幸.
This is the Chinese joy of large families, and you won’t find it here in America. Even today as Taiwan and China modernize and change, it is gradually dying out. For an American like me to become a part of a traditional Chinese family and to be able to experience the atmosphere of ancient Chinese traditions have been some of the greatest blessings of my life.