By Joshua Dent
“Josh, You are going WHERE??” “TAIWAN??” “Don’t you think you should know the language?!?”
These were just a small sampling of the desperate pleas to get my attention before I left for “The Taiwan.” They came from old bosses, family, and friends alike.
I am certain I laughed them off, and shrugged my shoulders in my stoner voice with a prompt “It’s cool man. I learned Spanish quick. I am sure I will learn Chinese.”
I definitely came to Taiwan with a goal of being immersed as much as possible in the culture. This was to also include learning one of the world’s most difficult languages.
I got here with a fist full of apps on my I-phone and a box of 1990’s style listen and repeat CD’s. However, learning Chinese quickly seemed like an incredibly difficult task of where to even begin.
To understand why I thought I could learn Chinese without ANY help, we must take a trip back to my childhood.
This was back in the 80’s timeframe in a tiny town called Nazareth, PA. And, yes, Bethlehem was our neighbor. True Story!
“Boy, You’re as stubborn as a bull!”
That is the direct quote from my father about me. It didn’t matter if it was after a whiffle ball game in the backyard, or after he told me to pick up the trash. This was one of the more constant quotes I remember hearing from my father.
Back then, I am certain I replied with just as stubborn as an answer “Shut Up, Dad!”
I feel fortunate to reflect now and see his brilliance.
The point of this flashback is to illustrate just how truly stubborn I can be. I came to Taiwan without knowing one word of Chinese. I was still certain that I was going to master one of the world’s hardest languages without a glitch or ever taking a class.
I guess I felt I could do it the same way as I learned Spanish. That was drink a few beers with the locals and back then I got an AOL chat room screen name to chat it up with some ladies.
I can’t even begin to tell you how wrong and native I was.
Learning Chinese Through Song
I was about 4 months into self-studying from my fist full of apps, and my 1997 box of “Learn Chinese Easy” CD’s and realized I couldn’t really say much more than a simple hello, or yes.
That is when I thought I finally struck educational gold.
I had recently bought my guitar which I affectionately named Madgun 520.
Madgun 520 and I were spending loads of quality time together.
I had the idea to just learn some easy Chinese songs to learn and sing. I felt like it was the stuff that legends were made of. I was gong to capitalize on my passion for playing guitar and utilize it with a skill of survival on this tiny island the size of Indiana.
Is it me, or is the birth of an idea one of the most amazing gifts you can receive? I know when my ideas are born I think there is absolutely nothing that can get in my way.
我有好消息- I Have Good News
I quickly launched the search for what song I was going to learn. I found the above-mentioned song listed on youtube, and got to work.
The winter was absolutely brutal for me here in Taiwan. I came from the stifling heat of Phoenix, AZ, to what felt like one eternally long cold and wet 5 months period of misery.
I realized it was getting to me when I woke up one morning shivering under two blankets, a hooded sweatshirt, two pairs of socks, thermal underwear, and I could still see my breath.
I still wouldn’t turn the heater on. Do you believe my Dad yet about me being stubborn?
The cold weather gave me absolutely no reason to go outside, and lots of time to learn this new song.
I probably spent a solid 3 days inside my tiny apartment with my Adidas sweatshirt, and winter hat on trying to learn this 4 line song. Music just doesn’t run in my blood.
I finally felt like it was time to record it, and let some of my American peeps see what I had been up to. I was so proud that I had mastered these 4 lines that I was surprised they didn’t call the fire truck to my 11th floor apartment since my face was glowing SO red.
“Youtube Crazy American Sings Chinese Song”
The joy of this blog is that I get a chance to reflect back and see how stupid I can be sometimes.
With this beaming introduction, I give you the link to the finished project.
“Wrong Language, Oops!”
I first showed it off to one of my only 3 Taiwanese friends at the time, Skype screen name- daisylinxxx.
I couldn’t wait to hear how awesome and cute she thought it was. I felt like I was well on my way to just learning shit loads of songs and never being forced with the torture of sitting in a Chinese classroom.
She crushed that dream in all of about 5 seconds. Her immediate response was “Uh Josh, I don’t understand the song.”
It turned out that the Chinese was in simplified Chinese which is spoken on mainland China. They mostly speak Traditional Chinese here in Taiwan.
With that disaster, I realized it was time to get some help in figuring out how to learn Chinese. In the next post, I plan to take you through some of the ups and downs of sitting through a 10 hour per week Chinese class as a 35 year old grown man.
I know at times that some of these stories sound depressing and sad to some of you.
I personally feel the opposite. Each obstacle or hurdle only makes me that much stronger for future challenges.
If I wanted to steady and reliable, I would still be sitting in a cube somewhere using every ounce of muscle and power in my body to keep from bouncing my head off the desk in pain and boredom.
On November 1, 2012, I left Gilbert, AZ with a one way ticket to Taipei on a mission for adventure.
Stability bores the shit out of me. I look forward to looking back at some of these entries in the many months to come and watching how I hopefully continue to evolve as a human being.
By Joshua Dent
Did you ever hear a song so many times that you felt like you were one note away from deliberately gouging out your own eyes with a bright and shiny #2 pencil?
Carly Rae’s “Here’s My Number, Call Me Maybe” had me reaching for my trusty #2 on many occasions this past winter in Jongli, Taiwan.
Never heard of Jongli, Taiwan? What’s wrong with you? I am just kidding.
It is just a small suburb of Taiwan’s capital city Taipei. To me, it’s urban and flat, with a river that smells like the dumpster behind Mcdonald’s.
I really am not kidding about how bad I hate that song. I was very close to going absolutely Ape-Shit if I heard that song one more time.
NOTHING in this ENTIRE world pissed me off more this last winter than day, after day, after day, after day of hearing the WORST song in American history.
I would have to go back to the early 80’s when my brother and sister, Ryan and Kori, used to lock me in the family station wagon and blast Nena’s 99 red balloons to find a song I hated like that. Do you forget what I am talking about? Don’t worry, I got you covered with a link.
If the stores, bars, and gym weren’t enough, it even made its way into the Taiwan elementary schools.
That was when I walked past “The Chungli English Village.” This is a huge elementary school that ships kids in from all over our county to study English.
It is comparable to Disney World inside from what I have been told. Each classroom has a different Walt-Disney based theme.
The trouble came when I could hear the music playing in the background. I knew right away it was “The song.”
I felt like I was locked up behind bars for 15 years for a crime I didn’t do as I watched these kids forced to sing and dance to this shit. I was absolutely helpless. I had no power or ability to make it stop.
Let me start out by saying one thing. I am an absolutely horrific musician. I played the banjo, kazoos, and a few other random instruments on occasion for many years. I never really progressed past “Skip To the Lou My Darling” level songs.
I am certain my neighbor appreciated this. I went with one of the softest and most docile choices you could make as a beginning musician. I decided it was time to buy an acoustic guitar.
I found the beauty of a guitar I now call “Madgun 520” after only visiting a few stores.
Next time, we will go on an adventure to the Shane (Taiwanese pronunciation- Shan) school to see what happened after I got a wild hair up my ass to show off my two chords to a room full of 8 year olds.