Multilingual Week Continues…

So, after my lunchtime class, I headed down to the nearby bus stop to catch a bus to meet Connie.

As I walked up to the bus stop I noticed there was a Taiwanese woman there checking out the bus routes, 40 something but with pigtails that made her look like someone trying to be younger than she was. I didn’t think much of it and flopped down on the bench to await my bus.

Several times the woman wandered past me, occasionally offering glances at me, but since locals do that sometimes (must be my stylish clothes) I didn’t pay much attention to her.

Then suddenly she comes back and walks up to me.

“Can y’help me?” She says with a strong American accent that I couldn’t quite place.

It turned out she’d been in Taiwan two days to visit her cousin and managed to get lost, speaking on the bare minimum of Mandarin. She was from New York (which explained the accent) and needed to find her way back to the subway lines.

Not a problem. I, having now been here 6 months, quickly gave her the instructions she needed to get back to the subway line and I also told her to have her cousin give her a card with his home address written on it in Chinese so that she could just show it to a cab driver and get whisked home if the need arrived. (Travel advice that’s saved me many the time.) After putting her on a bus headed in the right direction I went back to waiting for my own bus and musing that you really do never know what will happen next in Taipei…

Livin in a multilingual world…

So, the stop before my MRT stop on Tuesday nights is next to a mildly famous Night Market here in Taipei and it’s normal for my train to gain more than few people from that stop as people head to Taipei main station. But, as I sat reading my copy of Midshipman Hornblower tonight on the train and we hit that stop I was broken from my reading by an abnormally large group of people getting onto my car.

“Whoa, must be party night.” I thought myself and went back to my reading as the doors closed and we continued on our way.

But, no sooner had we started to move than I realized that I wasn’t hearing Chinese being spoken around me, but French! Looking up in surprise, I peered through the standing crowd looking for the usual foreigners, only to find there weren’t any, the French was coming from the Chinese-looking people around me.

I couldn’t help it, I smiled, and then quietly laughed a bit as I returned to my book, deciding that probably I was surrounded by a bunch of University students practicing their French on their way home. But, no sooner had I looked down than I became aware of a shadow over me, and looked up to find myself face to face with a twentysomething Chinese girl leaning in to look down at the book I was reading to check the language.

“Anglais,” I told her, smiling. Oddly enough, Hornblower is actually filled with French, so it’s a language that I have been exposed to recently, just not hearing or speaking it.

“Where are you from?” She asked me in French, but I knew what she said without thinking.

“Je suis Canadian,” I replied, remembering from High School to pronounce the “d” as a “j”.

Of course, this got me a long stream of French in response that poor Rob had no hope of understanding. So much for being continental!

“Je n’parle pas francais.” I said apologetically, using my last bit of French.

“But, you’re speaking it now!” They answered me in French.

“I only speak a little bit!” I said, dropping to English.

“Oh,” said the girl, also switching to English. “Are you from Quebec?”

“No, Ontario.”

That got me puzzled looks.

“Next to Quebec,” I added to still puzzled looks. (Maybe the maps in France just show Canada as being 90% Quebec or something…)

To make a long story short, they asked me if I was a traveller, and I told them I’m a resident, and then asked them where they came from. It turns out I was quite wrong, I was in the middle of a group of international students from France! (And Tunesia.) The girl I was speaking to turned out to be from Paris, and it seems they were foreign born Chinese here to learn their ancestral tongue.

Unfortunately the next stop was my own, so I had to wish them goodbye and good luck.

Then, after I got home I wandered down the hall to the laundry room to check if I could do my laundry, and as I started to return I suddenly heard the sound of spoken English echoing down the corridor. Considering there are 4 Taiwanese on my floor and none of them has really shown any English ability, I was quite surprised. Following the sound I found myself in front of the door of a young woman I suspected might be a flight attendant.

But, this again was a bit of a shock. You see when people memorize vocabulary, they use a pattern where they say the foreign word first, and then say the word in their own language. As an ESL teacher and language student, I know this pattern very well. Well, the shock came from the fact that she was reciting the foreign word first, and then following it with nearly unaccented English! On top of that, the foreign words were Japanese, not Mandarin! She was memorizing Japanese and translating it to English as her known language!

Stop the culture shock train, I want to get off!


War of the Worlds Review

As you can guess from the subject, I saw Spielburg’s latest venture with media darling and scientologist Tom Cruise, so here’s my quickie review:

The special effects are amazing, I have never truely seen giant robots look that realistic and lifelike on the big screen. If the rumoured Evangelion movie looks like that (and I can’t shake the feeling that EVA did influence the way the tripods are presented, although I can’t say exactly why…) then I am going to be one happy camper. Visually, the movie is top knotch, if a little cold and distant…actually, a lot cold and distant.

Which brings me to the bad stuff!

First off, Chad was soooo right! Every selfless act in the movie is committed by a black guy, and every selfish and horrible act is committed by a white guy while other ethncities stand around and watch. The most stunning example of this comes near the end when a black soldier goes out of his way to help Cruise’s character and all I could think of was…So why didn’t you help the guy who the aliens mulched BEFORE Cruise? Or the guy before that? What made you suddenly become a hero when it became Cruise’s turn? (One could argue that Cruise had a daughter with him, but I’m not sure that’s a plus…as I’ll comment on below…)

Second, Cruise and his two kids are the most unlikable trio I have seen in movies in a long long time, not only is their “acting” boring, bad and lifeless, but the characters are just honestly not interesting or likeable in any way. Cruise’s character is a selfish, willful and quite stupid man who is perfectly willing to sacrfice anything and anyone to make sure he and his kids survive. (You know the scene in the previews where Cruise is waving his hands and yelling to army troops “There’s nobody alive in that direction!” As though he’s trying to save them? When you see the full version you’ll see he’s yelling that to his son who wants to join the troops and is slightly off camera. Screw the troops, he doesn’t care that they’re going off to their deaths!) The son is just boring and sulks through the whole movie in his attempt to “get back at his father for abandoning him” (divorce) as though they’re off on a road trip and that’s important right now! And the daughter…well…let me tell you Dakota Fanning can scream, I know this because even Connie (who is a big Dakota fan) was wishing little Dakota would just shut up 2/3rds of the way through this movie. (I was wishing that the aliens would vape her long before that.) She literally spends the whole movie doing nothing but screaming or staring at the camera with her big blue eyes…I hope they didn’t pay her to act, cause she wasn’t doing it!

Lastly, despite the need to stick with the original ending of the story (all here should know what I’m talking about, and I won’t spoil it if you don’t), they STILL have to change it so that both Cruise and American Soldiers (America referenced in the movie as “the greatest power mankind has ever known”) kick some alien butt before they go down. (Well, the soldiers just beat on dead aliens…way to go guys!) Unlike the George Pal 1950’s version, there is no sense of building to a climax or dramatic menace, just the aliens up and…stop when they run out of special effects money or something…I don’t know…I hear I’m not the only one unimpressed by the ending.

So, to sum up, looks great, but is basically politicaly correct flag waving nonsense with really bad characters and mediocre writing. The George Pal 1950’s version still kicks it’s butt where it counts, despite the 50’s acting and changes they made to the story.