Happy Double Ten Day: Taiwan’s ‘Birthday’

Today is Double Ten Day or “Taiwan’s birthday”.

Taiwan, or the Republic of China, turned 101 this year. As usual, the day was marked with festivities and fireworks. At least that is what I’ve read on the news. In the 6 years of living there during my childhood as an expat, I’d always assumed that Double Ten Day was Taiwan’s birthday. At the same time, I was often – no, I still am – very confused about the whole thing.

This is what I know, or think I know. If I’m wrong, you know I’ve been mis-educated or I’m super confused:

  • Double Ten Day marks the anniversary of the Wuchang Uprising in China in the early 1900s, I think 1911 or 1912, and the fall of the Qing Dynasty. But then came the Communist Party that forced the Nationalist Party to run away and seek refuge in Taiwan. Taiwan became the Republic of China. *Please note that China is the People’s Republic of China!*
  • Taiwan uses the ROC flag (with the white sun against the blue patch in the corner of the red flag), as well as the ROC anthem. Those who left China before 1949 or just after remember the ROC anthem (just as many Germans who’ve settled in North America remember “Deutschland Ueber Alles“).
  • Taiwan was once called Formosa or Ilha Formosa, by the Portuguese explorers in the 1500s, which means ‘beautiful island’.
  • Some of the people from Taiwan have Chinese roots; others have aboriginal roots and still others have a mixture of some sort.

That’s pretty much it. 😐

I’m not sure whether or not Taiwan is truly independent right now but I do hope it will be allowed to be its own country one day, to be recognised not as Chinese Taipei as it is in the Olympics and Paralympics, but as Taiwan.

Flag of the Republic of China

Flag of the Republic of China (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Endangered Languages and Dialects

Half of the 6,000 plus spoken languages today will disappear by the end of the century.

UNESCO

You’ve heard of endangered species but you might not have heard of endangered languages. I assure you that I did not make up the term. There are many languages and dialects that are in risk of becoming extinct. I’m not referring to Latin, which is still taught in universities and some secondary schools. I’m referring to languages and dialects that are uncommon to many of us and that may not have had a chance to be preserved (yet). Especially dialects, which I believe are the most endangered.

UNESCO classifies 4 levels of endangerment in languages:

Vulnerable: Most children speak the language, but it may be restricted to certain domains (e.g., home).
Definitely endangered: Children no longer learn the language as mother tongue in the home.
Severely endangered: Language is spoken by grandparents and older generations; while the parent generation may understand it, they do not speak it to children or among themselves.
Critically endangered: The youngest speakers are grandparents and older, and they speak the language partially and infrequently.

(See Wikipedia’s List of Endangered Languages in Europe.)

Yesterday morning, I read an article on a Scottish fisherman who passed away last week at 92, taking away with him the Cromarty dialect (see article here). Every time I read articles on ‘the last native speaker’ of this language or that dialect, I feel rather down. As someone with a great passion for languages and history, I enjoy picking up new languages and dialects, as I see it as a key to understanding cultures and people. I enjoy finding patterns and seeing how we’re all connected. (I really should have studied linguistics!) Throughout the centuries, the need to have one or a few common languages per country in order to maintain order has endangered many languages and dialects. There were times when speaking the local dialect or language was forbidden, which prevented many from learning the dialect/language and caused native speakers to forget.

I’d found out one day, for instance, that at one point, Taiwanese had been forbidden in homes in Taiwan, where at the time, Mandarin Chinese was enforced to be spoken at all times. I’m not sure when they changed the rules, but there are now native speakers who had picked it up when they were older. Today, it’s a way locals can speak ‘privately’ without having Mandarin speakers know what they’re talking about. It’s also used quite commonly for jokes, particularly in [dubbed] movies!

As much as it is easy to learn one common language so that we may all be able communicate with one another (quickly), I believe it is valuable to learn at least one other language, and even a dialect, depending on where one is. There are words that often describe situations or objects or ideas better than words in our native tongue. Yet quite often, it is the most convenient way for communication with those who do not speaking a main language.

For example, while living in Munich, Bavaria, I found it useful to learn at least a bit of Bavarian, despite the fact that I rarely got to use it. However, it certainly came in handy when I was in a more rural setting, where many of the seniors spoke in thick Bavarian accents (and quite often, in the dialect itself!). Had I never learned any Bavarian, I would have been absolutely confused. Confusion would have turned into frustration, which would eventually cause grave misunderstandings between us.

We might not be able to learn all the languages or dialects in the world. We might not even be able to preserve them all, despite the fact that UNESCO, Google, universities, etc. are making an effort to save them. Yet while there are people who still speak an endangered language or dialect, let us pick up a little and practise with them. Let us leave them with hope, knowing that their native tongue and their identity are appreciated. Perhaps we may even find ourselves adopting certain words or idioms!

‘Where are you from?’ – The Dreaded Question for TCKs

Where do you come from?

How often I have been asked that since childhood. As a child (i.e. until I turned 15 and spent more time in my homeland, Canada), it was a question I had NO idea how to answer. And how could I, having been born in one country, then moved to another, and yet another, with plenty of visits home throughout the years?

This is what I mean:

0-14:

Q: “Where do you come from?”
Mini me: “Umm… I’m from Hong Kong but I was born in Canada.”
Q: “Oh, so your parents are from Hong Kong?”
Mini me: “No, my Dad’s born in Canada and my Mum’s born in Taiwan.”
Q: “Why were you in HK?”
Mini me: ‘Dad’s job? I don’t know!’

14-15:

Q: “Where do you come from?”
Teen me: “Uhh…I’m from Taiwan.”
Q: “Are you a landed immigrant?”
Teen me: (Thinking: ‘Immigrant – someone who moves to another country. Landed – arrived…’) “What’s that?”
Q: “What passport do you hold?”
Teen me: “Canadian.”
Q: “Where were you born?”
Teen me: “In Vancouver…”
Q: “….Oh.” ‘Why is she so confused herself?’

For many years, probably until I turned 18, I thought I was the only stupid one who couldn’t figure out where she came from / understand the question and answer it simply. I confused so many people because no one could figure out how someone “from Asia” could:

1) speak English fluently
2) attend international/private schools
3) move around so often

It wasn’t until I stumbled upon a forum for third culture kids (internationally-raised/educated kids from foreign countries; expat children, basically) that I realised I was not ALONE in dealing with this STUPID question. You want to know where we’re from? We’ll actually have to tell you a story about our birthplace and all the other places we lived in!

Now (i.e. adult me), it is a question I find both amusing and annoying. Quite often I have found that people did not get the answer they’d expected. There are usually 2 kinds of responses:

1) acceptance of answer followed by other questions of curiosity
2) rejection of answer followed by more questions pertaining to one’s ethnicity (supposedly, one’s “country of origin”)

Examples:
1a) Someone hears my British/’unique’ accent.

Q: “Where in England are you from?” or “Where are you from?”
Me: “I’m actually from Vancouver / Canada.”
Q: “No! But you sound really British/English!” (Canadians tend to say I sound Australian. I wonder if it’s because it’s far more likely to meet an “Asian” with an accent – who is neither N. American nor Asian.)

This is amusing.

1b) OR sees/meets me for the first time.

Q: “Where are you from?”
Me: “Vancouver / Canada.”
Q: “Oh nice. And what’s your background / ethnicity / heritage (if I may ask)?”
Me: “Chinese (technically Taiwanese too but they’re originally from China) and German.

This is also accepting and polite.

2) Someone sees/meets me for the first time.

Q: “Where are you from?”
Me: “Vancouver / Canada.”
Q: “But you don’t look like you’re from Canada.” *gestures to face*
Me: ‘What’s that supposed to mean? What’s a Canadian supposed to look like? Oh, European. Hmm, I wonder if they include the Natives as Canadians as well.’ *laughs*
Q: “Where are you ORIGINALLY from?”
Me: “I am from Canada. I was born there!”
Q: “… Where are your parents from?” (I’ve had a case where the questioner asked about my father, mother, and grandparents before getting the answer he wanted. What a waste of time!)
Me: “My Dad’s from Canada and my Mum’s from Taiwan.”
Q: “Where are your Dad’s parents from?”
Me: “Chinese father and German mother.” ‘There, clear now?’
Q: “Ohh! Ok, good mix.” *like*
OR
“But you look more Chinese. I thought you were from Japan / Korea / China / etc.” *dislike* Duh! I know what I look more like! And yes, I already KNEW you would think that’s where I’m from. You were just dying for me to say it!

This is just plain rude! 😡 And such a time-waster.

How to ask about one’s country of origin or one’s ethnic background

What to do:

  • Start with a friendly/casual “Where are you from?”
  • If you are curious about one’s ethnical background, ask, “What’s your background/heritage?”
  • Accept the responder’s replies. You should be satisfied. What you thought they were or where you thought they’re from should be kept to yourself, unless you tell them and apologise for your honest mistake.
  • It’s fine to ask about one’s surname – check where it comes from! *BUT please bear in mind that it could still be a one-sided answer. You either determine a part of one’s heritage OR find out the heritage of his/her adoptive parents/grandparents, etc.

What to avoid:

  • Don’t disagree with the responder’s answer(s). You know NOTHING about the person you’re asking.
  • Don’t tell someone that they don’t look like they’re from their country of origin. We live in the 21st Century – people can come from anywhere! Also, the responder is not STUPID – esp. if he/she is aware that his/her country of origin has a majority of people whom he/she does not resemble. In fact, don’t tell them what they look like. They know, they’ve seen their reflections. There are mirrors.
  • So you want to know what one’s ethnic background is. Don’t go asking where each parent or grandparent or great-grandparent and so forth is from. It could go back generations!

Recycling your Rubbish

One realises how much rubbish is accumulated in Canada when one spends a year in Germany. After sorting rubbish into paper, packaging (incl. bottles; rarely does a “packaging” not fall in this category), and glasses, one is left with very little for “rubbish”. If there is biodegradable composting, there really is almost nothing in the bin.

Please STOP smoking!

Oh dear, all that smoke I’m inhaling again!

In my July 29th 2009 post, I had a list of things I missed about Germany and things I missed about Canada. Well, let me tell you what I miss about Canada (that I knew I would!):

  1. FREE WATER: Unending water refills, where art though? Well, it just means more beer consumption!
  2. Lipton chicken noodle soup: Mmm, nothing like lipton to warm you up when it starts getting cold. I forgot to bring some with me! Guess I’ll have to get Dad to mail some over!
  3. FEWER smokers: Oh what clean air we have in Canada. If cigarettes weren’t so cheap in Germany (2-3€ if not cheaper!), perhaps the air would be cleaner here. I wonder if the EU’s working on cutting smokers…But recently, I saw a banner fighting against a complete ban – “Stand up for your smoking rights!” it said. :S
  4. Friends & family: But of course, I shall always miss my family and friends around the world! I am glad to be back home in Germany though in truth, Heidelberg is more like home to me. So until I’m there, I’m not completely at home here in Munich.

What I’ve missed about Germany:

  1. Currywurst: One of the 1st things I rushed to eat. Mmm that sauce! 😉
  2. Recycling: Oh it’s so good to see these properly labelled and sorted bins! I know Vancouver’s trying but it really needs to get going!
  3. Cheap alcohol: And the fact that you can purchase them while grocery shopping. 😛
  4. German: Just to hear it all around me again!
  5. Transportation: The S-, U- bahns, the Straßenbahns, the buses… so efficient and punctual! 🙂
  6. BEAUTIFUL architecture: I’m just snapping away and pausing all the time to admire these Baroque styles.