About jp 吉平

john patrick | 吉平 is a former superhero from seattle | usa

Taipei 2014 Day 26

I talked my face off in class today, which is nothing new. We talked about some of the previous day’s vocab words, as well as tipping customs and a little bit about minimum wage.

I mentioned the pinyin dilemma (how my brain totally disregards a Chinese character if there is pinyin or English anywhere near it). I somehow got onto the subject in typing in 主音 (a.k.a. ㄅㄆㄇㄈ Bopomofo) and I mentioned that the last thing I’m hung up on is typing; I’m not yet familiar with the tuvw keyboard. At that point my teacher started googling for tuvw typing tutors; and I noticed she was pretty into it. At first she wanted to make me play; then she wanted to try herself… and pretty soon she was trying all the games. When break time came around, she wanted to stay in and play the typing tutor game. I took my customary walk around the block.

After class Pashan T and I met Taipei Amy at 天台食堂, a theme restaurant near the 14 exit of the East Metro Mall connected to the B_ Zhongxiao Fuxing station. The afternoon tea included soup dumplings, some fancy ڽ| turnip cakes, some tofu custard which we dressed with sweet peanuts. Dessert was the black sesame mochi ball.

喬丹 showed up once we had finished, so we ordered up another couple baskets of soup dumplings. After that, we tried to go to the 溫古 Wengu Cafe which I remembered from 2012, but it was packed. So instead we wandered into the Carousel Cafe, which looked empty and humorless despite a life-sized horse lamp, giant teddy bear, and a display case full of baumkuchen. We got desserts.

Afterward, we wandered aimlessly, and then rented a booth at MyFun, which is a 14th floor lounge where you can just hang out. It’s basically an airport lounge without the airport. Your rental fee covers beverages and you can use a computer or check out a comic book from their collection. Some people take naps in their booths; others take business meetings. We were in a booth in a giant bay window, and we all just 低頭族 smartphoned until 喬丹 was ready to claw our eyes out, he was so hungry.

Polish P joined us and we all went to a hotpot and hotpotted for a couple of hours. I helped Polish P with her chopstick grip, and she pretended to enjoy W ampalaya (bitter melon).

Taipei 2014 Day 25

So yesterday I went to class and talked my face off as usual.

After class there was lunch at the chirashi-teria; I got karaage. Pashan T did a random point on the menu and got grilled saba, which made both me and 喬丹 envious.

Later for dinner, 喬丹and I met Swiss T and Polish P and found the cantonese bbq place across from the public library. Later we went for a drink at the Speakeasy in Xinyi, which is an expat bar. Swiss T couldn’t join us, but 喬丹, Polish P and I held down the bar for a while. Speakeasy H and Philly C were working, and there were all kinds of characters, including Polish D and Polish C, Taiwan S (who did coaster tricks) and Taiwan J (who shook his head at her).

Later Pashan T wandered in, and then Taiwan Amy, and German G with German S, and about then all hell broke loose. The Polish boys wanted to make Mad Dogs, but had to settle for Prairie Fires. I managed to sustain a crazy conversation in German with Polish P; later German G started doing play by play of a situation we were viewing through a frosted window, followed by some color commentary and analysis by Taiwan S, whose sense of humor is deadpan and wicked. Earlier she had held court as she described all the ways that she hated pandas personally. People started trading eyeglasses, and singing Queen. Some people asked me how to toast in Tagalog, and by the end of the night everyone was toasting “Lasing!”

Of course I left the party early; got in a cab and talked my face off with the cabbie. Not sure what all he was talking about.

Taipei 2014 Day 24

So yesterday after class there was some minor lunch drama; I was happy to teach Taiwan Amy the phrase “like herding cats.” That’s one of my favorite similes in English.

We ended up at Coda, which is the North American comfort food restaurant run by some Canadians. I ordered the Chicken Cordon Bleu burger, which was good, but upon further reflection I might have liked it better if I had taken it off the bun and eaten it with a fork and knife. Not everything has to be a burger, you know. Later I realized I had eaten just another 雞排。





I hung out with Pashan T at Picapica, which 喬丹 has renamed “Pikachu” so that’s that. Around 5pm I went home to take a nap, which may seem geriatric to you… but it’s so, so part of an expat summer language study lifestyle it’s not even questioned. That nap is on the calendar, kids.

Afterwords, Pashan T and I met again for dinner, and he had the brilliant idea of going to Taipei 101. We started at the food court.

Here’s the deal; Americans are good at making gross food courts and feeling gross about them. What is that? Taiwan, on the other hand, basically IS one contiguous food court; an island of impossible small kitchens and public places to sit. So we picked the Indian kitchen, which isn’t the French Laundry, but it isn’t the Factoria Mall Food Circus either. We got a tandoori chicken and a chicken in cream sauce; served with nan but no rice. It’s Taiwan so they 送’ed us the soup and salad.

Later we made our way up to the observatory on the 89th floor, and then the 92nd floor rooftop balcony. We could see a thunderstorm flashing to the southwest, and they’ve engineered the safety barriers to whistle a clear note in the wind. It’s really more of a ringing than a whistle. Later we made our way down to the obscenely showy coral products showroom and then back down to the ground.br />







We found our way to a food court where I had a little cup of ice cream. There was a takoyaki stand there that I’m quite excited about, but I wasn’t hungry at the time.

So the two vocabulary items that I have a crush on are 星際異攻隊 “Guardians of the Galaxy” and 復仇者聯盟 “The Avengers.” Of course, the verb “to avenge” is so connected with “to swear, to vow” that I use the whole chunk in my sample sentence 我發誓為你復仇!”I SWEAR TO AVENGE YOU!” which is a surprisingly entertaining thing to say in daily life here in Taipei.

Also fun to say are: 我發誓對你的敵人復仇!”I VOW TO EXACT VENGEANCE UPON YOUR ENEMIES!” and 我要對你發誓復仇!”I SHALL SWEAR SHALL TAKE MY REVENGE AGAINST YOU!” It turns out I really love saying those things to people.

Another word I had a crush on yesterday was 章魚燒 taokyaki. Pashan T’s crush vocabulary was 漂浮 “to hover/to float,” in the context of 漂浮冰咖啡 “an iced coffee float.”

I spent a lot of yesterday trying to write a language learning post; I wanted to list the principles I follow. The post was getting away from me so I left it for another day, but here are the principles.

1) The Language Learning Instinct is available to us at all ages. It may be different than when we were babies, but it still happens by instinct rather than by force of will.

2) All language learning is local.

3) Practice four skills with real people.

4) Language Immersion should be relationship-based (as opposed to based on time or location).

5) Don’t memorize vocab; have a crush on it until you own it.

6) Using textbook grammar in the wild is worth a hundred points.

7) Your brain has it’s own timetable. It’s not a contest.

8) We learn from mistakes; so for the love of all that’s dear MAKE MISTAKES.

So that’s a list of eight random principles I follow in language learning; I don’t know if there are more or if I can make some coalesce. I’m not sure if I can rank them or explain them, or make people believe them. I’ll try to write some posts explaining these principles in the future.<

Taipei 2014 Day 23

I’m back at Benny’s Cafe at the moment, to write. The AC is set to Arctic Despair and the music is making me a little tense at the moment, but the kids that work here just made me really happy. The’ve known for a long time that I’m the 無糖/不要放糖 “no sugar, please” guy. They nod to me when they come in to work. Today, the Smiley Girl brought me my iced tea and asked, smiling《你要吸管嗎?》”Do you want a straw?” She pointed to the tower of straws on the counter and I happily said “no thank you.” I’ve been returning the straws to the straw tower every day, just because I don’t need plastic wrapped in plastic to drink my sugar-free iced tea. I like Smiley Girl and Shy Boy, who had a cold last week. I noticed Elf-Lookin’ is wearing a sick mask today, poor kid.

Note to self: 吸管 (1st tone, 3rd tone). In Shanghai they taught me to say 管子,that was the same day they taught me how to say 法棍.

Ok so yesterday I was just marveling about the convenience of my apartment. I live in a building on Roosevelt Road, so the front door opens into a colonnade. All the main roads are lined with colonnade here, which is very nice on rainy days. Yesterday I was thinking about all the places I can get to on a rainy day without an umbrella; in other words, just places on my block. I can get morning coffee, an evening drink, buy an umbrella, do all my grocery shopping at a supermarket, buy fresh food at the farmer’s market, go to the drug store, get a Taiwanese breakfast, and pick up something from the bakery. Also, the metro station is directly below my building, so I can also get to anywhere the metro goes without needing an umbrella; essentially without crossing a street.

Yesterday, I wanted to meet up with South Africa M, who lives a little out of the way. She’s recovering from a medical procedure, so her friend California B met me at the metro station We stopped for burritos to go… I got a carnitas salad because I can’t stand flour tortillas anymore. Anyway, there was a bus ride to a 7-Eleven, then a little bit of a hike to another bus, and then a short walk into South Africa M’s mountain chalet, where the three of us just hung out for a few hours, sitting in the living room and talking like grown ups.

When I met South Africa M two years ago, I wasn’t sure if she was going to make it here. Two years later she lives on the side of 陽明山 Yangming Mountain where it’s cool, and you hear the rush of the wind in the leaves instead of the groan of motor bikes. She says it takes her over an hour to get to work; a short walk, a long bus, and a longer metro ride. But she lives in a mountain chalet; the bus has huge windows, and the train she takes rides three stories in the sky, and takes her to her job in 淡水. In other words, she works at a weekend tourist destination, and lives in a different weekend tourist destination. She was so happy way up in the mountain, and I see why. She keeps two dogs. Three kittens were just born on her roof.

She had me walk to the back porch to get a look at those three kittens, and of course there is the view of a little forest canyon behind her place. I looked up a little in the tree and saw a spider the size of a hoodie sweater, sitting in a web the size of a jumpy house. I wanted to shriek and gather up my skirt, but I somehow kept my cool and went balk inside calmly. I reported about the spider as big as an old man’s over coat, and they laughed casually and said, yes, the spiders grow to the size of two-car garages here.

California B and I took a little walk around while we were up in the mountain; we checked out the views from the Chinese Cultural University and then wandered back down to the main road somehow and caught a bus back to the metro station.

When I finally got back to my neighborhood, I thought about the extreme convenience of my neighborhood, and then compared it to the relative inconvenience and natural bliss of the Mountain Chalet. I think most Americans would feel more at home in the Mountain Chalet, for the quiet and the privacy. But truth be told, this is still Taiwan; the Mountain Chalet is two blocks from a bus line, and that bus comes every five minutes.

When I finally got back to my neighborhood, I had a meal of steamed fish with lemon, a short walk home, and then a quiet beer at the bar downstairs.

Today I went and saw 22 Jump Street with Taiwan Amy. I was hoping to see Lucy but apparently it doesn’t come out here until the end of next month. I looked at the other movies; Hercules is the big one that came out Friday, and it looks like a shame. Amy proposed 22 Jump Street and I thought… eeew ewwwww…. but yes, that’s exactly what I need to see right now; a dumb summer flick, with jokes and bad guys, and some bros dancing around with guns. I used some grammar from last summer to tell Amy that I decided to come with her because 《我把冷氣放在第一位,第二是和你過時間。》(I put AC first, spending time with you is second!) which of course she saw coming from a mile away and finished before I reached the comma. The point is that seeing Jonah Hill and the other guy, plus no Asians in a movie… that’s way, way down the list. I was a little surprised, though, that it passed the letter of the Bechdel Test, if not the spirit of it. Anyway, I’ve thought about that movie too much now.

銀河守護者》Guardians of the Galaxy comes out on Thursday, and Amy is down to see it with me. 《銀河守護者》is my vocabulary crush for the week.

UPDATE: apparently the translation for the Taiwanese market is 《星際異攻隊》, which is great news for me since I already know most of those characters anyway. “Interstellar Unusual Attack Team”


At first I had it confused with 《復仇者聯盟2:奧創紀元》but that’s not coming out until next summer. I’m glad, too; because 《復仇者聯盟2:奧創紀元》seems a lot more difficult to remember for some reason. More difficult than 猩球崛起 Planet of the Apes, which I never wanted to see to to begin with.

Right Now at the Grammercy Cafe

20140727-110357-39837380.jpgI tried to go study at Picnic or PicaPica cafes in 公館 Gongguan, but they hadn’t opened yet. I didn’t want to go back to Benny’s because I knew it would be crammed full of brunchies so instead I found a brunch place.

It’s call the Grammercy Cafe and there’s a big sunny atrium and a big spacious dining room with high ceilings. You serve yourself water and silverware. They’re playing country music. There’s nothing but Taiwanese people in here eating their fussy brunches.

When the lady sat me, she handed me a menu that was all in Chinese, tiny tiny font, plus the order form which had tinier font, and then a pen. And then she walked away. What this means is that I am 100% dependent on my reading comprehension skills.

I find my 冰美式咖啡 iced americano and get that out of the way. Check. I can read that.

Then I find the section that’s 早午餐 something something; I’m pretty sure those characters together mean “brunch.” The prices also seem to suggest they are a fussy brunch.

There are only a few bunch options, but I don’t recognize anything. I start reading the titles, and my eyes rest on 班尼 [ban-ni] which means nothing to me, but I can see that there’s ham and eggs in the description, and it’s only 280塊 (USD $9.35) which is expensive to Taiwanese people but cheapy cheap to me, so I find it on the check list and mark it off. Check.

Here’s what came to the table:


Eggs benedict. 班尼 “ban-ni” was probably the start of the transliteration of “benetict” which I might have read if I hadn’t given up. The eggs were perfectly poached the old fashioned way; none of those UFO shaped electric poacher eggs. The yolks were cooked but nice and runny, a deep orange color. Each egg rested on a slice of canadian bacon atop an un-toasted English muffin. There was also just the right amount of hash browns, a fruit salad which consisted of cut guava, cut bananas, and little grape tomatoes. To top it all off there was this thick creme in a jar topped off with some caramel syrup (which I poured off). Oh, almost forgot; little pieces of boneless fried chicken. Little pieces of boneless fried chicken are totally a breakfast item here. Not kidding.

My super tall iced coffee was included, of course.

As I look around I can see people are eating thick waffles with a fruity ice cream sunday on the side; also some thick french toasts and some dinery-y egg-and-hashbrown numbers.

Taipei 2014 Day 22

Yesterday morning, after the requisite bacon turnip cake and iced coffee, I went to class and talked my face off. For four hours. We took several breaks, and I bought peanuts to share with everyone, which everyone pretended they didn’t want.

After class I went with the Bros (one Eurobro and two Meiguo Bros) to the potsticker place around the corner, and somehow we managed to get Lisa 老師 to come with us. We ordered a bunch of potstickers, a bunch of boiled dumplings, a couple of plates of kangkong, a garlic seaweed salad, and then we each ordered our own bowl of something. Mine was 牛肉乾麵 dry noodles with beef. It was a lot of food, and for some reason, my custom of overeating to the point of forgetting my problems is not really a thing here. I tend to eat a reasonable amount of food here and then stop. I don’t know what the problem is. The funny part is that Pashan T is an eating champ; slow but steady wins the race, and I made jokes to the teacher about ordering more food for him.

It was raining hard when we left; unreasonably hard. It was the kind of hard rain that makes you think about extended family, and experiences you had with them as a child.

We hung out in Oven Coffee for a while, and then when it got dark Pashan T and I took a walk through the 公館 Gongguan neighborhood. We weren’t hungry but the street food looked good; I might have gotten a snack if it hadn’t been raining.

Eventually we ended up at Coda & Bongo’s for dinner. The place bills itself as North American comfort food. I had a souvlaki chicken salad, and Pashan T had a big plate of ribs. Rowr!

Later there was some school supply shopping and some toilet issues and a couple of Irish dudes making a surprise appearance.

Anyway, I ended up in Something Ales, where the owner sent some of his customers upstairs to the loft in order to clear a space for Pashan T and I. He offered us some of his own stash of black-skinned peanuts 黑金剛花生.

A local cat named Sam introduced himself to us and asked us about the emphatic “do” in English, the opposite of “don’t.” What’s the difference between saying “I wish it would rain,” and “I do wish it would rain.” So we gave him a very minimal lesson on the use of that particular auxiliary verb. Later in the conversation he taught us to say 超強,超弱,and 機掰. That last word he taught us in Taiwanese, and apparently it’s quite vulgar.

Taipei 2014 Day 21

I have class in 20 minutes so this will be a quick one.

I took a break from my phone drama yesterday to meet mysterious Tainan C and Barton (both are pseudonyms). We met a in the MRT Guting station underneath Exit 2, which I had chosen because I believed it would be cooler down below. I didn’t know who to look for since Tainan C is a pretty low profile… so low-profile, that I assumed that he was a missionary language learner. Anyway he recognized me from a distance, and asked me if it was creepy. It wasn’t at all creepy of course.

We had a tight schedule so I took them to Mix Cafe. While Barton and Tainan C were ordering I mouthed to the owner 《我想請他們客,不要讓他們付錢》 (“I will be treating them; don’t let them pay any money!). The boss gave me a slick Lando Calrissian nod of acknowledgement and when the time came, I 請’ed them within an inch of their life. I 請’ed them so hard, they started spitting blood and teeth fragments. They were trying not to sob but I saw the tears in their eyes.


We had a lovely fish dinner and talked about Taiwan, language learning, etc. I found myself trying to explain my new philosophy on immersion, which I wrote about once here, but I realized I my explanation was too labored; I need to concentrate it down to a fortune cookie. I’ll work on that later this afternoon after four hours of class.

Before I knew it my new friends were off on another mission; I was glad to meet them. I turned my attention to my phone drama and my upset stomach… but as soon as they were gone I realized I had forgotten to take a picture with Tainan C and Barton.

Unrelated: Here are the places where the locals recognize me and by now know my order: Benny’s cafe; Pucheng Jie Breakfast Counter. Oven Coffee. Something Ales. Today at Oven Coffee I managed to say hello, and the dude was immediately “Medium iced-Americano, real mug, no sugar, heavy on the ice cubes, VIP Card discount. Anything else?” I swear the first time I came here I paid 90塊 for my drink; today I paid 46塊.

The clock and the music say that it’s time for me to get up and go to class. It’s “Fall” by Clay Walker, so I”m going to Clay Walke-right outta here (puns seem to be less embarrassing for expats).

Minor Laowai Phone Bill Drama

Yesterday: I walk into the 大哥大 store and tell them that I can’t make phone calls, send text messages, or use 3G internet. They say something in Chinese and I’m like yah yah, what 300塊? Alright here you go, 300塊, just make it work.

Today: 10:30 am I walk into the 大哥大 store and talk to the same lady, and say that I paid 300 bones yesterday and I could send a text message, but my 3G still isn’t working. She says oh yah, 300塊 was for phone and messaging service; 3G internet is the other 180塊. I’m like, yah, ok, let’s make it happen buh-bam, 180塊 hook me up. That’s USD about six bucks and a quarter; let’s make it happen.

We sit there for about a minute and the 3G internet isn’t kicking in. Does it take a while, I ask the lady, or is it right away? Right away, she said. Ok, well, I gotta go to class; if it still doesn’t work after class I’ll come back, ok? Sure, she says! Thank you for coming in! Thank you for helping me! Everybody is friends.

Today: 4pm. After a pizza, an iced tea, and a “lazy tiramisù” I walk back to the 大哥大 office. My 3G internet starts working on the walk there, but my text messages fail to send. I walk into the office.

They absolutely don’t care that the right-away 3G update took 5 hours to happen, what do you expect? I told them, though, that I still couldn’t send a text message. They look up my account and said, yes, you’ve spent it all. I said, SINCE YESTERDAY? And they were like yes; your account has a very limited number of minutes, and if you make international calls it gets used up very fast.

I look around me to see if I have gone back in time to an era where anyone on earth still made international phone calls. Look around, look around… nope; it’s still 2014. I haven’t made any phone calls, I said. I received a phone call, I offer, and they jumped on the computer.

Oh! they say, FROM WHAT TIME TO WHAT TIME! Aha! They caught me.

From 15:28 until 15:30. It was a two minute phone call, from a Tainan phone number.

Do you want to talk to someone in English, they ask me? Sure, I say.

So they dial up the English service, and the lady supposedly speaks English , but it’s all takka-takka-takka-takka-takka. English words, but I have no idea what the hell she could possibly be talking about.

I can’t hear you, I say. It was true, I couldn’t hear what she was saying. Also, she’s speaking some kind of horrible corporate bullshit English that doesn’t make any damn sense. All I really understand is “Do you bring your passport.” Do I bring my passport? See, I would prefer it if when you spoke English to me, that you say something that might make sense…

Anyway, the plan is to go to the next 大哥大 store three blocks away, and bring my passport, which is the magic key to unlocking their company’s pendejadas. I hand the phone back to the lady that’s been helping me, and she writes some info down for me on a slip of paper, so that I can make it to the next store. I ask her, “is it worth it? If I go there with my passport, will they fix it? Because I’m only here 10 more days, and I have plans tonight; my friends are waiting for me. Will they fix it or is it just kiss my 300塊 goodbye?”

“Kiss my 300塊 goodbye” made her feel bad, which was my intent. She said I should go, they would print out my usage history, and figure out what the deal was; it should be fast.”

I go to meet my friends. Have a lovely dinner. Forget to take a picture. Walk my friends back to the metro station, and then go find the next 大哥大 office.

By the way, “大哥大” is just a way of saying “cellphone” but it’s also the brand name of the company. Literally translated, “大哥大” can mean “Big Brother is Great.”

Big Brother is Great.

I walk into the next 大哥大 store, thinking this was a service center or headquarters or some kind of passport-receiving agency which will explain to me how I have, indeed, burned through 480塊’s worth of phone and internet credit, which were supposed to be separate anyway… in the span of 24 hours.

I walk in and it looks like just another branch. No extra authority; no manager, no special nothing; just more 大哥大 kids in their gross polo shirts.

In my opinion, polo shirts are gross. Sorry, Latino friends.

So they hear my story and refer me to someone else, and accuse me of making international calls and data-rich text messages and burning through my money like the FAT DECADENT WESTERNER I am. They bring out a big printout of all of my usage, and I ask, can you show me where I made a phone call yesterday? Can you show me where I sent a text message yesterday?

They offer to have me talk to an English speaking agent on the phone, and I was like… yah, fine.

This time it was a man, whose English was easier to understand, but he was still speaking the confusing corporate double speak. I honestly honestly honestly did not know where he was going with it until he said “… so I will return your 380 NTDollars to your account and will make sure it Never. Happens. Again.”

I have no idea what happened. I asked him, and he explained again, and I still didn’t get it, but I was happy that I was getting my credits back. I asked him to explain it to the lady in front of me in Chinese so that she would know my situation, so as soon as I handed her the phone SHE HUNG IT UP.

She looked at me like, “so, how’d it go?” And I said, “I wanted you to talk to him so he could explain it to you.”

Oh, sorry, she said. I smiled as my heart filled with a vague hatred, which I asked Jesus to take from me.

Just now I dialed 867 to check my account balance: three hundred one point one NTDollars, is what it said. Phone calls work, text messages work, 3G internet works. What was the problem? Don’t ask me, I have no idea.

Comprehension questions. What did you understand? Answer in complete sentences in English or in Spanish.

1. Did I do something wrong?
2. Why did they need my passport?
3. What did the man on the phone see differently, that the woman on the phone and three people at the counter failed to see?
4. I have this desire in my heart to go back and make five people feel like total dumb-ass piles of shit for wasting two hours of my life due to their incompetence. That’s unreasonable, and totally wrong of me to want, right? I don’t have to do that. Do I? Of course not. Right?

Taipei 2014 Day 21: Typhoon Day

There is not a whole lot to report about Day 21. Our classes were cancelled due to Typhoon Matmo. I spent the morning doing laundry; I already reported about breakfast in yesterday’s post.


I had a 火車便當 “Railroad Lunchbox” with a 雞排 chicken steak, at a spot across 辛亥路 Xinhai Road, that Pashan T and I walked by the other day. It was good, and it was only 80塊 (USD $2.67). There was the chicken steak, steamed potato, tofu cubes, soup, greens, half a soy sauce egg, and a seaweed bow tie.

After that there was four hours of afternoon KTV, the karaoke joint where you and your friends get your own private room. It was a blast of course. My personal favorite was Smooth Criminal, but not everyone enjoyed that song in the same way.

After KTV, we went to a Japanese ramen place next door. I had a bowl of spicy ramen.



There was a metro ride home, and then I met 喬丹 again at Something Ales for a glass of cider, which was on draft and served on the rocks. The owner bartender (note to self; find out his name soon) gave us some homework; he told us to try a certain delicious peanut. He wrote the name for us.


I woke up this morning at sunrise, as I am prone to do. The sky was crazy red from my shower porch; a red that doesn’t come through in the photo, despite the filter I put on it. Enjoy!


Why I’ve Switched to 注音符號 Zhuyin Bopomofo ㄅㄆㄇㄈ

I don’t think anyone has any interest in this post.

When people see my Chinese notes, they notice that I am annotating my new vocabulary words with the Bopomofo phonetic notation: ㄅㄆㄇㄈ, more formally known as 注音符號, which is the system that they use here in Taiwan to give phonetic readings; it’s a system that predates the advent of Pinyin in Mainland China.

And when people notice that my notes are annotated with ㄅㄆㄇㄈ, they always say, “Well, I’m sticking with Pinyin because…” It’s very important to them that I know why they’re sticking with Hanyu Pinyin. I didn’t even ask or bring it up; they just saw my notes and start their testimonial.

When they finish, sometimes I give them some of the reasons that I have switched to ㄅㄆㄇㄈ, but they DON’T CARE. It annoys them to hear my reasons. I will be surprised if any Mandarin learner has made it down this far in the post.

A couple years ago, I tried to get my classes to learn ㄅㄆㄇㄈ, but they were horrible HORRIBLE at it, so I gave up. Since ㄅㄆㄇㄈ and Pinyin are almost exactly parallel, they are horrible at Pinyin as well, but they’re comfortable with it, and honestly, it’s easier for me to see Pinyin mistakes and mark them wrong. So my classes stick with Pinyin and I don’t evangelize ㄅㄆㄇㄈ anymore.

So anyway, nobody asked, but here are the reasons I’ve switched to ㄅㄆㄇㄈ:

  • I already learned it. It took, what, a couple of hours to learn it. I switched my dictionary to show me ㄅㄆㄇㄈ, and zero Pinyin. At first I’d forget a symbol, but then I hit the audio play button and could associate the sound. So now that I know it, and I got familiar with it, why wouldn’t I use it?
  • The Taiwanese are better at it. I’m studying in Taiwan, my teachers prefer it, they don’t mess it up. Incidentally, it’s the 2nd Language speakers and the Mainlanders who send SMS text messages that are really good at Pinyin, but I’ve met more than one Mainlander who will tell me “CH” when I really need a “Q.” I haven’t found that among the ㄅㄆㄇㄈ-using Taiwanese folks.
  • Pinyin looks too much like words. Pinyin is only supposed to be a phonetic guide, and to the Chinese people who use it, it totally is. However, I’m literate in a few languages that use the Roman alphabet, and when I see Pinyin my brain immediately sees a word. And then my brain does something interesting: it TOTALLY DISREGARDS the Chinese character that I’m supposed to be reading. And I mean TOTAL. DISREGARD. When I’m trying to become literate in a language, TOTAL DISREGARD is not my friend. I can force my eyeballs to look at a new character, but then the Pinyin is RIGHT THERE, calling to me. My familiarity with ㄅㄆㄇㄈ is not that automatic; I tend to look at the character first, and only check the ㄅㄆㄇㄈ if I’m not sure how to pronounce it.
  • I can read Taiwanese-produced short stories that have in-line ㄅㄆㄇㄈ annotation. These are often charming, and therefore, readable. As an audience, I actually desire to continue reading until the end. I enjoy reading those short stories! The Pinyin-annotated readings, on the other hand, as a rule tend to be either totally mindless dialogs with everybody agreeing about something everybody already knows; or something horribly boring about the modern infrastructure of some industrial province; or something culturally offensive about how Westerners all collectively and simultaneously invented prostitution and then forced it upon the people of the Middle Kingdom.

So, the Taiwanese like to claim that ㄅㄆㄇㄈ is a more faithful representation of Mandarin phonetics, and I don’t care about that. As someone who is literate in English and French I’m long past the point where I need an alphabet to be completely consistent.

However I have to say that I haven’t totally abandoned Pinyin yet. Besides having to teach it to my students, for now it’s also easier to type characters using Pinyin, since I already know the keyboard.

In any case, there you go, the reasons that I use ㄅㄆㄇㄈ; reasons that no one has ever asked for. We can all now go back to our oyster omelets in peace.




from MandarinPoster.com