I hear you Johnnie. Though I’ve lived in Taiwan for three years, my Chinese ability is limited to ordering food, giving directions to taxi drivers and telling clerks I don’t want a plastic bag. I was excited about starting classes at Shida two and a half years ago, but then I got a real job, had to drop the classes, and ever since then have told myself, “tai mang.”
It is a difficult language. I regret that I never learned Spanish, living in California for so many years. What a breeze that would’ve been, sticking "o"s and "a"s on the end of words and speaking a new language. Instead of Asia I could’ve traveled through central and south america, eating great food, drinking margaritas, checking out chica bonitas, playing in the ocean, and sleeping in hammocks beneath the palms.
I’m not sure what you mean by cultural issues, but that may be an issue for me. While I’m open and accepting of different cultures and people, and I love exploring Asia, there are many things about Chinese culture that I find it irritating. Of course, I’m not alone – look at all the Segue threads complaining about rude, selfish and disgusting behaviors here. Not to mention rampant dishonesty: A-Bian’s aide stating that A-Bian has no plans to travel to Indonesia when it was a blatant lie – how can one lie so blatantly? Or the prof who was up for a university presidency, a couple of years ago, till it was discovered he was a plagiarist. Or in the paper today the Taiwanese businessman who fired 600 Burmese workers who had struck in support of fellow workers who were cheated and underpaid. Often it seems that Chinese culture is not all that great.
If you think it sucks being almost 40, wait till you get to the other side. I can tell you, because I’m there (barely). It’s bad enough watching your stomach grow, your hair recede, and your knees creak, but then there’s the pondering what the hell have I been doing all these years? Where I am I going? We’ve been through that already, but I feel it can affect one’s language learning abilities too. At least it does for me. If you’re just 20, with your whole life ahead, learning Chinese would be easy. But when you’re 40, it seems natural to question is it really worth the effort? How badly do I want to learn this?
The cultural thing takes on greater significance when combined with the passing years. I love my former home in cool, green, beautiful northern California and I greatly look forward to returning. I try not to bitch about Taipei because it’s not nice to others or oneself. But I know I won’t be here for life – maybe just a few more years. So, I have asked countless times if it is really worth spending so much effort on the language. If there are other places I’d rather be, other cultures I prefer, and I know I won’t be here long, then why bother learning Chinese?
Sure, if I learn Chinese then I can chat in Chinese restaurants back home, or speak with my girlfriend who may someday become my wife in her native tongue (though her English will always be better than my Chinese). But if one does not have a great love or enthusiasm for Chinese culture or society, then it seems like an awful lot of work memorizing all those characters. Especially when that precious time could be spent on something one is more excited about, whether it’s reading, writing, exercising, or whatever.
As for me, despite the above doubts, I have just signed a new two-year contract with a firm in Taipei, so I have decided to start taking classes again after work, and I am greatly looking forward to it. If the locals can attend classes after work so can I. Sorry if I failed to enlighten you, but I’m just trying to figure it out myself.