(All the Chinese words are my own spelling.)
There are a lot of other akward, geeky white guys in Taipei, but apparently not too many because I find I am a bit of a spectable in many places. My presence has lead to some strange meetings.
One old man with just a few teeth left came up to me and stuck up his thumb and said, “Number one!” It was so sudden, all I could remember was Japanese—“Ichiban desu!” I put my thumb up, too. He said, “Number one good!” I finally remembered the Chinese, “Hao Ban!” He left, very satisfied, saying “Good, good.”
Another old man saw me from a distance and waited until I wandered near. He said, in English, “Do you speak Chinese?” I said, “Yi dian dian” (a little bit). Didn’t phase him. “Do you speak Japanese?” I said, “Hai. Wakarimasu. Skoshi desu.” He gave me a bg smile and walked off repeating “Wakarimasu“.
The last time I was here I was in a toilet and a guy was at the sink. I was about to wash my hands and he just stuck his hand out to me to shake. I did. He nodded and left. No expression on his face the whole time.
I was at a street fair and a businessman started to walk beside me. He finally worked up the courage to say something. “Why are you in Taiwan?” I said, “Vacation” He said, “That’s good.” I told him I loved Taipei, the food especially, and that I was very happy to be here. I could see his chest swell with pride. I made the man very happy.
A man at a Hakka rice wine stand saw me and said, “Where are you from.” I told him New York. He smiled and said, “Good bye!”
When I am at street food stands, the proprietresses (more women than men run these stations) often watch me eat every bite, so I feel like I have to put on a bit of a performance. I repeat “Hao chu!” (delicious) or “Hao hua!” (same for liquids). I make delicious faces and act as if I’m critically assessing the food. With the amount that I am eating, I am making friends all over the island.
The encounters aren’t always good, though, but only because my Chinese stinks. For example, I am so stupid that I can never remember the difference between the words Bukachi and Duebachi. This can lead to disaster. Yesterday, at a Japanese bakery, I bumped into an old lady and upset her tray of food. “Bukachi!” I announced. The look she gave me! It means “You’re welcome!” I did the same thing to a young woman whose foot I stepped on causing her shoe to come off, and to a guy driving a car that I stupidly stepped in front of. I keep telling people they are welcome for me making an idiot of myself. I should say Duebachi, which of course means “I’m sorry”.