Memories of Taiwan: Lost in Translation

I was walking with my teacher, Chen Yun Ching, through the cluttered, stony streets of Qishan in southern Taiwan, blood-red paper and tinsel jostling with with the pushy crowds and endless market stalls.

"How do you you say 'Happy New Year'?" I asked him, and he paused, mid-stream, while people flowed around him, a rock in the rapids.

I carefully repeated his words again and again, watching his eyebrows raise higher and his eyes go wider in increasing exasperation at my mangled tones, until he finally waved his hand saying "hao" (good) - whether in satisfaction or in resignation, I wasn't sure.

With some optimism I shouted out my newly-acquired greeting to the first people I saw: a group of young men and women walking past, chatting amiably in the spirt of New Year's Eve revelry.

Almost at once they fell about laughing (literally, for one young man actually sank to the ground, hugging his belly), stamping their feet, vainly trying to stifle guffaws and holding out empty hands, while I stood there with a fading smile and an obvious question mark materializing over my head.

My teacher who was shaking his head proceeded to inform me that I, a relatively wealthy foreigner, had just shouted out to this group of poverty-stricken youths: "Give me your money!"

Copyright © 2009 Dejan Djurdjevic


  1. My god, you even had been to where I life, Qishan, where you do the sword psoture. And the Hakka village close by shoul be Mei-Nong. Next time, we really have to hook up. Was just to busy last time, with the end of ther term at university.
    Grets from Taiwan

  2. Bahahaha, that's excellent. Which greeting were you trying to use? My brother cringes at my attempts at the correct accent, but I know of "gong xi fa cai" and "xin nien kuai le".

    I understand full well what motivated you to call it out to the first people you met. This year I was in China for Chinese New Year, and I was so excited and so happy to see all the decorations and spirit that I couldn't stop myself from saying it to the first group of people I walked past. They ignored me, which I take to mean my accent was hopeless, but it made me happy anyway.

  3. I no longer recall Xin. It had something to do with wishing wealth - hence the wrong translation as "give me your wealth"!


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