My parents are Vietnamese immigrants, but I am Vietnamese American. My home language is Vietnamese, but I have lived my entire life in America. This blog is specifically for Non-Chinese/Taiwanese Americans who are planning on traveling to Taiwan. As the only Asian with a group of foreigners, I was approached by many Taiwanese natives who assumed I was Taiwanese. I was the first person they talked to in Taiwanese.
At first, it was very intimidating to encounter a situation where people expect you to understand but you are not Chinese. I remember the first week that our group was traveling, we went to a sit in restaurant where Matt, our mentor and the only person that can speak Chinese left the table. One of the ladies working looked directly at me and started to talk in Mandarin. As she was waiting for a response and everyone from our group looked at me to get a reaction, I quickly stepped in to try to figure out on what she asked then Matt came in to save me from a very embarrassing situation. After being in the country and experiencing many situation similar to that, it pressured me to learn basic mandarin more faster since I will need to know how to respond. There I understood that the approach I need to take when this happen is “Fake it until you make it”, meaning that instead of becoming anxious and try to tell them I do not speak mandarin, I will just observe their body language, the setting I am in and try to decipher their message. In response, I will either say “Hao” which means “Good or Okay” or nod my head to say No.
Another experience I had was waiting to use the elevator, leaving the orthopedic research center. As the elevator doors open, the cleaning lady was casually cleaning in the elevator until she was scared by the opening of the door. I quickly walked in and press the button to the first floor. Stuck in a small box with this cleaning lady, she started to have a full on conversation with me in mandarin. Because I did not understand and did not want to make the moment awkward by telling her I don’t speak Chinese, I just followed along and laughed as she laughed. After I left, she said “Xie, Xie“, which means Thank you and I also said “Xie, Xie“. This gave me the impression that she still thought I was Taiwanese…
The overall purpose of telling my two experiences is to show Non-Chinese Asian Americans of the experience you might have going to Taiwan. Be aware and expected that they might mistake you for a local native which is definitely a common situation. I recommend preparing yourself with basic Chinese conversational sentences and do not worry! Use my concept of the “Fake it til you make it” and you will be fine!