Tianxia in Tainan: Lessons in Learning, and Other Adventures

The cans of coffee from 7/11 taste like sugared water, but I’m still buying them. There’s just something about opening the fridge door and that sweet feeling of selecting something out of ten different options, of carrying a coffee in your hand when you walk to class. It makes the class feel less class-y and more I’m drinking coffee, with some learning on the side. So if the teacher says something something something, finishing forcefully with Tianxia, signalling that I am the chosen recipient of the question, and I haven’t managed to make sense of those familiar but just out-of-reach sounds, then it’s like, well, I’m drinking coffee, so that mildly awkward silence in leu of my poor Chinese wasn’t my whole moment, maybe was only 80%, because the other 20% was my 7/11 coffee.


Makes me think of high school.

But I wrote all that yesterday. Today I’m feeling different. I am a keen learner, and usually don’t feel that kind of- vulnerability, I suppose?- in class anymore; I no longer see being wrong or not knowing as a stressful experience, or a fall in the esteems of my discerning peers. But all the same, I feel that it’s important to make sense of this feeling, and where better to do that than in a healthily honest blog post. Speaking of, welcome to another episode of Tianxia in Tainan: a blog.

I think it’s the feeling of having that understanding just out of reach, an understanding I feel that I should have after so many years of learning Chinese. And when you don’t understand what’s being said to you (with a whole class waiting on you), then there isn’t really a way of reasoning yourself out of it, unless you suddenly realise what is being said. I’ve found this before. If you don’t practise your speaking or listening enough, then you sit at the bottom of a little pit, the sides of which are quite steep. If you can make it over those steep sides in your listening and speaking, then you can progress quickly because you can have proper conversations with native speakers. But, if you’re stuck on how to order the ‘take’, ‘cup’, ‘put’, ‘where’, ‘table’, and ‘on’, you won’t get far.

And this is exactly what I’m here for. Throw me in that deep end; I’m making my way up the sides. But enough of the lamenting of a language-learner who’s suffering the consequences of not speaking it enough. On to early morning Tainan and mosquito bites, vis-à-vis a brief observance on the pending realisation of my Christmas spirit.

I regard the Christmas tree in the lobby of the language centre with a passive acceptance. My eyes slide over it, I think- tree- and then I go to class. This is in contrast to what I expect a normal reaction to be: my eyes slide over it, I think- Christmas tree, ‘tis the season to be jolly, lalalalala, lalala la- and then I go to class. Like I said last week, I need to think about how to increase my internal sense of festive cheer… must make a holiday playlist. Tune in next episode to hear how my first Taiwanese Christmas goes.

Now, I could force the desired Xmas cheer on myself by playing this Christmassy playlist on the way to uni every morning, but I know that it won’t feel right. These Tainan mornings occupy a particular vibe in and of themselves. The light looks a lot more fragile than it does in Auckland. The mornings seem delicate and fresh; while the street is busy and loud, the paleness of the morning and the thinness of the sunlight, the leaves on trees being moved like piano scales being played by the wind, the paved pathway and purple flowers bursting in large spills from people’s gardens, make my morning walks feel like morning walks. I don’t know how else to describe it. But the delicacy of Tainan in the morning- at least in the space between the dorm and uni- is how mornings should feel like to me.

But, what would be idyllic scenery without the keen bite of nature working at its healthiest? Perhaps the prettiest part of Tainan that I’ve seen thus far- the lake outside the language centre, with its arching bridge straight off a willow-patterned plate, with its drooping trees and turtles and bright aqua interrupted only by patches of shiny, silver sunlight- is the abode of one of Taiwan’s lucky natives: forcipomyia Taiwana.

Tiny. Black. Deadly.


And they have made an absolute buffet of my ankles, leaving not just normal mosquito bites, but swollen, red infernos of itching and burning. Why can’t skinny jeans be fashionable when you need them to be? 😔

But, luckily for you, there’s only so much one can say about mosquito bites. My ankles might not be summer-body ready for my return to Auckland, but there’s still time for me to get my revenge on the tiny piranhas that keep me from landscape heaven… will Tianxia finally go the chemist to get insect repellent? Will she defeat the deadly Taiwanese black mosquito? Will she ever be able to show her ankles again?

Stay tuned.

There’s just one other thing that needs a shout out before I retire from blogging to enjoy the rest of my Christmas Eve-Eve, and that’s my lovely 语伴 (yǔ bàn = language partner), 佩云 (Pèi yún). I’ve met with Peiyun twice a week since arriving here, and we’ve selfied our way around Tainan (see exhibit A). We’ve gotten her personal recommendation for brown sugar bubble tea, left our mark at Chenggong University museum, and investigated the snack section of our local supermarket, amongst other adventures. And guess what: Tainan’s verdict on some of our beloved NZ snacks are in:* are they sweet as bro🤙, or yeah-nah👎?

Pineapple lumps: not too shabby at all- chewy, not too sweet. They received the honour of Peiyun’s most liked NZ treat.** They’re sweet as, bro🤙.

Crunchie: crunchy. Quite sweet. Can be summarised by a 不错 (bùcuò = not bad). Sweet as, bro🤙.

Moro bar: unfortunately for the fate of this NZ snack, all that travelling rendered the Moros a little squished. And anyway, these were the sweetest snack, and therefore not Peiyun’s top choice. Moros are a yeah-nah 👎.

L&P: upon my recommendation the L&P has been put in Peiyun’s fridge before being cracked open; I didn’t think lukewarm L&P was ideal. Peiyun enjoyed hearing the story behind its name, though.


Exhibit A:

It is here that I leave you, dear readers, with a big 圣诞节快乐 (shèngdàn jié kuàilè = Merry Christmas) and a 下次见 (xià cì jiàn = see you next time), on next week’s episode of 天霞在台南:一个部落格 (Tiānxiá zài Táinán: yīgè bùluò gé = Tianxia in Tainan: a blog).


Tianxia out.


*mildly dramatic rendition of Peiyun’s opinion

**out of the four I brought her

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *