Friday, February 13, 2009

Lost and Found In the Crowd

As I walk through the crowded night market in Fong Yuan, I find myself both lost and found in the crowd. I am surrounded by a language I cannot understand. It is actually a comfortable mute. Quiet in its noise. There is no fluid ease-dropping in progress on my end. I feel as if I were a ghost walking through a sea of people I cannot reach out and connect to. When I do catch someone's eye, I want to be invisible; it reminds me that I cannot communicate with them.

Although I cannot understand it, I am completely aware of my own thoughts. "What am I doing here?" "I don't speak any Chinese; definitely not enough to get me by?" "I am out here by myself on purpose; all I feel is lonely." "I just needed to get out." I need to get away sometimes and get lost in a crowd to realize what I have and don't have. To think about what I am doing here. Teaching English and for 7-8 months to boot. "Am I really doing this?" "And I have been thinking about staying longer....what was I thinking???" "Why don't I
just go to Russia, where I could actually speak some semblance of the language?" "I don't want to leave Taiwan just yet...I still need to learn Chinese." "Why do I care so much about learning it....?"

I hear an English song playing from a vendor who also sells marijuana paraphernalia. I laugh inside; the only thing I can understand is the music. I walk through the thoroughfares, passively looking. I have been to night markets over 20 times; I have seen most of it.

I find the bulk of the food vendors and look for my
nui pie. I find it. I almost decide to walk past it. I turn back. I wait until a vendor acknowledges me. He says something to me, but I cannot hear it. He starts speaking in the little English he knows. I say nui pie. I cannot manage to get out yo yau e ge nui pie even though I can say it. I feel so dumb and those nagging thoughts return about my ability to even learn Chinese. He asks what kind of sauce do I Chinese first and then English. I just point to the sweet sauce like a dumb monkey.

I sit down. I get out the 100 dollars I know it costs. They bring me the food and he tells me it is
e bai. Finally, I can understand: numbers!!! This restores my confidence a little bit.

Half way through my meal, a vendor, a woman, comes up to me and starts talking to me. I think she is trying to ask me why I am alone and if I am American. I motion for her to repeat what she says. I finally quip out (in Chinese): I am American. I am an English teacher in Fong Yuan...

She tries to continue...but my limited vocabulary finally lends her to say something like sorry for disrupting you, or it is okay (you cannot speak well...have a good dinner.) She motions for me to continue eating. I return back to my food and throw over my shoulder an "oh well" with a sigh.

I get out and walk out from the eating tables. I walk in a semi-disinterested gait looking at the merchandise. I look for a drink stand but I cannot find one. I am on my way out, but I forget where I am in the night market. I pass the same stands once again. Lost in the crowd. Then I am found. I hear my name. "Erin!" It is Joanne: Connie's language exchange. We chat for a bit. I find out that her brother is in the hospital with air in his lung. My heart skips a beat. Life is so fragile. But thankfully he will be out in two days. She bows out and leaves. I am lost again.

I find my scooter and ride on my way back home. I get out the traffic crowds and speed down towards my school. I am found again. Speeding. Free. This type of communication is clear to me. It is a communication with functionality and the elements; physics and torque. Wind, speed, acceleration drive my worries home but also put excitement into the aftertaste.

Lost and found. In a crowd. All alone. Where ever it may be. Who ever I may be. Tittering between being lost and found will keep me pushing to get past lost and start towards found.