This morning, I was writing a card for my almost-90-year-old grandfather who lives in Taiwan.
I just wanted to write something straight forward and heartfelt, like “I miss you and wish you could meet your great-grandchildren.”
Of course, I was struggling over whether to write it in English and have my relatives read it to him, or just write my sentiments in Chinese. In the end, I attempted to write it in Chinese, and it took me an hour of poring through the Chinese-English dictionary just to write ONE simple sentence. And when it was done, I looked at it and was so embarrassed by how lopsided and childishly scrawled the characters appeared. It looked like a first grader’s hand-writing. (Which I guess is not that surprising because I did immigrate to the US when I was 7 years old).
I was struck by the irony of how I can sit down in front of my laptop, fingertips flying over the keyboard and plunk out a (hopefully entertaining) post on this blog in the span of 10 minutes, and yet, I can’t even piece together a 10-word sentence in Chinese without the help of Google-Translate.
It made me embarrassed by how terribly impatient I am with my mom sometimes, when she calls me to see if I can help her clarify an utilities bill because it makes her anxious/nervous to have to deal with an automated robotic voice command customer service line [Press #1 if you’d like to pay your bill, Press #2 if you’d like to check your account, I’m sorry, I did not understand you, please make your choice again…].
It made me really admire my father-in-law, who became fluent enough in English to become one of the most well-loved teachers at the high school that he worked at for 30+ years.
It made me so proud of my cousin, who uprooted herself in her 20’s from Taiwan to New York City, leaving behind family and friends, to pursue grad school and a new career in a foreign country.
I really need to teach my children more Chinese. I really need to learn more Chinese, for myself.