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Of stinky tofu and bubble tea

When you learn more languages, you get to explore different perspectives. Photo of Taiwan night market by Vernon Raineil - Unsplash

By: Siti Nur Aina Mohd. Hashim

After returning to Malaysia last month, memories of my time in Taiwan kept flooding my mind–the vibrant night markets, the hum of scooters on the streets, and the taste of authentic bubble tea, all creating a bittersweet feeling of nostalgia. The personal growth, cultural exposure, and memories I’ve gained during my time abroad become more tangible as I set foot on Malaysian soil again. Yet, an unexpected wave of gratitude for something so simple yet often taken for granted overtook me by surprise–the bidet!

Siti Nur Aina Mohd. Hashim

Receiving the Huayu Enrichment Scholarship (HES) for a three-month intensive program at Chinese Language Center (CLC) in National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan is indeed an exciting opportunity to brush up on my Mandarin. With the Ministry of Education (MOE) of the Republic of China (Taiwan) being the main sponsor, this scholarship aims to encourage international students to undertake Mandarin language studies in Taiwan, thereby promoting mutual understanding and cultural exchange.

As a Malaysian exploring Taiwan–the birthplace of bubble tea–my overall impression consists of a delightful clash of traditional and modern influences, breathtaking landscapes and towering mountains, and bustling night markets. As a food lover, exploring night markets in Taiwan is a must-do activity as they come alive with energy, vibrant colours and dynamic vibes.

I embarked on a food adventure, savouring delicacies like oyster omelettes, bubble tea, and the crispy joy of stinky tofu. I admit, the idea of trying stinky tofu in Taiwan made me question my life choices and the curious glances from locals actually gave me the courage to take a bite. At the end, I found myself chewing it with exaggerated nods and smiles, what a life-defining moment!

Amidst the cultural exploration, I encountered different customs, traditions, and, of course, bathroom facilities. One embarrassing moment occurred when I found myself in a restroom with no tissue. Panicked, upon realizing I had forgotten to bring my portable bidet, I even forgot how to say “tissue” in Chinese! The fear of becoming a viral sensation on social media and potentially staining my country’s reputation added an extra layer of anxiety. Thankfully, a stranger understood my predicament and handed me some tissue, thus saving the day. So, here’s a shout-out to the bidet – a quiet, unsung hero!

Language is a key to understanding different cultures, and my multilingual skills allow me to connect with people more easily and on a deeper level, often accompanied by an inherent cultural sensitivity. Whether it’s ordering food, asking for directions, or engaging in conversations, my language skills can always bridge communication gaps.

Without realizing it, I find myself paying more attention to people’s speech patterns, gestures, and social cues, indirectly helping me fit in better with the Taiwanese society. Language not only aids in practical aspects of daily life but also enhances my cultural understanding and connection with people from various backgrounds.

I always think that to learn more languages and explore the world is not just a choice; it’s an investment in your own growth and a passport to a world of opportunities. When you learn more languages, you get to explore different perspectives, and it helps you understand and appreciate the world in a wider and more empathetic way.

Personally, the moment when the locals praise my proficiency in Chinese has become a turning point for me. In that magical moment, I feel a rush of emotions–a mixture of pride, gratitude, and a profound realization that all those hours of dedicated study and hard work have paid off. The language I once found challenging has become a bridge, connecting me with the hearts of the people around me. Imagine how wonderful it would be if all of us could learn to speak one (or a few) more language, local or foreign.

Here’s to a more interconnected world made possible by multilinguals!


The author is a Master of Art (Linguistics) candidate at the Faculty of Languages and Linguistics, Universiti Malaya

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