I remember my first day in Taiwan perfectly because in a certain sense it was my last day. I was on the north side of Taipei, while the night school that had hired me to teach English was in the downtown. I was supposed to be at the school announcing my arrival, but since I didn't know Taipei at all, and since my Chinese was minimal, I was already completely lost.
Yes, I'd been hired to teach English. Many young Americans first arrive in Taipei this way. In the folder at the airport was the number and address of the institute that hired me. Stupidly, that was the only place I had it written it down. I decided to come to Taipei almost on the spur of the moment and didn't prepare my arrival well. In the cab from the airport, I realized I didn't have the folder, but didn't ask the cabby to turn back, because I thought I could easily find the school through the phonebook once I got into the city. Of course I learned in the city that I couldn't find the school in the phonebook because the phonebook was all in Chinese. That I knew a little spoken Chinese didn't mean I could use something as complicated as a Chinese phonebook. A Chinese phonebook isn't even in alphabetical order for chrissakes. The Chinese don’t even have an alphabet to speak of. This is a problem I hadn't thought of in the cab. How do these people organize their phonebooks? It's a mystery to anyone who isn't already fluent in the language, and I was nowhere near fluent. Though I knew the English name of the school, I had no way of finding the Chinese name. I was hoping to run into someone who could help me. It was around noon I think.
Near where the cab dropped me off was a cheap hotel. The desk person had no English phonebook, neither could she quite figure out what I wanted. I decided to check in if only to park my bags somewhere while I tried to get oriented. It was obvious the one thing I could do was walk around until I found a foreigner who looked like they knew the place or a local whose English was good enough to help me.
On to Chapter 3
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