In the early 90s, Mrs. TT and I moved to Taiwan as missionaries. We lived in a large, densely populated city (Taipei), and in our first two years had no other responsibilities than to learn to speak Mandarin. I’ve written some about the experience of being immersed in a language as the very best way to learn to speak a new language.
But funny things certainly happened along the way to learning a new language. Sometimes they were funny things we got ourselves into, and sometimes they were things that we saw.
They helped us learn a few things along the way.
All is Not Sweet
One day, after we had been in Taipei 3 or 4 months, we were headed home from language school. As we passed a bakery (which were not plentiful, but not unknown even then) we spotted some amazing looking favorites in the window that we had to have: jelly filled donuts!
So we headed in, and in our best Chinese (which was also our worst Chinese at the time), we ordered the donuts.
With them in hand, we headed out of the door. We couldn’t wait to get home, so we bit right in then and there.
Were we ever surprised when we realized it wasn’t jelly in those donuts. It was red bean paste! YUCK!
One Thing To Remember: The lesson we took away that day is sometimes things that look so amazingly good, turn out to be something else entirely. It is very easy to be taken in by the first appearance, but far too many of us end up with regrets because we leapt to some action without any deliberation.
Some Things Are NOT Safe
Years later we were still living in Taipei, but had moved in to our work. We were living on the 4th floor of an apartment building that overlooked a massive stretch of new construction (from land reclaimed by straightening out a river). We could see down a major road from our balcony.
One September a typhoon headed toward Taipei. This one was not a huge typhoon, as those things go, but it packed a lot of rain in to a short period (36 inches in a 24 hour stretch). Flooding was widespread, with much of Taipei inundated by the waters.
Since we were pretty much stuck at home with no where to go (flooding was to the second floor in some areas near us), we spent our time watching the comings and goings of people out driving on that major road by our apartment. I had already moved our car to higher ground and out of the parking garage.
We had seen one car abandoned by the side of the road the night before. When we woke up that morning, the flood waters had risen to the top of the car.
What amazed us though, were the people who would drive down the road able to see the water up to the top of a car, yet continue to drive in as if some how the water up to the roof of another car on that same street would not reach the top of their car too!
A Second Thing To Remember: Just because something looks improbable does not mean that it is not real and actually dangerous. Life is full of people who didn’t think something was dangerous who learn the hard way just how many dangers are around us.
Somethings Are Simply Not What You Think
But one of the funniest things that we saw in the time we were in Taiwan happened one Sunday while we were at church.
We were attending a Mandarin speaking congregation in Taipei. It was a Baptist church, and it was a Sunday when we were taking The Lord’s Supper.
If you’ve never been to a Baptist church and never taken The Lord’s Supper there, a wee bit of background is in order.
Many (most?) Baptist churches do not use real wine in the Lord’s Supper (we do use real bread–at least most times; there are times churches use these pressed wafers that really don’t do any justice at all to “this bread is my body”). Instead of wine, grape juice is usually used.
One other pertinent piece of information is that traditionally Baptist churches have the elements of The Lord’s Supper distributed to the congregation in the pews by church leaders called deacons. Little tiny plastic cups are used, and the congregation waits for the direction of the pastor to take the cup and eat the bread.
That particular morning nothing was any different than any other Sunday when the church took The Lord’s Supper.
As the little cups were distributed (at the appropriate time in the service), nothing seemed amiss. The pastor gave a brief explanation of the role of the cup in Christian churches, and then instructed us all with the words of Christ to “drink, all of this, in remembrance of me”.
The congregation all drank the cup at the same time, and everyone of us collectively did a major double take, with “Yuck” on our lips!
The reason? It turns out the church secretary that had been commissioned to buy the Welches Grape juice bought something that also had little purple fruit on the label — prune juice! To her credit, the juices were all imported and none had Chinese. She went totally on the look of the label and she had grabbed the wrong thing!
A Third Thing To Remember: Just because all appearances lead you to one conclusion, actual experience always trumps assumptions. Whatever we thought we were getting that Sunday, in the end, it was just prune juice.