Last night, Rika threw a dinner party over at my place. Since she and Martin already sold most of their things, including their refrigerator, to the Tealit vultures, she had to make the food over at my place. I’ve been really busy with work recently… but hey, they’re leaving and the party needed to be thrown. I wasn’t that thrilled with the idea initially, but in the end it turned out better than I possibly could have expected.
About twenty minutes past seven, I got a phone call from Tomi, a Japanese guy doing a master’s degree at Taida. He was already at the MRT station, so I ran out to go meet him. I still hadn’t heard any word from the others, so we went out and bought a few drinks before heading back to my place. The interesting thing with Tomi is that we share three languages- Japanese, Chinese, and English. Interestingly, Chinese, the one that isn’t native to either of us, is the one that is easiest to communicate in. My Japanese used to be quite a bit better than my Chinese, but it’s been on a long and steady decline ever since I moved to Taiwan. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a very similar story to tell about his English.
Soon, Martin showed up, along with Rika and her American friend, Anne. After buying a few groceries, Rika got to work in the kitchen. All I can say is that cooking is her “favorite hobby”, and it shows. The meal was absolutely fantastic. I mean, really, really amazing. Contrary to my fears, the evening went well. Not once did the fact that we were speaking three different languages wreak the conversation. In fact, it went a heck of a lot better than the last party I hosted.
The key was Anne. She did the JET program right after college. It’s the same program that I tried to get into, actually. They recruit teachers from their home countries, and send them to public schools in Japan. Anyway, she spent three years there, learned a ton of Japanese and then came to Taiwan, learned a ton of Chinese and is now studying for a master’s degree at Taida, just like Tomi. Basically, she’s exactly what I could have been- really tri-lingual in Japanese and Mandarin.
At first it was a bit discouraging, being confronted with how much I’ve lost. Japanese was my passion in school. I was already close to graduating with either a linguistics or a math degree, when I took my first Japanese class. I loved it so much, though, that I worked through the whole degree in just two years. I never studied abroad, but I had Japanese conversation partners, a Japanese roommate, a ton of Japanese friends, and a big stack of textbooks, dictionaries, movies, and passion. By the time I graduated, I was mostly fluent, and now I’m not even remotely close.
It would have been easy to be bummed out, being thrust into this situation. But, that’s not what happened. On the contrary, I found it downright inspirational. In the grocery store, I heard Anne asking Rika about various kinds of mushrooms we were buying, and I suddenly had two realizations. The first was that she was still really into learning. That made me smile. The second realization was that I understood quite a bit of what they were talking about! Words I haven’t been able to recall in years were suddenly coming back to me! It wasn’t reliable, but I was hearing more and more things I could understand.
After getting back to the house, where Tomi was, it only got better and better. For some reason, I could understand even more of what he was saying than I could of Anne and Rika’s conversation. It turns out that he’s from Kyoto, just like my roommate was in school. No wonder the accent was so familiar! Suddenly, the idea of regaining my lost Japanese skills while still in Taiwan didn’t seem as unreasonable as I had thought.
I didn’t stay up as late as the other guys did, but I felt a certain sense of motivation that kept me awake long after going to bed. What a perfect series of events. John B’s been posting great stuff on his own Japanese learning journey, I met a Japanese guy from my old roommate’s hometown, and then found myself inspired. It is so time to がんばる！