I bought a ticket from one of Taipei’s kabillion 7/11’s for the the high speed train that time slices the journey from Taipei to Tainan. For a 35 cent service charge the pre-ticket sales line at the train station can be avoided. Taiwanese 7/11’s truly live up the name “convenience store”, as there you can do anything from pay a parking ticket, to purchasing a one shot dose of the most commonly used Chinese herbal decoctions, to picking up a surprisingly fresh quick meal, to– buying a train ticket.
The clerk did not actually give me a ticket, but a handful of receipts, one of which had bar codes and time stamps. It was not till the next morning when I went to double check on the departure time that I noticed there wasn’t one. And the big letters at the top that said “not a ticket” lead me down the garden path of thinking that I’d be able to scan this bar coded receipt and grab my ticket at the station.
When listening to a foreign language where you don’t quite understand everything, the mind will attempt fill in the voids of unclarity with guesses gleaned from the context of the situation. This is not limited to the study of language. We all are constantly filling in the spaces of “don’t know” with “it must be like this.” The English word is “assumptions,” and they often land us hot water when the true reality of a situation revels itself.
I can read the characters at the train station 換票. I thought it was referring to the electronic ticket receipt in my wallet. Wrong again! It is where you go to get a refund for a ticket you don’t want to use. I unfortunately do not have a ticket. I have a receipt for one. And this is a problem. I was supposed to have been given a ticket at the 7/11. I suspect the girl working there was too new to know that. And me? How would I know, it’s the first time for me too.
Being fresh from a week on the mainland I expected the worst. But, Taipei is not Beijing. I get an apology for the confusion, apology for that it is going to take some time to get this sorted out, and an apology that there are some details I will have to provide. It would appear this will be a recoverable mistake. And somehow that it unfolds in Chinese makes it easier to let go of the self-talk that usually accompanies the missteps of life in English. In our own language and staunch belief that we understand our world it is easy to acquire the habit of anger and frustration when the world reveals itself to be different from our cozy construct.
There is a phrase I hear lot here in Taiwan. It is a very Taiwanese way of speaking–這樣子啊， zhe yang zi ah, “oh, so it is like this.” It is not a judgement, it assigns no blame. It is a simple recognition of the world as it is. Like a mini-enlightenment, “oh, so it is like this.”
It is not a bad habit to acquire– “oh, so it’s like this.” It leaves us open to recognizing the how our minds at times lead us down a dreamed up path, and when the lightning flash of reality illuminates our error we can let ourselves off the hook. Allow it to simply be. Be as it is. Zhe yang zi ah. And then keep moving forward with just a touch more clarity and calm.