Deaf and Illiterate, Why You Should Learn the Local Language

The image is of a bamboo menu written in Chinese. I have no idea what it says because I am illiterate. Very pretty menu though! 🙂

Today with my Taiwan family, we watched a movie called Beyond Silence about Lara who is the daughter of deaf parents.

An emotional scene with her father, he finds out that Lara plans to go to Berlin to study at a dinner with extended family. The only people at the table he can understand are Lara and her sister, since both of them know sign language. The rest of her family speaks German which her father cannot hear.

Lara’s father feels completely alone because he cannot hear the conversation. Her aunt is saying something… what is she saying? He does not know. There is an argument, but he can’t participate. Her father only gets 80% of the conversation.

This is a source of conflict the entire movie, because Lara’s father is an intelligent man, but has to rely on others. When Lara comes home from school, her father needs Lara to speak on the phone for her. She signs what the person on the phone says, her father signs back and she relays to the person on the other end. He feels like a child.

There are many arguments that arise out of this. Both Lara and her father are incredibly kind people, but when things get lost in translation it gets frustrating for both of them. Luckily Lara and her father love each other dearly, so they are willing to work through the difficulties.

I can sympathize with Lara’s deaf father, and this movie really hit home for me. I am currently in Taiwan, where I do not speak Chinese. Due to the Chinese writing system, I can’t read at all either. Like Lara’s father, I am an intellectual who often has no means of communication and I have to rely on others.

I want to take a bus, but I can’t because I cannot read. The bus schedule is in Chinese. When I go to a restaurant, I have to hope that my best friend Abigail understands what I like and picks something good. I am lost, but cannot ask for directions. Where is the bathroom? Gosh… I have no idea.

I got in a taxi the other day, who misunderstood my destination. He started taking me in a random direction across the city. Both of us, good people, got very frustrated with one another because of the situation. I was going the wrong way, and the taxi driver couldn’t fix it.

I am really grateful for my adoptive “Taiwan” family around me. It’s a lesson in humility for me, because I have to trust whoever I am with 100%. Being someone who likes to take charge, and make decisions, this is incredibly difficult for me.

Volcano Hank took me to today. There were some sulfur rocks with water, the water was boiling.

It is difficult having your support family speak a different language. I went out today with Hank and my two “Taiwan” moms. The three of them spoke around 80% Chinese, so I only got to participate in 20% of the conversation which was always directed at me. Any general conversation was in Chinese, like how beautiful the scenery was, and I couldn’t even participate in that.

Two weekends ago I went with them to Mao Kong Gondola. The experience was great, but I have no idea what was said the entire time. It was like I was deaf.

The other week I was with Abigail walking down a nice quiet street. Along each side there were little shops, most of the shops were for selling things during Chinese New Year. As we passed each shop, I was looking inside to see what they sold, then I realized. The signs, in Chinese, that were hanging over each shop said something that meant something to Abigail. She and I had completely different perspectives of this street.

She saw signs and store names “Fabrics, Food, Snacks, Toys”. I saw pretty symbols “出口, 火, 人” (My Taiwanese friends will get a laugh out of that, because that’s the only Chinese I know)

Make sure you spend at least a month doing Rosetta stone, or Pimsleur, or take a class before going to a foreign country. Especially if you intend on living there for more than 15 days, it is important. Even if I couldn’t understand everything going on around me, knowing the words for time, person, counting, food, hungry, thirsty, water and being able to ask where the bathroom is valuable. I still wish I could attempt a conversation with Abigail’s uncle or her dad. Both seem like incredible people I want to get to know, but due to communication issues it is difficult.


Don’t Coast! Do Things for Reasons!

My best friend Hannah has inspired me to think about the great things happen when you take control of your life. I am super excited for her, because she recently got a promotion at her job.

Her employer provides an opportunity for employees to get college reimbursement. I am sure many of her co-workers do not take her employer up on this offer, but she decided she is going to take advantage of the opportunity and go back to school.

This morning she was telling me about how she spent several hours going over her class plan this summer, and next fall. Hannah has life plan and is now putting it into action.

I thought about my own life, and considered the places where I have coasted.

Why did I go to Virginia Commonwealth University? Because the opportunity was given to me, I didn’t choose it. I went on a class field trip to VCU, decided that day to apply. They accepted me and I went to that college.

I didn’t even look at or consider other options. I was lazy about it. It ended up being a good thing, but I can’t really take credit for steering my life in that direction.

I have met some students who actually went on to get their masters or PhD’s because it was easier. School is all they knew and so they just decided to keep going into their major. It actually takes less willpower for some people to continue in school than to submit applications and find a job.

On the other hand, an old friend of mine Justin recently got a job at Microsoft. FREAKING MICROSOFT. This made me so happy because he is kind and genuine, one of the best people I have ever met and I honestly believe he can make a huge difference there. Why is this impressive to me? I never submitted Microsoft an application. There was a time I was interested in doing that sort of job, but I never had the guts to do what Justin did. I may have even gotten the job.

Many of my posts are directed at 20-30 year olds, which makes sense because I am a part of that group; however, for those of you who have kids I recommend encouraging them to Do Things for Reasons. I played soccer for most of my childhood, but I hated it. I was never really bothered to tell mom I didn’t like it, it was simpler for me just to keep going to practice.

If you are doing something, make sure you are doing it for a reason. I came home tonight tired, not wanting to write this post, and sat down on the couch next to Belinda. She was watching the news, so I just started watching with her.

After sitting there for 15 minutes I asked myself “Why am I watching the news, is there some specific information I want to know? Especially since this news is in Chinese, you don’t speak Chinese….”. I had no reason for doing what I was doing, so I got up and started working on this post.

Walking home from visiting Yvonne tonight, I looked around in the subway car and thought.

“Is everyone here in Taiwan here because they were born here, or because they chose to be here”

“That woman over there, is she married to that man because she picked him among a bunch? Or was he the first guy to ask her out” (Very common here)

I wondered about how often we go with the first available option.

I think its human nature to just sort of go with the flow. To go against the flow takes a bit of willpower.

When you do get that motivation, be like Hannah and Justin and own it! Get your plan in action!


“Do Things for Reasons” is a quote from Sebastian Marshall’s book Ikagai. I highly recommend it.

Importance of Simple Days

Back before I became a minimalist, I would have thought you were crazy if you told me that I would have fun sitting at a waterfall for an hour. Each moment I always had to be doing something, in fact my highschool sweetheart once told me “John, You don’t always have to be doing something.” There is a lot of meaning to those words.

Abigail and I just left Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan. There, life moves at an incredible rate: people move quickly through the subway(almost running), eat their food in less than two minutes, and drive at a reckless pace. All to squeeze an extra minute out.

Trains and buses are filled with people staring at their smartphones, finding the next click, the next little nugget of information they don’t need.

I was like that. I would always be listening to an audiobook while driving to fill that dead time. After waking, I’d immediately leave to work to avoid “wasting time”. On the way home I would grab some fast food before starting whatever personal project I had. Before going to sleep, my phone would be in my hand as I read about something on Wikipedia, or watched an insightful video. I would use my phone until I was so tired I would pass out, and start again the next day.

For people on vacations, at least here in Taiwan, it’s like that too. People all pack into busses, and try to see as many sights and go as many places as possible before going back home.

Yesterday we rode 30 miles through the mountains, crossed two rope bridges 500ft in the air along the difficult hiking trail, walked around 12 miles, explored the Water curtain, and rode back in the rain. We were so exhausted we just got food for delivery.

Today was different.

We took our time. Started the day at this small local place where we ate breakfast. We slowly ate our food, and watched this old man around 75 years old work at his simple shop. He fixed bicycles, and he was working on this woman’s wagon. Huge smile on his face, he excitedly went to work. So strange, but it was fascinating seeing this.


We rode toward Liyu Lake, and ended up hiking through this fantastic cave to the waterfall where we ended up spending close to an hour. Abigail asked me “If you are bored, we can leave”. But I wasn’t, I really just wanted to sit there listening to the waterfall. I explored around, stretched, and even played some music on my Ocarina. It was very relaxing.


It was raining, as we rode back to the lake and stopped at this small coffee shop. The coffee shop overlooked the lake, and we rested there for another hour. We just listened to the rain and watched as a team of kayakers glided across the water. We had some good conversation, absolutely perfect.

Sometimes you need a day to take it easy and just go with the flow. Don’t forget that J


Unexpected Connections Through Tinder

Riverside park with Yvonne, behind you can see the skyline of Taipei, Taiwan with Taipei 101 towering over everything.

My best friend Abigail here in Taiwan was busy for a few days so I needed to find something to do to fill the time. Since I have arrived she has filled my afternoons with amazing places to see, but I wanted to find another person here in town to show me around.

Tinder is a superficial dating/meetup/hookup app that you pick people based off of a swipe right if you think they are attractive, or a swipe left if you think they are unattractive. In the US I found that this app is ineffective because women are harassed so much by men that it is very difficult to have a real conversation or find a connection. Unfortunately, there isn’t a version of this focused on making friends(At least none that I know of, maybe I should write one!)

In Taiwan, things are a bit different. It is very unusual for you to approach a stranger and speak with them, so the amount of street harassment towards women is very low(it seems to me, I am a man).

What this means is that using Tinder here in Taiwan is a completely different experience. Within 30 minutes of using the app, I had 20 matches who all wanted to talk to me. I had 4-5 women(I wish there was a simple way for me to find men to talk to as well) who all wanted to meet me at a coffee shop, practice their English, and learn about my culture. It was great because out of this I was able to get a few new friends to fill my time and continue to learn about Taiwan.

One person, Yvonne who is a student here in Taipei, stood out and was very interested in showing me around. She actually planned out a bunch of places for us to explore and took me up and down the main river here in Taipei to see some of the natural sights here.

I have been hesitant to continue my travels without Abigail or a different friend. I want to go to Seoul, South Korea and stay in Japan for a while. Since it is unusual to just walk up to strangers in Asia, I wasn’t going to walk up to people and ask if they wanted to hang out with me. The idea of being in Seoul alone didn’t appeal to me either, especially since I don’t speak any Korean. Tinder at least will allow me to find someone who is interested in spending time with me in every country and city I go to!

For now I will continue to use Tinder in my travels to meet people nearby. It is handy, and location based so the people you are matched with are normally less than 10 minutes away from you. If you know of another app that is similar to find someone for conversation, please let me know in the comments.

Duck boats on the river 🙂

Familiar Perspectives

7 Tile Mahjong. I gave him that win. -At Kent’s house in Taipei. Games are a great way to connect with people

It has been two weeks since I have landed in Taiwan. Since arriving my expectations and opinions on life have been rapidly changing. It seems to me the Taiwanese live a rapid life filled with hard work and discipline. Work days often last 10 hours, and students fill their days with school work and study.

As an American, I have a hard time understanding and relating to the people here in Taiwan. My life has always been a dual focus between my work, and my hobbies. During the day, I may spend 6-8 hours doing school work, then the rest of my time might be learning to fix my car. As a result, the way I think about things is very different than many of the people here and what I place my priorities in is different.

Taiwan is the first country I have traveled to and has revealed a different problem. I am now having difficulty relating to the people back home in the US as well.

That was clear today. I spent 8 hours today with Kent, my friend’s English teacher. He has lived here in Taiwan for 20 years, but was born in Maine and grew up in the US.

At first, I thought the reason I enjoyed the conversation with him so much was the ease in which we could communicate since we both speak English; but it was more than that. He understood me.

I find myself often trying to understand what I am seeing while I am experiencing Taiwanese culture. When I try to relate it to my own culture and discuss with my Taiwanese friends, I have to explain a certain aspect of my culture to them to contrast; like the differences in the school system for instance.

Kent understood what the American school system is like, so we could both discuss and contrast the differences between Taiwanese and American school systems. He had even deeper insight, since he is both a father and a long term resident of the island. This meant we could have a long conversation about the pros/cons of each method of teaching.

I can’t do that with my family and friends back home. That’s because none of them have ever been to Taiwan, and when I am trying to describe my experience here it is difficult to understand. Similar to when I describe American schools to my Taiwanese friends, my American friends/family do not understand what life is like here.

Until today I didn’t realize the importance of really being able to relate with someone. I now understand Sebastian Marshall’s blog post about how lonely he feels sometimes. This path I am taking, the farther along I go and the more distant I get from “normal” life, the more difficulty I will find in having people to relate to.

The Million Dollar Question – By Sebastian Marshall