31 December 2013


I spent the last two weeks in Taitung, in the east of Taiwan. For me, it was splendid to be surrounded all the time by people speaking Chinese – virtually nobody spoke English to me in all the time I was there. It is so different from Brunei, where I almost never have the opportunity to speak Malay, despite all the efforts I have spent trying to learn it.

One other thing about Taitung is how friendly and helpful people are. For example, I was walking along the road one day with my wife, who asked me (in Chinese), "Is this Qiangguo Street?", and someone who was just going past on her motorbike answered, "Yes, it is." We thought it was hilarious, that someone riding her motorbike would try and be helpful like that.

I spent quite a bit of time walking with my wife. One day, we walked out to the splendid Forest Park (森林公園), and then back again a couple of hours later, and an old fellow had seen us going and then coming back. He thought we were lost, so he hurried over to help us find the way, and as far as I could see, he wasn't trying to sell us anything or guide us to his own hotel or anything. When we assured him we were fine, he left us alone.

Finally, one more little anecdote: I was sitting in a restaurant waiting for my order, and two little girls, maybe five or six years old, came up to me, stared at me for a moment, and then asked (in Chinese), "Why is your nose so big?" So I asked them, "Why is your nose so small? Are you sure it's big enough to let you breathe?" They went away laughing, and then a couple of minutes later, they came back and asked, "How do you say 'sister' in English?" So I told them and said they should try and remember it for next time I saw them. It is hard for me to imagine that kind of interaction taking place in Brunei, where it is extremely unlikely that children would come and address me in Malay.