03 May 2022 ·

My first official speech in Chinese! (VIDEO)

Taipei (BC) - Six very intense months of school, lessons face to face with the teacher, every day, and at the end, on April 26th, I gave my first official speech in Chinese. Here you can find the video and the translation. The speech is a way of expressing thanks to the people I met and the school, which remained open for foreigners even in times of Covid. The event - with few people, due to the outbreak - was held at the Institute of Diplomacy in Taipei.

1-Arrival in Taiwan
Dear Ms Vice President Anna Gao,
dearest friends,
Time passes by fast and today is one of my last days of school. It is also the day of my first presentation, where I have to speak in Chinese.
I immediately apologize if my Chinese is not up to par with your school and your preparation. And I tell you right away that my Chinese mama huhu is due to the fact that I have a certain age and that I am a foreigner: for a foreigner it takes time to assimilate this beautiful language and culture of yours.
I also understand that my Chinese is too poor to express all my gigantic gratitude to the institute and the foreign ministry that gave me this precious opportunity. My gratitude is greater than the words I can use.
A presentation at the end of the course becomes somewhat of a review and an evaluation of all the occasions had, the beautiful things seen and the wonderful people I have met.
2-Zai Jia kao fumu, chuwai kao pengyou.
This phrase [“At home, I lean on parents; abroad, I lean on friends”] that I have studied many times in the lessons is perhaps the summary of these six months: in Taiwan there are friends you can count on; in Taiwan, friendship and openness to the world seem to grow every day. I realized it immediately when I arrived at Taoyuan airport in full Covid emergency last September. A month earlier I had arrived at the Hong Kong airport and I was impressed by the empty halls, the loneliness, the employees who treated the passengers as if they were infected to be kept away. In Taoyuan, the environment was very different, the employees cautious but smiling. Even the employees at the hotel where I spent the quarantine listened and solved our needs with cordiality and every day they brought us good and rich food: very different from Hong Kong where the quarantine was also like a diet based on boiled vegetables and white rice.
My room on the second floor of the hotel had a small balcony where I could smoke. But it was also my first point of observation of the Taiwanese people. Two things struck me:
- The first was the seriousness with which the waste was collected. At a certain time, 5.30 pm, the truck passed and young and old, men and women brought their waste to load it on the vehicle: a great sign of civility. I come from Rome where the problem of waste is great and where people prefer to abandon it in the street, increasing the dirt and the stench.
- The second is the tenderness of fathers towards their children. In front of my hotel there is an elementary school. In the evening, mothers and fathers would wait outside for their children tocome out. And it struck me that there were fathers who were waiting for their children, caressing them, talking to them. I had studied that in the Chinese family the father is a figure far away from the sons and above all from the daughters. And I'm glad it's not like that now.
3-The school
This school is very modern, tidy, spacious, but its most beautiful character is that of friendship, from Mr. Lin, the door-keeper, up to the highest personalities. I noticed this since the first day I arrived here last November. Very naively I asked where the cafeteria was to get a coffee. They told me that there wasn’t any and that if I wanted I could go out of school to drink it.
But since the intervals between lessons are only 10 minutes it was almost impossible. After a few hours, Mr. Yang brought me a pack of dried coffee and even a cup! This cup and this coffee have accompanied me for all these six months.
At Christmas, in order not to make me homesick, Anna even gave me a present and invited me to lunch with Mina and some personalities of the government, where we talked about many important things.
On the eve of the Chinese New Year, Mr. Huang invited me to his home, where I met his mother, who had prepared many tasty dishes, and his brother who would like to study in Italy.
The biggest surprise was meeting here at the Mofa, my dear friend Giorgio Huang, whom I have known for many years in Italy. With him we have had many opportunities to meet among ourselves, with some ambassadors from Europe and with the former Vatican ambassador, Mr Tu.
A special thanks goes to Mr. Yang, who has followed me and cared for me since I was in Hong Kong. He has always been attentive to every need and introduced me to some things about Taiwanese life that I will mention lately.
4-The course
For the Chinese course I have to thank the TLI and the teacher Cao. Taking a one-to-one course is very difficult because it requires all the attention of the teacher and the student for three hours. Since there are no other students, it is possible to get bored. But the teacher Cao has never showed tiredness in correcting me, in giving me explanations, in reminding me of the forgotten characters. Thanks to her, I was also able to taste some good Taiwanese and Chinese dishes, such as tangcuyu and Beijing kaoya.
At a TLI Christmas party he even pushed me to sing a song in Chinese that I love very much, “Gan lan shu”.
5-The museum
Shortly after the Chinese New Year, Mr. Yang and Mr. Huang with some friends organized a visit to the National Palace Museum. I had already been there a few times alone to admire the paintings from the Sung, Yuan and Ming era. This time it was much more interesting because we were lucky enough to have a guide with us, prof. Jack Wu. We dwelt on some early finds from the Bronze Age (about 3500 years ago) and coincidentally, among the beautiful things that are in the window there is a vase (ding) that was used to cook the food for the offering to the god, which was then distributed - as a sign of union with the god - also to those present.
The impressive fact is that vases, precious glasses, and decorated plates were not for everyday use, but for the liturgical service! Perhaps also because no one could have all the money necessary to cast a bronze vase, work it, decorate it, ...
The liturgy was used to motivate and strengthen the work in the mines to obtain minerals, the technology to learn how to mix metals to make alloys, sculpture to melt bronze in models….
Then there are the jades, a symbol of immortality, which were carved, chiseled, modeled for prayer and to accompany the dead in their eternity. Pieces of jade were used in the Han period (206 BC - 220 AD) to cover the faces of the deceased, eyes, nose, mouth, ears, so as not to let the soul "escape" from inside the body.
If there is the soul and immortality, then it means that life is not just business, things that can be touched and seen, but also spirit. And a thought accompanies me: aren't the attempts - even current ones - to make the culture of the Chinese atheist, materialistic, perhaps a violence against Chinese culture? When we demand the "sinicization" of religions, that is, submission to a man, to the Party, we are actually working to destroy religion and its essence, even if we proclaim that we want to save traditional culture.
I am reminded of what prof. Richard Madsen, sociologist of religions at the University of San Diego (California). According to him, the Chinese people are among the most religious: at least 80% believe in some form of spirituality. And this despite all the campaigns of atheism and the persecution of religions.
6-Economy and culture
It is often thought that the Chinese are only good at working, at accumulating money. In these months, many times I found myself on the subway looking at the hundreds of people around, each with their eyes fixed on their mobile phones, playing games, shopping online, sleeping. I had the impression that people were overwhelmed by the pace of work and that trading was the only horizon of their life. Perhaps this is the case for some.
But in life there is not only material thinkgs, but also spirit, ideals, culture. For me it was a great discovery to go and visit with Mr. Yang the district of Hua Shan. As you know, in the area there was a factory, which was then disused, and has now become a meeting point for cultural events: cinema, exhibitions, theater, meetings. In front of the restaurant where we ate, there were some small sculptures of birds made with stones and worked pipes that were very reminiscent of a Salvador Dalì painting. A demonstration that man does not live only on material things, but also on culture and ideals and that he can transform even inanimate and cold things into beauty.
The memory of Salvador Dalì is also important because it is a sign that cultures communicate with each other and do not oppose each other. How sad to know that in China in many universities Western culture is not studied to curb "spiritual pollution" and they prefer to teach only science, technology and materialism.
At Hua Shan there was an exhibition on the "Little Prince", Antoine de St Exupery's most famous work, demonstrating that the dialogue between cultures does not stop at any state border.
The book talks about a "Little Prince" who came to earth from another world. A certain day he meets a wise fox. Very gradually the two become friends.
The book also talks about the little prince's care for a rose plant. "It is the time you have wasted for your rose, which has made your rose so important", says the fox at one point. Time lost for love is not lost, but gained. I would like to conclude by applying the words of the fox to us: it is the time we have lost in studying, in friendship that has made these six months such an important experience, that I will never forget.
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