Mackay Street & The Complications of Anglicizing Chinese

Part 1: From Far Formosa

My first challenge in my trip to explore George Leslie Mackay’s history was actually finding the city…

The town name is Anglicized as Tamsui, Danshuei, Tanshui and pretty much any variation around those. It was Cousin George‘s description of a city by the mouth of a river in the north of Taiwan, named Fresh Water, that helped convince me I had the right place. 谈水 means Fresh Water, and the characters are consistent even when the spelling isn’t.

You can get there on the Red Line metro from Taipei, Damsui is the last stop. I forgot my headphones and didn’t get a seat, so this part was just like riding the Red Line at home in Boston!

Damsui is a lovely seaside community, well worth a visit just for beer and ice cream with a waterside view. You can take a ferry across to BaLi or just see it across the river. There’s an Old Street and a more modern boardwalk.  I was delighted by the little seaside town, because I didn’t have terribly high hopes for my trip to Damsui.

Damsui, like my first Chinese home city of Yantai, was ceded as a treaty port in the Treaty of Tianjin (which was  Anglicized as Tientsin at that time).  When I read about Yantai before moving there in 2006, I expected to find some foreign influence and interesting international history.

But when I was actually there, I found the old Foreign Concession on Yantai Hill wasas  disappointingly poor repair, and few locals I asked were even aware of Yantai’s history as a treaty port (or at least they wouldn’t discuss it with the laowai). Researching back home, I discovered that Yantai’s foreign concession was more recently Chefoo Concentration Camp, and my “interesting international history” was less architectural melting pot and more death. Knowing the right name opens up a lot of new information…

Mackay Street in Tamsui, Taiwan. #馬偕 #mackay #tamsui #谈水

A photo posted by Meg (@simpsonsparadox) on

For my trip to Damsui, it turns out the inconsistencies in the Anglicization of Chinese words hid something else: There’s a Mackey Street here in Taiwan! It’s spelled as Maxie Street (Ma Xie) on most English language maps I saw, including Google Maps. I had to see the characters to be sure.

George Mackay is such a distant cousin that we are barely even related, but it was still a physical jolt to see my family name on a Chinese street sign. More than 100 years before my first trip to China, there was a Mackay cousin here learning the language.  I took so many pictures of the Mackay Street signs that it drew the attention of other visitors, so I explained that that my 外婆 is a Ma Xie. One of the Taiwanese tourists nodded, and asked if I was now headed to the Mackay Graveyard to see my ancestors for New Years. I didn’t know there was a Mackay Graveyard just a few blocks away!

Unfortunately the graveyard on the grounds of a school that was closed for CNY, so I couldn’t see it on this trip.

Tamsui Here’s Mackay Church today. It’s an active church with Sunday services.  There are actually two sections of Mackay Street, where a major highway has cut through the winding walking paths, but you can walk easily between Mackay Church and the school started by Mackay, Oxford College. The Oxford College building is still there, but it’s now part of Aletheia University. Another name change for historians to uncover!






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From Far Formosa

Spoiler: Here I am at Oxford College in Tamsui, founded and built by George Mackey

So when I was planning to come to Taiwan, I read George Leslie Mackay’s From Far Formosa. The author is a very, very distant cousin, from a branch of the Mackays who went to Canada after the Clearances. (I believe we are also distant cousins through his mother’s line, since her maiden name is Sutherland, and my family is from the Sutherland branch of the Mackays. But pretty much everyone from that bit of Scotland is a cousin, so…).

Anyway, this is a book about his time in Taiwan as a missionary. I’m really conflicted about it: He writes about learning to speak Chinese, and the local dialects too, man, and how difficult it was without formalized classes and dealing with local accents, but he’s persevered, and I think, that’s right, Cousin George! 加油!  He writes about how various tribes, social groups, and classes will pronounce the same character completely differently, and about different titles and introductions, so I get the feeling he really understood Chinese, not just the Taxi Chinese I have.

But then he talks about bringing Christ to the backwards heathens, and I cringe. Ugh, I know it’s the 1700s, but seriously, Cousin George.

A photo posted by Meg (@simpsonsparadox) on

Anyway, I’m fascinated by the locations he describes in the book, and I’m hoping to track them down and see what’s still there today.

Part 2: Mackay Street & The Complications of Anglicizing Chinese

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New In Egg

A photo posted by Meg (@simpsonsparadox) on

This tiny Taoyuan shop has a million toy vending machines, with all kinds of little keychain cuties and unfamiliar action figures, so of course I stopped by to get a present for Harold. I wonder if I can keep it New in Egg until I get it home to him.

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Laowai Man Is An Outlier And Should Not Have Been Counted

This is 100% what I would name my own store.

When I arrived in Taoyuan, I was struck by my progress through the airport, through security, and to my hotel, all without one person shouting laowai or HELLO!!! or taking photos of the foreigner existing in public. I mentioned this surprise to a Taiwanese colleague, who assured me that no one in Taiwan would ever do any of that.

Of course I didn’t believe him. My years in mainland China were filled with constant shouts, photos and staring, as well as the insistence that anyone who shouted at me must be just one backwards villager passing through. No one in Yantai/Qingdao/ Beijing/Yangzhou/Shanghai or wherever this conversation was taking place, would ever be so gauche, because everyone in Yantai/Qingdao/Beijing/Yangzhou/Shanghai or wherever this conversation was taking place, is very polite.  Clearly Hello Man, who lives in a backwater and shouts at 10,000 foreigners per year, is an outlier and should not have been counted. And yet, the shouts continued.

But in Taiwan so far, not only has no one shouted laowai at me, but when Taiwanese people get on an elevator with me, they’ll ask which floor in Chinese, and when I tell them, they nod and press that button without going a few rounds of 你的中文很好 or making sure their friends see the talking waiguoren. When I shop in Taoyuan, the cashiers don’t giggle and point at the price, they ask if I want to stamp my points card or if I want to buy a second Hello Kitty candy pack for the New Year’s BOGO promotion. Sure, it’s not like I can really navigate a frequent shopper card in Chinese, but it’s still lovely to be asked just like everyone else. Because who doesn’t want a second Hello Kitty candy pack?

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Posted From Departure Gate

Previously on ‘Simpson’s Paradox’:
Passing my HSK, Taiwan runs on Dunkin’s, teaching more, and .

Now the post:

Tomorrow, I’m heading to Taipei for a month to teach a class.

When I originally found this position, it seemed like everything was in a good place to take a short posting abroad. I’ve been subbing and teaching short-term classes for about a year, so it seemed like I’d just not accept any Boston teaching assignments for the time I’m traveling, and then go back to taking assignments when I came back.

But of course, after almost a year of subbing and short-term work, while actively looking for a permanent position, I was just offered my own, ongoing classes at a language school downtown.  It’s a school where I’ve enjoyed covering classes, and the other teachers are gamers, ex-expats, or both, so I was excited to accept, but I had to begin my new job with a request for a month’s vacation.

I booked my ticket a couple months ago, which is completely out of character for me. If you have the personality to accept that you’re leaving sometime next week and you’re willing to be rerouted through both Reykjavik and Cape Town to get there, there are some good last-minute travel deals. This is my usual approach to traveling.

My husband has the opposite personality, and if he’s not sitting at the gate about an hour before takeoff, he is terribly anxious. Only the literal gate will do. Not the airport bar or the airport Starbucks or another gate where the comfy seats with the outlets are free. The actual gate.

So, now that I’m married and I do responsible adult things, even if I mostly do them to avoid hearing Harold elaborate his minute-by-minute action plans for several dozen potential problem scenarios and to avoid seeing Harold do that thing he does with his eyebrows when he’s stressed. I bought my air ticket a couple months ago. And I bought a round-trip, instead of figuring it out over there, because have you seen that thing Harold does with his forehead? It gives off secondhand anxiety. That was the same day I ordered a pair of black flats for work, and GUESS WHICH TRANSACTION WAS FLAGGED AS POTENTIALLY FRAUDULENT??? Apparently my customer profile is much more likely to take off to Taipei for a month than to buy work clothes. Thanks, Big Data, you truly understand me.

The thing about buying tickets way way in advance is that, yes, I did avoid hearing Harold’s anxious action plan for what if every ticket on every airline for every flight is sold out, but in the time between when I bought my ticket and now, I forgot what time I’m leaving. I knew it was Wednesday, and I know where Logan airport is, so it’s fine.

In 2015, I flew to Yangzhou on the cheapest possible flights, which involved Raleigh to JFK, then sitting in JFK for hours before getting on a midnight flight. That was kind of the best for jetlag. The night wasn’t too bad, and we landed in Guangzhou on a morning that actually felt like morning to me, even if that morning started with my bag disappearing and ended with an unplanned stopover in Guangzhou…  So for jetlag reasons, I’m actually flying out at 1AM on Wednesday morning, which is pretty much Tuesday night. Which means I’m leaving a day earlier than I was expecting.  No one tell Harold that part, or he’s going to do that anxious thing with his face and start making action plans.

Posted from my departure gate, two hours before takeoff.

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80 Days

Let’s talk about how freaking great 80 Days is. In this iOs game, you play as acrobat-turned-valet Passpartout in a steampunked version of Jules Verne’s Around The World In 80 Days. (I read this novel when I was in middle school, and it stuck with me, both in terms of inspiring my wanderlust and in questioning why there aren’t any women travelers in great adventure stories.) The game 80 Days  is close to interactive fiction, allowing players to make many choices in text, but there’s still a lot of visual elements and great art. As Passpartout, you’ll need to keep your fastidious master happy, while choosing the fastest path around the globe, and trying not to run out of money or get kidnapped by opium dealers.

The game includes some resource management, as Passpartout’s valet duties include packing for the trip, and balancing which items to pack, what to buy, and what to sell for traveling cash (or pure profit) along the way. But extra suitcases will cost extra baggage fees, and running out of money means sacrificing days while your letters of credit are checked and your funds are withdrawn from your London bank.

Encounters with different characters will open different paths for Passpartout and Fogg, both literally opening up new routes and transit types, and more figuratively opening up new story options.  Story options can lead to danger and travel delays, or to romance and valuable items. With so many branching paths, it can be a little frustrating to be unable to follow every lead. I encountered a detective investigating Fogg (naturally, my Passpartout refused to speak against my master, but I wanted to follow the storyline!), a strange shipboard murder mystery, an intriguing opium den, and more, but the need to get around the globe plus the sheer number of possible encounters kept my from pursuing everything I wanted.

80 Days does a great job using time as an additional mechanic.  Passpartout and Fogg are in a hurry, so obviously there’s no time to delay, but time is applied as countdown while in a city, helping create a mood, as well as a resource to be bartered for other resources. Four hours for a visit the market. 3 days for a wire transfer of £300.

I quickly lose interest in minigames, button-mashers, and appointment-style games, but I just don’t have the time to devote to a really long play sessions. 80 Days requires almost no explanation, since your goal is clearly to make it around the world in 80 days, and the UI is so clean and simple that you won’t need to spend a lot of time finding options in menus.  It’s easy to pick up and play, and also works for longer play sessions.

After successfully circumnavigating the globe a few times, and getting my time down to 68 days,  my next trip will probably just be a meandering route of all my favorite cities.

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Bad At Normal Things

I screwed up a deadline for grad school, actually I screwed up a few deadlines. First, if you live on the East Coast, your course calendar of midnight deadlines on Midwest time may appear as due the next day. And then you’ll hand in every thing a day late for, like, weeks before realizing you’re not doing B work, you’re getting dinged for late submission every time.

At the beginning of last session, I didn’t allow enough time to pick my classes and I wasn’t completely delighted with the courses I ended up with, so I set a calendar alert for next session’s registration. This way, I’d have plenty of time to browse reading lists, see what my teachers have published and scroll RateMyProfessor, and still have time to enroll before classes are full.  I don’t know if the school schedule changed, if I confused pre-reg and add/drop, or if I just entered the wrong date, but when my GCal alert popped up, it was not the day before pre-reg opened, but just a couple of hours before pre-reg closed. So that wasn’t awesome.

As an undergrad, I registered for basically every class at the last possible minute, and that turned out ok. And this will turn out just fine too, since the options in my program are all pretty good, but I was really trying to do better than fine. It is so much worse to screw up after actually trying to be organized.

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The Original Ginny Moon

You guys, are you reading this? Get this book right now.

It’s been a while since I read something that I could not put down. This is a one-sitting book because I had absolutely no idea how it was going to unfold. The Original Ginny Moon is the story of an autistic teenage girl reacting to the world around her, but please don’t mistake that for girl version of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time. She’s been taken from her mother, and is now on her third “forever family” because of little misunderstandings like the time she accidentally murdered a cat. Between her extremely literal view of the world and the wild things she’s experienced as normal, Ginny isn’t always able to relate to the world around her, but as the book goes on, her actions have internal consistency.

Yeah, the writing quality is solid and the plot works, but the real highlight in this novel is the characters. Not just the character of Ginny Moon, which is unique and bizarre and believable all at ones, but the amazing development of the secondary characters. The Original Ginny Moon almost made me miss my stop on the train.

(This is not a paid or even a requested post, although I did read this as an ARC.)


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She Wears Black Every Day

topic-sentencesMrs Meg is so fun — the best teacher in the world. She wears nail polish. She has glasses just like me. She wears black every day. She is very smart. She is the best teacher.

One of my eight-year-olds wrote this, and it literally brought tears to my eyes. I can’t begin to tell you how much I needed some good news and a reminder that my time spent teaching is meaningful to someone.  Anyway, I’m going to frame this and save it forever.

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When I was studying, I came across a new character — Oh, wait, did you think I was going to stop complaining about Mandarin after taking HSK1? No! I passed, so now I’m prepping for HSK2.

Let me start over. I wish Chinese characters on clothes or skin or art weren’t such a Clueless White Person thing to do, because I came across one, and I love this character so much. It means begin but I almost never hear it in context, people usually say 开 for start class and 上 for start work.

始 is written by forming the character 女 woman next to the character 台 for place. It looks a bit like a house, doesn’t it? One of the first things I could read was the name of my first city, 烟台,and whenever I see it on departures boards, it always looks like a little guy coming home to his little house. Anyway, I try to remember characters based on concepts (Ben Franklin’s kite 电 means electricity) or other characters (操 is sad, with the radical used for push/pull actions next to 品 things, an obvious mnemonic for anyone who’s tried to work through a depressive cycle). I have dozens of these.

For 始,though, I just love that a woman plus a new place is a beginning.

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