I recently learned something very interesting: Taiwan exists in an alternate universe wherein the constructs of time I was accustomed to in the United States do not apply. Or at least the anno Domini/common era calendar does not apply (some of the time anyway). Yes, people, I am existing in a time warp where it is still the year 96.
I found out last week that in Taiwan, years are counted from January 1, 1911, when the Republic of China (or 中華民國, Jhonghuá Mínguó, which is the name of the governing body that oversees Taiwan and several outlying islands, though Taiwan and the R.O.C. are commonly used interchangeably) was founded. To convert to anno Domini years, just add eleven to the Taiwan year (and then add another 1,900 if you feel like it). Likewise, the easy way to convert from the anno Domini year is to just subtract 11 from it and cleave the first two digits off. So 2007 AD is the same as Taiwan year 96.
This system of numbering years is very common in Taipei. My bank passbook (in Taipei, you get a passbook from your bank that you can stick in a machine to update with your latest balance) shows that I last visited the bank on 961008—October 8, 96. It is also used for food expiration dates, official documents and so on. Of course, you’ll also see anno Domini years from time to time, but Taiwan years are the most commonly used.
The ubiquity of the Taiwan calendar makes me wonder how I managed to be completely ignorant of it until a week ago, despite having Taiwanese-born parents and being engaged to someone who has lived in Taiwan for more than six years. This leads me to my new favorite Mandarin sentence:
為 什 麼 沒 有 人 跟 我 談 這 件 事 情？
Wèi shén me méi yǒu ren gen wǒ tán zhè jìan shì qíng?
Why didn’t anyone tell me about this?
I’m still trying to learn how to say: Why the hell didn’t anyone ever tell me about this? Do you all expect me to find out on my own through trial and error like friggin’ Nell emerging from the forest? WHY?
But, seriously, learning about little things like this is one of the things that makes living in a foreign country so much fun. It’s like being five years old again, only I’m allowed to chose my own clothes and eat whatever I want. It really fills the world with wonder and makes the day-to-day business of getting around so much more fun. And goodness knows I have the Mandarin abilities of a five year old, too.