Maya took an English test in 2004, in which a question in the reading comprehension test asked: “What is the definition of 'phantasmagoria'?” Maya had never seen the word before. She thought the word looked like a combination of phantom (which means “ghost” or “illusion.” She also knew the famous play, the Phantom of the Opera) and morph (which means “change image”). So she guessed the meaning from the context and wrote "It means something keeps changing its shape" on the answer sheet.
Maya's friend Michael showed her a novel, "Midnight's Children." (by Salmon Rushdie) He told her that the story was very imaginative and the writing was beautiful. Maya browsed through the pages and encountered "phantasmagoria" again. She asked him the meaning of it. "Let's see...here we have phantom...I really don't know," said Michael. Though Michael, an American, didn't know the exact meaning, his western background probably guided him through the book without much trouble. As soon as Maya was home, she looked up the word. It means "bizarre image" or "ever-changing scene." Then, she thought that she might have answered correctly to the test question.
Maya was reading a novel, the Taipei Mutt, (by Eric Mader-Lin) and she encountered the word again in the line: “…Block after block it goes on like this: there's the crowded phantasmagoria of shops…” So, in the book, “phantasmagoria” is used to describe the ever-changing forms of Taipei’s shops – right next to 7-11, you might see Hang Ten or Watson's or whatever. By now, Maya's grasp of the difficult word was secured.
What will happen to “phantasmagoria” in Maya's brain? Who know? Nothing is certain. The word might remain there. Or it might be slowly drifting away if Maya stops reading English.
*Maya is not her real name.