Saturday, September 25, 2010

yīyǎn zhèngmiàn (LOOK RIGHT)

 When in the states I would find myself talking louder when I did not understand what the person was saying to me, thinking that raising the volume would be a good substitute for my lack of language skills.  I was screaming at some people when no amount of volume was going to make me understand them or them understand me. So I promised myself not to let this happen on our adventure in Asia.
             We are having very  little problems with eventually  finding a way to communicate in all aspects of living without raising my voice. The Hong Kong schools here were/are requiring English to be taught to every student in the schools. This may or is changing due to the fact that now Hong Kong is no longer a British colony but is moving to China’s control.  Most have knowledge of some version of English.
            However, I have had my moments when we have been challenged.  I walk to the office and stop by the same little Circle K shop every morning for a bottle of water. The young lady and I have a system worked out now where I pull a hand full of change out of my pocket and she picks out what she wants or needs. Everyday, I think I pay a different amount but this is how we bypass any language barrier. The most difficult discussion I have had, is when I called DHL for a pick-up.  The operator was speaking Cantonese or it could have been Mandarin and I was speaking a version of slow West Virginia English. So it took about 20 minutes for me to believe that my pick-up was confirmed. I ended the conversation by saying slowly and repeating, “I will leave at front desk”, without raising my voice.( I have also found that instead of speaking loudly, I will revert to my Tarzen speak.)  Hoping of course that any problems will be solved by the receptionist at my front desk with the DHL carrier,  it got picked up so I felt some satisfaction.
            Restaurants have not been a problem as in most cases I can just point to the item without pronounciation. Most menus have both an English description along with a Chinese description.The other option is to make sure there are pictures of food. Many times I am glad just to point to a picture. It has been a good way to lose weight. Especially when I order chicken nuggets that turns out to be fried tofu. Pictures of fried food do not work as well when ordering. I am punished in this regard as fried food is probably not good for me anyway.  Who invented Tofu and said, this tastes good, so lets fry it?
            One of my favorite afternoons was experienced in Kowloon. The hawkers were out in force on these streets more than anywhere else we have been. Normally it is not an issue but  in Kowloon every 3rd person was selling either a fake Rolex, a knockoff purse for my wife,  a suit to be tailored or a trip to Australia.  After many polite “No thank yous” to these aggressive hawkers, I found the best solution was to speak my own langage. I call it Freitalhillbilly.  So when they would walk up to us, I go into a jibberish in answering them  The look on their face was priceless and it almost always stopped them in their tracks. It was one of those Scooby Doo moments. I had the realization that I had discovered a way to stop them from continuing their pestering while providing my wife and I  with a certain level of entertainment. I would turn to my wife or to the hawker and start with my Freitalhillbilly and his mouth would drop open, he would stop walking/following us and my wife would laugh. I intend on mastering this Freitalhillbilly as I know it will come in useful.
     The biggest challenge in communication is not the language but stopping people from getting hit by cars. I still have a problem walking up to cross walk and looking right for on coming traffic instead of left. As you know they drive on the other side of the road, so traffic comes at you in different directions. We are programmed since we are little kids to look in both directions but normally look first to the left. In front of most cross walks is written on the road in big words, “LOOK RIGHT”.  I have a feeling that quite a few people have gotten hit or close to being hit. My wife is quite vigilant about looking to the right first now and has saved me several times. The other day while walking to work, I looked to the left, stepped out into traffic, heard the slam of  breaks per tires squealing and was thankful I was safe as I jumped back to the sidewalk. But the person in the car had no problem communicating to me at that point, as he used the universal finger. Must have learned it from an ExPat.  And he did that without raising his voice.  I knew exactly what he said.

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