There’s one thing in particular that causes a barrier between myself and this world. It’s a barrier I never considered that could be so strong and it’s one that can only come down by calling on my discipline and determination and… intelligence…. Huumm…. It’s the language! Never, have I been in world where the English language has made me feel so… alien.
Monday afternoon, it all hit home. When I was eager to get out doing things by myself, without any of the staff to help me, I realized I’m somewhat handicapped in this part of the world and by the end of my little adventure, I found that ‘simply’ doing the grocery shopping, telling the cabdriver where to go and ordering a cup of tea… can be huge tasks causing frustration and alienation to leave me standing alone on an invisible island - and the only thing to get me off that island – is knowledge of the Chinese language.
After my visit to the local shopping centre (maybe a 45 minute walk) I was absolutely shocked, amazed and bedazzled by their lack of English… or my lack of Chinese… I’ll (briefly) go through the events that came to pass. 3 full hours I spent walking around this supermarket – that has everything from electrics to clothes, from books (NOTHING in English!) to toys, from household goods to cosmetics. I had my list of bits and pieces to get… But once I was there, the list went out the window and I was on a mission. What mission was that? A mission to let the staring eyes bounce off me. The 1000s and 1000s of gazing eyes hadn’t been effecting me, not until this particular event. It temporarily changed my initial non-effected attitude. Why? Because I didn’t know what I was doing and so the stares increased… And the only way to stop the stares would have been by asking for help and familiarizing myself. BUT BUT BUT… How on earth was I able to ask for help and get acquainted, when their English knowledge is non-existent to the point where ‘yes’ and ‘no’ weren’t even hitting home! Wouw wouw wouw…
3 hours of walking around RT-Mart (the name of the store, which is very much like Tesco at home) and looking lost but still trying to make decisions, made me feel like I was monkey in a zoo. Being gawked at when I’m feeling familiar and when I know what’s going on around me, is fine. I can deal with that. The looks bounce off me and I’m unaffected. I can even make eye-contact, smile and say ‘ni hau’ because I know those stares mean no harm and it’s purely out of interest.
Being a monkey in the zoo - or being placed centre stage - a person can feel confident when they know the ‘act’ that’s being observed by so many eyes, is their best ‘performance’. Then the ‘performer’ will never let the hundreds of eyes catch them off-guard or affect what they’re doing. In relation to my visit to the supermarket; I didn’t know what I was doing and I couldn’t hide it. Did I want to? Maybe I did. But what I wanted more than anything, was to ask the locals about everything I was seeing. I wanted to communicate my lack of knowledge for Chinese food, Chinese language and Chinese life in general.
There was a distance between myself and the people of this city as I walked around the store with my overflowing basket filled with food I was simply picking up for the sake of it. For the sake of it, I say?! Yes. Because, when you think about it: how anybody select any type of food, when there’s not a single word of English on the 100s and 1000s of packed goods? When I was walking down particular aisles, I wasn’t even sure what each particular aisle was for! You may think: ‘can’t you open your eyes and look?’ Yes, of course I could… and I was! I was looking, smelling, touching… but it wasn’t enough to establish WHAT THE BLOODY HELL WAS IN THESE PACKETS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Was I getting frustrated, after an hour or 2? Not overly. Instead, I suddenly appreciated language and the ability to communicate freely, sooooooooooo much more! It was unreal. Instead of frustration, I felt I’d lost a limb and I’d lost a sense... And I was able to relate briefly to those who can’t hear or speak… Why? Because that’s what it was like! I’ll give a simple example: I was approached by a few ladies who saw my confusion and wanted to help me selecting foods. But they spoke in Chinese. So I’m standing there, looking at her, repeating in English: “I don’t understand…” But this statement was falling on deafs-ears! They continued to speak at me! So… Sign language? Yes… That’s what I resorted to… not to get the food I wanted, because I knew that was never going to work. But it was to get the message across that I hadn’t a clue what they were saying.…
Then, buying a showerhead for the apartment… I asked a lady who was initially scared of me when I first approached her. But I warmed to her, I smiled and I showed that I wasn’t a freak. I stood there, in the middle of the supermarket, doing the ‘act of showering’… so she would understand what I was looking for. But even this didn’t hit home! She still looked at me as if I was speaking…. NOT Chinese obviously… hahha… but instead whatever language the Chinese population consider to be alien – it could very well be…. ENGLISH???!!!! (just as well I’m here to teach them all some English!! Yay!) Anyhow, still trying to buy a showerhead… I proceeded to get out a pen and start drawing… Did this work? No. She had to call her colleague, just to tell me ‘no’. That’s all she could say.
Holy smoly… that’s all I was able to say at that moment.