Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Expressive Miscommunication at the Summer Palace in Beijing

Even though I was travelling by myself, I never felt alone in China.

No matter where I was, people always approached me wanting to talk in order to practice their English. They would talk to me about their families, they would narrate stories about the places I was visiting, and even give me advice regarding my love life based on my zodiacal sign.

They were more interested in the interaction than in the topic of the conversation itself. They just wanted to talk.

Tired of walking under the strong sun, and a little weary of fighting through the masses of tourists that gathered around the galleries of the Summer Palace, I retreated to a quiet corner close to an area that was under construction. There, I could rest and relax glancing at the lake, the parks and the buildings of the Palace.

After a couple of minutes, a lady and her daughter came to “my corner” to explore what section of the palace was under construction. Amused by their curiosity I looked at them and smiled in an attempt to express their presence did not bother me.

However, I think they interpreted my smile as an invitation. They sat next to me and begun to talk to me…. In Chinese….

The expression of surprise that took control of my face must have alerted them that I could not not understand what they were saying, since the daughter automatically switched to English before I could say anything.

Despite the little girl’s effort to start a conversation, and my attempt to communicate using the little Chinese I had learned, mutual understanding was difficult. Nevertheless, we continued talking and laughing.

After half an hour on “talking” with them, we learned very little about each other, but we were able to enjoy a nice time away from the tourist masses.

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