My good friend Richard, an Australian national phoned me and asked if I would meet him at the North Gate entrance of our university to accompany him to get his haircut. His argument was that my Chinese was better than his and that I could stop them if they started to do something horrendous. My Chinese albeit at this point slightly better than Richard’s (his is now better) was also awful–but I’ve never been timid about trying. I met-up with Richard and shortly after received a phone call from our friend Dee a Thai national.
Dee and I lived in the same building and he was feeling ill, could I please bring him back some anti-diarrhea medicine– no problem I was on it. At this point we were finishing with Richard’s haircut when in walked Adlet our Kazakh friend. Adlet asked what we are up to and laughed at the dubiousness of Richard relying on my Chinese to get his haircut. I argued, “Well look at him, his hair is cut isn’t it? He looks good so my Chinese worked well enough.” Adlet still laughing questioned me inquiring “how are you going to get the medicine?” That I figured was more manageable then a hair cut. “I don’t know the word for diarrhea but I do know the words for poop and explosion. I will use those words and then see what happens.”
Adlet always down to tease me, decided to join us and watch me attempt to purchase the medicine. I used my limited vocabulary and when I used the word explosion pointed at my own butt. It worked! I was quite pleased with myself and Adlet enjoyed watching me act out “poop explosion”.
I have been thinking a lot about that day, as I have spent the last few days in Singapore. I never spoke mandarin well but I am realizing that I did know way more than I gave myself credit for. I have had a few, let’s call them conversations (barely conversations) the last few days that have ranged in topic from directions, ordering food, to finding an unoccupied bathroom. I didn’t know I still had that vocabulary. It has been good for the ego. Interestingly, I feel more understood here in Singapore, in that I haven’t had to repeat a word trying to find the correct tone, as I did when in Hainan. I am not sure why I am understood more readily here and need to think about it more.