When you travel to a foreign country, you can certainly expect to encounter language barriers. Or you just try to wing it and try to make your way through using sign language or basic English. So what happens when you encounter no favourable conditions? Well, you survive by whatever means you possibly can.
For me, this happened to force me out of my comfort zone and plunged into a bizarre time as an interpreter in Korea.
For English, you think?
No, for Chinese.
Using Chinese to survive in Korea?
My exact sentiments. You can certainly expect the unexpected when you travel.
Do I speak Chinese?
No, it’s not my mother tongue but I studied Chinese for about 2 years during my university days.
Am I fluent in Chinese?
No, I rarely speak Chinese here even though I have a lot of Chinese friends. That’s because my pronunciation is appalling from lack of practice so I would rather not embarrass myself with them. I can understand better than speaking and I can speak simple phrases with my colleagues. That is it!!!
The best part? It’s not even for me!
So I opened my room door one night at the hostel to see the very nice manager asking me for help.
Standing at the reception counter was this tall Asian man. He started talking Chinese to me and I asked him whether he could speak English.
My first thought was “Why did the manager ask for me? Do I look Chinese?”
I don’t but I do have my rusty Chinese to fall back on.
So with a resolute smile on my face, the 3 of us went on to check out the room because the guy wanted to take a look at the room before agreeing on it.
And so each question went like this: He (Chinese) –> Me (English) –> Manager. Manager (English) –> Me (Chinese) –> Guy. It was a slow process but we eventually got him settled.
Interpretation services came to an end. I joked with the manager that he should pay me for my services. Haha. I went back to my room.
I opened the door again to a very sheepish looking manager. I laughed out loud at him and went to his rescue yet again.
Guy now wanted to order something off one of the advertisements showing on television. I went through the 3 way process all over again.
And so it went for the next few days that he was there.
I returned home to an impressed group of friends, amazed that I could still converse in Chinese after all those years of disuse.
I informed them confidently that “Oh, I just spoke simple words to him, very simple ones!”
It literally translates to the place the king lived in.
Simple yet effective.