Language barrier in China: a few Chinese characters will save you!

I try to explain to the manager of the guesthouse via Google Translate (not very clear), then by taking the object apart. She calls a young man to the rescue, who hands me a business card. It’s all in Chinese (for a change). They may not have understood anything. The manager writes the name of a bus stop on a piece of paper (still in Chinese): “show it to the driver”.

When my bus number shows up, it’s stress!

The Chinese, in general, push to get back before anyone else can even aspire to get off.

And the worst part is that I have to pay an unknown amount of money to the driver (i.e., in the middle of the commotion). He starts the bus in a rush, in the middle of the crowd of people who are not yet organized, who hang on where they can before I can even say a uh!

I apparently have to slip the change into his machine. I’m trying to make him understand that I don’t know how much. He tells me, with a strange gesture, the number three (no, we don’t count the same way in China). Missing to spread out on the ground under the bewildered eye of the Chinese at every turn, I end up fulfilling my first mission.

The driver drops me off at the right place: far from the bucolic calm of the lake surroundings. It’s a buzzing centre, which makes me a bit dizzy (especially when you don’t understand anything about it). I don’t know where to go. I try to show the business card to several passers-by, but they look scared, even offended. They step aside abruptly if I approach them and gesticulate towards me as if they’ve just seen a ghost.

Finally, a brave man (I guess the uniform helps) points to a building a few yards away. And there… it’s a shopping mall specializing in electronics, but in shape, it looks more like a fish market. Here I am looking for a prepaid SIM card with a small drawing of a SIM card, because, with my head up, I couldn’t find a sharp object to extract the one I could have shown as an example. The next day, I have a mission: get a prepaid SIM card with 3G for my mobile phone (for non-technophiles: a phone chip for my iPhone, which will allow me to surf as well as call). Visit simoptions.com for more about prepaid SIM cards. It is a small mission that will take me far away in the heart of Hangzhou…

After thirty minutes of silent deliberations, the lady, whom I had called out at random, shouts a victory cry and beckons me to wait. She brings me panoply of memory cards, with a smile up to her ears. I’m beginning to doubt my artistic talents: I should have applied myself a little more in my observation drawing class. She persists, however, she absolutely wants to help… admirable! She ends up taking me to a telecom booth. Am I at the end of my troubles?

I show my drawing, and I write a big 3G next to it. Eyebrows go up. But they have a solution: they bring me a young man who speaks English! (Can I keep him…no? damn.) But here it is, they want to sell me a much too expensive solution. I don’t need a phone plan for a year, gentlemen, I’m only here for two weeks. The salesman is sulking. He looks like a four-year-old who hasn’t had his ice cream.

I apologize and I leave, with my tail between my legs, for the bus stop, whose timetable I will try in vain to decipher.

Maybe I should have asked for the way back too, at the guesthouse… After an hour of going around in circles, I jump, desperate, into a taxi. With a business card (Chinese version, of course) from the guesthouse in my hand, no worries, we always arrive safely.

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