The language barrier in China is something I have grown to deal with, but accepting that its there hasn’t made my life any easier. Of course, I don’t get as stressed as I had in the past, but my comprehension of what people are trying to express and of situations altogether hasn’t increased in the least just by virtually acknowledging it. On the contrary, I often just accept things and don’t even try to understand them.
One thing I have given up on trying to understand is: What exactly people do for a living.
There are hundreds of shops selling exactly the same thing in numerous different clusters throughout even towns as small as Cili, where I lived. I am sure that some of the stores never had customers, but day and night, the doors remained open. The stores are open all hours, so according to hourly wage, someone could make a lot of money. However, that can’t be how the system works.
Understanding the system is something I failed at doing thus far, and it was mostly because no one could completely explain it to me. And the people who could just didn’t feel like putting in the effort. Speaking is something that Richard, myEnglish-speaking liaison, often found as tedious.
“Richard, why don’t we have class today?” *
“I don’t know.”
“Richard how come that person isn’t wearing a shirt?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why is the school district making your fiance teach at a school two hours away even after knowing you two are getting married in the fall?” **
“I don’t know.”
He sometimes tried to explain things to me. But, not very often. And the thing is, Richard, being oh-so-very Chinese in his laziness (Chinese teachers play more computer games and watch more movies than any group of people I have ever met before), but he was extremely American in his thought processes. He always told Jon and I how lazy Chinese people were. But still, that didn’t stop him from being lazy. After all, he is Chinese.
* Richard, also, never attempted to discover the reasoning behind any decisions the school made unless Jon or I asked him too. He accepted the leaders decisions and continued on his daily business.
** Couples, married or not, childless or not, are often broken up in work-related matters. It’s not odd for a mother and father to be living 15 hours away from each other by train.
But, one of my favorite questions to ask was: What is his/her job?
Before I explain this, you must understand that my best friend was a 43 year old, and for living in a small town and being 43 years old, he was excellent at English. But, overall, things he explained to me were very broad:
“Where are we going?”
“To a music party.”
Music party could have meant performance, competition, gathering, jamming…anything. HXG (my friend) knew the word party. And he knew it meant some sort of gathering. And he used it to describe anything that had many people.
So, when I asked him what someone’s job was, he always said, “_______ leader.”
“He’s a bus leader. He drives buses.” In my experience, if you are driving a bus, you are not usually a “leader.”
“He’s a police leader. You know, with cars. In the road.” This would be followed up by making hand movements signifying a traffic policeman. Once again…not a leader.
“He’s a government leader.” This one I never quite figured out. But if that was true in every instance, then I have a lot of government leader friends in Cili and Zhangjiajie.
If someone wasn’t a leader, then they were a boss. And if they weren’t a boss, then…they must have been unemployed. I never met someone who wasn’t a leader or boss according to HXG… I think there must be a lot of entrepreneurs in China.
Anyway, spending as much time with the group of people I did, I was never able to acquire details as to people’s life situations whether I was asking about their family or their work.
Bottom line: As far as I’m concerned, every person I met in Cili and Zhangjiajie is either a leader or a boss. I have been blessed to meet such powerful people.