Top Menu

Mastering Language Barriers

Market at a small Hani village near the Rice Terrasses of Yuanyang, Yunnan, China

Market at a small Hani village near the Rice Terrasses of Yuanyang, Yunnan, China

When we arrived in Kunming, after a five hour bus ride from Dali, Gilles finally decided to go to the hospital because he had had an upset stomach for more than one week. Needless to say that this was some kind of an adventure in a place where not a single person spoke more than two or three words of English! After running around for about one hour, going from one desk to the next queue to the next information center, where embarrassed nurses laughed but could not help, he finally managed to pay the registration fee and find the room with the right doctor.

There, a chaotic waiting started, with people trying to jump the line and others screaming at them, forcing a doctor to intervene twice. After another hour, it was Gilles turn, but also the lady doctor only spoke Chinese! Gilles had to use the Lonely Planet dictionary pointing at the word “Diarrhea” and “It hurts here” pointing at his stomach. The doctor seemed to understand what was needed, sent him for the compulsory blood test (sounds easy, but was not), looked worried when she read the result and prescribed tones of medication.

Well, neither will we ever know what the doctor diagnosed, nor which of the six packets of pills prescribed had which effect. This deficit led to another situation where all forces had to be joined in order to solve the issue. One day later in Yuangyang, Gilles decided to it was time to stop taking pills against diarrhea, but we did not know which of the six packets was the very one. Nobody in the guesthouse spoke a word of English, so we asked Martin, a Dutch tourist in our hostel for help, since he knew some Chinese. Well, he spoke it but could not read it, so we all went down to the lobby to ask the family for help. They were not sure either, but walked us to the neighbor, a doctor, who finally identified the right box.

Same day Heidi had a similar success story, she mastered getting around Kunming, a huge Chinese metropolis, in no time. One hour after arriving in this city, she zipped around on buses, found the right bus station out of 4, bought tickets for the next day and made her way back. None of the person she dealt with, like bus drivers, policemen, the people at various ticket counters, spoke any English, and Heidi is only firm in four words: “hello”, “thank you”, “rice” and… a swear word! It really felt as we both had accomplished something big.

The little we saw from Kunming was while riding buses across town. From this perspective, it seemed to be a big, modern city with massive traffic jams, but we are sure there is a different angle to that. We just did not have the time to explore it.

, ,

Comments are closed.