Friday, December 14, 2012

Language Barrier

Our hotel was in the northwest corner of Beijing, near the hub of the Chinese tech industry. (The occasion for our trip was The Man of the House's participation in a technical conference.) It's far from the financial district and the main tourist areas, so there weren't a lot of English-speakers around. On the first day of the conference, the girls and I walked a few blocks to the Golden Resources Mall. It's one of the biggest malls in the world. We heard there were arcades and stuff for kids, and a movie theatre, so we thought it would be good to spend time exploring.

This shows only about 2/3 the length of the building. A road bisects the first level. It's huge.

It was my first time in a place with no English - not written nor spoken. If it were not for my Learn Chinese app, I wouldn't have gotten the kids in the play place. A total of 90 yuan for 2 hours of play in a place with tunnels, ball pits, swing, zip lines, and trampolines. (That's like $15.)

There was also a fishing tank, sand pit, baby train, and other small rides. The girls were the oldest and largest kids by far. Most there were in diapers. When Seconda wanted to go into the sand pit (about seven minutes into our session) we hit a language snag again. Apparently we could only go in the one area, so back to the tunnels and trampolines for Seconda. Twenty minutes in, Seconda wanted out. Twenty-five minutes in, it was Prima's turn. 

Terza, however, was irrepressibly happy. Her joy was infectious. At 30 minutes in, when Seconda had been "done" for the third time and Prima the second, I explained again that this was all we could do. They found Terza and followed her to the ball pit where she started a game with them and made them forget themselves for another several minutes.

When all the girls were "done" with the play place, we tried to use the bathroom (more on that in another post) and then find lunch. We're adventurous eaters (we all at some of a chicken head the day before, and pig knuckles, too), but I was a little addled from the misunderstanding in the play place, and unsettled from the language barrier in general, so I wanted something familiar. We ate at McDonald's. Even there, communication was not easy. 

Being unable to communicate with the people around me across the whole city left me a little vulnerable. Being unable to read the signs and navigate, not just through space, but transactions as well, left me a bit isolated. I expected this, and it was just one day of my visit, so it wasn't a big deal. Still, this got me thinking about immigrants to the U.S. and English-only laws. I always thought those laws were harsh, mean-spirited, and exclusionary. They just never made any sense to me whatsoever. I couldn't see what the state or county would gain from such laws, other than some kind of twisted, U.S. exceptionalism-fueled ego boost. Now, I see these laws as just mean. Just heartless. Just completely wrong. 

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