Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Cultural Communication Clash

I had more communication problems in Chengdu than anywhere else in China. I found myself in many instances of miscommunication and thought I would share some of the worst and therefore funniest with you.

On my second to last day in the city I spent 3 hours driving to Bifengxia Panda Base in dense fog only to be told at the very last stretch that the road leading to the base had closed due to the fog and a car accident. I then spent another 3 hours driving back to the hotel. After 6 hours of unnerving driving in dense fog with large drop offs all I wanted to do was go see a movie and it just so happened that Harry Potter had opened in China. I tried to find the movie schedule online, but of course it was all in Chinese. I went to the concierge and asked him to help and he started calling movie theaters. No movie theaters picked up the phone. I asked if he could look online. He looked confused. I showed him on my ipad the website in Chinese and asked him where do I push for movie times. He said no movie times. I said yes movie times tell me where to push. He said no. Finally I found a little symbol with a clock and pushed that link and got a timetable of 5 movies and show times all in Chinese. I said please tell me which of these says Harry Potter. He said all. I said no not all I can see the theater is advertising 5 movies they have 5 movie posters on the top of the website and I can tell that this list below is different characters, which says Harry Potter? He said all. I asked three other people and they all looked confused. I went back to the first guy and he pointed to one and said Harry Potter. I went back to my room and put the whole page into google translator. The one he pointed to was Resident Evil! I finally got the showtime and called downstairs asking them to get me a taxi for 4pm. They said sure.

I come down at 5 minutes to 4 and there was no taxi. When I asked they said I never called. I said I did call. They called me a liar. (Helpful right?) I said okay can you get me a taxi now? They said sure. My movie is at 4:30 and it is now 4:05. I wait 20 minutes and finally a taxi comes and drops me off at the front of a mall at 4:25. I think I will just make it, but then I go inside and the mall is gigantic and the signs are in Chinese and I have no idea where the theater is. I ask everyone in sight, but cannot find anyone who speaks English. After 20 minutes of walking around the entire mall I find the theater and the movie has already started and they won’t let me go in. The next showing is not for three more hours so I buy a ticket and plan to spend three hours walking around the mall. The mall was horrible and tacky so I wandered into the arcade and end up spending three hours playing arcade games with a 5-year-old Chinese girl who spoke English and her grandmother who spoke none. Weird day!

That experience however pales in comparison to the one on my last night in Chengdu. I decided to go the famous Sichuan Opera and had the hotel arrange a cab for me for that evening. Of course the hotel didn’t do it and I had to wait 20 minutes again, but this time I had wised up and got there 30 minutes early so I still had plenty of time. However the cab driver I got was crazy and was speeding so fast I was petrified in the back of his cab. Apparently he was speeding so fast that the cops noticed and we were pulled over. YES you read that right! My taxi was pulled over by the cops on some random side street! The driver got in an argument with the cops while I was sitting in the back starting to freak out. The cop opened my door and grabbed my arm to get me out of the cab. I tried telling him "No I need to get to the theater, I don't speak Chinese, I don't know where I am please let the cabbie take me there." The policeman spoke no English and just kept shooing me away. So I walked for l0 minutes and came out on a major street and luckily hailed another cab. Of course this cab refused to do the meter and I had to pay him about 30 dollars to go about 7 minutes away.

I got to the theater and even though I paid for the best ticket which was supposed to be at the center of the stage I was given a front row all the way on the side- the seats were in a U around the stage so I couldn't see much and I was right next to the speaker, which was malfunctioning and was so loud it was hurting my ears. I asked to move and spoke to about 9 different people, of course none spoke English and they all just told me to sit back down (or motioned at me to sit back down). I ended up having to sit there with my ipod headphones in for the entire show to diffuse the noise. On top of that half the theater was smoking cigarettes including the man sitting next to me even though the hotel had told me there was no smoking in the theater. The show wasn't very good, like so much else in China it was fake- not an actual authentic opera, instead it was just 10 minute segments of different styles of performance put together for tourists and the singing/acting/dancing was pretty bad.
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After the show ended I darted out of the theater trying to get a taxi. I got one who locked the back doors of his taxi and made me sit up front with him and he was smoking like a chimney. I could hardly breathe so I opened the window and he was yelling at me to close it, but I didn't understand why. Then a gigantic street cleaning truck drove by spraying water, which of course sprayed at me right through the window leaving me drenched. I suddenly understood why he wanted me to close the window. He then drove like a mad man back to the hotel and tried to run a red light and rammed another car. It was on his side and not very hard, but enough to cause a jolt. All I was thinking was- damn I'm going to have to get another taxi again now. But instead of getting out and talking to the other driver who had a big dent in his car, my cabbie just kept driving. He brought me back to the hotel with no more accidents and seemed upset when I didn’t give him a tip. It was literally one of those nights that will go in the same category of me being chased by the goats when I had the stomach flu "I would not believe the story if it didn't happen to me."

These stories are fun to share now that they are over, but going through them was very difficult and at times scary. I would highly suggest trying to learn some Chinese before coming to China in order to avoid some of the communication misfires I experienced time and time again.

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