When I used to work in an international shipping company based in Lymington, I sometimes flew to China with my colleague David Webb. Being a typical English guy, David endeavoured to learn some Chinese words and hoped to impress our Chinese clients.
He was knocked over with a feather by how odd Chinese culture was, as well as the way Chinese people think and do things. But he could not help bragging to our UK office colleagues about his ‘celebrity’ lifestyle in China – On the street, Chinese people often tried to snatch an opportunity for a photo with him.
Even though living in China could fill David’s certain vanity, he would never dare to settle down on that planet where most people have skimpy knowledge of English. He knew for sure his life could be absurd with hurdles if he did not speak any Chinese.
David told me this story. An English businessman hailed a taxi on a busy street in Shanghai. The moment he jumped into the car, he tried to tell the driver he wanted to go back to his hotel. But such basic message exchange wasn’t going smoothly. The Chinese guy didn’t understand his English, and vice versa.
The communication reached deadlock for a while and then the Englishman had a brainwave. He fumbled a matchbox out of his pocket. The box was given to him this morning by a kind receptionist with the hotel address printed on. The Englishman thought that would be his last resort! So he handed it over to the driver and kept pointing at it. The driver seemed to understand him and nodding his head, ignited the car engine.
The Englishman flung himself into his seat. Phew…the driver understood him! However, half an hour later, he started to get annoyed as his hotel was downtown whereas the taxi was heading towards the outskirts. But being unable to utter any Chinese syllables, he gave up but gawped at a meter ticking away. Another 20 minutes on and the car pulled over outside a rural matchbox factory.
Flying off the handle at it, the Englishman saw the light in the end - The driver misread his intention! Having missed the hotel address on the matchbox, the driver assumed the Englishman meant to visit the factory where the box was made!