Monday, 13 June 2011

Universal Translator

Something happened today that reminded me of a similar incident a while back. The first one went something like this:

I go to see a mate at her place, get in the lift, and then realise someone’s behind me. I keep the doors open and an elderly Hong Kong gentleman shuffles in. Conversation (in Cantonese):

Man: Thank you for waiting for me.
Me: No trouble.
Man: 18th floor, please.
Me: 18th? Done. [Press button, then one for my floor]
Man: Thank you, you’re very helpful. [Pause] Do you live here? I don’t think I know you.
Me: No - just visiting a friend.
Man: I see. Have you come from Kowloon? You don’t sound like Kowloon, you sound like Hong Kong Island.

That was when I realised he was blind.

Me: No, I’m not from Hong Kong. I’m from England.
Man: England! Oh, that explains it.

Whatever ‘it’ was that was explained, I’ll never know - the lift stopped and he left, thanking me again. I carried on up to the floor I wanted, but I knew I’d be thinking about him all day.

Skip to today, Monday. Approaching the door at work, I get my keys out ready, and just as I’m fighting to get the lock open, someone comes up behind me and starts talking. I pull the headphones out of my ears and turn around to find an older man looking at me. Conversation (in Cantonese) went something like this:

Man: Excuse me miss - do you know where tower 2 is?
Me: Tower 2? I didn’t know we had towers. Is it an office?
Man: No, a learning centre.
Me: Uhm… Maybe that way? [Points] Sorry, I’m not sure.
Man: Thanks anyway.

Off he goes. And so do I. And then I’m thinking, either I’ve got ‘I speak Cantonese’ written on my forehead, or perhaps he was too fried by the 32 degrees C and 86% humidity to really pay attention to what I looked like. Which, in the grand scheme of things, is a little heartening.



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