Monday, August 11, 2014

Lost in Translation. Really, just lost.

There is a thing in China that demands intense faith and on-going prayers. It's not communists or atheists.  It's not air or water pollution. OK, it is pollution, but that's not the main thing. It's not the food, which can be something that the exterminators missed but the cooks found. It's not the horrendous traffic, but that's close.
It's the taxi drivers.
It's not the way they drive, though there will be cause for praying when they drive, because they tend to drive like there are recruiters from NASCAR watching every move to try to find the next Dale Earnhardt, Jr, Jeff Gordon, or Danica Patrick, only this one called Xi Hu Fat. They drive like the roads are slalom courses, the other cars are moving gates, and they are Lindsey Vonn, only, you know, with cars and lots and lots of speed.
No, that's not it. It's more basic than that.
It's not really knowing if they're taking you where you actually need to go.
See, even though China has the largest English speaking population of any country, none of those people are driving taxis. They're all hacking into our emails. The taxi drivers all speak Chinese. So here's what happens. You give them the address of where you want to go written on a piece of paper by someone from the place you want to go, like, a school, or the hotel. Here's a recent example from my personal life:
First, the address in English: Yew Chung International School of Shanghai, 18 West Rong Hua Road (near Shuicheng Road), Gubei 201103
Now the address in Chinese: 耀中国际学校荣华西道18水城路附近), 古北 201103
So. The driver looks at it. Then he mumbles a bit. And you start to wonder. Chinese is really hard to learn to read, you think. Thinking is your first mistake. I mean, there are like 20,000 characters you have to learn. And what do you suppose happens to all of those students who never really learned to read all the characters? They're probably not out there hacking into my email. They might be, you know, driving taxis. So you're never really sure whether or not the driver can read what you've given him. And then he starts driving. And mumbling.
Shanghai is huge. Enormous. 21 million people. All the signs are written in English (which the driver doesn't read) and Chinese (maybe ditto). Every now and then he'll say something like this: 耀中国际学校. Not helpful. You note that West Rong Hua Road looks a lot like West Wrong Way Road. Not helpful. Gubei sounds like it might be in Mongolia. Plus, there are three campuses of the Yew Chung International School, and each one has maybe two separate campuses of its own, so there are six possible places you could be going, if he can read the directions at all. They are miles apart. Many many miles.
So you drive, like, forever. In your imagination, people in the streets are starting to look vaguely European, like you might be invading Hungary again by taxi. You are being sold into white slavery. After awhile, it starts to feel like the better option.
And then. You see a street sign. It says "Gubei"! Yes! And then, Shuicheng Road! Yes! And lo and behold! West Rong Hua Road! Yes! Salvation is at hand! God answers prayer! And look! There it is! The Yew Chung International School! I'm saved, safe at last!
And he drives right by it without stopping. 
I say, look! There it is! The school! Here's what he hears: "Meaningless words from the white devil." And he says to me, 耀中国际学校. And keeps on going. And gets lost.
He drives around aimlessly for awhile, mumbling, and every now then looks at me and says 耀中国际学校. Finally, he gives me the ancient, traditional sign for "can I use your cell phone?" I call the school, he chatters for much longer than it should take, and drives me right to it. It was another campus.
How could a loving God allow such a thing?

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