A Frustration Followed by Happy Moments
I got yelled at by a bus driver today. These things happen. Of course, it could have been avoided if my language skills were better. It happened like this: I got on the bus (not news in itself) and my student ID/bus card failed to work. The bus driver kindly handed me a fare card and waived me on back. When I got off at my stop, I knew enough to hand my card back to the bus driver and wait for some kind of fare price which I heard as “èr” (two) and was accompanied by the holding up of two fingers.
At the time, I remember thinking it was odd that he didn’t use the more correct word “liǎng” (which translates to “a couple”) but who was I to argue with a native speaker? It would be a funny old world if we were all alike and so I deposited exactly $2 in the till and got off the bus confident in my handling of this delicate transaction.
This confidence was…misplaced, as I soon found out when the bus driver ran out of the bus after me yelling “bú gòu” or “not enough.” While an uncomfortable situation in any setting, this was currently happening in front of the Top City Mall on a busy Sunday. I had inadvertently become a tourist attraction for the many, many happy families and preteens waiting at the bus stop. Ever have a situation where you know everyone is watching you because no one is makes eye contact with you? Yes, this was one of those and, as I red-facedly followed the bus driver back onto the bus, I felt the increasing strength of the not-gaze upon me.
The bus driver looked at me expectantly, “èr.” Okay…maybe he hadn’t seen me pay the fare before? I good-naturedly put in another $2 to show my respect for the law of the bus. “bú gòu!” Again? He repeated “èr” once again, holding up his two fingers, and this time I caught the added “sí” sound at the end. Understanding slowly dawned…uh oh. Many Taiwanese pronounce “shí” (the sound for the number 10) as “sí” and my untrained ears hadn’t caught it. Oh…”èr sí” as in “two ten.” As in twenty, the number that is ten times what I had paid before. The number that I had learned in the first week of 101 Chinese. No wonder this bus driver thought I was a simpleton.
I smiled a “forgive me for I am but an ignorant and well-intentioned foreigner in your beautiful country” smile (sadly, not for the first or last time this trip) and to show I understood said, “Ah…èrshí…Zhēn bù hǎo yìsi…” and deposited the correct fare. The people on the bus were too polite to slow clap, but you could tell they wanted to. I then walked down the longest set of bus stairs ever while not-returning the not-stares the many passerby that had stopped to not-watch. It was not my proudest moment.
The rest of my day was fantastic by the way. It was filled with a few minor linguistic successes and much-needed relaxation. I browsed some of the shops in the mall, correctly navigated the Chinese language menu at my favorite tea house, and rode the bus two more times. All without further incident. I also managed to buy this:
In summary, the bus ride today was totally worth it. Not because it ended in cartoon character shirts (maybe a little bit) but because I learned a little bit about listening more carefully to people and the bus experience didn’t color the rest of my day. Really, this is part of why I came here: for the “not understanding.” If I understood everything perfectly the first time, what would be the point of studying abroad? I’m not here to be perfect. I am here to learn, in my own helter-skelter, awkwardly-embarrassing way. This wasn’t the first time that I have made a fool of myself and it won’t be the last. (Trust me on this…) That is part of why I am choosing to write about this moment caused by my own ignorance instead of how I successfully ordered bubble tea: because all these moments are important. Not just the ones that make me look good.