Sunday, July 02, 2017

Hazards of Monolingualism

Getting around is a challenge.  The US government defines disability as a condition limiting at least one major life activity.  My limited Chinese affects everything.
When I gave him the note from my friend with the name of the church, the taxi driver had questions about directions.  But my budding linguistic abilities weren’t up to the challenge.  I wondered if he knew where he was going and asked “Women dao nar chu?” (Where are we going?) 

Taking his hands off the wheel, he clapped his hands together and crossed himself. I was not reassured.

Church was impressive.  The sanctuary was packed, and there were about thirty baptisms that morning, some by sprinkling and some by immersion. This, I have read is not unusual; Chinese churches are growing.  But open profession of faith here comes at a cost.  While the Chinese government tolerates state sanctioned forms of Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism, open declaration of faith decreases opportunity. To get ahead here, one must belong to the Communist Party, and members may not be believers.

Church services are formulaic, so I knew what was going on. Although my fund of Chinese vocabulary is limited, I recognized the beatitudes and Lord’s Prayer from their rhythm and the few words I know.
 After church, I needed another taxi.  Since the church is on a back road, I needed assistance. My fellow worshippers, most of whom spoke less English than I speak Chinese, were worried about letting me walk to a taxi stand on my own, and a group of women clustered around me.  A man in a colorful T-shirt offered to give me a lift on the back of his motorbike, but the thought of riding on semi-paved streets with no helmet was not appealing.  Another, man who knew just a bit of English, walked with me to the taxi stand, which was six blocks away.

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