Monday, May 31, 2010

Stellar Achievement

The great thing about learning a language is the landmarks: The first time you successfully order dinner. The moment the subway intercom becomes intelligible. The first times you're speaking with a fluent-ish English speaker, but switch to Chinese for expediency. 

I haven't had one of those moments in awhile, until last week:

Coming back from Hong Kong, I disembarked at Pudong airport, made it through customs, grabbed my luggage and started dragging my knuckles toward the MagLev because my backpack was way too heavy. Half an hour later I was off the floating train, and about to get on the subway. But the ticketing machine wouldn't accept my 10 kuai note. This after five days in Hong Kong where the magical ticketing machines accept bills and have a mechanism to drop the change directly into your palm was exasperating.

I stomped over to the information desk, a middle-aged guy in khakis and a visor stopped me.

"I don't have any small change."

"You can use your money, just go over to the machine-


That sentence was no grammar feat. But the whininess, you see: It just rolled off my tongue, an authentic self-pity fest, no forethought required.

There should be an award for when language skillz get to where you subconsciously slip into your eight-year-old-in-need-of-a-nap voice in your second tongue.

Then I noticed the guy was an Expo volunteer, and totally undeserving of my caterwaul. He escorted me to the machine and he and his volunteer buddy did the right amount of straightening and snapping before feeding my note to the machine and handing me a ticket. 

I said thank you too many times, feeling sheepish, he told me I didn't need to be polite. And then I went home thinking Chinese...还可以

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