I do not speak Chinese which after almost 4 years here is disgraceful. I use the excuse that I work full-time and am way too busy to learn. I am fortunate that my children do speak Mandarin. My youngest has excellent language skills but is reluctant to speak it outside of the home. My eldest has good language skills and tries very hard when communicating with others. I depend on him a lot, which is very frustrating for him.
I do feel at times not having the language is like being blind to much of what is going on here. For example: most ATM's now have an English language function which is great, however not everything is translated. So yesterday I ran into a familiar situation where the machine had ran out of receipts. The machine asked me in English if I wanted to continue however the answer options were in Chinese, so for about the 20th time I hit the wrong button and had to start the whole process again.
Not being able to read can also be very frustrating, choosing a restaurant because of picture menus really limits your choice plus it is always disappointing when the food arrives and never looks anything like the pictures.
Another issue I have is buying things like creams and lotions in the supermarket. Telling the difference between shampoo and conditioner is almost impossible. It used to be that shampoo opened from the top and conditioner from the bottom, not any more. Many times we have bought body lotions thinking it was shower gel.
Another thing I struggle with is buying cinema tickets, several times I have gone to the cinema but left without seeing a film. No one ever speaks english at the cinemas that I go to, and why should they? They do have movies in English but unfortunately they are written up in Chinese. Perhaps I should learn the character for 'english,' I guess that would help.
As I walk around the streets, people are talking and shouting, perhaps even to me and I am totally unaware. I Imagine it would be very easy to walk into a hazardous situation and miss the warning signs and shouts from people. I often see people shouting at one another and wonder what they are so publicly arguing about, is it something that should also concern me?
As I am home on holidays at the moment, watching this whole Calais crisis unfold on television, I think about what it must be like for people arriving here with no English. It must be a very a very scary thing. To not really understand what is happening around them, to not be able to read and write, to not be able to communicate...
In China, local Chinese often find us a bit of a curiosity, so even if they have no english they will in most cases make an effort to communicate and try and help you out if you seek assistance from them. Not all the time mind you, but most of it. I can't imagine us doing the same thing here but i hope we do.
Last week I was in our local Gardai (police) station. I watched a man and a young boy enter. They were dropping in some documents to the Gardai about an accident that he had been involved in. The young boy translated for the man who could not speak English. He had a local Irish accident. I admired his command of the english language which he has obviously learned through necessity. He reminded how much I depend on my own children. Yet one could be very quick to judge this man and claim that while he has chosen to live in Ireland he should have to learn the language...I think I will give Chinese lessons a go again when I return this summer!