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Lost in Translation in Wuhan

“Wǒ bù dǒng," I answered.

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Wuhan, December 29th 2011

My worry of getting off the train was wasted. The platform was of the same level as my train's floor. So I just walked straight dragging my suitcase out of the train. But, there weren't any sign of elevators nor escalators. I hesitated a moment by the edge of the stairs. Then I saw elderly women, probably vendors, carrying huge loads double the size of my suitcase. They walked down the stairs swiftly almost like a ball rolling down. How old am I? I can.

As I reached the basement of the station, there were 2 wide exits on my left and my right. The signs said "West" and "East". O, ouw. Which way should I take? I called Sentosa Hotel which I had booked a room with.

"Hello," I greeted. "Is there anyone who speaks English over there?"

"Wait a minute, please," answered the voice over there.

Several seconds later. "Yes, can I help you?"

"I have booked a room with you. I am now at the station. Which gate should I take to get to your hotel? Should I take the West exit or the East exit?"

"You want to book a room?"

"I have booked a room already. But I don't know which exit gate I should take."

"Oh so you are at the airport now?"

"No. I am at the train station."

"You want to go to our hotel?"

"Yes! But I don't know which way to take."

"Yes, I know. You are at the airport, right? Just take a taxi."

"Nooo! I am at the train station!"

"Excuse me?"

"Train station. Huǒchē zhàn!"

She replied, "Wait a minute." I thought she got me and was going to ask someone about the direction I was asking for.

Then I heard another female's voice. "Yes, can I help you?"

Oh, no! Copy paste: "I have booked a room with you. I am now at the station. Which gate should I take to get to your hotel? Should I take the West exit or the East exit?"

"Take a taxi."

"Yesss! I will take a taxi! But which exit gate should I take?!" Actually, my first wish was of course to avoid taking a taxi. I had expected it to be like in Chengdu where I could take a subway from my hostel to the train station. However, the conversation seemed too complicated for that. So a taxi be it.

"Just ask the taxi driver."

"Hello! I am at the train station!"

"You want to go where?"

"I want to go to your hotelll!! I am now at the train station! Huǒchē zhàn!"

Apparently my pronunciation was terrible. I said "huǒchē zhàn" several times, but she seemed not to have the least understanding of what I was into.

"Oh, you want to book a room?"

I lost my patience completely. I just hung up. Lucky still I was, I had that local SIM card bought in Chengdu Airport. The card failed to connect me with Mom in Indonesia, but it still did me good in such a situation. If I had to spend this stupid conversation on my Indonesian SIM card, I would have cried out all my tears at Sentosa Hotel's front desk. It had been quite a long conversation that the train station had already turned quiet. There were only a few people going up and down the stairs. I shot a prayer and followed my instinct. I took the exit on my right.

This time there was a slide along the stairs next to the wall, so I could just drag my suitcase up. I was the only one going up. The only thing I regretted was I gave my ticket to the ticket collector at the gate without having taking a picture of it. Ah.

As I took a couple of pictures and admired the surroundings of the station because it wasn't anything like Chengdu, an old woman offered me a map of Wuhan. Although the map was all and through written in Chinese, it looked to me quite an informative map. 5 yuan, I paid.

I saw taxis with meter were queuing outside the gate. But as I walked towards that direction, a man approached me. I understood he was offering me a ride. So I gave him the little piece of paper with Sentosa Hotel's address on it. He looked at it and then nodded many times while uttering long sentences. What I could grasp was only "zhīdào" and "bāshí". I don't know, it seems to me that Chinese taxi drivers are in favor of "80". No matter where.

"Liùshí", I bargained. To make sure, I wrote the characters on my paper.

He shook his head, and then uttered many long sentences again. I assumed he was saying that Sentosa Hotel is far. I walked further away. He followed. After seeing me writing that two Chinese characters, he seemed to get more excited with his Chinese. Meaning, his sentences got longer and more complex. Once again I said "Liùshí" and once again he bubbled out another set of long complex Chinese.

"Qīshíwǔ," I said again.

He smiled from ear to ear on his wide face. He was a tall man with broad shoulders. This time he nodded. Only once. He grabbed for my suitcase and I followed. His car was a big one. Don't ask me the brand. That's my poorest thing. He pushed the door opened and gently laid my suitcase on the seat.

As we drove out of the train station, I was more than convinced that this is no Chengdu. The streets were very wide. Buses and cars roamed them in hectic motion. I looked through the window, with mouth half opened, I guess. Suddenly I realized I had make a mistake. I had said "qīshíwǔ" whereas I meant to say "qīshí kuai". Ah... no wonder he agreed at once.

"Well..." I told myself. "At least, your still-very-little Chinese has saved you 5 yuan. You'll save more in the next trip. Last year you couldn't even bargain." With that, I continued admiring the busy Wuhan.

My car slowed down. A gas station. I watched the gasoline-man on duty. For no exact reason, gas stations often interest me. Suddenly my car door was pushed opened and before I could take next breath, that wide face with wide forehead and black hair was already right in front of my face. The driver was like a giraffe bowing down to get his head into the car.

He said something while showing his opened wallet to me. There were several notes in it and one 100 yuan note. Errr... what does he want? Does he want to exchange some small change?Or does he want me to pay for the gasoline? I thought it was already included in that 75 yuan we had agreed upon.

“Wǒ bù dǒng," I answered.

You know what he did? He slapped his wide forehead with his big hand. For two seconds there was silence. My mouth was wide opened.

He pushed his opened wallet a bit forward to me. He flipped the notes inside. I assumed he was saying that he doesn't have enough money to pay for the gas and would like to ask for his payment. I stared at his opened wallet. How much is gasoline in China? He has more than one hundred yuan. Isn't that enough? Is he trying to trick me?

I took out my wallet. The driver moved his wide face closer but his eyes went directly into my wallet. It seemed he asked, "How much money do you have?" Immediately I pulled back my wallet from under his face. I still had a few hundred yuan notes and I didn't want him to think that I had a lot of money.

I pointed at the gasoline machine and said, "Qīshíwǔ."

"Duì, duì!" he exclaimed.

Actually I wanted to say, "The gasoline fee is already included in that 75 yuan, isn't it?" But how do you say that in Chinese??? Ah!

At last I gave up. I give him one 50 yuan note. But he didn't move his head out of the car. I wanted to say, "I'll give you the rest when we arrive at my hotel." Ah! What a complete lost in translation!

Reluctantly, I gave him a 20 yuan note. He made a deep sigh and then pulled out his big head out of the car.

It turned out to be quite a long way to Sentosa Hotel. Yes, Sentosa Hotel's website says that it's only 8 minutes from the railway station. They surely meant Hankou Railway Station. The station I arrived at was Wuchang. From Chengdu there's also a train that stops at Hankou Railway Station but on a different schedule.

I'm still curious. I think there must be a train from Wuchang Railway Station to Hankou Railway Station. It would certainly have cost less than 75 yuan. Ah, anyway, I arrived in front of Sentosa Hotel safe and sound. The driver didn't ask for anymore money.

I looked up to Sentosa Hotel. It's not just the city that's not anything like Chengdu. It's also the accommodation. It's something very incomparable to Lazy Bones Hostel, the place I had stayed in Chengdu.

A sweet young lady greeted me in Chinese at the front desk. But when I handed over my passport, she giggled and stepped back. Quickly she pulled her friend's arm. Oh! She just realized she was facing a foreigner!

Posted by automidori 04:56 Archived in China Tagged wuhan

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