First Impressions: Non-verbal Beijing Communication
July 11, 2012
There is no denying that communication is a two-way street. Most of the time, it involves two people physically talking back and forth. However, communication can also be utilized through non-verbal language, a skill-set I have become increasingly familiar with and one that I would consider as my personal non-verbal form of Beijing communication.
I arrived in Beijing for my internship here with CPG five days ago with a relatively small arsenal of “street smarts”. I speak one Chinese word (ni hao) and also have no inherent “mental compass” that some people seem to possess. This makes getting lost a regular occurrence to me.
After a few days of getting orientated to the city, it was time for me to start my internship. I knew the building was quite far from my apartment in the Shuangjing district, but I didn’t have an exact location. I knew that I would need to take the subway seven stops, and then take a bus heading northeast for about 2 miles or so. I woke up early that morning and equipped myself with a city map, a subway map, and most importantly, a positive attitude.
I walked to Shuangjing station, and anxiously waited outside the doors. A subway worker came over to me and said something to me in Mandarin, which I answered with a puzzled gaze. She then moved her arms in a shoving motion towards me. Confused, I looked around and noticed that everyone else is standing in an orderly line outside the doors. I gave the lady a whimsical smirk and she did the same right after I conformed to line structure. Although I didn’t say a single word, she knew that I was embarrassed because I didn’t know how to stand in a line, but also very thankful that she corrected me. I proceeded to get on the crowded subway and counted seven stops.
I got off the Subway at Sanyuanqiao, and exited the station. When I got outside, nothing looked familiar to what I had seen on Google maps the night before. My map and subsequent travel plan was rendered useless. My saving grace was a business card with my destination written in Chinese characters on the back.
After finally managing to snag a taxi, I greeted the driver with a nearly incoherent “ni hao” and gave him the card. He spoke to me, but I gave him a quizzical look, and pointed at the Chinese characters on the card. At this point, he knew the language barrier existed, and we would resort to our non-verbal communication skill set. He nodded and let out an “ahhhh” to let me know he knew the location. We arrived at the building, and I paid for the ride.
I entered and noticed the menu was in English, which enabled me to peruse the menu and settle on ordering milk tea. When it was my turn to order, I pointed to the large milk tea. The lady then said something in Mandarin, which I answered with my usual lost puppy look.
She then crossed her arms and acted like she was shivering. This was her way of asking if I wanted the tea hot or cold. I shook my head no, and gave her a big smile to commend her on her creativity. She smiled back and laughed; basically, her way of accepting the compliment. I drank the tea and headed to work right on time. Getting home is a whole other story.