Killer Lilies

It’s extremely frustrating not being able to speak, read, or understand the language of the place where you live.

I can’t quickly nip into the grocery store for something, because it will take me a long time to painstakingly search the store for the item I want – I can’t read the aisle signs, I can’t read the product labels, I can’t ask for help. I can’t express what I want from service people, meaning I can’t go for a haircut, can’t catch a bus, can’t ask what things are in a restaurant (where I can’t read the menu). I can’t communicate with my work colleagues. This is perhaps the most frustrating one of all.

The homeroom teachers and the foreign teachers often cross paths and have to request favours from each other or ask for information about something. It ain’t easy. Yeah, we talk to each other a lot, said Clare with a sigh, which means that we use a lot of miming and pointing and weird gesturing. In fact, I’ve found that the brighter kids in my two classes can actually speak much better English than their homeroom teachers.

For this reason, I chose to sit beside a child rather than an adult as we travelled by bus for a field trip to Jangtaesan, a mountain just outside the city. He was a great little tour guide, pointing out the sights along the way and describing them for me as best he could. This is subway station, he explained, pointing. Subway is big train under ground.

What’s that? I asked interestedly as the bus started the climb up the mountain and I saw long, black sheets covered with what looked like sand, only thicker. This is where rice grows, explained my little guide. See, green in fields? And is cut by… by tractor, and here drying! It was all very interesting, but there were so many things I was curious about that I would have loved an English-speaking guide beside me. More so when we arrived, and my little group was introduced to its forest guide – a pleasant, smiling woman who pointed things out to the kids, explained things, asked questions, and caused some excited “ahhhhh!” noises. It was very frustrating not to understand any of the information.

However, it was beautiful. We saw a praying mantis, and huge stick insects, and colourful dragonflies as big as birds. Then we walked over a marshy, swampy area using a wooden platform, which was about a foot above the murky, lily-covered water. The guide talked for a long time, and I nudged the little boy who happened to be holding my hand. What did she say about  the water? I asked him, pulling him to the side to peer over the rail. He dragged me back, looking alarmed. No, no, Hayley Teacha! he hissed, clinging on to my hand. She said there is alligators and crocodiles in water! Is very dangerous!

Picture stolen from colleague!

Picture stolen from colleague

What!?! I almost yelled, forgetting to correct his verb conjugation in my panic. Was this woman insane? She was leading a group of tiny, bite-sized infants across a deadly swamp filled with big toothy things that could leap out and catch about 4 of them in one go. Nervously, I peered into the water, trying to stay in the centre of the platform. Jennifer, I called out nervously to my boss, as she wandered past with her camera, what did the guide say about alligators?

Nothing, said Jennifer, looking surprised.

Then… then what was she talking about? I asked suspiciously. What’s in the water?

Lilies! said Jennifer, pointing.

I turned to give my young “guide” a rollicking, but he had already run away, howling with laughter. Rats. Taken in by a 7-year-old who can barely speak English. That’s a record, even for me…

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