Communicating in China

My new-found friend kept saying “Eleven.” He spoke little English and I knew no Chinese. He helped me find the sign that had the name of the region where my hotel was located, but the number he kept repeating was troubling me.

It was February 14 and I had just stepped out of the airport in Beijing, China. I had an email telling me how to find the # 6 bus and a map identifying the Civil Aviation Institute campus where my hotel was located. By looking at the map this guy pointed me to a sign with the name I had been given. He hurried me to the kiosk where I purchased a ticket for the bus and then back to the place where the bus would stop, just as it arrived.

On the bus I experienced a wave of anxiety as I thought: “What if this is the wrong bus? What if they get me out to the end of the line and it is not where I need to go?” I had hurriedly handed my ticket to the girl who had offered no help earlier and gotten my two suitcases and computer case onto the bus. Since I only had two hands, I had to leave one suitcase in the aisle and come back to retrieve it after placing the other two near the rear door.

Thankfully, my friend noticed another individual boarding the bus and asked if he spoke English. Now there was finally someone with whom I could communicate. It turned out that the second man is a pilot for China Air, the largest airline based in China. His English was good and he confirmed that this was indeed the bus that would take me to where my reservations had been made. He would be staying at the same hotel since it is the one China Air uses for pilots spending a night prior to their next flight. He also offered to help me with the check-in process when he found out there would not be anyone present to translate.

My fears began to calm and my racing mind began to slow down. Everything was going to work out, just as I had prayed. All those “What if…” scenarios had proven to be fruitless. I would get checked into the hotel and to my room without being lost. I would not have to call my one contact number in the middle of the night. I made it just fine.

The ability to communicate is significant. It has been called the life blood of any relationship. People go to great lengths to discover ways to share their thoughts and feelings. Sharing information is critical.

Over the course of the week there were numerous times when we used every means possible to bridge our limitations with speaking Chinese. Photo menus allowed us to order food in hole-in-the-wall restaurants where there were no English speakers. Universal symbols allowed us to locate rest rooms (their English name for them are Waist Closets, abbreviated as WCs). Surviving that first struggle to communicate made the rest of these pale in comparison.

It turns out the bus line I was looking for was no longer numbered. Also, rather than being in the second row of bus stops it was now in the first row. What I finally learned from my second friend was what the first guy meant by the word, “Eleven,” which he kept repeating with emphasis. The last run of that bus line was scheduled to pick up at the airport at 11:00 pm. If I missed that bus, there would not be another one until after 6:00 am the next day. He wanted me to hurry so I would not miss the bus.

My anxieties arose because the one number I wanted to hear was being replaced by a different number I needed to hear. How many times have I given people information they needed to hear, but could not hear because it contradicted what they thought they needed?

I am thankful that I met many Chinese people who went out of their way to be helpful. I intend to be more aware of people around me who may not be able to communicate well in English. I plan to help them, even if it requires bringing in someone else who can speak their heart language. I know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of the Golden Rule.


  1. Even though things”worked out” for you this entry makes me thankful I will be traveling with a “Team” and I will meet most of them in San Francisco. :o)


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