Thursday, April 9, 2009

Much nicer "old lady on a bus" story...

It was the 104 bus, I believe.
I was near the back but not quite.
An elderly woman with a huge bouquet mostly made up of pink flowers got on and sat behind me. I could smell them from my seat. I decided this was a good opportunity to practice my Chinese. I turned around and said, "your flowers are very pretty, they smell nice". She smiled and said something; I don't remember what and perhaps I didn't understand. I continued, "Is it your birthday?" She laughed and said "No, no....." and said something about her son and a big event. My impression was that it was some kind of award ceremony or retirement party - something related to his work. The flowers were likely part of the decor, and being his mother she was allowed to take one home. I could be wrong. I could be WAY wrong, as I didn't understand 90% of what she said, but somehow I got that very strong impression.

I've sometimes wondered how much of a conversation I invent when I'm listening and don't really understand. I know it's very easy to do. Our brains want to fill in blanks, and they are constantly doing this every day and we don't realize it. We sometimes call it a filter that each of us has, that alters the way we understand things from person to person. But when we only have a tiny bit of information missing it's not a big deal and only leads to occasional misunderstandings. When we are missing 90%, well, let me tell you from experience, we could be on an entirely different subject than whatever it is the other person is trying to convey. I saw this most clearly and measurably after I actually understood a particular Chinese TV show. At first I understood about 2-10%, and I imagined the rest. Now I understand about 75% and it's not what I thought. The guy who I thought was cheating on his wife and I didn't like him throughout the whole series was actually set up and innocent the whole time. Not only that but he's one of the two "good guys" in the whole thing.

Hmm... anyone out there in what you think is a bad relationship might want to take up a new language.

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