Life At Point C

Experiencing Life along the Silk Road

Does Anybody Speak English?

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“We regret to inform you that the 12:25 scheduled flight CZ 6973 to Pudong/Shanghai will be delayed until 16:20 due to weather at our airport.” If I have heard this announcement once today, then I have heard it a thousand times. In fact, the delays were announced continually in a loop for all flights involved (all flights in the airport) for hours on end. I was very grateful for it, because they were my beacon of sanity in an airport where everything else was in Chinese – a language that I have not learned.

Yes, I find myself deep in the hinterlands of China. This is like Karakol on steroids. It is amazing! I will have to save observations about China for another blog, because just the experiences in air travel are totally worthy of a blog.


Back to the dreaded experience in the airport…because there is nothing like the completely helpless feeling of being stranded with no local money, no cell phone and no understanding of the spoken or written language. When the whole airport got socked in by fog, the board started to flash red and put up estimated departure times hours after the initial times. I sat and thought of the people picking me up in Shanghai trying not to panic. As I watched everyone around me speaking on their cell phones helpfully informing those on the other end of their changed arrival times, I finally worked up the courage to ask the man next to me: “English?” He stared at me blankly. I pantomimed talking on the phone and asking if I can call Shanghai… again just a blank stare. I asked the girl across from me, and again, nothing. At this point I was getting the weird looks – no wonder – I am quite literally the only blonde in the whole terminal (unless it came from a bottle!) Alright, in for a penny, in for a pound. Since I have established a halting relationship with the guy next to me (eye contact and helplessness on my end) I leave my backpack on my seat and walk up to counter.

Yes, I do the unthinkable and leave my stuff, because with several flights delayed at just our gate there is no seating space, and I don’t want to lose my chair. I walk up to the counter, which is staffed, and the sweet looking girl isn’t being haraunged by evil customers (I wonder if their airport police are scarier), and I again go through my English? Phone routine… with no luck. Oh, oh! I am in trouble! I can’t find an English speaker. I return to my seat, defeated. This is the worst feeling ever! After about an hour, realizing that people will be getting into the car to drive over an hour across the city to pick me up, I decide to get desperate and leave my snack on the seat, hoping this will save it, and go a little further afield. I turn one way and see a coffee shop and hope for wifi there, but nope, then turn around and see a huge sign that declares: “internet leisure” and I am hoping that means they have internet or phones!  As I approach their counter I am politely told in Chinese that there are no computers available. No, I can’t understand Chinese, but I could see the computers in use and tell that she was trying to tell me that I was out of luck. I smiled, interrupted her information with “Telephone?” and got redirected to the one man who spoke English and the Hallelujah chorus broke out in my mind as I smiled broadly and got to finally ask for a phone call to Shanghai. Message on the other end received AND having found a means to communicate with them, I relaxed as much as I could and settled in for the long wait. The fog eventually cleared and I cheered when I saw the first flight announce that it was boarding. Not out loud, of course, I was already sticking out way too much among my sober travel companions!

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