My co-teacher and I have gathered a little pile of goodies for each of our English professors. Tomorrow is the last day of classes, and we will give out those gifts. Because of the eclectic nature of the stuff we have gathered—I from the USA and she from the Philippines—we decided it would be good to tie things together with ribbon.

Where does one buy ribbon? I do not speak enough Chinese to ask. A team member tells me I can find it at Ito’s, the Japanese department store, but not at Joseph’s, the Chinese grocery. That is not the “name” of either place, but for simple communication, it works. Ito has a lot more to the name and Joseph is painted in bright stripes, hence a coat of many colors…

I set off for Ito, walking down the street, into the north campus gate, across campus, out the west gate, down to the corner, across with the throngs, and up the ring-road to the west. I know that there is some stationery on the fifth floor of Ito, so I head up the escalator.

No dice—markers, pencils, pens, tablets, all sorts of cute little kitsch, but no ribbon. Okay, I think, maybe I’ll try the grocery on the minus-one floor. There are all sorts of little shops there around the edges of the main grocery. Down six flights of escalators to the basement…but alas, no ribbon or paper goods. I walk over to the elevator and ponder the sign. There IS some English on it, but… Well, I can see that women “shoses” are on floor two. I am thinking that is shoes, but who knows. I head back to floor five and do another Jericho loop because the elevator sign said “Stationery” and not just markers. Toward the back of the floor I find more stationery goods and a few tablets with ribbon on them. A nice clerk comes to help but of course, I have no idea what she is saying. I pull at a ribbon and make motions that this is what I want.

She says, “EEE.” That is one. I write on my hand and make sure she means one and not minus one, but she assures me that it is EEE. So I take the elevator back to floor one and do the Jericho loop there. No ribbon. I then head south again to the minus-1 floor and do a giant loop. The bakery has lovely croissants out to sample, and by now I am famished. Finally I end up at a fancy chocolate shop where they have beautifully-wrapped boxes. I motion to the clerk that I am looking for ribbon. (That means that I point to the ribbon on every single package.) She lights up, and she calls over three more women. None speak any English, but among them they decide they know what I want.

One, an older woman with a badge, grabs my wrist lightly and leads me to the escalator; we ride up to floor 1—EEE. She goes to the front, where I see that there is a place to get packages wrapped. She says something to the clerk, and a big drawer opens under the counter. RIBBON! Rolls and rolls and rolls of ribbon! I pick up a medium-sized roll of gold and motion that I would like to buy it. The clerk measures with her hands—a meter, two meters? I make a roundabout motion over the roll and say I want all of it. She looks at me and makes the same motion. I smile and say “Dwei—yes.”

I hand over my bank card, she swipes it, I tap in the six-digit pin, and she hands me a receipt to sign. She hands back my card and the roll of ribbon, and my guide smiles and waves goodbye.


©2014 Thrive.


Question to consider:  What fun communication/language story do you have to share?