I have invented the Universal Translator

This week in Shanghai was just how I like it. Not a lot of North Americans around, foreign language signs everywhere, taxi quirks and lots of superb Asian packaging!

I don’t speak Chinese, not even a little. All of my colleagues are Chinese and one, Yan Li, very kindly kept a running translation of things for me throughout our various meetings. I “made the mistake” at one point of appearing to be engaged when everyone around me was speaking Mandarin. I mean I WAS engaged, I just couldn’t understand anything being said.

I made eye contact with the person speaking. I found myself laughing when others laughed; nodding when someone was obviously making a point about something; scowling when someone was annoyed about something.

Slowly but surely, I realized I didn’t actually need to know the words being spoken. I relaxed into being a part of the conversation. With the odd name here or English word there, I was actually able to vaguely track where things were going.

I think there’s a lesson to be learned in here somewhere. Something about universal truths or shared humanity; about focusing on connection. All I know is that this was a new experience for me…and it made me happy.

PS. I would still really like to have a real-time gadget stuck in my ear but that’s more about the gadget than its application! 

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