Conversationally, I’m well aware I’m in the deep-end here in China, and the people here are very helpful despite my obvious short-comings. Certainly that limits what I can do here, what I can express and talk about, but I have moderate ambitions and expectations. But intentions don’t always need words. A nod and a smile is sometimes all that’s needed (that’s all the lady at passport control in Huanggang Port on Sunday to tell me my paperwork was in order). It is less of a learning curve and more of a adapting curve. It’s the experiencing a different culture that’s important to me right now, not checking into a list of venues. My success is whether I can be myself and have good memories of this trip, or fail fast by figuring out pretty quickly that I’m not up for travelling to foreign countries.
Learning Mandarin, like any language will take time. I managed a week working in Paris by myself once, falling back to French learned in high school 15 years earlier. I managed, including a shopping trip for necessities. It was only a week, and I had the fallback plan of asking a French work colleague for help if I ever did get stuck. I followed their lead for a visit to the sandwich shop for lunch, to the extent I went back twice more by myself, with everything I needed memorised, politeness, and a slightly nervous smile. Small steps, set up a comfort zone base camp, a secure foundation in which to grow.
Not understanding scares me, I really don’t like not knowing what is going on. I had some uncertaintly about whether I bought the right ticket for getting from Hong Kong to my hotel in Shenzhen, but it looks like I got the important bits right. I had a backup plan of getting from Huanggang Port to my hotel; several slips of paper with the address of the hotel written in both English and Chinese. That’s my backup plan throughout my trip if I ever get lost. Hop into an official maroon-coloured taxi, give the driver the paper, and just accept that there’s the risk of being overcharged, but I’ll get back to my hotel.
My friends know me well, when I’m not in my comfort zone, even my backup plans have backup plans. They joke, but they know that is how I deal with uncertainty. I overthink things, in relationships that’s a problem, but in expanding my always-too-limited comfort zone, it’s how an introvert breaks out of his current shell into a newer and bigger shell.