Picture this: I was in China, in Kunming. I needed to send a package back to Australia.
Now, Beijing gets a lot of tourists, so your odds of finding someone who speaks English aren’t too bad. Kunming, however, has hardly ANY English speakers.
I was staying in a hotel, and had put a package together to send in a bag. So, I headed to a post office a few doors down. Pointing at the bag of stuff they understood that I wanted to send a package and sold me a box. Score, they were being really helpful. Then I started writing the address on top, including the Chinese for Australia. I was pretty proud of myself for learning that, and especially how to say it.
As soon as I said it aloud, though, their expressions changed. No no no. Can’t send that. I was perplexed. Was I not able to send items through customs? So they wrote something down on a piece of paper in Chinese, handed it to me and indicated that my package and I had to leave.
I guess I had to work out what they’d written on the piece of paper. Should be easy, right? Back to the hotel! The staff should be able to help. SHOULD, I say. But as the only English-speaking staff member was not working at the time, the feverish pointing and encouragement to leave by the concierge did little to help me.
Ok, what to do? Well, there was a pirated DVD store across the road. Surely someone there would have learnt English from all the stolen movies and TV series, right? Wrong. Season after season of the Simpsons and all the Die Hard movies lined their shelves, but no one could answer me in English. I just wanted to know what the note said!
Instead, the friendly store attendant ushered me out of the store enthusiastically and immediately flagged down a taxi. He started pushing me to get in.
Whoa whoa whoa! I ain’t going nowhere! I didn’t have the hotel address with me, so getting into a cab would mean being lost in Kunming and not knowing how to get back. But at least it seemed like the piece of paper was probably an address.
Woo! Time to go on a random cab trip (with a return address) to a mystery location. 😀
Turned out that it was the address for the main post office in central Kunming which deals with packages to foreign countries, which kind of makes sense.
I did appreciate how helpful everyone was trying to be, though.
- Not everyone in China is trying to sell you something! (Though it is very common in touristy areas).
- When in a country where you don’t know the local language, take your hotel/hostel’s address card with you at all times. Every hotel should have a card they can give you so that you can give it to a taxi driver and find your way back. This is very very helpful, and generally much more effective than a scrawl of the address in your own handwriting.
- Don’t get into a cab if you don’t know how to get back!
- People everywhere just want to help. I love that about travelling, so always say thank you!