Tag: communication

Reincarnated

In early October, I posted about the widely publicized and public demolition of Rústica, a Limeño restaurant/club that was on the verge of opening for the first time in Huancayo as a section of the sole mall in the city. The political drama surrounding the incident was more intricate and complex than I originally thought.

Rústica Renovado
After the demolition a couple months ago, Rústica is now as good as new.
Update: Rústica is now fully-functioning and a popular hang out spot for those who have a little extra money to spend. The ground-level is a karaoke bar and club while the second floor is a scrumptious restaurant (my favourite dish is the pizza).

It turns out that the person responsible for the October demolition was Jorge Rodríguez, a provisional mayor who was probably taking advantage of the limited amount of time he would be in power. People agree that the mayor before him, Freddy Arana, was generally a good mayor. He just had some big people in government who weren’t on his side.

Rústica Huancayo
This is what Rústica looks like from inside of the mall.
When Arana was usurped, Rodríguez was appointed in his place but knew that he would only be in the position for a few months because the national mayoral elections were coming up. When the Rústica opportunity arose, he jumped at the chance to make a name for himself. He called the national press and rallied his men to demolish instead of giving Rústica time to respond to the government’s demands regarding the licenses they needed. It became obvious that it was a set-up when all of the press left after Rodríguez felt he had achieved his goal; the journalists didn’t even stick around to hear Rústica’s side of the story. They were probably being paid to be there. Only one set of journalists stayed – an old man and his son who were taping for a local channel.

Demolished

For months, there has been a lot of excitement over a new restaurant/club that would be opening at the end of September – it’s part of a chain from Lima called Rústica. The construction of the 2-storey building attached to Huancayo’s only mall had been going strong for around three months and faced a main street (Giraldez); people would peek through the cracks around the huge Rústica banners and imagine the yummy food they would have, the live bands they would see, the pizzazz, the action.

During the last week of September, people were handing out Rústica brochures on Giraldez Street inviting everyone to its inauguration on the 30th of September. The blessed day came, I headed over to the restaurant after work in the evening to take part in the festivities, and… there was nothing going on. Everything was as it was before, as if construction hadn’t finished yet, but this time there was a wall of police officers standing at the entrance with their human-tall shields they usually use for strikes and riots.

We heard in the news the next day that Rústica failed to obtain a government license to sell food and liquor on the premises. The inauguration date was postponed until October 7th. We waited patiently.

It’s the morning of October 7th. On the way to work, there’s a commotion at the Rústica site. Police officers are once again in the area, this time actively keeping the public at bay, forcing everyone to cross the street away from the action. Government officials enter Rústica and out comes a single lady, the sole representative available at 9:00am in the morning. They want to demolish the building, but why? Maybe they weren’t able to obtain a license to sell on time? Maybe the government was never planning to grant Rústica this license? We overhear part of the conversation – they needed another license for building on top of the sole wheelchair path to the mall?

The lady yells in desperation: “Esperen! Esperen!” (Wait!) She asks them to wait for her boss to arrive, but the front end loader is already advancing. The truck is already breaking the frame of the front entrance. Other government construction workers throw bricks at sections of glass where the truck isn’t able to enter. There’s more kerfuffle – a guy is pissed that the police officer is shoving him to get out of the way so he drops his bag to start a fight, a lady says that her things are inside the construction (now demolition) site and she wants entry but the officer continues to push her aside like the others.

What a Thursday morning.

Ah, oui?

I took rideshare through the company Allo Stop to travel between Montreal and Quebec.

On the way to Quebec, my driver was an eccentric older man and we were riding in his boxy black minivan decorated with purple decals on the sides. I shook his hand and said my name. That was easy. Then he said something to me in French – I shook my head embarrassedly and smiled nervously – “I’m sorry. I don’t speak French.”

“Your bag?” he says.

Oh! I should have known. I thought he might have said “bagages” (bug-AWJ). He asked to take my bag and stuffed it in the trunk.

I introduced myself to the other guy standing around. He was Asian but seemed to only speak French. They continued to chat with each other. Another guy arrived – same deal.

I try to break a quick silence – “So, you speak a bit of English?” I say to the driver. He says he speaks a little. He asks if the others speak English and it seems like they mumble and shake their heads, but later the Asian guy asks where I’m from. It turns out he speaks English really well. He’s from Madagascar and is studying law at Laval – he also speaks Cantonese!

Nevertheless, they preferred to speak French so I spent the 2-hour trip to Quebec falling in and out of sleep in the back seat, noticing at times that someone would turn around to see if my eyes were still closed and I’d overhear a comment about “dormir.”

They were nice enough. I made sure to wave and smile after I was dropped off and they all waved back.

On the way back to Montreal, I had a different experience. This time I was in a luxury SUV with a large, muscular African Canadian man as the driver. I noticed that he didn’t seem very chatty – the girl who sat in the front with him was trying to chat him up for the first 20 minutes but realized that he was only giving one word answers so the rest of the trip was mostly in silence. She was a backpacker through and through with her hair up in an elaborate bandana, handmade bracelets, odds and ends hanging from her backpack, smoking weed at the rest stop. She would turn around randomly during the trip and give me a goofy smile. (I think it was more because I was sitting in the middle in her line of vision and also because I was the only one that smiled back).

I didn’t feel so bad this time because it wasn’t so much like everyone was talking in French and I couldn’t understand; it was more like no one was talking to each other.

At this point, I was proud of what little French words I had picked up and also of my resourcefulness. I had overhead the guy beside me ask the girl behind if the window was alright open as it was (I understood this mostly from his gestures). The girl responded with “c’est bon”. Later, when the driver turned around and said something to me, I was able to pick up the word “bagages” (which I took to refer to the backpack I had in my lap) so I responded with “c’est bon” strategically when a truck was passing by so that my non-French accent would be muffled by the noise. Pat on the back, me!

There was another moment, after the rest stop, that he turned around and asked something similar, this time pointing to the hand rest in between himself and the girl. I assumed he meant that I could put my backpack there if I wanted to. “Ah way?” I say. I had noticed that a lot of people here pronounce “Oui” (French for “Yes”) as “Way” instead of “Wee.”

“Merci!” I say and put my bag up on the handrest so that I have more space.

Aren’t I just so fake Quebecois?

You Interpret Me

A couple months ago, I had the chance to meet with a professor in Vancouver who grew up and studied in South America earning her Master’s before moving here. At one point in the conversation, after demonstrating my Spanish ability, I share that I would like to take some courses while in Peru, but that I have a really difficult time with academic articles in Spanish. I feel comfortable conversing with others and defending my opinions, I even recognize most of the vocabulary, but I always finish reading feeling as if I hadn’t understood.

To my surprise, she completely understood and had an unexpected (to me) explanation. How could a born-and-raised South American ever feel the same as I do about reading in Spanish? It turns out, it all has to do with writing style. In North America, there is a clear introduction outlining the body of the paper, then each issue one-by-one, and then a conclusion summing everything up. That’s the way I learned to write and communicate. On the other hand, a respected academic paper in South America can have a lot of back-and-forth arguments with only the mere suggestion of a point – one has to interpret what the author is trying to say. It was why she had a hard time translating an article written by her Peruvian colleague for a North American audience.

To me, it was a concrete example of how a circular or cyclical worldview could permeate a lifestyle and it only made me more excited about what other new ways of being and knowing I will discover.

A good friend of mine lent me his Teaching Company DVD on the Conquest of the Americas. The professor, Dr. Marshall C. Eakin, is talking about the key factors that led to European expansion and eventual colonization of the Americas – political centralization, economic dynamism (capitalism, trading), technology (ship features, astronomy, math), and culture/mentality.

This last factor was the most complex and the most interesting to me. It encompasses the development of modern science (the world should be manipulated and dominated) and the role of religion (aggressive evangelism). It became clear that it wasn’t only science promoting the premise that the natural world was ours to understand, when Dr. Eakin quoted Genesis 1:28 – “Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth and subdue it and have dominion over it.”

Both science and religion also follow a linear and progressive worldview. There is a beginning and an end, a strong belief in cause-and-effect. It’s the notion of being on a path and that one will finally get “there.” In fact, I can see how this kind of uni-directional point of view permeates many (all?) different fields and ways of knowing. It’s at least one way of understanding what’s behind these ideas: that I achieve by setting excellent goals, success = completion, the drive for “conquering” or “finishing”, or that it’s possible to have the “answer(s)”.

Dr. Eakin contrasted this with the cyclical and seasonal worldview of Asians, Africans, and Native Americans, at least at the time. Their focus was on recurring patterns, balance between different factors, and fluidity. It was less time-oriented and they valued intuition.

It’s why the idea of living and learning in another country is so appealing to me. Of course, I learn the language as best as I can and I learn about the customs and traditions, but beyond that I absorb an entirely new way of being that affects how people express themselves, how decisions are made, how relationships function, and so much more.

Sometimes I forget that I don’t even need to travel outside of my own city to experience language barriers and misunderstandings. What’s beautiful is to be reminded that there’s more to communication than language.

I’m sitting at the bus stop when an old, petite lady sets her bags down on the bench with me. She stays standing. I’m in a good mood and strike up a conversation.

“That will be heavy to carry home.”

“No,” she says shaking her head as if it’s no big deal. She says a few more words – some incomprehensible – but I get the picture that she doesn’t have far to walk. I’m a little surprised that I can’t understand her because she looks European, if not Canadian. I figure I just didn’t hear properly.

“How many blocks do you have to walk?”

“One and a half.”

There is some silence and the conversation seems over.

“You’re Filipino?” she suddenly says. Now, this is surprising. No one ever guesses I have even the slightest Filipino blood – Chinese probably, Korean or Japanese maybe, but never Filipino, never without having seen my last name, and never in Vancouver – a city that boasts(?) the largest proportion of Chinese in Canada.

“Yes! How did you know?” I ask.

She begins to regale me with a story that I continue to not understand. I know she’s speaking English because some words come out loud and clear and she nods firmly after every few sentences, her body language exuding confidence as if I should be following everything she says. I’m trying hard to.

“Five days.”
“Millionaire.”
“Filipino.”

I’m nodding and saying, “Yeah,” intermittently as I collect clues on what she’s talking about. It’s as if we’re actually having a conversation. She convinces me that we are with the way she’s speaking to me – no hesitation, no pauses, no doubts, no verification questions (“Right?” “You know?”) I try to change the subject because I finally realize that she’s talking in circles…I think.

“What language do you speak?” I ask.

“Yes!” she says confidently with a sharp downward turn of the head. I almost forget what question I had and nod in agreement with her.

I try again.

“You speak another language?”

“I speak English.”

I try other ways of asking the question.

“I am Greek.” Oh, that explains it – or does it? I continue to be naïve about the stereotypes of different countries and cultures. I consider my naivete one of my greatest strengths.

The lady is eating an ice cream bar with a purpose.

“Greek-Canadian,” she confirms.

The bus is coming so we both get up and I offer to help her with her bags. There are a lot of senior citizens in my neighbourhood and I often help old ladies carry their bags home. This lady politely refuses with a smile and says “Salamat” – another clue to add to my inventory: maybe this Filipina lady in her life had some sort of influence. Despite her small stature, she assuredly bypasses the line up of people to get on the bus first and secure herself a good seat by the door.

At my stop, I’m conscious to see if she’s getting up as well. It seems like she is, but is she waiting for me to get up first? We have a bit of a miscommunication so I never really get a chance to say goodbye as she gets up. I thank the bus driver and when I walk off the bus, I turn my head slightly to catch a glimpse of whether she got off or not. She seems to be talking to the bus driver, as if convincing him to let her off the next block over. I wonder she is able to get her point across in the same “English” she used with me earlier.

At the end of my block, I turn the corner and look back. She’s walking behind me. The bus driver must have denied her request. I give a hearty wave and she communicates a goodbye with a firm nod my way. I think I see a hint of a smile.

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