“This”

(Through Rose-Coloured Glasses)

Forty years ago, we arrived as foreign students. This was our first taste of independence. We usually lived in dorms or with fellow students in rental rooms/houses around our universities, home away from home. Some of us even learned to cook for ourselves. When friends came to visit, they were surprised that we liked chicken wings so much that we had them for every meal. We always explained that’s because chicken wings were cheap. In those days they only cost $1.00 for 3 lbs. But the actual fact was, we don’t know what else to buy. We don’t know the English names of most food products. Minced pork, prime ribs, chicken gizzards, those are exotic words not taught in high school, not the requirement for university entrance, and were definitely not included in our vacabulary. So we just kept asking for what we knew, i.e. chicken wings.

But man cannot live on chicken wings alone. Eventually, we developed a simple smart scheme. Although our vacabulary was still extremely limited, but then we survived much better. The magic was to use the word “THIS”, with one finger pointing, we told the butcher or shop-lady, “I want this, this and this.” Simple, we understood each other perfectly, and the transaction was quickly completed. We had more varieties on our dinner plates.

Our vacabulary and our diet improved and we adapted into the Canadian way of life, we don’t have to use “THIS” scheme anymore.

But now forty years later, who can imagine, we are once again faced with a dilemma. We have to resort to “THIS”, the simple and reliable scheme. We are so forgetful nowadays, occasionally we cannot recall even our friend’s names. So once again when shopping, we may have to resort to finger pointing and THIS.

Nowadays as the composition of the Chinese Canadian immigrants keeps changing, we are faced with a new language barrier, in Chinatown. There are many Mandarin/Putonghua speaking workers. The other day, I was ordering a food tray in a Chinese supermarket, the shopgirl didn’t understand my Cantonese and I, her English. Finally we have to resort to the catalogue pictures and with one finger pointing, “I want this, this and this.”

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