In Which I Realize What I Have Lost and Do Some Family Dining
That weekend Pan came with me again to the park. She was thinking about doing stone lock throwing too. My voice had not gotten better, in fact I realized that day, as my parents called my cell phone in the park, that it was getting worse. It was cracking more and I couldn’t even hit high notes anymore. Any third tones I tried to say in Chinese ended in a breathless squeak. I was horrified. Loosing my ability to communicate seemed like just about the worst thing that could happen. How would I call my parents everyday? Let alone talk to the people around me or teach!
I burst out crying, big wracking sobs that traumatized my gongfu friends. To this day, Er Yang and Da Yang still give me grief about the time I got sick, cried and made them feel so terrible. I left the park. Pan escorted me to the hospital. All the special doctors were busy, so I had to get a number for one of the regular doctors. It felt like a very long wait, I was hungry and I couldn’t speak at all. I could barely understand what the doctor said. He sprayed something nasty down my throat, inspected it as best he could with me still crying and said he didn’t think much was overly wrong, perhaps some irritation to the vocal cords and that this was obviously brought about by stress. I was furious.
“I’m not stressed!” I squeaked out to Pan, who was playing interpreter.
The doctor looked skeptical. He said I should get lots of sleep and I told him that I wasn’t tired, I didn’t even feel sick, I just couldn’t talk. He maintained his diagnosis of stress and exhaustion. He prescribed some medicine and told me that I couldn’t talk for a week.
“A week? I can’t not talk for a week! I’ll loose my job!” I rasped.
The doctor said that there was no other way, I was going to have to take a week off of classes. Yeah right. I was just going to have to find a way to teach mute.
I was still weeping out of anger on the way back to the apartment and I discovered it was impossible to communicate with Pan without a voice. Our body language was too different, too foreign. For literally months now people had been complaining that they couldn’t understand my body and facial language and here was the ultimate proof. In retrospect, while this was the most miserable part of my stay in China, being able to communicate without a voice was probably the best thing that happened to me, because it forced me act Chinese instead of just speaking it.
I did teach mute, just as I had determined. I had my classes so well trained by that point that I only had to write a prompting word or sentence on the board to get them to speak. They were sad that I wouldn’t sing with them, but seemed to manage well enough. One of my companies was really good about it. They commended me for trying my best and offered me time off. The other one, Yang Ling’s company, told me they had complaints from the school about my lack of talking. I told them I had no voice and they told me to try harder. I dropped their Friday night class, because I couldn’t take the staying up late and the Sunday afternoon class became a nightmare. The students were teenagers and they grew discontent with the way class was going. They just sat there and refused to talk. Corneil, the institute, said I had to make them talk. I told them the proverb about bringing a horse to water, but I think they would have just used an IV. I felt miserable not being able to talk and this was not helping.
Daily life, restaurants and such, seemed unchanged. I’m not even sure they noticed that I had switched to sign language. Most foreigners can’t speak anyway. The park was the hardest though. They expected me to talk and were hurt when I didn’t, so I was forced to scratch out a few words. I even ran into one of my shixiong on my way to the post office. This may not sound like a big deal, but you have to understand that the post office is amazingly far away, and I had planned to take the bus, but he insisted I not waste 2 kuai on such a “short” ride and walked me there. He wanted to talk and was miffed that I mostly just nodded or shook my head. My Achilles tendons were acting up too. I’d been having trouble with them since last year and it had mostly cleared up since I arrived in China, but I did have my bad days. At least he was a gentleman and carried the package I had gone to pick up. He wanted to show me the park on that street, but I just didn’t feel like I was in any condition to go park viewing.
The only person who seemed to enjoy my muteness was Da Yang. Talking was his passion and the idea of a listener who couldn’t interrupt his flow of speech was heavenly. Da Yang even came over bearing fruit to wish me well. It was the weekend, so Pan was home and he regaled her with stories of his crazy youth. I hardly understood any of it, especially since he kept slipping into Shanghai hua. Pan would tell him to use Common Tongue AKA Mandarin, so that I could understand, but he kept forgetting. After he left, Pan summarized the stories for me. One about his wife trying to get the better of him, one of using fajing on a guard dog and a tale about his shifu, who was a pre-WWII body guard. I looked forward to the day when his stories would need no translation and I could laugh right along with everyone else.