A new experience

I’ve never before been asked the question, “Do you speak English?”

Helen and Kai and I are in Honolulu for a few days, having stopped over on our way to China. This morning being Sunday, I hopped onto Google Maps and quickly ascertained that a thirty-minute walk away from our hotel one could find 檀島華人宣道會 — that is, the Honolulu Chinese Alliance Church. There was a Chinese service at 10:00 and an English one at 11:30, and I figured we could just go to the Chinese service and I could practice my Mandarin.

Actually, it would have been better had we gone to the English service. We would have caused much less trouble to our new friends…because the Chinese service was in Cantonese, not Mandarin. A shy but apparently very sweet young lady, who looked to be somewhere between about seventeen and about twenty-two, was therefore assigned to translate into Mandarin on our behalf, whereas if we had simply gone to the English service, no translator would have been necessary. There are three special chairs in back for visitors who do not speak Cantonese, each with a set of headphones. Katrina (that being the translator’s English name) translates into Mandarin, speaking softly into a microphone that is linked up with the headphones, and all is well as long as you only have three people who don’t understand Cantonese (and as long as they all do understand Mandarin, which would seem to be highly likely since one presumes that otherwise they would be considerate enough to go to the English service). Helen, of course, spent a year working in Hong Kong, and she quickly decided that she could understand the minister fine without the headphones. But Kai and I sat through the service wearing our headphones, while Katrina sat two feet from me speaking very quietly into the microphone so as not to disturb the rest of the congregation. And it says a very great deal for Katrina’s abilities as a translator that I was able to follow a lot of the sermon, because her pronunciation was as clear as a bell — which it has to be if I’m going to understand anything at all.

I might also add that one of the songs was sung in Mandarin, and there didn’t seem to be many people singing other than the worship leaders and Helen and Kai and (this being a song that is also sung in Houston Chinese Church and parts of which I therefore know) sometimes me. I strongly suspect they changed up their song selection at the last minute out of kindness to their visitors.

But the most memorable part of the day, for me, happened before the service started. When the three of us walked into the church fellowship hall, one of the ladies realized that visitors were present and hurried over to give us a cheerful greeting. “Where are you from?” she asked, in accented but clear English.

“我们是中国人 [Wǒmen shì zhōngguó rén],上海人[Shànghǎi rén]” answered Helen in Mandarin — “We’re Chinese, from Shanghai.” (This is as best as I recall and so if there are grammatical problems there you can safely assume the fault is in my memory, not in Helen’s Mandarin.)

“啊,中国人,” she responded, clearly making a rapid mental adjustment from her initial assumptions. Then she looked at me in some confusion…and then made my day by asking, in obvious confusion, “Do you speak English?”

I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that before; so, as I always enjoy new experiences, that was fun. (I have to admit that I was sorely tempted to answer, with a straight face and in tones of deep regret, “Discúlpeme, Señora, yo no entiendo,” but one should always get to know other people for at least a few minutes before commencing to tease them.)

I enjoyed the service very much, despite being even more lost than I usually am in a Chinese service — communion at least is, after all, a more or less universal Christian language. And the sermon was on one of my favorite passages of Scripture, Romans 8. If I’m ever in Honolulu again of a Sunday morn, I’ll be back at 1110 Isenberg Street.

But next time I’ll save everyone some trouble and just go to the English service.

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American Airlines and United fail to impress…which is hardly a surprise

Helen, Kai, and I checked in at 5:00 a.m. for our flight to Hawaii a couple of days ago. We had relatively cheap tickets, because rather than taking a direct flight, we were flying United to LAX and then taking American to Honolulu. At check-in, when our boarding passes printed out, we had good news and bad news. The good news was that we were all three cleared for TSA Pre express security. The bad news was that, according to the boarding pass computer, they didn’t know yet from where in LAX the second leg was going to leave; they only knew we were landing at Terminal 7.

So I waited until it was close to time to board in Houston, and then asked the girl at the gate, who told me we would leave from Terminal 2.

This rather annoyed me because that meant having to go out onto the street, catch a bus from Terminal 7 to Terminal 2, and then to go back through security – and our second round of boarding passes was not marked TSA Pre.

We get to LAX, and as I’m following the signs to Terminal 2 something is nagging at me. We get out on the street and I figure out what it is – I don’t think American uses Terminal 2. So I check the flight status on aa.com…and although it doesn’t give a gate, it does say the flight is leaving from Terminal 4, which we could have gotten to without leaving security. But now we are on the street and on the wrong side of the TSA geniuses.

There’s nothing for it. We hike down to terminal 4, go through the slow version of security, and find a screen so that we can figure out which gate to go to. It says Gate 61, which is an odd gate for Terminal 4. There is, however, a sign that says that Gates 40 – 49 and Gates 60 – 69 are both in the same direction. We follow the signs…and “Gates 60-69” turns out to be an escalator down to a shuttle bus stop that will take us from Terminal 4 to Terminal 6, which as you might have guessed has been next door to Terminal 7 all along. But at least we don’t have to go out and go back through security.

We go down the escalator to the shuttle bus stop. There is a woman there ahead of us who is rather old and rather painfully obese. Her husband is worried that there will be stairs at the other end; but the girl at this gate tells him there are no stairs and no problem. Meanwhile another woman is on her phone trying to get information. It turns out she is NOT going to Honolulu. And her flight started the day off at Gate Forty-Something, and then got changed to Gate 61; but it has been changed again and will now be leaving from the Tom Bradley International Terminal, in about half an hour…and there is no shuttle bus service so she is going to have to go out on the street, walk a quarter of a mile or so, and go back through security. Um, I hope she isn’t going to be too inconvenienced when she misses her flight, which to me now seems more or less inevitable.

Our shuttle bus arrives; we climb on along with the other Honolulu passengers. We drive across several runways, dodging planes and baggage trucks…it is astonishing how much non-plane traffic is running around out in the landing and taxiing areas. Finally we arrive at Gate 61, and of COURSE there is a huge double flight of stairs for the poor lady to have to climb.

Moral of the story: if you can avoid connecting to an American Airlines flight in LAX by paying a premium to fly direct…whatever it costs, it’s probably worth it.