Yahweh said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is what they begin to do. Now nothing will be withheld from them, which they intend to do. Come, let’s go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” (Genesis 11:6 7 WEB)
One of the advantages of serving as an audio consultant is the occasional opportunity to visit other studios to provide advice. I serviced equipment in Hong Kong a couple of times. One visit to Hong Kong was scheduled to coincide with the need for consultation on a new studio under construction in Kao Shiung, Taiwan.
The first flight was from Guam to Hong Kong. There I used two days to align and maintain a number of reel to reel recorders and other studio equipment. (In the days before digital audio.) This kept me busy with little extra time to see the town. The most I as able to see was when we, my colleagues and myself, went to find something to eat. One of my friends lived in Hong Kong for many years and knew the Chinese language, Mandarin, quite well.
One evening we went for dinner in a restaurant which served a number of American delicacies including the infamous hamburger. At times, when I’m traveling, I appreciate an item I can usually identify and know won’t cause my stomach to object. Adventure in food is OK when close to home, but when traveling it can be a disaster. So, this evening I ordered a hamburger.
Our conversation included the events of the day and news from our families. After a few minutes I was rewarded with a nice looking burger and fries. Just what I like. Poking through the condiments on the table I could not find mustard, one of the basic ingredients for a good burger. When the waitress returned I attempted to request this spice for my sandwich to no avail. She didn’t understand English. Bill, my friend fluent in Chinese, made the attempt. He used a number of words, descriptions, phrases and gestures until the waitress appeared to understand and departed on the hunt. A few minutes later she returned with soy sauce, ketchup and something we have not been able to identify to this day. I ate my burger with only ketchup.
The third day I prepared for the flight to Taiwan. Everything was arranged and the director’s brother was to meet me at the airport. His big concern was whether his brother could find me in the crowd. I didn’t think that was a problem. I was in the last row of a 747 taking off toward the city of Hong Kong. Anyone who has flown into or out of the old airport understands the steep climb necessary to prevent crashing into the tall buildings. The tail of the plane, where I was sitting, dropped like a roller coaster and scared the daylights out of me!
An hour later I landed in Taiwan. As I departed the plane and walked across the tarmac the idea of being found in the crowd became humorous. I was the only western, white, foreigner on the airplane! I stuck out like a pole, literally, head and shoulders above all the remaining passengers. It wasn’t a problem for Andrew (his westernized name) to spot me coming through immigration. One small bag of test equipment and a taller than normal foreigner.
After a quick tour of the small town we came to the building where the new office and studio were under construction. The studio was on the fifth floor with one wall of the studio bordering the elevator shaft creating a number of noise problems. When we added in the need for air conditioning, to keep from suffocating the workers, we decided it was a large project which needed some rework. There were old walls to remove, new walls to build and rooms inside of rooms to be constructed as a sound barrier. My job was only to make recommendations on the construction and materials.
After surveying the room, making some sketches and lists, we headed to the ground floor for some lunch. Andrew is Chinese. He was born and raised in Hong Kong. When the waitress handed us menus in the southern Taiwanese dialect I was at a loss. The pictures, which didn’t look very appetizing, didn’t help me interpret the menu. I turned to my native speaking colleague and asked him to order something for both of us. He promptly entered into a ten minute conversation with the waitress. They pointed at the menu, discussed and described items, pointed some more and eventually she made a note on her pad and departed.
I turned to Andrew and asked, “So, what are we having for lunch?”
“I have no idea,” was his unexpected response. “Her accent is so different and the dialect so far removed from Taipei I can’t understand what she’s saying. It will be an adventure!”
Adventure was true. I’m not sure what I ate but it tasted OK, went down, and stayed down. That’s always a blessing when traveling. A couple of hours later I was on my way back to Hong Kong to catch a connecting flight back to my home on Guam.
More than once I’ve encountered language difficulties in the course of our ministry. Currently living in a land with a native language other than English is a challenge. I’m reminded, over and over, of the need for people from every tongue and nation to be proclaiming the gospel to people in their home land. God may use us in a language we’ve learned. However, there is none so eloquent to reach another as one raised in the same language. Let’s praise God for lifting up workers in every language and nation on earth and watch Him accomplish his purpose of bringing the Gospel to the world.