Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Touring the Museum

My tour-guide, the only one who spoke maybe ten words of English, ran me through the museum complex as if she were rushing to the hospital to give birth. She knew how to say "go straight ahead," "go to left," and "go to right." When we entered a bedroom, she could say "It is sleep place." In a room filled with scrolls and calligraphy sets, she said "it is read-place." As we crossed an atrium, she pointed to a tree and said, proudly, "it is tree." She moved on hastily, as if forestalling any questions about what sort of tree, how old it was, or why it was being pointed out to me. 

She refused to have her picture taken, and didn't want me to take any pictures of anything we saw. I assumed that photography wasn't allowed, but then I saw Chinese tourists taking flash photos of everything. I realized that she was just unwilling to wait long enough for me to take pictures. I think, too, that she felt nervous — as if escorting me through the buildings in English were a sort of Spoken-English pop quiz.

I asked a few questions, tried to be friendly, and expressed my enjoyment of the artisan works all around me. She didn't understand most of my questions, and she couldn't explain to me what the large-ish complex had originally been originally, but she had calmed, and slowed down, considerably by the time we got to the end. 

Finally, she finished her tour: "here there are the two arches, that means health and something," pointed me to the exit, and said "now can take any pictures want to." I thanked her, turned around, and started walking back through the places we'd seen before — this time, luxuriating in the scenery and, indeed, taking any pictures I wanted to.

A few minutes later, she reappeared, smiling, and offered to take my picture in front of one of the buildings.

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