I just had a very interesting experience. I was waiting to board my flight and noticed an Asian man trying to talk to an Air Canada representative at the gate. There was confusion. A moment later, a call went out over the PA for a Chinese interpreter. They were looking at me. I kind of shrugged because I wasn’t going to be much good. I didn’t even have my phrase book with me!

Soon enough though, the man came over to me. He started speaking in a stream of Mandarin, gesturing and questioning. I went to the old standby, saying in fractured Chinese that I spoke English. I wanted to help but I didn’t know what to do. He walked away
and sat down.

A moment later I had an idea. I waved the man over and said “Piao!” a couple of times. It’s one of my few Chinese words and means “ticket.” I didn’t know how to say “boarding pass” but he understood anyway, pulling the boarding pass from his messenger bag. The whole time, he was talking to me in Chinese, probably thinking I’d had a revelation of some kind and finally snapped into my genetic birthright to speak putonghua.

It seemed that he was looking for his luggage. He was in an entirely wrong part of the airport for this. I pointed him in the right direction and hoped he could find his way. The Montreal airport has added a black tint to the big glass doors leading to the luggage claim area. I’m not surprised he couldn’t find it.

Anyway, I felt bad for him. And I knew just how he felt. He’d just gotten off a flight from Hong Kong and was totally lost with no way to communicate. If this man manages to find his luggage then I will have paid back, in a small way, the many kindnesses
shown to me in China.