Laura Madden's Blog

Stories of change

Gesturing As Communication

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In 2008, I went to China to attend the Beijing Olympics. Speaking no Mandarin, I managed to get around just fine because the government had packed the city with English-speakers. In more provincial areas, however, I had to rely on that age-old traveler’s crutch: gesturing.

In China, I can’t count the times I gestured for the bill and received a pen and paper. When I finally did get the bill, the cost was the hand signal I’ve known all my life to mean “hang loose” and I would find myself trying to communicate “Dude, I gotta jet. How much is my bill?”

Topping the list of instances where gesturing is a bad idea is with your hair stylist. Try to explain you just want a trim because you’re growing your hair out. How do you pantomime long layers? How will your hairdresser communicate a counter-suggestion? Just trust me, the outcome will not be what you’re expecting.

Communication with an octogenarian taxi driver in Dujianyan (Sichuan province) proved difficult. After each of his sentences, I sheepishly repeated my newfound Mandarin catch phrase, wo ting budon (I don’t understand). I eventually made myself understood by yelping as we drove by half-toppled buildings, probably damaged in the 8.0- magnitude earthquake earlier that year. I asked him, via gesture, whether this was the case. A simple nod was the answer. During the quake, he had fallen down and been hit by some debris, cutting a gash in his head, his index finger indicating the trail where the blood had trickled from his temple to his chin.

Tired from my long day of communication, I wandered around the neighborhood where I was staying. In search of some retail therapy, I stumbled into a lingerie store. Now, I love the idea of shopping in a lingerie store. I always imagine having some magical experience where I’ll walk out with a bunch of sexy bra and panty sets that will make me feel like a new woman. What usually happens is I’ll walk out of Victoria’s Secret in a huff, primarily because they call thirty bucks a sale. They also don’t make non-padded, non-underwire bras for women who have accepted their mammary lot in life.

So naturally, in the Chinese lingerie store, I walked past the beautiful silk bras and headed straight to the pajama section. The saleswoman stepped forward to greet me. She was wearing a smart knee-length skirt with pumps and the most adorable red shirt made of double-layered chiffon. Sheer ruffles around the neck dipped and criss-crossed the front of the shirt, making her look like a gift waiting to be unwrapped.

I wandered unexpectedly into the bra section, and the saleswoman excitedly began to take bras off the rack for me. Caught off guard, I was unable to gesture that I prefer simple cotton bras that don’t falsely advertise my goods, thankyouverymuch. She nudged me toward the fitting room and in I went with three sets of pajamas and a padded bra.

After getting changed into the most depressingly cute-except-when-on-me pajama sets, the red shirt lady joined me in the dressing room with another handful of padded bras. Annoyed, I glanced in the direction of the one she’d given me to try on earlier, still untouched on its hanger. She wasn’t taking no for an answer. In the dressing room, I realized, all need for communication is checked at the curtain.

She shoves the bra at me, an admittedly cute little padded thing with a floral design on a silky-soft material, and I grudgingly put it on. Reaching into each cup of the bra, she pushes my boobs together, then grabs my ribcage and squeezes just below the underwire. Stepping away, she smiles at her handiwork, and I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Holy cow, I have cleavage! She hands me my t-shirt so that I can see how I’ll look in my clothes. Not too bad… actually, kind of cute. She models her own rack to show how these bras make the bustline look smooth.

I peek at the pricetag. 30 yuan? Sign me up, sister! You got another one of these puppies laying around? Yeah I’ll try it on! Again with the breast adjustment, and the t-shirt test. I smile widely, gesturing that I’ll take the pair. Ripping the tags off one, she hands it back to me and takes my old bra with her, fake-tossing it in the wastebasket. The last clear message of the day: “Get rid of that thing.”


Written by Laura Madden

May 10, 2010 at 12:18 am

2 Responses

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  1. Laura,
    Congratulation on starting your new blog! I look forward to stopping by here and seeing more of your writing and photos.


    May 10, 2010 at 12:23 pm

  2. Thanks, Betty! A lot of what I learned, I learned from you. ❤

    Laura Madden

    May 10, 2010 at 2:03 pm

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