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An entire conversation in silence

Engineering is a universal language, and a hardware store is a forum for communication. It happened that I was in need of a special metal part for a prototype of a separate project. I went downstairs to the small hardware store (think of a cube the size of a living room with no internal lighting and one side completely open to the street, filled with 3 short rows of completely random things), armed with my pen and pocket notebook. The first trip I communicated that I wanted a metal hook, similar to a Masterlock, and it had to have a threaded end for nuts. He came up with some u-bolts, which was close, but they were the wrong size and I couldn’t reshape them to what I wanted. So we found some threaded rods and a couple nuts for it and I figured I’d bend the rod how I needed.

After some hammering and bending and sheared rods and a slight amount of blood, I declared myself defeated and went back for another attempt. I showed him my failed piece and what it should look like. I asked him if he could try using his tools to bend it, but he got the same shearing, so we went in search of a more appropriate part. We found a hook that had a threaded end, but there was a metal collar on it, and I didn’t have the tools to remove it. I got him to remove the collar, and then I was happy. He sold me the part, and I left. It turned out that after I did a little bit of work on the part it ended up working perfectly.

All of that; every communication in that whole story, was done without a single spoken word. It was all gestures, props, and drawing. I still feel bad not knowing Mandarin, but I’m getting comfortable enough communicating, or at least trying to communicate using unconventional means, that I’m now having challenging interactions with the locals.

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