Good Fences Make Good Neighbours.

So I got to play translator today. Bo Soon’s elderly neighbour had called him about something, and he said it sounded urgent, although he had no idea what it was about. He worries about this woman, who lives alone, whose health isn’t great.

We went next door. The ‘thirties bungalow had had a makeover sometime in the sixties, and had atrophied there. So had its owner, Betty. She opened the door resplendent in a kelly-green polyester pantsuit, ultrawhite crocheted polyester cardigan, and carefully coiffed hair, and led us into a living room so ultra-retro it was disorienting.

It turns out, Betty was worried about the precarious angle of the stone fence adjacent to Bo Soon’s property. Well, that was the gist of it, but it took longer for her to tell, as she recounted the saga of the wall, what her brother said, what her son said, and what she thought about it. The whole thing took about fifteen minutes of her monologuing, Bo Soon nodding in complete lack of comprehension, and me saying, ‘Well, yes’ when I could get a word in.

This is one lonely woman. She would probably be happier in an assisted living place, where she could see more people and have more conversation. But she is also proud of her independence, and I think that’s also valuable. At first, when she was telling us the long story of the wall, I was thinking, “Get on with it, Lady,” but then I thought, “How important is my life that I can’t stop and listen to her for a while?”

When we got back to Bo Soon’s place, he turned to me and asked, “Is it even my wall?”

We don’t even know if it is. There’s mistranslation on so many levels here. Bo Soon’s wondering if it’s a cultural thing, some tic he hasn’t pickied up about Canada, where you just go onto your neighbour’s property and fix things.

There’s the age thing. Betty looks like she’s pushing eighty, and is going a little batty alone in that house. She could very well expect him to fix the fence, since it is beside his property, if not on it.

Then on top of those, There’s the language thing. Talking (and listening) on the phone is really hard for people just learning English. When Betty called to talk to him, Bo Soon admitted to me afterwards, he thought she was saying ‘war’, not ‘wall’. No wonder he was confused.

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