Holding a map of Seoul, we were planning which destination should we go next. We were standing next to the wall, avoiding the crazy stampede of people who was walking past us in different directions to catch their subway rides. As foreigners, we looked as if we were lost and trying to figure out how to use the subway.
Suddenly, a Korean man, around his late 60s, appeared next to us.
When we looked up, he was smiling. We smiled back, not sure if he said something earlier since we didn’t hear him. He began speaking but his mouth barely opened. It looked as if he was just murmuring, because we could hardly see his tongue. I felt l my neck stretching like a turtle out of its shell, trying to figure out what he was saying (as if I could magically hear him clearly, ha!). He kept on rambling, but we figured that this man was kindly was trying to help us. He began pointing the map, nodding, smiling and perhaps asked us, “where are you going?”
We pointed at our next destination and attempted to tell him that we’re Deaf but he didn’t seem to paid attention. He began tracing with his finger of the subway routes, murmuring and tracing along the line to show us how to get there. Lilo and I looked at each other smiling, because we already knew what to do but were really touched how kind this man was to take his time to help us.
Instead of listening his voice, I read his expression and body language which I really did feel his sincerity.
We nodded several time, bowed respectfully to thank him for his help and went off.
After a long day with our itinerary, we went back to Hongdae (a nightlife area in Seoul) to go back to the hostel. As we walked back, we saw a man walking toward us and realized that he was the same man who helped us earlier in the day at the subway station.
I mean, out of all time and place, what a coincidence!
We were shocked and waved at him. He also dropped his jaw and his eyes smiled. He laughed, “how was it?”
We both nodded, smiling widely and used the thumb up gesture. He began rambling on again, and we had a difficulty to catch up with him. Lilo and I were trying our best to help each other out, but the kind man appeared not to notice that we were signing to each other since he was looking straight at our face and looking away as he thought back his life.
We caught some few things and learned about his life but often lost track of his stories. He mentioned something about traveling at his younger age and encouraged us to keep exploring. Then his travel experiences eventually turned to his personal life.
I caught some things, such as “not married,” “my parents wanted me to get marry,” and so on. Before we knew it, he was sharing his personal life that lasted an hour. Unfortunately, we lost track of his story several times, attempting to find that track again. I mean, can you imagine not able to hear and just solely focus on lip reading? It’s not easy as many think. Imagine this:
you have a friend who mouthing you throughout the whole conversation with no sound.
Try that for an hour, even less!
It was really challenging to try stay on track; sometimes we also just nodded and followed his expression. When he smiled, we smiled. When he laughs, we chuckled. When he frowned, we frowned.
This is something that we, many Deaf and Hard of Hearings, commonly go through. Why is we don’t bother to ask him to repeat, you wonder?
We did. However, to ask to repeat several times would definitely test his patience, even for many Hearings for that matter. Perhaps even kill the mood.
That’s just the reality that we need to face every day.
Furthermore, asking him to repeat doesn’t necessary mean we’ll always understand better than the first time. So, sometimes we don’t bother asking.
Unfortunately, sometimes we also didn’t realize when a Hearing person is asking us a question, and then they would look at us as if we were stupid. And when following someone’s expressions, there are some mistakes that we go through sometimes.
Or at least I did this time, BIG TIME.
This kind man was talking about his parents at one point, and I caught “my mom wanted me to….” and then eventually I misread and misunderstood the part when he said “she went…” because I assumed that he felt relieved that she stopped nagging him to get married.
However, I made such an honest mistake, because I didn’t catch the trail when he began talking about his parents in different situation.
So, I went “ahh!” and chuckled. Lilo looked at me, her eyes widen. Gasping. Shocked.
I scrunched my eyebrows, asked “what???”
I swear, I can see that she went so pale.
I remember thinking, “why are you shocked?”
Ohhh, no okay, she just went paler. I thought. So….okay, whatever it is, this is not good. If she’s going white then…
I looked back at the man, he didn’t appear to be shocked (or perhaps I missed that part) but was a little silent for a bit.
“Oh….do you mean…your mom went… *pointed up in the sky*?”
He nodded and said, “yeah, my mom __(missed some parts) – passed.”
I felt myself cringing; I felt myself becoming smaller and smaller.
Where’s the rock? I was dying to hide under a rock.
I felt so damn guilty and embarrassed.
While cringing, I gestured by waving my hands to him, “I’m so so so sorry. I thought…I thought you…your mom stopped nagging and finally left you alone.”
CAN I GO NOW?
I was signing to Lilo, “OH. MY. GOD. WTF. LILO.”
Lilo signed back, “OH. MY GOD. YOU…YOU…LAUGHED?”
“LILO, I THOUGHT HE MEANT THAT HIS MOM STOPPED!!”
Lilo laughed nervously.
CAN YOU NOT LILO- WHERE’S THE ROCK? I thought to myself
I apologize to him again but he didn’t pay attention – he began starring back and forth between Lilo and I.
“What are you doing with your hands??” he asked while attempting to copy our signs.
“Oh, we are signing to each other. We’re both Deaf.”
“Deaf….we’re both Deaf, so we use sign language to communicate with each other.”
“oh…” he paused. “oh…uh…” then he was lost in thought.
Okay, I didn’t care about his recent discovery; I just wanted to go under a rock. Now.
“Oh I see…” then he trailed on a little more about his personal life.While he was rambling his life, I was lost in thought
“Oh my god, Stacey. Okay, calm down. It was an honest mistake. But damn, why did you had to laugh!! Why did you – f**k!!” I also can feel that Lilo was holding in her laughter, ready to explode at my face.
We then finally said our goodbyes and thanks, and of course, I gave my apology again. As we walked back, Lilo burst out laughing but was shocked at the same time; I had to deal with her constant teasing the next few days, “Make sure you don’t laugh when someone died.” My eyes narrowed at her, made a face “ha. ha.”
To this day, she still laughs about it. Although I know it was an honest mistake, I now laugh at that memory but still feel guilty.
Were you expecting a moral of a story?
Well, actually, there is no moral of the story.
I certainly do need to be careful next time; however, it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m unable to make mistakes like this again.
Solely relaying on lip-reading isn’t always effective. Several words are mouthed and sounded the same (for example, “tip” and “dip”). One of the common ways to have effective communication with us and our community is to write or type what you’re saying, especially if you do not know sign language; otherwise always ask the person who to have an effective communication. That way we can have full accessibility to information and make connection within the society.
I may laugh inappropriately and unintentionally again, at your face. I may smile at the wrong time when I thought you were saying this but you were actually saying that. I may stare at you blankly, not realizing that you were asking me a question. I may mistakenly agree or disagree (by nodding or shaking my head) when I misread/misheard your question.
So this is why I want to let you know to not take it personally if you happen to meet Deaf or Hard of Hearing during your journey, even while you’re working or shopping at grocery store. This world is audiocentric, therefore we often confront different obstacles.
It’s imperative to remember that lip-reading isn’t a what every Deaf and Hard of Hearing is good at. Some are better than the others, but it doesn’t mean that they still can catch up
every. single. word.