1: an object held to
act as a charm to
avert evil and bring
A woman walks into a store. She’s the only customer there. The sales clerk sees her looking at a display case and glides over to join her.
Clerk: Good morning. May I help you?
Woman: Good morning. (Gestures at the trinkets in the case.) I like these.
Clerk: Very cute!
Woman: How much are they?
Clerk quotes a price.
Woman (hesitating): Oh, that’s quite expensive. Can you lower the price a little?
Clerk quotes a lower price.
Woman: That’s better, thank you. I’ll take it.
Clerk: This one’s a bit dirty. I’ll get you a new one.
Woman: You’re too kind.
(As the sales clerk wraps up the purchase, the two women chat about the weather and how the day is going for each of them. Package in hand, the shopper says a quick goodbye and heads back out to the street.)
Unremarkable, right? This kind of exchange happens every day; it’s barely worth discussing. But to me, this is a story about the triumph of the human spirit. Why? I can give you three reasons:
The store was in Beijing.
The conversation was held in Mandarin.
And the woman was me.
* * *
What I bought was a cheap keychain with a dangling cartoon character (Korean, I believe, although quite popular in China) named Pucca. I didn’t particularly want a keychain, but it was the first thing I saw when I entered the store — my excuse for interaction, a means to an end. Yet this little piece of metal and plastic worth its weight in gold to me. It’s evidence that I was able to do something outrageously out of my comfort zone, something I wouldn’t have believed possible just a year earlier: conduct a simple conversation with a stranger in Mandarin. (Even more amazing was that although I’m a bad haggler, I managed to get her knock a few fen (pennies) off the price. Do I rock, or what? :))
These days, Pucca hangs from the rear-view mirror of my car. She’s my talisman; she gives me strength. Whenever I’m struggling with something and getting discouraged, instead of telling myself I can’t do it, I look at Pucca.
And I remember.