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Travel Story by Jo Atkinson and Andrew Hearn

  Deaf Dali
Dali, China

Playing cards

The Dali Deaf were almost thrust upon us. On the coach approaching Dali from the gorgeous Tiger Leaping Gorge, the Intrepid rep (Intrepid being the name of the company) handed over a scribbled paper (from another colleague who ventured through the area recently) - highlighting that there is an excellent sweet/cake shop, and clapped at the initiative behind the enterprise - that it "supports deaf people", and the "deaf girl behind the counter has a very lovely white smile". We knew instantly that the beamer couldn’t afford the produce she was selling, obviously.

Thumbing up to the rep for passing this golden info onto us, we headed to this very shop after reverse-parking our backpacks at a hostel/hotel.

Only the ASL "I love you" hand shape beside the shop moniker gave away the presence of the Deaf within. Two young students were swift to stand to attention as we stepped in this small, very clean, cafe. Sure, there was this skilled enamel flasher pointing to a discreet sign outlining their inability to hear, and then gestured to a menu perspexed onto the counter.
We gestured that our hearing and speech is ‘bad’ (this is how the Deaf Chinese indicate signing-deaf), while reflecting our western set of gnashers. To our mild surprise, they just smiled again, maybe a bit more pleasantly, and contradicted the norm for most European Deaf - they just treated us like any other customer (makes business sense we know, but....).

Whenever the young woman disappeared to the kitchen area, the assistant (a glorified floor-mopper if you like) snuck some attempted international dialogue with us. When a set of other Caucasian money-trees walked in from the street and saw that no one was behind the counter, they simply melted back into the bustle outside the glass doors. The Deaf woman caught the tapering end of this scene, struggled to keep her face from morphing into a beetroot, and excused herself to interrupt the guy leaning on the mop, to beckon him back to the kitchen.
Yeah - after that, an already clean floor got an extra bout of sullen mopping.

We found out that, via them, that there are Deaf masseurs just down the street. Jo decided to have another massage, while Andy gestured away with the remaining muscle kneaders on standby.
The parlour was surrounded with diagrams of the body, afflictions, and pains, listed in two languages. All the Deaf masseurs have to be trained for two years and have one year under supervision before they can bash away with implicit trust. We got the gist that their standard of work is very high, as they cannot talk while tending to clients.

To one of the masseurs’ stifled disappointment, a customer walked in, a great big hulking ursine man (even more so when stood next to a slight Chinese woman), and after a flurry of pointing, experimental prodding and tweaking, he was gently felled onto a table. His masseur then started to have great difficulty in diverting her attention away from the international signing at a corner of the parlour, affording sneaky glances and nods of agreement every now and again. Her discomfort grew so much, wanting to get the job done as soon as possible, that she managed to easily power the pancake toss of a prostrate bear-like man onto his back, emitting a face of mild fear fed by a sudden awakening and confusion.

The Chinese culture was present in the Deaf people - especially when asked something they do not understand/know, they just lower their primed hands and hide behind a smiling face. Rephrasing becomes necessary until they burst into an excited collective dropping of pennies.

This parlour is linked business-wise with the Sweet Tooth Cafe, supporting each other whenever necessary.

Later on we ventured into another massage parlour just two busy streets away, with a crowd of Deaf masseurs, but there, they are under the control of an exploiter - a 77 yr old hearing guy who signs/gestures very clearly. He knows that his ‘flock’ cannot find work elsewhere, and is proud of the fact that his parlour runs the cheapest massages in Dali.

Literally behind this mask of benevolence wearer’s back, the Deaf Chinese told us of the inequality between them and the hearing employees in terms of pay and attitudes, the resentment they have to keep cloaked over, and that they are trapped there, and when trying to find work elsewhere they are turned away.

One masseur told of his awareness that the Beijing Deaf are better placed in society, much nearer to being equals than those at Dali are. Prospects of finding ‘marriage’ are low too. They either drift reluctantly towards hearing partners, or run the risk of never being able to see their future children if they stick with their ‘kith and kin’ - since both halves of a Deaf couple will have to work very long hours to earn enough to support a family, which renders a parent-child relationship almost impossible.

This same guy who suppressed his anger, in our opinion, could vent out his flames constructively if he had the right support behind him, since he tried to remark that there was too much kowtowing amongst his Deaf peers for the immediate authority. We reckon this is due to the Chinese mentality, which is seared into them via their education system regardless.

Click on photo to enlarge

Sweet Tooth shop  Cakes  Outside the massage Deaf centre

Date Submitted: 02 Apr 2007

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