Salam allaykum, gifhalak, gifhalak, shukeran! These very simple Arabic words can do marvelous things. As Berlitz, the top international language guru says: “learning 20 phrases in each language opens many doors”. I have tried that approach in nearly every country I go to, and nearly always had great results. Salam allaykum is like: “hello, peace be upon you.” Gifhalak, gifhalek is “how are you?” for males or females respectively. Shukeran is “thank you.” Using a few of these phrases when I jump into a cab of a middle eastern looking driver, (or often a west-African driver in America), I instantly get a warm response, and we get into a wonderful discussion about his country of origin, and often Islam. It is a very effective way of making friends, and trying to see the viewpoints of different people in the world. People are clearly very appreciative when you say a few words in their own language, and pretty soon you have become a friend.
Salam allaykum, gifhalak, gifhalak, shukeran! 这些简单的阿拉伯词有着非凡的魔力。世界顶级语言大师贝利滋 (Berlitz)说：“每种语言只需掌握20个短语就可以开启许多门”。我每到一国就践行此法，果然有奇效。 “Salam allaykum”意即“您好，平安”，“Gifhalak, gifhalek ”分别对男士和女士打招呼，“嗨”“你好”。“Shukeran”表达“谢谢”。我钻进中东面孔（或者在美国国土上开车的西非面孔）的出租车司机的车里，我就说上几句，立马就有热情回应，我们热烈谈论他的祖国，也经常讨论伊斯兰教。这是交友奇径，可以了解世界上不同的人的观点。你说上几句他们的母语，他们会由衷的高兴，你们立马就成为朋友了。
We were wandering around in the town of Xundian, an Islamic town in Yunnan. The word Xundian means “looking for Eden” because some Islamics feel that Eden was actually in Yunnan somewhere; “dian” represents “E-dian” (Eden). I noticed a pretty archway door opening on the street, and walked into it just for interest; and to my great surprise, it was like an Alice in Wonderland experience. Suddenly, I realized that I was in the middle of the garden of a mosque.
And instantly also, I noticed a man walking to me with an Islamic cap on. Quickly, I said my usual “salam allaykum”, “gifhalak” phrases, and then managed to have a chat for about 10~15 minutes, using some of the 50 phrases that I knew at the time. After that I had to admit that it was the limit of my functional Arabic words, and he laughed. But he exclaimed with great joy: “This is the first time I’ve met an Arabic speaking person in my four years here in this small town, and it is so wonderful!”
同时我也看到一个带着穆斯林帽子的人向我走来。我立即用上常用的“salam allaykum”, “gifhalak”打招呼。用上那个时候所学的50句短语和他聊了大约10~15分钟。此后我坦陈我的阿拉伯语言已经黔驴技穷了，他笑了。他高兴的大声说：“这是我呆在这个小城4年来第一次遇上说阿拉伯语的，太好了！”
We became great friends, this imam from Qinghai, a Northwestern province of China that is predominately Islamic, and one of the 5 Islamic provinces in the Northwest of China. Indeed, we became such good friends that he decided to invite my medical team to teach English at his madrassa. He was the leader of the madrassa, an Islamic school for youth at a middle to senior high level, where youth are taught the essentials of the Koran. The students are supposed to graduate and become the ahongs, or priests, of village mosques in Yunnan. He told me he was also very disappointed that people in this “Muslim town” knew so little Arabic, and so little of the Koran. But he also wanted them to learn some English, since he realized that English was an international language.
I looked at him and said: “You know that we’re all Christians.”
He looked me straight in the face and said: “Of course, and we know what you’re doing here! But we do the same thing; we send people to different parts of the world doing what you are doing, such as in Africa, and that’s not a problem.”
I hesitated and said: “You probably should talk to your senior imam first.”
The next morning he called me and said: “I’ve talked it over with the senior imam; he said: “no problems, come and teach”. I was really excited.
And so we began to teach in this Islamic madrassa for the next few years, and it was great fun and such a warm opportunity for good conversations. And during the closing ceremony, the imam actually invited us to have a dialog on Christianity and Islam, which was quite interesting!
Similarly, when Esther and I were in Israel, we discovered most taxi drivers are actually Palestinian Arabs. With my usual “salam allaykum”, “gifhalak” introductions, the taxi drivers and we rapidly would become good friends. One of them became such a great friend of ours that he personally escorted us into many areas that most tourists would not or could not go into. Israeli taxi drivers or Israeli tourist bus drivers did not go into some areas which were under Palestinian Arab control. So it was with great joy, that we were able to go to Hebron, in the contentious “West Bank” area, so that we could see the tombs of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah. It was amazing to be reminded of this key history, viewed from Islamic, Jewish, and Christian eyes. The same God, the same Abraham, and here visibly the same respect for the tomb of Abraham and his immediate family. And all because of “salam allaykum”, “gifhalak”.
同样的，我和Esther 发现以色列大部分出租车司机都是巴勒斯坦的阿拉伯人。用上“salam allaykum”, “gifhalak”我经常用的开场白，我很快就和出租车司机成了好朋友。其中一个如此要好，他亲自护送我们游历了许多大多数游客没有去或者不能去的地方。以色列出租车司机和观光车司机不能进入巴勒斯坦阿拉伯人管控下的地方。因此很高兴我们能去有争议的约旦河西岸的希伯伦，能够瞻仰亚伯拉罕 （Abraham）、 撒 拉（Sarah）、 以 撒（Isaac ）和 利 百 加（Rebekah）的陵墓。从伊斯兰教、犹太教和基督教的视角回顾这段重要的历史，实在让人感叹不已。同样的上帝，同样的亚伯拉罕，同样的对亚伯拉罕及其直系亲属的坟墓的同样的真诚敬意，这都是因为“salam allaykum”, “gifhalak”这些短语让我们有幸一睹圣地。
I always encourage young people to learn as many languages as they can. I think I was especially blessed because as a child, I was exposed to different languages. American English was my first language, since my mother was an American born Chinese teaching English in Asia. She did not know any Chinese, and so her native language was, and our family spoke, English at home. I went to a school which by today’s standards would be considered an “international school”, where the language was British English, flavored by South African and Australian English.
But my childhood church in Hong Kong spoke “Swatow” often termed Chaozhou, another Chinese language. And many in my father’s family had “ Hakka” roots, another language some would even consider a minority tribal language. And at church, if there were speakers that were not Swatow speaking, they would commonly speak in Mandarin, which was then translated to Swatow, which gave me the opportunity to likely have subtle Mandarin “imprints” on my young impressionable brain.
All these exposures to different languages at an early age likely allowed me to acquire new languages quite readily. Even though my written Chinese is low level, my ability to comprehend these 4 Chinese spoken languages is quite good. This was particularly useful when I began my 10 year stint in medical missions in China, where I was able to visit many provinces, and readily communicate with the people there. Undoubtedly, language skills are extremely important in today’s world and I trust that many (especially young people) can be encouraged to learn many languages. Shukeran and salam allaykum!
幼年生活在不同的语言环境里，让我很容易掌握一种新的语言。尽管我的中文写作差劲，但我对4种中文口语有很好的领悟能力。这对于我的为期10年的中国医疗行非常有用，我可以游历许多省份，很容易地和那里的人们交流。毫无疑问，在当今世界语言能力相当重要，我相信要鼓励人们，尤其是年轻人去学习多种语言。Shukeran and salam allaykum!