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Conversation in Wells

"Is this where Prince of Wales comes from?" asked my mother.

"No," I replied. "This is W-E-L-L-S not W-A-L-E-S."

Later I learned that "Prince of Wales" is a title given to the first born son of the queen of England, not that he is the Prince of the region called Wales.

Anyway, I was here 12 years ago, and still this little town held great memories. Because the weather turned chilly, we thought it would be prudent to buy a second-hand scarf from one of many charity shops on the way to the famous Wells Cathedral.

We found one that said "100% silk" marked £1.35 and another unmarked. So we brought it to the counter. I asked whether the unmarked one was also made of silk and if so how much it would cost.

The lady examined both scarves and replied that the unmarked one was made of rayon, also a natural fibre. I hesitated and mentioned that I liked the colour but wasn't sure about the price. She replied, very defensively, that £1.35 for the rayon scarf was very cheap - and rayon came from wood pulp.

"We're a charity, you know. Oxfam is the biggest charity in the world."

"Yes, I know about Oxfam. I've been to Africa," I retorted.

"Well, I'm a volunteer. I have to come twenty-two miles to get here everyday. Whatever you pay, it's for charity."

"Yes, I volunteer too. I just started a neighbourhood watch," I responded.

Somehow I sensed that she was trying to make me feel guilty - that I was enquiring about the quality and the price of the scarf, whereas I should just buy whatever was in the shop. So I decided to explain further.

"You see, I don't want to buy stuff I don't need. I'm trying to declutter my life."

"More people should donate to help the poor. We British have done more than our share," she said defensively and condescendingly at the same time.

Suddenly I realised that she was trying to accuse me - as a way to accuse all foreigners and Americans. How many times my American accent has gotten me into trouble !

"I'm originally from Taiwan," I said. "And I've lived in London for a long time."

"Oh, " she replied. "I know something in Thai - sa wa dee ka."

I shook my head. That was Thai not Chinese. I could hardly blame her for not being well-travelled but shouldering the cares of the world.

I felt sorry for all the tourists that come to this quaint historical town and having to go on a guilt trip when she's on duty.

In the end, I bought the rayon scarf to save my neck.

31 July 2002 Wednesday

Chinese people love talking about food and the cost of things in the same way that the English talk about the weather.
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