A pointy-talky card is a way to communicate. They have been used for many years. It is basic communication between two people who do not share the same language. A pictograph can have both the language of the person using it and another line in the other person’s language. It is like the ‘useful phrase’ booklets that allow a tourist to attempt to tell a local (in their language) something of importance.
When I was flying out of Vietnam in the early ’70s, pilots who were flying into high-risk areas would carry a pointy-talky in the form of a large handkerchief. It would have a dozen or more phrases in English that the pilot could point to and show the person across from him. Below the English statement was the same sentence in other languages (Vietnamese, Cambodian, Burmese, Chinese, etc.).
A simple phrase might be something like – I am an American, help me! A handkerchief could easily be folded and stuffed away. It weighed almost nothing. When needed, it could be extracted and used immediately.
During our deployments, we were allowed to go on R&R to various places. I spent time in Hong Kong, Taipei, Bangkok, and other sites back then. My fortune was to fly into Taipei, Taiwan, first. The hotel I stayed at had a bunch of pointy-talky cards on the check-in desk. I grabbed one and looked at it as I was waiting in the check-in line.
The first line on the card had the hotel’s name and address and some Chinese inscribed below it that told the taxi driver to deliver the person showing this line on the card to the hotel. Thus, we could get a taxi and a driver who did not speak English and be assured of returning to the same hotel.
Phrases like, take me to the cloisonne factory, I want to eat seafood, I want to buy jade jewelry, etc. There were lots of useful phrases about where to go and what to do. It made me feel nearly bulletproof in a foreign land. We did not speak the local language, but we could communicate.
I did not need a pointy-talky card in Hong Kong. Most of the people understood our English and could guide or direct us to where we wanted to go. However, in Bangkok, it was a different animal.
There were tons of places to go, and most of the local taxi drivers did not speak English.
I asked the hotel (Chao Phraya Hotel) if they had any pointy-talky cards. The clerk had no idea what I was talking about. He asked his boss and a couple of other workers, and that term was foreign to them. So I looked at the postcards and picked out several to send home. As I was holding them, a thought occurred to me. Why not use them as a pointy-talky?
The hotel had a postcard with a picture of the building and the address. I had my way back home after sightseeing and shopping. I walked out, ready to see Bangkok for the first time and a taxi pulled up. I opened the front door, stepped inside the taxi, and showed the postcards to the driver. He shook his head yes or no, depending on how far away the image on the postcard was from our hotel.
I put away all the non-starters and held on to the postcards with those places I knew I could get to relatively easily. Off we went. I got dropped at a large park area. I had sights on seeing the reclining Buddha, the Palace, and many other picturesque sites. And I did.
I took a cab a couple of times when the location I was at was too distant from the next destination. It was an easy jaunt home with the hotel’s postcard. I am sure that pointy-talky cards are used in many places today. If you are overseas and cannot find a local driver who speaks your language, use your imagination if you must see those must-see places!
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