Last year, around October or November, I joined a facebook group of travel bloggers and before I knew it, one thing led to another and I was being interviewed by another blogger! The whole interview process was interesting and I have to admit I really enjoyed it so when she emailed me saying she was going to post it in her blog I was delighted.
Living in China as a foreigner, particularly in a small town, was special in many ways but one that stands out is my students. I was teaching grades 7 and 8 in the only middle school in town and instead of having to deal with burgeoning rowdy teenagers I had the sweetest and most caring students ever. Admittedly, being the only foreigner living in China they knew and consequentially my celebrity status in town motivated them to want to pay attention to me in class. Yet, not only were they always happy to see me when I stepped into their classroom but also some of them went the extra length of wanting to meet me outside class.
In my post about living in China as a foreigner part 2 I recalled a series of instances in which the kindness of strangers saved the day when I lived in a small town in China but if I’m honest my first encounter with the kindness of strangers in China was actually even before arriving in small town China.
You see, when I got the job in China I had a friend living in Guangzhou so I decided to arrive a week early and spend it with her before I moved on to Yangshuo (where I would spend a week attending “orientation” with the company that had hired me before moving on to the small town where I had been posted). My friend lived immensely far from the airport and couldn’t pick me up so she sent me a detailed plan on how to take a bus from the airport to a point in town where she would meet me. It was complete with photographs of what I should see on my way, where I should get off, phonetic transcript of what the bus driver might ask me and how to respond to it! Following the steps was super easy and I was soon on the bus ticking off the photos of the places we drove past. Then suddenly I knew something was wrong, I had ticked of the final picture before the stop were I was supposed to get of and meet her but I couldn’t see the bus stop. Had we driven past without me noticing? But the bus hadn’t stopped…
I was about to panic when the man sitting next to me -who had obviously been”reading” over my shoulder- asked to look at my paper and tried speaking to me. However, I spoke no mandarin and he spoke no English. Even so, he managed to tell me to calm down. The bus soon stopped and he got up, spoke with the driver and beckoned me to follow him. I saw them unload my suitcase from the bus but I had no idea where we were! Next thing I know the man grabbed my suitcase, beckoned me to follow and started running. I’m not sure why but I trusted him (not that I had any choice). We run for 3 blocks and then there was my friend waiting for me. What a relief! Turns out the road the bus normally took was closed so it had taken a detour. The passenger sitting next to me had gotten of at the wrong stop just to take me where I had to go. If thats not a brilliant example of how the kindness of strangers can change everything then nothing is.
Generally speaking historical moments are not something you can plan your schedule around. They are things that happen unexpectedly and end up being so important they change the face of history and thus get written down for future generations to learn about. In April Armenians successfully changed the political picture of their country by collectively taking to the streets protesting against the government in a movement that was so peaceful it has come to be known as the “Velvet Revolution”. Today, as I write this, Armenians are voting in an early parliamentary election because the acting Prime Minister is seeking a stronger mandate in order to continue with the reforms. Between today’s election and the velvet revolution in April they celebrated 100 days of freedom and I was there to witness it.
Moving to a small town in China where I was the sole foreigner wasn’t all about being a celebrity , it was also about that incredibly alluring thing all travelers encounter on the road: the kindness of strangers.
Once upon a time I was walking down the streets of Yerevan when my sandal broke. The sole had become partially unstuck – which made for some very awkward walking. But as I’m not Cinderella hence no magic spell was about to turn me into a pumpkin when the clock struck midnight the whole idea of running barefoot back “home” didn’t really appeal to me. Thus I shuffled along, slowly making my way back to the hostel where I had a pair of trainers waiting for me.
A few minutes later one of my friends remembered he had seen a cobbler nearby the previous day so instead of heading to the hostel we went in search of the cobbler. His “nearby” and my nearby weren’t the same – particularly as walking with a falling-apart-sandal was proving more annoying by the minute. Then, there he was. I pointed at my shoe, he pointed towards his chair. I sat, took of my sandal and handed it to him. He examined it, carefully cleaned it, glued it back together and handed it back. I used the universal sign for “how much do I owe you?” He replied with a smile and a universal sign for “nothing, it was my pleasure”.
P.S. With my shoe fixed, walking back to the hostel took less than 5 minutes. So yes, my friend had been right when he said nearby.
P.P.S. don’t know why I didn’t want to take my shoes off though, I’ve walked barefoot in NYC so why not Yerevan?
My first year living in china was spent in a small town in the mountains in the south western tip of Shaanxi Province. When you live in a small Chinese town you get to experience China in a unique way and by small town I mean somewhere so small Chinese people from other areas had never heard of it. And more importantly so small I was the sole foreigner in the town. Continue reading “Living in China as a foreigner Part 1: being a celebrity”
In my “who am I ” page I mention that I love reading yet I never mention books in my posts. The reason for this is because more often than not my reading is completely unrelated to my traveling. Nonetheless there have been times when I felt like an almighty power was conspiring to make me read books set in or related to the places I was visiting.
It all started with Mustafa and Burç in Istanbul – two friends in their late 20’s early 30’s sharing an apartment who were our first hosts. They were our first peek into the spectacular world of turkish hospitality. We spent an entire week with them and never felt we were overstaying our welcome, getting in the way of their lives, or pressured to do anything.
A few kilometers off the coast from Maputo lies Xefina, a tantalizing and enigmatic island best described as a combination of eerie and bizarre. Ruins of an old Portuguese jail and enormous batteries built by the Portuguese to defend Maputo Bay during WW 1 and 2 engulf the Island with an air of history, tragedy, and death… Continue reading “Xefina island, where nature and history play at magic realism”